Terry v. Ohio

Terry and two other men were observed by a plain clothes policeman in what the officer believed to be “casing a job, a stick-up.” The officer stopped and frisked the three men, and found weapons on two of them. Terry was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and sentenced to three years in jail.


There must be a narrowly drawn authority to permit a reasonable search for weapons for the protection of the police officer, where he has reason to believe that he is dealing with an armed and dangerous individual, regardless of whether he has probable cause to arrest the individual for a crime. The officer need not be absolutely certain that the individual is armed ,the issue is whether a reasonably prudent man in the circumstances would be warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others was in danger. And in determining whether the officer acted reasonably in such circumstances, due weight must be given, not to his inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or “hunch,” but to the specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experience.

Brief Fact Summary:

An officer may perform a search for weapons without a warrant, even without probable cause, when the officer reasonably believes that the person may be armed and dangerous.


The Terry v. Ohio Decision The outcome of this case was a ruling in favor of the appellees based on the Court’s finding that the police had reasonable cause to believe that Terry was armed and that the police, in order to protect others from Terry, had the right to conduct a limited search of him—a “frisk”—for weapons. The Court’s ruling on to state that the police had a right to “stop” him because they had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and that they could, thus, make “reasonable inquiries” on that basis. The Court concluded that such a limited and “reasonable” search was consistent with the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, and that any private property seized during that search could properly be used as evidence and should not be subject to the exclusionary rule. The Court defined a “search” as an examination of the exterior of a suspect’s clothing for weapons. The Court defined a “seizure” as an incident in which the police approach an individual and “restrain his freedom to walk away”. It defined the rights inherent in the Fourth Amendment as rights which “protect people not places” and noted that the right of a person to be in “possession and control of his person free from all restraint or interference of others” is “sacred”. Because the right “protects people not places”, an “on-the-street encounter” with police involving a search of the individual invokes rights included in the Fourth Amendment. Per the Court, there must be “specific justification for any intrusion upon” an individual’s person. The Court concluded that, in the case of the Terry “stop-and-frisk”, such “specific justification” could be demonstrated through the showings of “reasonable suspicion” and “reasonable cause” defined above.