One of the many things learned at state police academies around the country is the “Terry pat”. What a Terry pat is, is a basic pat down of a suspects outer clothing, searching for weapons. The name came be known by a Superior Court case in the 1960’s, known as Terry v. Ohio. The case originated back in October 1963, involving John W. Terry and Richard Chilton. The two men were seen on a corner by veteran police detective, Martin McFadden, of the Cleveland Police Department, Ohio.
According to the officer, the two men were acting in a suspicious way, by peering into the same store window. The two men were seen making multiple trips toward the window, when a third man came into the scenario. The officer suspected the men of “casing” the store for robbery. The officer followed the men and then stopped and questioned them. He first grabbed Terry and conducted a pat down and located a pistol on the inside of his jacket.
Finding the weapon, he ordered the men into the nearby store, where a more invasive search ensued. He then removed Terry’s jacket and removed the weapon from its holster. A weapon was also found on Chilton, and both were charged with carrying concealed weapons. The defense of the two men, Terry and Chilton, moved to suppress the case on the grounds that the method of the search and seizure were a violation of the men’s fourth amendment of the U. S. Constitution, protecting them against unreasonable search and seizures.
The court rejected the defenses opinion, in that the weapons were seized due to a lawful search incident to arrest. The motion to suppress was denied because the court found that the officer had cause to believe the men were acting suspiciously, the seizer and question was warranted and the officers own right to safety had the right the pat down the suspects’ outer clothing, believing that the suspects may be armed. Both men were found guilty in trial court. The case was appealed in the states’ intermediate court and was affirmed.
The Ohio State Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on the grounds that no significant constitutional question was involved. On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court affirmed. Members of the court held that the search was reasonable under the fourth amendment, the weapon seized was properly introduced into evidence, and the officer had reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot, and the criminals he was dealing with may have been armed and dangerous.
Justice Douglas dissented the ruling, stating: “…the search and seizure by way of stopping and frisking defendant was constitutional only if there was probable cause to believe that a crime had been, or was in the process of being, or was about to be, committed. ” In conclusion, the Terry pat, as we now call it, is essential to police duties. The highest court in the county affirmed that with reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, a Terry pat may be warranted.