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Terry v. Ohio


Police Detective McFadden had been a police officer for 39 years. He served 35 years of those years as a detective and 30 of those years walking a beat in downtown Cleveland. At approximately 2:30 p.m. on October 31, 1963, Officer McFadden was patrolling in plain clothes. Two men, Chilton and the defendant, standing on a corner, attracted his attention. He had never seen the men before, and he was unable to say precisely what first drew his eye to them. His interest aroused, Officer McFadden watched the two men. He saw one man leave the other and walk past several stores. The suspect paused and looked in a store window, then walked a short distance, turned around and walked back toward the corner, pausing again to look in the same store window. Then the second suspect did the same. This was repeated approximately a dozen times. At one point, a third man approached the suspects, engaged them in a brief conversation, and left. Chilton and the defendant resumed their routine for another 10-12 minutes before leaving to meet with the third man.

Officer McFadden suspected the men were “casing a job, a stick-up,” and that he feared “they may have a gun.” Officer McFadden approached the three men, identified himself and asked for their names. The suspects “mumbled something” in response. Officer McFadden grabbed the defendant, spun him around and patted down the outside of his clothing. Officer McFadden felt a pistol in the defendant’s left breast pocket of his overcoat, which he retrieved. Officer McFadden then patted down Chilton. He felt and retrieved another handgun from his overcoat. Officer McFadden patted down the third man, Katz, but found no weapon. The government charged Chilton and the defendant with carrying concealed weapons.


1. Whether the detective’s actions constituted a seizure?

2. Whether the detective’s actions constituted a search?


1. Yes. Detective McFadden “seized” the defendant when he grabbed him.

2. Yes. Detective McFadden “searched” the defendant when he put his hands on the defendant’s person.


The Constitution only prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. An officer “seizes” a person when he or she restrains their freedom to walk away. Likewise, there is a “search” when an officer makes a careful exploration of outer surfaces of person’s clothing to attempt to find weapons. These searches and seizures must be reasonable to justify them under the Fourth Amendment. In justifying any particular intrusion, the government must be able to point to specific and articulable facts that, taken with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion. Searches and seizures must be based on more than hunches. Simple good faith on part of the officer is not sufficient.

The Court permitted Detective McFadden to conduct the limited intrusions of stopping the suspects based on articulable (reasonable) suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. The Court also found that Detective McFadden demonstrated reasonable suspicion that the men were armed and dangerous. Therefore, the Court allowed his limited intrusion onto their persons in search of weapons. While both standards are less than probable cause, the Court acknowledged that limited intrusions, based on articulated, reasonable suspicion can be reasonable.


392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968)

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