Suspicious that Dollree Mapp might be hiding a person suspected in a
bombing, the police went to her home in Cleveland, Ohio. They knocked on
her door and demanded entrance. On the advice of her lawyer, Mapp
refused to let them in because they did not have a warrant.
After observing her house for several hours and recruiting more
officers to the scene, the police forced their way into Mapp's house.
When Mapp confronted them and demanded to see their search warrant, one
of the officers held up a piece of paper. He claimed it was the search
warrant. Mapp grabbed the paper but an officer recovered it and
handcuffed Mapp. The police dragged her upstairs and searched her
bedroom. Finding nothing there they went to other rooms in the house,
including the basement.
As a result of their search of the basement, the police found a trunk
containing pornographic books, pictures, and photographs. They arrested
Mapp and charged her with violating an Ohio law against the possession
of obscene materials. At the trial the police officers did not show Mapp
and her attorney the alleged search warrant or explain why they refused
to do so. Nevertheless, the court found Mapp guilty and sentenced her
Mapp and her attorney appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Mapp's attorney argued that because the police had no warrant, their
search of her basement was illegal. Because the search was illegal, he
said, the evidence gained from the search was also illegal. Illegal
evidence should not have been allowed in Mapp's trial. In the ruling,
the Court disagreed and said that because the evidence was taken
peacefully from the trunk, rather than by force from Mapp, it was legal.
As a result, Mapp's appeal was denied and her conviction upheld.
Mapp then appealed her case to the Supreme Court of the United
States. The case came down to this fundamental question: Is evidence
obtained through a search that violates the Fourth Amendment admissible
in state courts? The Fourth Amendment states, "The right of the people to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no
warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause . . . and particularly
describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be
seized." The Fourth Amendment, however, does not define when a search or
seizure becomes "unreasonable." It also does not explain how evidence
obtained from an "unreasonable" search should be treated.
Mapp's case was not the first case to ask this kind of question. In several rulings over the hundred years leading up to Mapp,
the Supreme Court of the United States had tried to answer questions
about what, exactly, the Fourth Amendment means. They had agreed that
neither federal nor state officials could conduct "unreasonable
searches". Furthermore, in Weeks v. United States,
they had determined that federal officials could not use evidence
obtained in such searches at trial. However, they had not ruled on
whether states could use illegally seized evidence to convict a
criminal. Some states, including Ohio, felt that they should be able to
make their own determination regarding this issue. Doing so would be
consistent with historical tradition—states had always supervised the
operation of their criminal justice systems.
In 1960 the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear Mapp's
case and determine whether the Fourth and 14th Amendments, which
said the Fourth Amendment applies to the states, prohibited state
officials from using evidence obtained in an unreasonable search. The
decision in Mapp v. Ohio was handed down in 1961.
Questions to Consider
In your opinion, was Mapp right to not let the police enter her house? Explain your reasoning.
The Fourth Amendment states "The right of the people to be secure . .
. against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated. . .
." Pretend that you were a justice for the Supreme Court of Ohio. What,
if anything, would you find unreasonable in the search of Mapp's house?
The Supreme Court of the United States has to balance the protection
of the rights of individuals against the protection of society. If the
police had not searched Mapp's house they would never have found the
pornography. With this in mind, do you think the rights of Mapp or
society should have been more important? Explain.
Students may use this handout to record their answers.