Landmark Racial Profiling Cases

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Landmark Racial Profiling Cases
Erika J. Shorter
University of Maryland University College
CJMS 650 9040

Cole and Smith (2007) define racial profiling as, “the use of race and ethnicity as clues to criminality.” This term is commonly used to refer to police or other law enforcement officials singling out a person or group of people as “potential suspects” because of their race or ethnicity (p.98). Terry v. Ohio

On October 31, 1963, while on a downtown beat which he had patrolled many times over a period of several years, Cleveland Police Department detective Martin McFadden spotted two men, standing on a street corner at 1276 Euclid Avenue. Detective McFadden thought that the men, John W. Terry and Richard Chilton were behaving in a suspicious manner. Detective McFadden noticed that the two men walking back and forth and stopping to stare at a particular store window. After each trip back to the window, the men stopped on the corner to talk. This ritual was performed by the men about five or six times apiece. McFadden observed that after one of the trips, they were joined by a third man. After speaking with Terry and Chilton briefly, the man left. Detective McFadden suspected that the men were planning a robbery. Therefore, he followed them. As a result, he witnessed them rejoin the third man in from of a store a few blocks away (Cole and Smith, 2007, p. 268). Detective McFadden was not wearing a uniform. He identified himself as a police officer and asked the men their names. The men responded with an incomprehensible reply. As a result, McFadden whirled Terry around and patted down his outside clothing. McFadden then felt a handgun in Terry’s overcoat pocket. He took the handgun from Terry's coat pocket. Then, McFadden patted the other two men down. He also found a handgun in Chilton's overcoat. The third man, known only as Katz, was unarmed (Cole and Smith, 2007, p. 268). Terry and Chilton were both charged with carrying concealed weapons. Before the trial began, the defendants brought a motion to suppress the implicating evidence that Detective McFadden seized. The argument of the defendants was that the handguns were not admissible because Detective McFadden found them during an unlawful search. The defendants stated that McFadden did not have a valid Search Warrant to authorize the pat down. In addition, the defendants claimed that McFadden did not have probable cause to hold them. The court denied their motion to suppress and both defendants were later found guilty. After the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed the convictions, the defendants appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court (Cole and Smith, 2007, p. 268). The Supreme Court ruled that McFadden acted judiciously during his chance meeting with the defendants. The Supreme Court addressed the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution citing that acknowledging that probable cause is generally needed to influence an arrest and a warrant to conduct a search. The main issue is whether law enforcement acts reasonably under the circumstances. The Fourth Amendment does not disallow all warrantless searches executed without probable cause, just those that are unreasonable (Cole and Smith, 2007, p. 268). The Court ruled that during situations that can quickly escalate into something dangerous, police may find it difficult or impossible to get a search warrant before deciding to get involved. It is possible to risk injury or harm to bystanders if law enforcement is forced to wait until it has probable cause before getting involved. The Court added that the Fourth Amendment provides law enforcement with the elasticity to examine, discover, and avert criminal activity. The Court concluded that this elasticity gives police officers to stop people that they suspect of doing criminal activity and hold them for questioning. The Fourth Amendment is not violated if during questioning the police are led to believe that a suspect is armed and dangerous. The police officer may frisk the...
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