Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the devastating Supreme Court case of Wolf v. Colorado. In Wolf, the Supreme Court chose to not extend the holding of Weeks v. United States to the states, effectively allowing states to use illegally obtained evidence in court without repercussion, a practice that had been outlawed in Federal courts for 35 years.
The case giving rise to this regrettable decision highlight a different time in American history, a time which unfortunately, many wish we would go back to. April 25th, 1944, police were contacted by an anonymous informant that a woman in an area hotel was severely ill as a result of an illegally obtained abortion. At the time, abortion was illegal in most of the United States for most if not all cases. In fact, at the time, illegally obtained abortions accounted for 1/6th of all female’s deaths in the United States until the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade.
Police arrived and immediately took the woman, later identified as Ms. Gertrude Martin to the Denver General Hospital. Under questioning, Ms. Martin admitted to having an abortion, and stated that Dr. A. H. Montgomery had performed the abortion and Dr. Julius A. Wolf had helped, performing a physical on her before and after the procedure. Dr. Wolf was a well-respected graduate of the University of Colorado Medical School, OBGYN, and medical doctor for 47 years, Dr. Montgomery however, was a chiropractor and pharmacist who had practiced medicine for 15 years.
When Dr. Wolf was arrested, police immediately searched his medical office obtaining patient books and list. Police however did not have a warrant to arrest Dr. Wolf, nor a warrant to search his Office. From the items illegally seized, police found six women who would testify that Dr. Wolf had aided them in obtaining abortions from Dr. Montgomery with the help of Charles H. and Betty Fulton. From this evidence, the state eventually charged Dr. Wolf, Charles H, and Ms. Fulton with conspiracy to commit illegal abortions.
Dr. Wolf was tried twice, once with Dr. Montgomery, and once with Charles H, and Ms. Fulton. Dr. Wolf was found guilty in both trials and sentenced to 1 to 1 ½ years in prison for his first charge, and 1 ½ years to 5 years in prison for the second charge along with his co-defendants. In both trials Dr. Wolf argued that the patient logs and list used as the principle evidence against him and his co-conspirators was inadmissible because it had been illegally obtained by the police. Relying on the holding of Weeks v United States, Dr. Wolf argued that the evidence ought to be excluded because the evidence had been obtained in violation of the 4th amendment of the constitution. However, the Trial court overruled Dr. Wolf’s objection, relying on a 1925 Colorado Supreme Court case which had held the federal exclusionary rule did not apply to the state of Colorado. Subsequent appeals to the Colorado Appeals Court and the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, and the ability of the state to use illegally obtained evidence. After exhausting all of his appeals, Dr. Wolf applied for a writ of Certiorari from the Supreme Court and was granted cert in early-1948.
On October 19th, 1948, At the Supreme Court, Dr. Wolf argued that the exclusionary rule created in the landmark decision of Weeks, should be applied to the states via incorporation of the 4th amendment through the 14th amendment. Thus, Dr. Wolf’s argument was that illegally obtained evidence, in violation of the 4th amendment must be excluded, even if the case is in state court.
The State argued that the holding in Weeks specifically only applied to the Federal government, that the search was not illegal under Colorado law even though it violated the Colorado Constitution, and that the 4th amendment should not be incorporated against the states because the states had their own safeguards in place to dissuade law enforcement from illegally searching for evidence. The state failed to say what safe guards they had in place to protect people from illegally obtained evidence.
The Supreme Court rendered its judgment June 27th, 1949. In a 6 – 3 decision, the majority led by Justice Frankfurter rejected Dr. Wolf’s argument and affirmed his conviction. The majority held that while the exclusionary rule was an effective means of preventing law enforcement from performing illegal searches, other effective means for dissuading such behavior existed such as public scorn and indignation. The Majority relied on an originalist interpretation of the 4th amendment, holding that because the 4th amendment does not specifically mandate that illegally obtained evidence should be suppressed, it is not necessarily true that the federal governments remedy for the violation of that right, should be the same for the state governments. Finally, the majority suggested that the U.S. Congress, or the various state legislators could pass a law if they wanted to correct this issue.
The three dissenting justices, each authored their own opinion focusing on different issues. Justice Douglas argued that the 4th amendment should be incorporated against the states via the 14th amendment, and to fail to do so would render the 4th amendment protections meaningless. Justice Murphy argued that the majorities belief that other methods of dissuading illegal search and seizure did not work. Finally, Justice Rutledge argued that idea Congress could pass a meaningful law to address this issue was laughable, and argued that the Supreme Court should reverse Dr. Wolf’s conviction because of the illegally obtained evidence.
The decision in Wolf stood for another 12 years until the Supreme Court righted the disastrous decision with the landmark case of Mapp v. Ohio. However, for those 12 years, states continued to use illegally obtained evidence to secure convictions against people, largely without consequences. While some may disagree with what Dr. Wolf was doing, the idea of allowing illegally obtained evidence to be used against people should be something everyone can agree is reprehensible.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court eventually corrected this disastrous decision, and extended the exclusionary rule to the states. With the help of Experienced Legal Representation, you can ensure you are protected from the state using illegal evidence against you.
Written by Hunter White
 Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 69 S. Ct. 1359 (1949)
 Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705 (1973)
 Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S. Ct. 341 (1914)
 Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S. Ct. 1684 (1961)