Terry v. Ohio (1968) | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Policing / Procedural Law

Terry v. Ohio (1968) is a landmark SCOTUS decision where the Court established the reasonable suspicion evidentiary standard for a stop and frisk.

See also Stop and Frisk.

In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court of the United States established the legal framework for the stop-and-frisk procedure by establishing the reasonable suspicion standard for law enforcement officers to initiate such stops. This decision has had a significant impact on law enforcement practices across the United States and has been used to justify the use of the stop-and-frisk procedure by police officers.

The case began when an experienced Cleveland detective, Martin McFadden, saw two men walking back and forth in front of a jewelry store, seemingly casing the store for a potential robbery. The detective approached the men, identified himself as a police officer, and frisked them, discovering a weapon on one of them. The men were subsequently charged with carrying concealed weapons, and one of them, John W. Terry, appealed his conviction on the grounds that the search was conducted without a warrant and violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court ultimately upheld Terry’s conviction and established the reasonable suspicion standard, which allows police officers to stop and frisk a person if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in criminal activity and may be armed and dangerous. The Court noted that the Fourth Amendment does not require police officers to have probable cause to conduct a brief, investigatory stop and that the standard of reasonable suspicion is less demanding than the standard of probable cause.

The decision in Terry v. Ohio has been the subject of much debate and controversy. While some argue that the ruling has been instrumental in allowing law enforcement to effectively combat crime, others argue that it has led to racial profiling and the violation of individuals’ civil rights. In recent years, the stop-and-frisk procedure has come under increased scrutiny, with some cities and states implementing reforms aimed at curbing its use.

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Last Modified: 04/08/2023


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