Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)

2012-07-29 11:01:53

This landmark case established that federal and state courts must exclude evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Police received a tip that a suspect was hiding in Dollree Mapp’s home. Officers knocked on Mapp’s door and demanded entrance. She called her lawyer, who instructed her not to allow the police into the home without a warrant. She followed this advice and, in response, the police surrounded her home for hours. They again sought entrance and, when Mapp did not immediately come to the door, police forcibly entered. When Mapp demanded a warrant, an officer held up a paper. When Mapp grabbed it, officers handcuffed her. During the widespread unlawful search that ensued, police recovered ‘‘obscene materials.’’ At trial, Mapp was convicted of possession of those materials. The prosecution never produced a warrant.

The Supreme Court reversed Mapp’s conviction and established the ‘‘exclusionary rule’’ requiring that trial courts suppress evidence obtained by means of unlawful searches or seizures. The Court reasoned that the Fourth Amendment would be an ‘‘empty promise’’ without the remedy of exclusion. Furthermore, since Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886) and Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914) established the rule in federal prosecutions, Mapp’s expansion of exclusion to state courts would create parity. Finally, the Court focused on preserving ‘‘judicial integrity,’’ stating that convicting even the guilty with unconstitutionally obtained evidence would reduce respect for the judiciary and undermine the rule of law.

The dissent complained on several grounds. First, it argued that the Court’s action violated states’ rights. The Court posited that the Fourth Amendment was applicable to the states by means of the ‘‘incorporation doctrine’’—the notion that ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment made the Bill of Rights (including the Fourth Amendment) enforceable against the states. The dissent countered that state court convictions arise out of a sovereign judicial system, which the Constitution’s federalist system protects. Second, the dissent noted that the exclusionary rule would distort trials’ truth-seeking function. Nothing would undermine ‘‘judicial integrity’’ more than trials that excluded truth. Finally, the dissent took issue with the Court’s fusion of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to conclude that the Fourth required exclusion. Although constitutional provisions should be construed in light of each other, a Fifth Amendment violation occurs with the admission at trial of coerced statements. A Fourth Amendment violation, however, is the unlawful search or seizure. Thus, the remedies for violation of the two provisions should diverge.

Present-day commentators such as Professor Akhil Reed Amar have focused on the lack of textual or historical bases for the exclusionary rule. Nowhere in the Fourth Amendment’s text is there an exclusion requirement. Furthermore, the amendment’s drafters were aware of the common-law remedy of trespass suits as redress for search and seizure improprieties. Thus, exclusion would have been unthinkable. Furthermore, Mapp’s goal of deterring police misconduct has not been fully realized; exclusion has not curtailed Fourth Amendment violations. Subjecting the government to liability for improper searches and seizures by means of civil tort actions, the commentators assert, would better curtail abuses than the exclusionary rule. In addition, it would restore trials to their intended function: a search for the truth using all evidence.


References and Further Reading

  • Amar, Akhil Reed, Fourth Amendment First Principles, Harvard Law Review 107 (1994): 757.
  • Johnson, Sheri Lynn, Of Myths and Mapp: A Response to Professor Magee, Cap. University Law Review 23 (1994): 221.
  • Katz, Lewis R., Mapp After Forty Years: Its Impact on Race in America, Case Western Reserve Law Review 52 (2001): 471.
  • Magee, Robin K., The Myth of the Good Cop and the Inadequacy of Fourth Amendment Remedies for Black Men: Contrasting Presumptions of Innocence and Guilt, Cap. University Law Review 23 (1994): 151.
  • Stewart, Potter, The Road to Mapp v. Ohio and Beyond: The Origins, Development and Future of the Exclusionary Rule in Search and Seizure Cases, Columbia Law Review 83 (1983): 1365.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886)
  • McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332 (1943)
  • Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920)
  • Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914)
  • Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25 (1949)

See also Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971); Exclusionary Rule; Incorporation Doctrine; Search (General Definition); Search Warrants; Seizures