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Name and citation of the case: Stop & Frisk: Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S.1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889.

Judicial History

For a long time, detectives could stop and search when they suspect the former suspect, the latter is planning to commit a crime. However, the Supreme Court only reviewed the stop and frisk practice in 1968 in order to protect the public from unreasonable searches and seizures. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, a constitutional stop and frisk must have a probable cause and not only mere reasonable suspicions (Skolnick, 2011).


A detective, McFadden, in downtown beat noticed two men (Terry the petitioner and Chilton) chatting at a street corner, while moving up and down and staring at a store’s window. The men would then move along a familiar route and hold a discussion. The guys, who were strangers to him, did this continually for over 24 times. After sometime, a third guy joined them but left soon after. The detective suspected that the guys were ‘casing a job’ and therefore, he decided to keep a close watch over their activities. They also left soon after the third man had left so the detective followed closely and noticed that the guys joined the third guy a few blocks from the store (Del Carmen & Hemmens, 2010).

The detective approached them and considering the nature of their behaviors, he introduced himself and asked for their names. Feeling dissatisfied, he decided to carry out a quick search before starting to question them. A quick frisk led to the discovery of concealed weapons on two of the guys. The two men were charged with possession of a concealed weapon.


The issue arising in this case is whether the police or law enforcers can search for weapons in the absence of a cause for arrest.


  1. After initiating contact with individuals who believed to be armed, detectives may pat down the suspected criminals for searching weapons so as to ensure their and public safety.

  2. If a detectives frisks an individual and finds any hard objects, the detectives can exclude them and for inspection.

  3. An individual can face charges of possessing illegal arms if they are discovered during a legal pat down (Skolnick, 2011).

  4. An individual may give verbal refuse for full search after a pat down even though the proximity to the detective may provide a limited opportunity to assert one’s rights.

  5. A detective cannot carry out a frisk with the aim of discovering evidence other than arms.


After the arrest of the petitioner, the defense argued that the detective did not have a reasonable cause to search the three guys, but the Supreme Court rejected this claim. The court observed that in the interest of preventing crime, and ensuring police safety, a police officer can act even in the absence of a probable cause. This means that the reasonableness condition as set out under the Fourth Amendment is flexible enough to allow a detective to investigate a situation. Additionally, the court made an observation that the necessity of a probable cause would put an officer life and those nearby to unwarranted danger (Del Carmen & Hemmens, 2010). Consequently, the court made a ruling that the sole justification for a police officer to conduct a stop and frisk in order to safeguard the life of the officer and those in the nearing environment. Because of the sole justification, the only aim of a stop and frisk should be to discover arms, guns and other types of weapons. After the Terry stop, detectives can stop suspicious individuals and pat them down in search of weapons.

Decisions/ holdings/ Conclusions

The US Supreme Court made a ruling that it is a reasonable for a detective to perform a quick search on an individual that the detective believes could be carrying arms. Such a search is, however, limited to searching arms.

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