Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968) Sibron v. New York 392 U.S. 40 (1968)

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TERRY v. OHIO 392 U.S. 1 (1968) SIBRON v. NEW YORK 392 U.S. 40 (1968)

Terry v. Ohio marked the first attempt by the Supreme Court to deal with a pervasive type of police conduct known as stop and frisk. Where an individual's suspicious conduct gives rise to an apprehension of danger, but probable cause for an arrest does not exist, it is common police practice to stop the suspect for questioning and to pat down (frisk) his outer clothing in a search for concealed weapons. While this may be an effective way to deter crime it is susceptible to abuse. Though far less intrusive on privacy and security than formal arrest and thorough search, a stop and, especially, a frisk can be a frightening and humiliating experience.

It was this consideration that led the Court in Terry to hold that stop and frisk is subject to limitations established by the fourth amendment. Chief Justice earl warren declared that the forcible restraint of an individual, however temporary, is a "seizure," and a frisk, though limited in scope, is a "search," within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. However, the imperative of sound law enforcement, as well as the need of the police to assure their own safety and that of the citizenry, requires that the amendment's reasonableness clause—rather than the probable cause standard of the warrant clause—should govern this type of police conduct. Balancing individual freedom against community needs, Warren concluded that if "a reasonably prudent [officer] in the circumstances [is] warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others [is] in danger," he is, under the reasonableness clause, entitled to stop and frisk the suspect in order to avoid the threatened harm. Any weapon thus seized is admissible at trial. However, in Terry 's companion case, Sibron v. New York the Court held that where the motivation for the frisk is the discovery of evidence rather than the confiscation of weapons, the evidence seized is inadmissible.

The officer's apprehension of danger must be based on articulable facts rather than mere hunch; the difference between probable cause and the less strict standard authorized in Terry is a difference between reasonable belief and reasonable suspicion. Paradoxically, the case both significantly limited and momentously expanded the police search power: it placed "on the street" police-citizen encounters under the protection of the Fourth Amendment even as it allowed, for the first time, a standard less exacting than probable cause to meet the requirement of reasonableness for searches made in exigent circumstances.

Jacob W. Landynski

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Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968) Sibron v. New York 392 U.S. 40 (1968)

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