Today marks the 57th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case of Mapp v. Ohio. Mapp established the fundamental principle that evidence that is obtained in violation of the 4th amendment may not be used in State court cases. This ruling extended the previous holding of Weeks v. United States which had created the exclusionary rule that only applied to Federal Courts.
The case which became the basis of the decision is like something from HBO drama. Ms. Dollree Mapp was an employee of an illegal gambling operation run by notorious Cleveland Kingpin Alex Brins, best known as Shondor Brins. On May 23rd, 1957, Cleveland police officers received an anonymous tip that a one Virgil Ogletree; a racketeer wanted in connection with a bombing attempt on fellow racketeer and boxing promoter Don King, could be found at Ms. Mapp’s home along with illegal gambling equipment belonging to Mapp’s boyfriend Edward Keeling.
Three officers came to the home and asked Ms. Mapp for permission to search the home, and after Mapp consulted her attorney over the phone, were turned away from the house. Two officers left to retrieve backup and a warrant. Several hours later, four police cars full of officers arrived at Ms. Mapp’s home and sought to enter the home. When Mapp failed to answer the door, the officers broke the door down. When Mapp demanded to see the search warrant the officers produced a document which Ms. Mapp stuffed into her dress. The officers then struggled to recover the “warrant” from Ms. Mapp and the “warrant” was never seen again or produced as evidence at trial. When the case eventually arrived at the Supreme Court, the Cleveland prosecutor who argued the case never answered the Justice’s questions about the “warrant” and the Court never pressed him about it.
The search conducted by the officers found Mr. Ogletree who would later be cleared in the bombing attempt on Don King. The officer also discovered illegal betting equipment and a small amount of pornography in a footlocker in the basement of the home. Ms. Mapp insisted the pornography belonged to the previous tenant of the home. Ms. Mapp was arrested and later cleared of possession of illegal gambling equipment. However, when Ms. Mapp refused to testify in subsequent prosecutions of Shon Brins, Edward Keeling and their associates for an attempted extortion of Don King, Ms. Mapp was prosecuted in 1958 for possessing “lewd and lascivious books, pictures, and photographs” and sentenced to one to seven years in prison. Ms. Mapp subsequently appealed her case directly to the Supreme Court seeking a writ of certiorari which was granted in early 1960.
At the Supreme Court, Ms. Mapp argued that her conviction should be overturned because the Police lacked probable cause to believe she had pornography, and lacked a warrant, thus making their search unreasonable and illegal. Ms. Mapp would further argue that the principle of Weeks v. United States, the federal exclusionary rule should apply to the states via the 14th amendment.
The States argument was the product of a very specific time period in American Constitutional law. Prior to the ratification of the 14th amendment, the Supreme Court had held in Barron v. Baltimore that the Federal Constitution did not apply to the states, thus citizens could not call upon the protections of the Federal Constitution in State courts. After the ratification of the 14th amendment, the Supreme Court held in Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. v. City of Chicago that the Federal Constitution applied to the States, but only after each individual amendment was incorporated against the states. By the Time of the Mapp case, the federal exclusionary rule which came from the 4th amendment had yet to be incorporated against the states via the 14th amendment. Thus, the State argued that the evidence should not be excluded because, even though it had been obtained illegally, the exclusionary rule did not apply to the states, and the then Ohio constitution allowed for the use of illegally obtained evidence.
The Supreme Court, in a 6 – 3 decision delivered June 19th, 1961 lead by Justice Tom C. Clark held that the 4th amendment of the Federal Constitution should be incorporated against the states, thus extending the exclusionary rule to the states. This decision overturned the previous decision in Wolf v. Colorado which had held the 4th amendment did not apply to the states. Of the 6 who ruled in favor of Ms. Mapp, five of the justices authored opinions which held that states are bound to exclude evidence that has been illegally obtained. The three dissenting justices argued that the 4th amendment did not need to apply to the states either because it did not need to be incorporated against them, or because of traditional views of federalism. Interestingly enough, all nine justices agreed that the law under which Ms. Mapp had been prosecuted, Ohio’s obscenity law violated the 1st amendment, however when Justice Clark crafted the majority opinion focusing on the 4th amendment, the justices disagreed on the focus of the opinion.
Ms. Mapp was freed, having established a new Constitutional protection for all Americans and immediately moved to New York City. In 1971, Police executed a search warrant on her Queens apartment and discovered $150k worth of heroin. Ms. Mapp was prosecuted for drug possession and under new tough on crime drug laws was sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in prison. From prison, Ms. Mapp became a vocal advocate against mandatory drug sentencing laws and helped see the repeal of New York’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws. In 1980, New York’s then Governor Hugh Carey commuted Ms. Mapp’s sentence and she was quickly pardoned. After her release, Ms. Mapp worked for a non-profit which provided legal assistance to indigent inmates. Ms. Mapp died in her Queens apartment in 2014, but her impact on the legal system lives on to this day.
The Legacy of Mapp v. Ohio is still profoundly important today. This case established the exclusionary rule and extended 4th amendment protections to all Americans regardless of which state they resided in. With Experienced Legal Representation, your rights against the use of illegally obtained evidence remains strong.
Written By Hunter White
 Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S. Ct. 1684 (1961)
 Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S. Ct. 341 (1914)
 Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243 (1833)
 Chi., B. & Q. R.R. Co. v. Chicago, 166 U.S. 226, 17 S. Ct. 581 (1897)
 Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 69 S. Ct. 1359 (1949)