Terry v. Ohio
The Terry v. Ohio case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968 that decided the circumstances under which police may search a suspect without violating his rights.
What became known after this decision as the “Terry stop” or “Terry frisk” allows police to pat down a detainee for weapons or to search his person or his vehicle if the police have reasonable suspicion that he is committing a crime, has committed a crime, or may be armed and dangerous. The court voted to allow the Terry conviction to stand, setting a precedent for police searches and seizures.
Policing a busy street in Cleveland Ohio in 1963, an officer observed two men acting suspiciously: they took turns peering in a store window, then conferred with a third man and began examining a different store. The officer surmised that the group was considering a robbery, and approached them. A quick frisk of two suspects, John Terry and Richard Chilton, revealed the presence of guns under their coats. They were arrested and charged with carrying concealed weapons.
At trial the attorney for the two men sought to suppress the evidence of the weapons, saying the search was a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure. The court rejected the motion, as did an appellate court.
When the case came before the Supreme Court the justices sought to determine not only whether the Cleveland police’s search and seizure of the men’s guns was legal and permissible but whether there is sufficient oversight of police powers through the exclusionary rule established by the Mapp v. Ohio case.
In Mapp v. Ohio, police searched a woman’s home looking for a bombing suspect but found illegal pornographic material in the process. She was not charged with harboring a fugitive but was convicted for having the pornography, which was incidental to the search. The court decided that the search had been a violation of her privacy as protected by the Constitution.
In making a decision about Terry v. Ohio the justices considered the question what makes a search and seizure reasonable, and whether the police officer had a reasonable suspicion that the men involved were planning a crime in light of regular police harassment of Black residents.
During deliberations justices offered varying opinions about police overstepping the bounds of reasonable searches. The principles were tested again in Michigan v. Long when a man convicted on drug charges appealed his case on the grounds that police had no reason to search his car for weapons (and subsequently find drugs) and Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial Court of Nevada which held that it was not unreasonable for a person to provide his identity to police when questioned.