Terry v. Ohio Case Brief

Search and Seizure Case Briefs

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868 (1968)

FACTS: Cleveland Police Detective Martin McFadden had been a policeman for 39 years, a detective for 35 years, and had been assigned this beat in downtown Cleveland for 30 years. At approximately 2:30 p.m. on October 31, 1963, Officer McFadden was patrolling in plain clothes. Two men, Chilton and Terry, standing on the corner of Huron Road and Euclid Avenue attracted his attention. He had never seen the men before, and he was unable to say precisely what first drew his eye to them. His interest aroused, Officer McFadden watched the two men. He saw one of the men leave the other and walk past some stores. He paused and looked in a store window, then walked a short distance, turned around and walked back toward the corner, pausing once again to look in the same store window. Then the second man did the same. This same trip was repeated approximately a dozen times. At one point, a third man approached them and engaged them in conversation. This man then left. Chilton and Terry resumed their routine for another 10-12 minutes, then left to meet with the third man.

Officer McFadden testified that he suspected the men were "casing a job, a stick-up," and that he feared "they may have a gun." Officer McFadden approached the three men, identified himself and asked for their names to which the men "mumbled something." Officer McFadden grabbed Terry, spun him around and patted down the outside of his clothing. In the left breast pocket of Terry's overcoat, Officer McFadden felt a pistol, which he retrieved. It was a .38 caliber revolver. Officer McFadden proceeded to pat down Chilton, felt and retrieved another revolver from his overcoat. Officer McFadden patted down the third man, Katz, but found no weapon.

Chilton and Terry were charged with carrying concealed weapons. (Chilton died before his conviction could be appealed.)


1) Was the stop of Terry constitutional?

2) Was the frisk of Terry constitutional?


1) Yes

2) Yes

DISCUSSION: The Constitution forbids not all searches and seizures, but unreasonable searches and seizures. There is a "seizure" whenever police officer accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away, and "search" when officer makes careful exploration of outer surfaces of person's clothing to attempt to find weapon.

In justifying a particular intrusion, an officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, that reasonably warrants that intrusion. Those facts must be judged against an objective standard of whether the facts available to officer at moment of seizure or search would warrant man of reasonable caution in belief that action taken was appropriate. Intrusions must be based on more than hunches. Simple good faith on the part of the officer is not enough.

A police officer who had observed persons go through series of acts, each of them perhaps innocent in itself, but when taken together warranted further investigation, was discharging legitimate investigative function when he decided to approach them. The officer in this case had reasonable cause to believe that defendants were contemplating a crime, and thus had cause to stop and speak to them. Because he suspected them of an intent to commit armed robbery on the business, there was cause to believe they may be armed, thus the officer had cause to search them for weapons, and did not exceed the reasonable scope of a proper search in patting down their outer clothing,

The sole justification of officer's search of person whom he has no cause to arrest is protection for officer and others nearby, and it must be confined in scope to intrusion reasonably designed to discover weapons. Although the facts of the Terry case involved a pat down of the outer clothing, the language of the court's decision does not limit a frisk to the outer clothing, such as a coat. The court said, "...it must be limited to that which is necessary for the discovery of weapons which might be used to harm the officer or others nearby. "The scope of the search must be strictly tied to and justified by the circumstances that rendered its initiation permissible.”