Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25 (1949)

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Dr. Wolf stood trial for conspiring with Mildred Cairo to perform an abortion. The prosecution sought to introduce Wolf’s appointment book to show that Wolf and Cairo had been in contact. Wolf claimed that it had been seized in violation of Colorado law. The book was introduced over Wolf’s objection and he was convicted.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court, Wolf’s arguments relied on the 1914 case, Weeks v. United States. Here the Court created the exclusionary rule. Under this rule, illegally seized evidence could not be used in federal court. Wolf argued that the Fourteenth Amendment demanded that the rule be applied in state court as well.

In the Court’s opinion, Justice Frankfurter wrote that the Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal searches and seizures is ‘‘basic to a free society.’’ Further, the states had an obligation, under the Fourteenth Amendment, to sanction the police when the police violated a citizen’s rights. Frankfurter acknowledged that the exclusionary rule was one way to sanction the police for illegal searches and seizures, but he argued that this rule was not the only means to control such illegal activity and he declined to impose this approach on the states. The exclusionary rule was simply a judge-made remedy, not part of the Fourth Amendment. Further, he was persuaded by the fact that forty-seven states had considered the exclusionary rule and thirty had rejected it.

In 1961, Wolf v. Colorado was reversed by Mapp v. Ohio. Mapp applied the exclusionary rule to state courts.


References and Further Reading

  • Friendly, Fred W., and Martha J.H. Elliott. The Constitution— That Delicate Balance. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. A March of Liberty—A Constitutional History of the United States. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)
  • Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914)

See also Bill of Rights: Structure; Due Process; Exclusionary Rule; Incorporation Doctrine