Terry v. Ohio
Decided on June 10, 1968; 392 US 1

The "stop and frisk" procedure is akin to a "search and seizure." Seized evidence will be admissible if the "stop and frisk" was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.



A. Issues Discussed: Police search

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the admission of the revolver discovered during a stop and frisk procedure violate petitioner's rights under the Fourth Amendment?


A. Background:

"A Cleveland detective (McFadden), on a downtown beat which he had been patrolling for many years, observed two strangers (petitioner and another man, Chilton) on a street corner. He saw them proceed alternately back and forth along an identical route, pausing to stare in the same store window, which they did for a total of about 24 times. Each completion of the route was followed by a conference between the two on a corner, at one of which they were joined by a third man (Katz) who left swiftly. Suspecting the two men of 'casing a job, a stick-up,' the officer followed them and saw them rejoin the third man a couple of blocks away in front of a store.

The officer approached the three, identified himself as a policeman, and asked their names. The men 'mumbled something,' whereupon McFadden spun petitioner around, patted down his outside clothing, and found in his overcoat pocket, but was unable to remove, a pistol. The officer ordered the three into the store. He removed petitioner's overcoat, took out a revolver, and ordered the three to face the wall with their hands raised. He patted down the outer clothing of Chilton and Katz and seized a revolver from Chilton's outside overcoat pocket. He did not put his hands under the outer garments of Katz (since he discovered nothing in his pat-down which might have been a weapon), or under petitioner's or Chilton's outer garments until he felt the guns. The three were taken to the police station.

Petitioner and Chilton were charged with carrying concealed weapons. The defense moved to suppress the weapons. Though the trial court rejected the prosecution theory that the guns had been seized during a search incident to a lawful arrest, the court denied the motion to suppress and admitted the weapons into evidence on the ground that the officer had cause to believe that petitioner and Chilton were acting suspiciously, that their interrogation was warranted, and that the officer for his own protection had the right to pat down their outer clothing having reasonable cause to believe that they might be armed. The court distinguished between an investigatory 'stop' and an arrest, and between a 'frisk' of the outer clothing for weapons and a full-blown search for evidence of crime. Petitioner and Chilton were found guilty, an intermediate appellate court affirmed, and the State Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on the ground that 'no substantial constitutional question' was involved."

On certiorari, the US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Louis Stokes argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief was Jack G. Day.

Briefs of amici curiae, urging reversal, were filed by Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabrit III, Michael Meltsner, Melvyn Zarr, and Anthony G. Amsterdam for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and by Bernard A. Berkman, Melvin L. Wulf, and Alan H. Levine for the American Civil Liberties Union et al.

Reuben M. Payne argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was John T. Corrigan.

Briefs of amici curiae, urging affirmance, were filed by Solicitor General Griswold, Assistant Attorney General Vinson, Ralph S. Spritzer, Beatrice Rosenberg, and Mervyn Hamburg for the United States; by Louis J. Lefkowitz, pro se, Samuel A. Hirshowitz, First Assistant Attorney General, and Maria L. Marcus and Brenda Soloff, Assistant Attorneys General, for the Attorney General of New York; by Charles Moylan, Jr., Evelle J. Younger, and Harry Wood for the National District Attorneys' Assn., and by James R. Thompson for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement.

"The Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, 'protects people, not places,' and therefore applies as much to the citizen on the streets as well as at home or elsewhere...

The issue in this case is not the abstract propriety of the police conduct but the admissibility against petitioner of the evidence uncovered by the search and seizure...

The officer here was performing a legitimate function of investigating suspicious conduct when he decided to approach petitioner and his companions...

The officer's search was confined to what was minimally necessary to determine whether the men were armed, and the intrusion, which was made for the sole purpose of protecting himself and others nearby, was confined to ascertaining the presence of weapons.

The revolver seized from petitioner was properly admitted into evidence against him, since the search which led to its seizure was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment."

The US Supreme Court affirmed the Supreme Court of Ohio judgment.

Justice Vote: 1 Pro vs. 8 Con
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Warren, E. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Harian, J. Con (Joined concurring opinion)
  • Black, H. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Fortas, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Con (Joined majority opinion)

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Ohio; the Supreme Court affirmed in a 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.