Case brief of Terry v. Ohio (1968)
Note: Use this format, including numbers and titles, in your case brief
1.Title and Citation: Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct 1868 (1968)
2. Procedure: The trial court found that McFadden did not have probable cause to arrest Terry. However, McFadden did have the authority to confront the men and pat them down because he had reasonable cause to believe that they were armed and dangerous. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court. (Please note: Because you are reading edited cases, your reading may not contain the entire procedure or any part of it).
3. Facts of the Case: A brief statement of the circumstances that brought about this case, identifying the parties and the holdings of lower courts.
Officer McFadden observed two men who were taking turns walking down the street and peering into a store window. Occasionally they would meet on a corner and talk to each other. They repeated their store peering five to six times. At one point they met at the corner with a third man. McFadden found this activity to be suspicious and he decided to go and speak with men. He confronted them and asked for their names outside of Zucker’s store, where they were standing with a third man who Officer McFadden had seen with them before. The men mumbled something in return, and McFadden, suspecting they were armed and dangerous, grabbed Terry and spun his around so that Terry was in between McFadden and the other two men. McFadden patted down the outside of Terry’s clothing and felt a gun. McFadden ordered all three men to go into the store. They followed his directions and as they walked into the store, McFadden was able to slip Terry’s coat off. All three men were ordered to place their hands up on the wall, and when McFadden searched them, he found another gun on Chilton.
4. Legal Question Presented: The Court will usually indicate the question (or questions) that needs to be answered. Read carefully. Once you have written out the question, indicate whether the question is answered with a yes or no by the Court.
Did the admission of the guns into evidence violate petitioner’s rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments? No
5. Holding: A statement of the Court’s ruling and whether it has affirmed or reversed the lower court’s decision.
Officers who lack probable cause for an arrest have the authority based on their experience and reasonable suspicion to pat down suspicious persons if they fear for their safety or the safety of others. Terry’s constitutional rights were not violated, and the guns must be admitted as evidence.
6. Majority Opinion for the Court (Warren): Provide a concise summary of the argument used by the Court to justify its holding.
When do the protections of the Fourth Amendment come into play during a street encounter? The answer is the moment an officer confronts a suspicious individual. A seizure is not the same as an arrest (for which there must be probable cause). A seizure occurs when a police officer “accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away.” The question we investigate here is not so much the seizure of Terry but the officer’s authority to pat Terry down, and whether a limited search is an invasion of Terry’s personal security. A police officer during an investigation who believes the suspects he has seized are armed and dangerous does have the authority to carry out a carefully limited search because it is the only way to secure the officer’s safety. Therefore, the revolver seized from Terry was properly admitted as evidence against him.
7. Separate Opinions (concurring, dissenting): Provide a concise summary of the arguments made in the concurring and dissenting opinions.
Justice Harlan, concurring.
I agree with the Court that police do not need probable cause to stop and frisk a suspicious individual. The question in this case is, what makes a search reasonable? My answer is that the search is constitutional if the stop or seizure is reasonable. A stop is reasonable if the police officer has “an articulable suspicion of a crime of violence.” After a reasonable stop, a police officer has the authority to make a limited search.
Justice Douglas, dissenting
Neither the search nor the stop was justifiable under the Fourth Amendment without probable cause that a crime had been committed, a crime is in the process of being committed, and a crime was about to be committed. The crime here is carrying concealed weapons. The officer did not have probable cause that a crime was being committed. Only probable cause gives the police officer the authority to seize or search an individual. Police officers should not be stopping and searching someone based on their “inkling.” Probable cause requires the presence of facts within the officer’s personal knowledge which would convince a reasonable man that the person seized was in the process of committing a crime.
8. Comments and Evaluation: A statement of the case’s legal, historical, or political importance, as well as criticisms of the justices’ opinions and reasoning.
Terry is a significant case because it limits the individual’s Fourth Amendment protections. Instead of needing probable cause to stop and search someone, police officers only need reasonable suspicion. This case stands out because the Warren Court is known for its strong support for civil liberties. However, in this case, the Warren Court weakened civil liberties. Importantly, this case forbodes how the Burgher and Rehnquist Courts chipped away at civil liberties, ultimately leading to the introduction of Stop and Frisk policies in most major cities in the United States .
Case brief of Terry v. Ohio (1968)