Terry v. Ohio Facts of the Case

In Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), a detective observed John Terry and codefendant Richard Chilton standing on a street corner. Each defendant alternately would walk down a sidewalk, pause to look in a store window, continue to walk further down the sidewalk, then turn around and walk back toward the other defendant, again pausing to look in the same store window. Id. at 6. According to the detective, each defendant repeated this "walk" approximately six times, causing the defendants to walk the same path one dozen times and look into the same store window two dozen times. Id. Suspicious that the defendants were involved in criminal activities (that they were "casing a job, a stick-up"), the detective approached the defendants, identified himself as a police officer, and asked their names. Id. at 6-7. After the men "mumbled something," the detective spun defendant Terry around and patted down the outside of his clothing. Id. The detective detected a weapon and retrieved a gun from the pocket of Terry's overcoat. Id. The detective also patted down (frisked) defendant Chilton and retrieved a gun from his overcoat as well. Id. The men were arrested and charged with carrying concealed weapons. Id. The trial court denied the defendants' joint motion to suppress the weapons, concluding that, although probable cause did not exist to arrest the defendants for a crime, the detective, based upon his experience, "had reasonable cause to believe . . . that the defendants were conducting themselves suspiciously, and some interrogation should be made of their action." Id. at 7-8. The trial court held that the stop and frisk of the defendants was distinct from an arrest and a "full-blown" search for evidence of a crime. Id. at 8. The trial court concluded that the frisk "was essential to the proper performance of the officer's investigatory duties, for without it, the answer to the police officer may be a bullet, and a loaded pistol discovered during the frisk is admissible." Id. The defendants were adjudged guilty, and their convictions were subsequently affirmed by an Ohio appellate court. Id. On certiorari review, the United States Supreme Court affirmed Terry's conviction. Id. The Supreme Court first concluded that the stop and frisk of Terry by the detective constituted a search and seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes. Id. at 19. Nonetheless, the Court concluded that when an officer justifiably believes that the person whose suspicious behavior is being investigated is armed and presently dangerous, "it would appear to be clearly unreasonable to deny the officer the power to take necessary measures to determine whether the person is in fact carrying a weapon and to neutralize the threat of physical harm." Id. at 24. The Supreme Court ultimately held that: "where a police officer observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous, where in the course of investigating this behavior he identifies himself as a policeman and makes reasonable inquiries, and where nothing in the initial stages of the encounter serves to dispel his reasonable fear for his own or others' safety, he is entitled for the protection of himself and others in the area to conduct a carefully limited search of the outer clothing of such persons in an attempt to discover weapons which might be used to assault him." Id. at 30. The Court noted that, in evaluating the validity of a stop and frisk, "it is imperative that the facts be judged against an objective 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?" Id. at 21-22. Further, to justify an investigatory stop, the law enforcement officer must provide "specific and articulable facts," as well as rational inferences that may be drawn from those facts, in support of the stop. Id. at 21.