Ms. Dollree Mapp and her daughter lived in Cleveland, Ohio. After
receiving information that an individual wanted in connection with a
recent bombing was hiding in Mapp's house, the Cleveland police knocked
on her door and demanded entrance. Mapp called her attorney and
subsequently refused to let the police in when they failed to produce a
search warrant. After several hours of surveillance and the arrival of
more officers, the police again sought entrance to the house. Although
Mapp did not allow them to enter, they gained access by forcibly opening
at least one door. Once the police were inside the house, Mapp
confronted them and demanded to see their warrant. One of the officers
held up a piece of paper claiming it was a search warrant. Mapp grabbed
the paper but an officer recovered it and handcuffed Mapp "because she
had been belligerent." Dragging Mapp upstairs, officers proceeded to
search not only her room, but also her daughter's bedroom, the kitchen,
dinette, living room, and basement.
In the course of the basement search, police found a trunk containing
"lewd and lascivious" books, pictures, and photographs. As a result,
Mapp was arrested for violating Ohio's criminal law prohibiting the
possession of obscene materials. At trial, the court found her guilty of
the violation based on the evidence presented by the police. When
Mapp's attorney questioned the officers about the alleged warrant and
asked for it to be produced, the police were unable or unwilling to do
so. Nonetheless, Mapp was found guilty and sentenced to 1 to 7 years in
the Ohio Women's Reformatory.
Upon her conviction, Mapp appealed her case to the Supreme Court of
Ohio. Her attorney argued that she should never have been brought to
trial because the material evidence resulted from an illegal,
warrantless search. Because the search was unlawful, he maintained, the
evidence was illegally obtained and must also be excluded. In its
ruling, the Supreme Court of Ohio recognized that "a reasonable
argument" could be made that the conviction should be reversed "because
the 'methods' employed to obtain the [evidence]. . . were such as to
'offend' a sense of justice." But the Court also stated that the
materials were admissible evidence. The Court explained its ruling by
differentiating between evidence that was peacefully seized from an
inanimate object (the trunk) rather than forcibly seized from an
individual. Based on this decision, Mapp's appeal was denied and her
Mapp appealed again to the Supreme Court of the United States. The
case came down to this fundamental question: May evidence obtained
through a search in violation of the Fourth Amendment be admissible in
state criminal proceedings? 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 is "unreasonable" nor does it specify how evidence obtained
from an "unreasonable" search should be treated.
While never previously addressing the specific question presented by
Mapp's case, the Supreme Court of the United States had made attempts to
determine what constitutes a reasonable search and what evidence can be
used in court. It first wrestled with these issues in Boyd v. United States
(1886) when the Court declared that "any forcible and compulsory
extortion of a man's own . . . private papers to be used as evidence to
convict him of a crime . . . is within the condemnation of . . . [the
Fourth Amendment]. Later, in Weeks v. United States
(1914), the Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment "put the courts of the
United States and federal officials . . . under limitations . . . and
forever secure[d] the people, their persons, houses, papers and effects
against all unreasonable searches and seizures. . . ." By including only
United States and federal officials in its ruling, however, the Court
still left open the question of whether evidence unlawfully seized could
be used in a state criminal court proceeding. In Wolf v. Colorado
(1949), the Court for the first time discussed the effect of the Fourth
Amendment on the states. It concluded that the Due Process Clause of the
14th Amendment incorporated, or made applicable to the states,
the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. However, the ruling in Wolf
also made clear that "in a prosecution in a State court for a State
crime the 14th Amendment does not forbid the admission of evidence
obtained by an unreasonable search and seizure." In other words, the
exclusionary rule did not apply to the states.
Some states, including Ohio, felt that they should be able to make
their own determination regarding the admissibility of illegally
obtained evidence. Nevertheless, in 1960 the Supreme Court of the United
States agreed to hear Mapp's case and reconsider the decision it had
reached in Wolf by determining whether the U.S. Constitution
prohibited state officials from using evidence obtained in violation of
the Fourth Amendment. The decision in Mapp v. Ohio was handed down in 1961.
Questions to Consider
In your opinion, was Dollree Mapp justified in denying the police entrance to 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 . . .
" If you were a justice for the Supreme Court of Ohio what, if
anything, would you find unreasonable in the search of Mapp's house?
Complete the chart below based on your reading.
Why didn't the Court's decision in Wolf protect Mapp?
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
trunk containing "lewd and lascivious books." With this in mind, do you
think the rights of Mapp or society should have been given more weight?
Students may use this handout to record answers and research.