Terry v. Ohio

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Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), was a landmark Supreme Court of the United States case regarding the authority of a police officer to detain a person if the officer had reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot, and that a limited pat-down or frisk of the outer garments of the person was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.


Facts of the case

On October 31, 1963, at about 2:30 p.m., Cleveland police detective Martin McFadden[fn 1] observed John W. Terry and Richard Chilton on a street corner. Officer McFadden's attention was drawn to the two men and he began to observe them. McFadden watched the two men, one at a time walk by a jewelry store window about a dozen times, then talk to a third man for a few minutes, until the third man walked away.[2] Terry and Chilton continued to walk past the store window for another 10-12 minutes, after which they began to walk down the same street as the third man.[3]

McFadden, based 39 years experience as a police officer and on the subjects actions believed that the were casing the store to commit a robbery.[4] He also feared that the men might be armed. Following Terry and Chilton, McFadden saw them meet with the third man again. McFadden then contacted the men, identifying himself as a police officer and asking their names. When the men were not very responsive, McFadden grabbed Terry placing him between McFadden and the others, spun him around and patted down Terry's outer clothing.[5]

During the pat-down or frisk, McFadden felt a weapon and removed a .38 caliber revolver. He also found a revolver on Chilton, but the third man, Carl Katz, was not armed. Terry and Chilton were arrested and charged with carrying concealed weapons.[6]

Lower courts

Terry and Chilton moved to suppress the evidence, claiming that the search was made without probable cause. The prosecution claimed that the search was incident to arrest. The trial court rejected that it "would be stretching the facts beyond reasonable comprehension"[7] to claim that McFadden had probable cause to make an arrest. The court refused, however, to suppress the evidence, finding that McFadden had reasonable cause to believe that Terry and Chilton might be armed and that there was reasonable cause to warrant an investigation.[8]

The Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County, Ohio denied the motion to suppress, and both Terry and Chilton waived a jury.[9] The court found the men guilty, the Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed,[10] and the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as not presenting a constitutional question.[11] The United States Supreme Court then granted certiorari to determine if the admission of the revolvers as evidence violated the Fourth Amendment, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.[12]

Supreme Court



Terry[fn 2] was represented by Jack G. Day[fn 3] and Louis Stokes.[fn 4]

State of Ohio

The State of Ohio was represented by Reuben M. Payne.

Opinion of the Court

Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the Court.


  1. Detective McFadden was hired as a police officer in 1925 and retired in 1970, with 46 years of service. He died of cancer in 1981.[1]
  2. Chilton had been killed in a shoot-out while committing an armed robbery in Columbus, Ohio prior to the case being argued.[13] At the time of oral arguments, Terry was in the state mental hospital for heroin addiction.[14]
  3. Judge Day later was the Chief Justice of the Ohio Court of Appeals. Judge Day participated in the founding of the Cleveland and the Ohio chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union.[15]
  4. Mr. Stokes later served as the first black Congressman from Ohio, and remained in Congress for 30 years.[16]


  1. Appendix: Appendix B: State of Ohio v. Richard D. Chilton and State of Ohio v. John W. Terry: The Suppression Hearing and Trial Transcripts, 72 ST. JOHN'S L. REV. 1387 (John Q. Barrett ed. 1998).
  2. Reuben M. Payne, "Stop and Frisk" in 1968: The Prosecutor's Perspective on Terry: Dectective McFadden had a Right to Protect Himself, 72 ST. JOHN'S L. REV. 733, 735 (1998).
  3. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 5-6 (1968); Louis Stokes, Representing John W. Terry, 72 ST. JOHN'S L. REV. 728 (1998).
  4. Payne, 72 ST. JOHN'S L. REV. at 734.
  5. Terry, 392 U.S. at 5-7; JAMES V. CALVI & SUSAN COLEMAN, AMERICAN LAW AND LEGAL SYSTEMS 189-90 (2015); Stokes, 72 ST. JOHN'S L. REV. at 728, 730; Payne, 72 ST. JOHN'S L. REV., at 736-37.
  6. Terry, 392 U.S. at 7-8; Stokes, 72 ST. JOHN'S L. REV. at 728; Payne, 72 ST. JOHN'S L. REV., at 736-37.
  7. Terry, 392 U.S. at 7.
  8. Terry, 392 U.S. at 7-8.
  9. State v. Chilton, 95 Ohio Law Abs. 321 (Ct. C.P. Cuyahoga, 1964).
  10. State v. Terry, 214 N.E.2d 114 (Ohio Ct. App. 1966).
  11. Terry, 392 U.S. at 8.
  12. Terry, 392 U.S. at 8.
  13. Payne, 72 ST. JOHN'S L. REV., at 733.
  14. Barrett, 72 ST. JOHN'S L. REV., at 1389-90.
  15. ACLU of Ohio, In Memory: Tributes to past civil liberties leaders: Judge Jack G. Day 1913-2001, ACLUOhio.Org (n.d.) (last visited Sep. 23, 2015).
  16. History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives: Louis Stokes, U.S. House of Representatives (n.d.) (last visited Sep. 23, 2015).