Terry v. Ohio: Case Brief & Summary

Instructor: Joseph Jones
In this lesson, we will review the United States Supreme Court decision of Terry v. Ohio, including the details of the case and the Supreme Court's decision. There will be brief quiz at the end to test your knowledge.

Terry v. Ohio

Say you are a newly hired police recruit and eager to do a good job. While on patrol, you see two men standing in the front of a store peeking through the window. You believe that they may be planning on robbing the store.

When the men see you, they start walking down the street. You are curious as to what they were doing so you stop them and ask. The men tell you that they have recently been released from prison and that they are just getting to know the neighborhood again.

You decide to pat the men down and detect what feels like a handgun in one of their waist bands. You recover the gun and place the man into custody for possession of a weapon.

Did you just violate the man's constitutional right of an unreasonable search and seizure? According to Terry v. Ohio, you were well within your rights to stop and frisk the individuals and recover the weapon.

Case Details

Terry v. Ohio is a 1968 United States Supreme Court decision that held that it is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment (protection against unreasonable search and seizure) when a police officer stops a person on the street and frisks him if the police officer has a reasonable belief that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, and he has reasonable belief that the person may be armed.

In October 1963, a Cleveland Ohio police officer observed John W. Terry and Richard Chilton pacing back and forth in front of a store looking inside. After watching the men do this about twelve times, the officer thought they may be 'casing' the store for a robbery. The men were joined by a third man, Katz, who spoke to them for a minute and left. The men then began to walk down the block and the police officer followed them.

He saw that the men rejoined Katz and approached them to ask what their names were. The men didn't respond clearly and only mumbled. The officer then patted all three of them down. Upon feeling what he thought were guns in the coat pockets of Terry and Chilton, he ordered the men to remove their jackets, face the wall, and place their hands above their heads. The officer removed handguns from the coat pockets of both Terry and Chilton and charged them with the possession of a weapon. Katz was released as the officer had no reason to search him further.

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