Phillips & Ingrum

TERRY V. OHIO – Stop And Frisk Rights – What are yours?

By Jay Ingrum


CITATION: 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed. 889 (1968) TERRY V. OHIO – Stop And Frisk Rights – What Are Your? 

BRIEF FACT SUMMARY REGARDING:The Petitioner, John W. Terry (the “Petitioner”), was stopped and searched by an officer after the officer observed the Petitioner apparently casing a store for a possible robbery. The police officer approached the Petitioner for questioning and chose to search him first.

SYNOPSIS OF RULE LAW: An officer may perform a search for weapons without a search warrant, even without probable cause, if the officer reasonably believes that the person may be armed and dangerous. This quick frisk or pat down of a suspect became known as a “Terry stop & frisk.” It is important to understand your stop and frisk rights.

Police OfficerFACTS: The police officer noticed the Petitioner speaking with another person on a street corner while repeatedly walking up and down the same street. The two men would occasionally look into the store window and then begin talking again. The two men also spoke with a third man whom they later followed up the street. The police officer believed that the Petitioner and the other two men were “casing” the store for a potential robbery.

The officer decided to approach the three men for questioning, and because of the nature of their behavior, the officer decided that he should conduct a quick search or frisk of the men before questioning them. A quick frisk of the Petitioner revealed a concealed weapon and the Petitioner was charged with carrying a concealed weapon.

ISSUE: Whether a search for weapons without probable cause for arrest is an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution?

HELD: The Supreme Court of the United States held that it is a reasonable search when a police officer performs a quick seizure and a limited search for weapons on a person that the officer reasonably believes could be armed. A typical patrol officer would be unduly burdened by being prohibited from searching individuals that the officer suspects to be armed.

DISSENT: Justice William Douglas dissented, reasoning that the majority’s holding would grant powers to officers to authorize a search and seizure that even a magistrate would not possess.

CONCURRENCE: Justice John Harlan agreed with the majority, but emphasized an additional necessity of the reasonableness of the stop to investigate the crime. Justice Byron White agreed with the majority, but he emphasized that the particular facts of the case, that were a suspicion of a violent act, an armed robbery, merit a forcible stop and frisk.

DISCUSSION: The facts of this case are important to understand the U.S. Supreme Court’s willingness to allow the warrantless search. The suspicious activity was a violent crime, armed robbery, and if the officer’s suspicions were correct then he would be in danger if he approached the men for questioning without searching them first. The officer also did not detain the men for a long period of time to constitute an arrest without probable cause. Know your stop and frisk rights.