Terry v. Ohio and the (Un)Forgettable Frisk

SSRN, 26 MAY 2017, FEAT. PROF. SETH STOUGHTON:

This essay is a contribution to a symposium in recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of Terry v. Ohio.

When I was first asked to participate in this symposium reflecting on the fiftieth anniversary of Terry v. Ohio, I had trouble identifying how I could contribute. Legal scholars, after all, have criticized Terry for almost the entire half-century it’s been on the books. What is there left for me to say that hasn’t already been said, often with far more eloquence than I could hope to muster? With some misgivings, I turned for inspiration to a topic that I am typically reluctant to emphasize in my scholarship: my own experiences serving as a police officer at a large municipal police department. As I considered the role Terry has played over the last fifty years, I realized that perhaps my most significant contribution comes not from what I can say, but from what I can’t.

I can’t tell you about the first time I stopped and frisked someone. In fact, I can’t tell you about any of the frisks I conducted. I can’t, because I don’t remember them.

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