Terry Vs. Ohio 1968 is one of the landmark judicial rulings by the United States Supreme Court that maintained the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth amendment gave the police the authority of conducting arbitrary searches and seizures on individuals if they are suspecting of committing a crime. In case an individual is suspected to have the intent or is about to commit a crime, the police has a constitutional right of searching the individual. However, for the protection of the individual’s rights, the police have the authority to perform a frisk search that includes a quick search on the outer clothing of the individual to determine if they are armed or not. The threshold for such searches must be without doubt and not an officer’s gut instinct. The judges upheld the Fourth amendment arguing based on the limitation of the exclusionary role of the government. Underscored on this assumption is the fact that the law is to protect persons and not subject them to public humiliation.
During his argument, Chief Justice Warren initiated his argument with a liberal approach of individual privacy. In his argument, Justice Warren posited that the Fourth Amendment protected “people and not places” from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” However, this argument was debunked by a conservative bench that questioned on the applicability of this situation “in all the circumstances of this on street encounter.” The police argued that a certain advantage is required to ascertain if individual cannot be stopped before committing a crime. On the other hand, the civilians would be worried of a police force that could overstep their mandate and invade on the civilian’s privacy. For the court, the cause of disagreement was solely on the usefulness of the evidence acquired after the search was conducted. If the search was successful in obtaining evidence that point to the intent of a crime, then the prosecution had a case.
On his part, Justice Douglas disagreed with the idea of permitting the police to conduct stop searches. He argued that such an action was comparable to give the police powers of a magistrate and could lead to modern day lawlessness. He argued that such an action could only be allowed through a constitutional amendment (392 U.S 1 at 37).
An overview of the Terry Vs. Ohio gave the police a reasonable authority to investigate suspicious activity and to act to prevent crime from occurring. However, a revisionist approach of the case would point to flaws that occur not out of the intent of the case but the manner in which it has been applied. In my view, the Terry Vs. Ohio case failed to strike a balance between law enforcement and individual freedom. In fact, subsequent rulings by other supreme courts erased the remnants of individual freedom to the advantage of the police all in pursuit of perfect law enforcement. Before Terry vs. Ohio, the police would act with disregard of the Fourth amendment and individuals would be arrested or stopped arbitrarily at the will of the police officers. However, the case did not solve that; instead, it have the police a chance to persecute inner city residents and minorities (Katz, 2007).
Had the court listened to the argument presented by Justice Douglas, a situation where individuals freedom is traded for the sake of law enforcement would have ensued. While the Fourth amendment provided a ceiling for the actions of the police, Terry vs. Ohio gave the police an avenue to take America back to pre-fourth amendment days.
Terry Vs. Ohio, 392. U.S. 1 (1968).
Katz, L. (2007). Terry vs. Ohio at Thirty-Five: A revisionist View. Mississippi Law Journal, vol. 74, Issue 12