We are used to hear that the police are not fair and a lot of innocent people have been judged and later imprisoned. There are some cases that from the very beginning are false; one cannot see reasons why a person has been arrested. One of the most interesting of such cases is the case “Terry vs. Ohio”.
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On October 31, 1963, detective Martin McFadden noticed two men, who looked suspicious. They were going back and forth and looking on the same window. They were doing that several times in a row and then the third man, Katz, joined them. Though, he has left after talking a little to those two men (Chilton and Terry). McFadden decided to follow those men. He met them again near the store entrance. He came up to them, introduced himself and asked about their names. They just murmured something. McFadden spun Terry around and found a revolver under his coat. The policeman has lead the three to the shop and ordered them to face the wall and raise their hands. He searched Chilton’s and Katz’s clothes and found another pistol in Chilton’s overcoat. They all were taken to the police office where Terry and Chilton were accused of illegal possession of weapons. At the court, the defense used the fact that the search violated the Fourth Amendment, which says that a person cannot be searched without any reason.
There are particular reasons why the Fourth Amendment cannot become the defense against unreasonable search or seizure. First of all, it concerns where and how this right can be applied (considering homeless people or suspicious people on the streets). The second issue is whether the evidence can be used against the accused if it was found during the unreasonable search. The third issue is whether the “stop and frisk” procedure is lawful in the situation with three suspects. The fourth issue applies the fact of the safety, whether it was reasonable to search the three or not. The policeman is allowed to search the person if he thinks that he can be harmed. Thus, the question is whether it was warranted.
Terry and Chilton were found guilty and the Court of Appeal affirmed the decision. On the one hand the Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable search and seizure. Though on the other hand, a person can be searched by a peace officer, if he/she acts suspiciously. During the trial, the detective testified that his experience shows that if someone acts like Terry did, he/she intends to do something illegal. This case was very loud and there were some opinions about whether McFadden was right or not to have searched the three. Justice White agreed to the court’s decision. He said that according to the Constitution, any person may be stopped and asked some questions by a peace officer. Though, in this case there were reasons to search Terry and his friends. On the contrary, Justice Douglas states that there were no reasons to stop and search them. He said that this could give the policemen a lot of power, which would lead to the totalitarianism.
In my opinion, Terry, Chilton, and Kazt were not guilty. The detective thought they were suspicious, that is why he searched them. He did not think that those men could have been walking along the street waiting for someone. The detective had no right to search the three. There were no reasons to believe that a crime was committed, is committing, or will be committed. Though according to the court decision, Terry and Chilton were found guilty of illegal possession of weapons. There is no reason to believe the officer who said that the guys were searched because they were about to commit the crime. McFadden could not have known that as he found the revolvers while searching Terry and the Chilton.
I think that this case was very important in the history of justice. It showed that the Fourth Amendment cannot protect anyone, even from the police. The policemen are allowed to search people who look suspicious. Still, during the trial they can prove their innocence and the guilty of the person arrested. After this case when Terry was found guilty, the police may search almost every person, who seems suspicious.
Those, who were on the police’s side, say that such search was not unreasonable, since McFadden found two revolvers. Though, I say that this was illegal to search those men. What if they had no pistols? What if detective found nothing? It would have become a great scandal; the reputation of police would have been blackened. Probably, those guns were put into Terry’s and Chilton’s pockets. We cannot prove anything now; we may just believe the facts and testimonies of the participants of the case.
In my opinion, if this happened in the twenty-first century, the situation would have been the same. Not much has changed; the Fourth Amendment still exists, and the police still have the right to search the suspicious people. On the other hand, Terry may have not been found guilty, because nowadays, all shops have cameras and there are more tools of proving innocence or guiltiness such as DNA test or checking the finger prints on the revolver. I assume that if Terry was arrested this year, he could have proved his innocence.
Terry vs. Ohio was not the only case in which the Fourth Amendment was violated. For example, there are three similar cases. Sibron v. New York case was heard in 1968. Brown vs Texas case heard in 1979, when the police stopped the party just because they wanted to know the names of the participants. Illinois v. Wardlow, 2000, the state tried to prove that fleeting from the police is a reasonable cause to stop a person and search him/her.
As we can see, in those cases the policemen, who were searching the people, had all the power, they could do everything. Police did not need any warrant to search or arrest the person. In my opinion, it is very unfair. The policemen think they may stop or decrease the level of committing crimes, though, it is not true. The criminal will find the way to hide, but the ordinary innocent people will suffer.
The Terry vs. Ohio case showed that there are no innocent people, even the police, who are to protect us, make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes may ruin people’s lives. We cannot say what the future will be, but I hope that the situation will not become worse, and people will trust the police. The police, in its turn, should trust people and do not search them because they look suspiciously. Though by now, we do not see any changes in police’s behavior.
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