Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1; 88 S. Ct. 1868; 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968)

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1; 88 S. Ct. 1868; 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968)

Facts—A seasoned police officer named McFadden observed Terry and two other men repeatedly walking in front of a store as though they were attempting to case it. After he approached and they mumbled in response to a question, he patted down Terry and found one gun in his overcoat and another in his companion’s coat pocket. The trial court, the Ohio Court of Appeals, and the Ohio Supreme Court all failed to exclude this evidence, which had led to a sentence for carrying a concealed weapon.


(a) Did the officer’s actions constitute a stop and frisk?

(b) Was such a stop and frisk reasonable under provisions of the Fourth and Four- teenth Amendments?


(a) Yes;

(b) Yes.

ReasonsC.J. Warren (8–1). The Court needs to be mindful of both the purpose and limitations of the exclusionary rule and of the demands of police work. Any time an officer “accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away, he has ‘seized’ that person.” Similarly, the officer’s pat-down of the defendant’s outer clothing and his removal of revolvers constituted a “search.” The Fourth Amendment does not outlaw all searches and seizures but only those that are “unreasonable.” In this case, the search and seizure were reasonable. The officer was experienced and had reason to believe that a crime was about to be committed. He could not be expected to take “unnecessary risks” with his own life or with that of others in the vicinity. Officers did not need “probable cause” to conduct a pat-down search. The officer acted as “a reasonably prudent man” would act.

J. Black, J. Harlan, and J. White wrote concurring opinions. Black distanced himself from any reliance on the decision in Katz v. United States; Harlan argued that for any police pat-down to be reasonable it should be “immediate and automatic”; and White distanced himself from some comments on the exclusionary rule. In dissent, J. Douglas agreed that a search and seizure had occurred and thought that such a search and seizure could only be justified by “probable cause,” which he did not believe had been established in this case.

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