The Cop Column
July 2008
Sgt. Rick Hord
Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office

The Birth of the “Terry Stop”

            The 40th anniversary of an incredibly important day for Law Enforcement in America has passed without fanfare. 

It was on June 10, 1968 The United States Supreme Court recognized “Stop and Frisk” as constitutionally reasonable under certain circumstances.

            “Stop and Frisk” had been used by cops for many years before a Cleveland, Ohio plainclothes officer named Martin J. McFadden, working foot patrol, stopped three suspicious persons and found concealed guns on two of them.

            McFadden had seen two men alternately take turns walking down a street, peer into a store, walk farther down the street, turn around and return to their starting point. The men would confer with each other, and sometimes, with a third man, before repeating the ritual. Officer McFadden concluded the men were about to rob the store, identified himself, and found two revolvers when he conducted a “Stop and Frisk” on the afternoon of October 31, 1963.

            The would-be robbers, John Terry and Richard Chilton, appealed their convictions.  By the time the case reached the US Supreme Court, Terry had served his sentence, and Chilton had died. The legal question, however, remained: When Officer McFadden detained and searched the two men, was he violating the Fourth Amendment?

            By 1968, the Law Enforcement community was awaiting Supreme Court decisions with trepidation.  Many feared the court was stripping them of the tools they needed.

 Two years earlier, the famous Miranda decision tossed out a rape conviction because the police believed the suspect when he said he knew his rights before he confessed to the crime. From then on, cops would also have to teach a mini-civics lesson before initiating interrogations.

In 1963, the Court told the states they’d have to get their taxpayers to hire lawyers for every criminal defendant who could not afford one.   

In 1961, the Supreme Court imposed the “Exclusionary Rule” on every court in the land, meaning no matter how guilty the criminal, he goes free if the police hadn’t followed the rules when they found the evidence.

Justice William O. Douglas strongly believed this case was another example of an officer going too far.  “There have been powerful hydraulic pressures,” wrote Justice Douglas, “…to water down constitutional guarantees and give the police the upper hand… Yet if the individual is no longer to be sovereign, if the police can… ‘search’ and ‘seize’ him in their discretion, we enter a new regime.” 

The other Justices conceded Officer McFadden did not have probable cause for an arrest when he stopped Chilton and Terry, but ruled the temporary detentions reasonable, and therefore constitutional, given the circumstances. Thus was born the concept of “Reasonable Suspicion,” a legal standard for police to temporarily detain individuals to determine if Probable Cause for an arrest is present.

Ironically, temporary detention is now known as a “Terry Stop,” after a convicted criminal who lost his appeal, and not as a “McFadden Stop” in honor of an officer whose excellent work secured that tool for all police officers in the United States.