Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, John W. Terry (the “Petitioner”), was stopped and searched by an officer after the officer observed the Petitioner seemingly casing a store for a potential robbery. The officer approached the Petitioner for questioning and decided to search him first.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. An officer may perform a search for weapons without a warrant, even without probable cause, when the officer reasonably believes that the person may be armed and dangerous.
Facts. The officer noticed the Petitioner talking with another individual on a street corner while repeatedly walking up and down the same street. The men would periodically peer into a store window and then talk some more. The men also spoke to a third man whom they eventually followed up the street. The officer believed that the Petitioner and the other men were “casing” a store for a potential robbery. The officer decided to approach the men for questioning, and given the nature of the behavior the officer decided to perform a quick search of the men before questioning. A quick frisking of the Petitioner produced a concealed weapon and the Petitioner was charged with carrying a concealed weapon.
Issue. Whether a search for weapons without probable cause for arrest is an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (”Constitution”)? Held. The Supreme Court of the United States (”Supreme Court”) held that it is a reasonable search when an officer performs a quick seizure and a limited search for weapons on a person that the officer reasonably believes could be armed. A typical beat officer would be unduly burdened by being prohibited from searching individuals that the officer suspects to be armed.
Dissent. Justice William Douglas (”J. Douglas”) dissented, reasoning that the majority’s holding would grant powers to officers to authorize a search and seizure that even a magistrate would not possess. Concurrence.
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