More than a Feeling

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)

June 10, 1968

U.S. Supreme Court

THE most important law enforcement legal case in jurisprudential history began on Thursday October 31, 1963 at the corner of Huron Road and Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland, Ohio at 2:30 p.m. and was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday June 10, 1968.  The actions taken by Det. Martin ‘Marty’ McFadden a thirty-eight year veteran would change the legal landscape for criminal procedure in perpetuity.

On Thursday October 31, 1963 – Halloween, in the Theater District at the corner of Huron Road and Euclid Avenue Det. Marty McFadden a tough as Kevlar, thirty-eight year Cleveland Police Detective observed two males standing on the corner.  The males would later be identified as John W. Terry and Richard Chilton.  Each man would walk individually eastbound past a United Airline office and the Cowell and Hubbard Jewelry Store and would peer into the stores, walk to the end of the building, turn, and walk back; again peering into the same two windows.  Each man did this individually two or three times.  During this time a third male who would later be identified as Carl Katz met up with Mr. Terry and Mr. Chilton.

Corner of Huron Road and Euclid Avenue; where the United Arline’s Office and Cowell and Hubbard Jewelry Store were in 1963.

Det. McFadden became suspicious believing that the men were going to engage what he called ‘an old fashion stick up’; so he followed them on from Huron Road to Euclid Avenue; eventually catching up to the three suspects at 1120 Euclid Avenue which was a men’s clothing store [known at the time as a haberdashery] named Zuckers.  On the outside of the store he conducted a frisk of the outer clothing of Mr. Terry, feeling for weapons.  At the suppression hearing Det. McFadden would call his ‘frisk’ a ‘tap’.  Today law enforcement professionals call this a pat down or a frisk, but not a tap.

Det. McFadden did feel a handgun inside the interior breast pocket, but was unable to retrieve the firearm. Therein Det. McFadden pulled back the coat of Mr. Terry and removed the Beretta .38 caliber semi-automatic serial #897012. He also patted down both Mr. Chilton and Mr. Katz.  In Mr. Chilton’s overcoat he felt another firearm which he removed.  That firearm was a Hopkins and Allen .38 caliber revolver, serial #5209.  Both Mr. Chilton and Mr. Terry were charged with Carrying a Concealed Weapon, they were convicted at trial which was upheld by the appeal courts and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court.

On June 11, 1968 the Cleveland Press editorial cartoon depicted Chief Justice Earl Warren, who wrote the Terry decision, holding down a suspect while a police officer retrieves a concealed firearm.  Note the era-specific term ‘policeman’.

Lessons Learned

  1. On Monday June 10, 1968 the U.S. Supreme Court created the Reasonable Suspicion doctrine; a new legal standard for both law enforcement and criminals to learn. Reasonable suspicion is more than a feeling but less than probable cause.  Hereafter law enforcement can detain a suspect if the officer reasonably believes that criminal activity is afoot [in progress or happening].  The officer can also pat down the suspect for weapons if the officer believes that the person is armed and presently dangerous to the officers or others.  Id at 40.
  1. Terry v. Ohio is the MOST SIGNIFICANT legal case in criminal procedure history. This case singularly changed the landscape of how law enforcement and the community interact. On Monday June 10, 1968 law enforcement has the right to detain a person suspected of a crime.  Previously law enforcement was required to have probable cause to detain a person.
  1. The officer does not have to be right … only reasonable, as the court held “The officer need not be absolutely certain that the individual is armed; the issue is whether a reasonably prudent man in the circumstances would be warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others was in danger.” Id at 31.

Does your agency train on the Terry Doctrine?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and objectively reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.