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Terry v. Ohio

Stop And Frisk Searches

The question of "stop and frisk" searches hinges on that most eternal of issues in American jurisprudence: civil liberties on the one hand, and law and order on the other. According to the doctrine articulated by the Supreme Court in Terry, a police officer may stop someone on the basis of a reasonable suspicion that the person is engaged in wrongdoing; and may on a similarly reasonable basis--i.e., one that will hold up to scrutiny in the courtroom--"frisk" or search the subject.

In order to meet standards, police making a "stop" must witness unusual conduct which arouses suspicions that can be justified according to specific facts. In order to justify a "frisk" search, the officer must have reason to believe that the individual in question is armed and dangerous.

In extreme cases, stop and frisk searches are clearly justified, but many fall into a gray area that gives rise to questions regarding the justification for searching. For example, there have been numerous cases of black males wrongly subjected to suspicion; on the other hand, there have been situations in which fear of a civil-liberties violation kept officers from preventing a crime. As always, there is tension between the polarities of safeguarding the public's property and safeguarding its liberties.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Terry v. Ohio - Significance, The Supreme Court Decision, Stop And Frisk Searches