Terry v. Ohio

Terry v. Ohio
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued December 12, 1967
Decided June 10, 1968
Full case nameJohn W. Terry v. State of Ohio
Citations392 U.S. 1 (more)
88 S. Ct. 1868; 20 L. Ed. 2d 889; 1968 U.S. LEXIS 1345; 44 Ohio Op. 2d 383
Case history
PriorDefendant's motion to suppress evidence denied, 32 Ohio Op. 2d 489 (1964); defendant convicted, 95 Ohio L. Abs. 321 (Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County 1964); affirmed, 214 N.E.2d 114 (Ohio Ct. App. 1966); review denied, Ohio Supreme Court, November 19, 1966; cert. granted, 387 U.S. 929 (1967).
Police may stop a person if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime, and may frisk the suspect for weapons if they have reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous, without violating the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · William O. Douglas
John M. Harlan II · William J. Brennan Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Abe Fortas · Thurgood Marshall
Case opinions
MajorityWarren, joined by Black, Brennan, Stewart, Fortas, Marshall
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. IV XIV

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), was a landmark case argued by the United States Supreme Court which held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures is not violated when a police officer stops a suspect on the street and frisks him or her without probable cause to arrest, if the police officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person "may be armed and presently dangerous."

For their own protection, after a person has been stopped, police may perform a quick surface search of the person's outer clothing for weapons if they have reasonable suspicion that the person stopped is armed. This reasonable suspicion must be based on "specific and articulable facts" and not merely upon an officer's hunch. This permitted police action has subsequently been referred to in short as a "stop and frisk," or simply a "Terry frisk". The Terry standard was later extended to temporary detentions of persons in vehicles, known as traffic stops; see Terry stop for a summary of subsequent jurisprudence.[citation needed]

The rationale behind the Supreme Court decision revolves around the understanding that, as the opinion notes, "the exclusionary rule has its limitations." The meaning of the rule is to protect persons from unreasonable searches and seizures aimed at gathering evidence, not searches and seizures for other purposes (like prevention of crime or personal protection of police officers).[citation needed]

Majority opinion[edit]

Chief Justice Warren's opinion for the Court began by reciting first principles. The Fourth Amendment protects "people, not places", against "unreasonable searches and seizures". The question the Court confronted was whether "in all the circumstances of this on-the-street encounter", Terry's reasonable expectation of privacy had been impermissibly invaded.[citation needed]

The procedure called "stop and frisk" was controversial. Police argue that they require a certain flexibility in dealing with quickly evolving and potentially dangerous situations that arise during routine patrol of the streets. On the other hand, those suspicious of giving the police broad investigatory power contended that the police should not be able to assert their authority over citizens without some specific justification upon intrusion into protected personal security, coupled with judicial oversight to ensure that the police do not routinely abuse their authority. For the Court, however, the question was not the propriety of the police actions in the abstract but the admissibility of the evidence obtained through that police action. "In our system evidentiary rulings provide the context in which the judicial process of inclusion and exclusion approves some conduct as comporting with constitutional guarantees and disapproves other actions by state agents." For this purpose the exclusionary rule of Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), had evolved and been applied against both state and federal agents.[citation needed]

Thus the question was not whether the stop-and-frisk procedure was proper by itself, but whether the exclusionary rule was an appropriate deterrent of police misconduct during such encounters.

Proper adjudication of cases in which the exclusionary rule is invoked demands a constant awareness of these limitations. The wholesale harassment by certain elements of the police community, of which minority groups, particularly Negroes, frequently complain, will not be stopped by the exclusion of any evidence from any criminal trial. Yet a rigid and unthinking application of the exclusionary rule, in futile protest against practices which it can never be effectively used to control, may exact a high toll in human injury and frustration of efforts to prevent crime.

— Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 14–15

In view of these concerns, the Court next asked whether it is "always unreasonable for a policeman to seize a person and subject him to a limited search for weapons unless there is probable cause for an arrest."[citation needed]

Concurring opinion of Justice White[edit]

Justice White joined the opinion of the Court but suggested that

"There is nothing in the Constitution which prevents a policeman from addressing questions to anyone on the streets. Absent special circumstances, the person approached may not be detained or frisked but may refuse to cooperate and go on his way. However, given the proper circumstances, such as those in this case, it seems to me the person may be briefly detained against his will while pertinent questions are directed to him. Of course, the person stopped is not obliged to answer, answers may not be compelled, and refusal to answer furnishes no basis for an arrest, although it may alert the officer to the need for continued observation."[1]

With regard to the lack of obligation to respond when detained under circumstances of Terry, this opinion came to be regarded as persuasive authority in some jurisdictions, and the Court cited these remarks in dicta in Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984), at 439. However, in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, 542 U.S. 177 (2004), the Court held that neither of these remarks was controlling in a situation where a state law required a detained person to identify himself.[citation needed]

Dissenting opinion of Justice Douglas[edit]

Justice Douglas strongly disagreed with permitting a stop and search absent probable cause:

"We hold today that the police have greater authority to make a 'seizure' and conduct a 'search' than a judge has to authorize such action. We have said precisely the opposite over and over again."[2]
"To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path. Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern forms of lawlessness. But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment."[3]

Subsequent jurisprudence[edit]

Terry set precedent for a wide assortment of Fourth Amendment cases. The cases range from street stop-and-frisks to traffic stops in which pat-down searches could be conducted on the driver or passengers. In Michigan v. Long,[4] the Supreme Court ruled that car compartments could be constitutionally searched if an officer had reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous. Thus the compartments are viewed as an extension of the suspect's person. This is known as "frisking the lunge area," as an officer may protect himself by searching any areas from which the suspect could grab a weapon.[citation needed]

The Terry doctrine was markedly extended in the 2004 case of Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, 542 U.S. 177 (2004), in which the Supreme Court held that a state law requiring the suspect to identify himself during a Terry stop did not necessarily violate the Fourth Amendment prohibitions of unreasonable searches and seizures or the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination (although potentially could if the citizen in question reasonably believed that such identification could be used to incriminate). The Court did not legalize this process in all states but instead left it up to the states to decide whether they would pass such laws. So far 24 states have passed such laws.[citation needed]

The Court most recently cited Terry v. Ohio in Arizona v. Johnson. In that 2009 case, the Court ruled 9–0 in favor of further expanding Terry, granting police the ability to frisk an individual in a stopped vehicle if there is reasonable suspicion to believe the individual is armed and dangerous. This fulfills only the second prong of Terry (the first prong—reasonable suspicion that a crime has, is, or will be committed—is fulfilled by whatever traffic violation prompted the pull-over). According to Whren v. United States, any traffic violation, no matter how small, is legitimate basis for a traffic stop.[citation needed]

In Heien v. North Carolina, on an 8–1 decision in December 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States expanded the reasonable suspicion factor of the Terry stop to cover a police officer's reasonable mistake of law that gives rise to "reasonable suspicion" that justifies a traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment.[5][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Terry, 392 U.S. at 34.
  2. ^ Terry, 392 U.S. at 37.
  3. ^ Terry, 392 U.S. at 38.
  4. ^ Michigan, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983).
  5. ^ SCOTUSblog
  6. ^ Oyez, 2018


External links[edit]