The Law School Authority

Terry v. Ohio Case Brief

Summary of Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968) Stop and Frisk

Statement of the case: The D contended that the weapon seized from his person and introduced into evidence was obtained through an illegal search, under the Fourth Amendment, and that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress.

Procedure below: Petitioner sought review of a judgment from the Supreme Court of Ohio that affirmed petitioner’s lower court conviction for carrying a concealed weapon.

Statement of the facts: An officer observed two men standing on a street corner. One would walk up to a store window, look inside, and return to confer with his companion. This process was repeated about a dozen times. The suspects talked with a third man, then followed him up the street. Thinking the suspects were “casing” the store, the officer confronted the three men and asked their names. The men mumbled a response, at which time the officer spun one of the men, Terry (D), around and patted his breast. He found and removed a pistol. D was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. D moved to suppress this weapon from evidence. The trial judge denied his motion. The Ohio court of appeals affirmed, and the state supreme court dismissed D’s appeal.

Legal issue: Is it always unreasonable for a policeman to seize a person and subject him to a limited search for weapons when there is no probable cause for arrest?

Holding: An officer is justified in conducting a carefully limited search of persons whom he reasonably suspects to be dangerous in order to discover any weapons which might be used to assault him or other nearby, even in the absence of probable cause for arrest and any weapons seized may be introduced in evidence.

Reasoning: (Warren, C.J.) No. An officer is justified in conducting a carefully limited search of persons whom he reasonably suspects to be dangerous in order to discover any weapons which might be used to assault him or other nearby, even in the absence of probable cause for arrest. The exclusionary rule has limitations as a tool of judicial control. In some contexts, the rule will not be effective as a deterrent, and will potentially exact a high toll in human injury. The government’s interest in preventing harm must be balanced against the invasion into a person’s privacy. The policeman should use an objective test, and be able to point to specific and articulable facts which reasonably justify the intrusion. Standard 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? Anything less would invite intrusions upon constitutionally protected rights! . The Court went on to say that, effective crime prevention and detection is a governmental interest in appropriate circumstances for purposes of investigating possible criminal behavior even though there is no probable cause to make an arrest. It would be unreasonable to require that the policeman take unnecessary risks. He has a need to protect himself and others in situations where he lacks probable cause for arrest. In this case, nothing in the conduct of D and his friends dispelled the officer’s reasonable fear that they were armed. Affirmed, for P.

Concurrence: (Harlan, J.) An officer must have constitutional grounds on which to insist on an encounter, to make a forcible stop. The right to frisk must be immediate and automatic if the reason for the stop is an articulable suspicion of a crime of violence.

Concurrence: (White, J.) A policeman can address questions to anyone on the streets, but citizens are not obliged to answer, and answers may not be compelled. A refusal to answer is no basis for an arrest, but it may be a basis for continued observation.

Dissent: (Douglas, J.) Infringement of one’s personal liberty is only reasonable if probable cause is present. The majority gives a policeman more authority to make a seizure and conduct a search than a judge has.

Critical summary: This case represents a delineation between a reasonable belief and a reasonable suspicion. Probable cause= reasonable belief. Stop and Frisk = reasonable suspicion backed by articulable facts.



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