Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed.2d 889 (1968)
A policeman noticed Terry and
Chilton suspiciously loitering around a store window. He suspected that
they were casing the store for a robbery. Eventually the two men were
joined by Katz.
The policeman confronted
Terry, Chilton and Katz. He asked their names, and then patted them down.
Terry and Chilton turned out to be armed. They were arrested for
carrying concealed firearms.
That's called a stop and
Terry made a motion to suppress
the evidence of the search on the grounds that the warrantless search was
a violation of his 4th Amendment right to privacy.
The Trial Court denied the
motion. Terry pleaded guilty and then appealed.
Terry argued that even if he
was acting suspiciously, there was no probable cause to make an arrest, and it is unreasonable to
search someone without probable cause. In addition, just stopping Terry was a seizure of his person, and that's also not allowed.
The State argued that the
stop was only for a moment, and the search was minimally invasive, and
therefore it didn't require the same level of probable cause that an arrest and full search would require.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court found
that the police may stop and frisk
someone for weapons if they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has taken or is about to take
place and the subject is armed and dangerous without violating the 4th
Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Court agreed that when
the policeman took hold of Terry and patted him down, the detective seized Terry and subjected him to a search within the
meaning of the 4th Amendment.
However, the Court did note
that there is a distinction between a full search and a simple pat down
for weapons. Also, there is a difference between an arrest and just
making someone answer a few questions.
The Court noted that the 4th
Amendment only prohibits unreasonable
searches and seizures. The Court decided to apply an objective standard
and ask the question, "would the facts available to the officer at
the moment of the seizure or the search warrant a man of reasonable
caution in the belief that the action taken was appropriate?"
To determine reasonableness the Court suggested looking at:
The general interest in
The officer's specific
concern for his own safety,
The citizen's interest in
his own privacy and dignity,
The extent to which the
particular search in question intruded upon those interests.
Basically, it's a balancing
test between the inconvenience of being stopped vs. the amount of
suspicion. Since a stop and frisk
is less invasive than a full arrest and search, the amount of suspicion
required is lower.
In this case, the Court
found that under the circumstances, it was reasonable to believe that
Terry was armed. Therefore a pat down search was acceptable under the 4th
The Court limited stop
and frisk searches to situations in
which there is a reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous. You
can only look for weapons, you can't look for contraband.
justification of the search is the protection of the police officer and
others nearby, and it must therefore be confined in scope to an
intrusion reasonably designed to discover guns, knives, clubs, or other
hidden instruments for the assault of the police officer."
Compare this to a search
incident to lawful arrest (SILA),
which also allows the policeman to search for potentially destroyable
In a dissent it was argued
that if there was no probable cause
then a magistrate could not have legally granted a warrant. Why would we
allow the police to do something that a judge wouldn't be able to
"We hold today that the
police have greater authority to make a seizure and conduct a search than
a judge has to authorize such action. We have said precisely the opposite
over and over again."