Landmark Supreme Court Case: Mapp v. Ohio (1961)
Mapp v. Ohio (1961) is the 109th landmark Supreme Court case, the fifteenth in the Criminal Rights module, featured in the KTB Prep American Government and Civics series designed to acquaint users with the origins, concepts, organizations, and policies of the United States government and political system. The goal is greater familiarization with the rights and obligations of citizenship at the local, state, national, and global levels and the history of our nation as a democracy. While there is overlap, these landmark cases are separated into cases addressing:
- Foreign Policy
- Science & Technology
- Public Safety
- Death Penalty
- Speech, Press, and Protest
- Criminal Justice
- Politics, Society, Freedom, and Equality
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Article III of the U.S. Constitution created the Supreme Court and authorized Congress to pass laws establishing a system of lower courts. The Constitution elaborated neither the exact powers and prerogatives of the Supreme Court nor the organization of the Judicial Branch as a whole. Thus, it has been left to Congress and to the Justices of the Court through their decisions to develop the Federal Judiciary and a body of Federal law.
The number of Justices on the Supreme Court changed six times before settling at the present total of nine in 1869. Since the formation of the Court in 1790, there have been only 17 Chief Justices* and 102 Associate Justices, with Justices serving for an average of 16 years. On average a new Justice joins the Court almost every two years.
The Supreme Court of the United States hears about 100 to 150 appeals of the more than 7,000 cases it is asked to review every year. That means the decisions made by the 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals across the country and the Federal Circuit Court are the last word in thousands of cases.
Court of Appeals
In the federal court system’s present form, 94 district level trial courts and 13 courts of appeals sit below the Supreme Court. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals. The appellate court’s task is to determine whether or not the law was applied correctly in the trial court. Appeals courts consist of three judges and do not use a jury.
The appellate courts do not retry cases or hear new evidence. They do not hear witnesses testify. There is no jury. Appellate courts review the procedures and the decisions in the trial court to make sure that the proceedings were fair and that the proper law was applied correctly.
A court of appeals hears challenges to district court decisions from courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws, and cases decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
The nation’s 94 trial courts are called U.S. District Courts. At a trial in a U.S. District Court, witnesses give testimony and a judge or jury decides who is guilty or not guilty — or who is liable or not liable. District courts resolve disputes by determining the facts and applying legal principles to decide who is right.
Trial courts include the district judge who tries the case and a jury that decides the case. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing cases for trial. They may also conduct trials in misdemeanor cases.
There is at least one district court in each state, and the District of Columbia. Each district includes a U.S. bankruptcy court as a unit of the district court.
Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases involving personal, business, or farm bankruptcy. This means a bankruptcy case cannot be filed in state court. Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) are 3-judge panels authorized to hear appeals of bankruptcy court decisions. These panels are a unit of the federal courts of appeals, and must be established by that circuit. Five circuits have established panels: First Circuit, Sixth Circuit, Eighth Circuit, Ninth Circuit, and Tenth Circuit.
Mapp v. Ohio (1961)
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated ….” But from the Constitution’s establishment in 1789 until the early 20th century, Americans’ only legal remedies in cases where government officers violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment were private lawsuits against the officers involved, either in trespass to recover damages or in replevin to recover seized goods or property. However, in 1914, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Weeks v. United States that any evidence obtained by federal law enforcement officers in violation of the Fourth Amendment could not be used in federal criminal proceedings. In an opinion written by Justice William R. Day, the Court reasoned that the Supreme Court had a constitutional duty to ensure federal courts excluded illegally obtained evidence:
The effect of the Fourth Amendment is to put the courts of the United States and Federal officials, in the exercise of their power and authority, under limitations and restraints as to the exercise of such power and authority …. The tendency of those who execute the criminal laws of the country to obtain conviction by means of unlawful seizures … should find no sanction in the judgments of the courts, which are charged at all times with the support of the Constitution, and to which people of all conditions have a right to appeal for the maintenance of such rights.— Weeks, 232 U.S. at 391–92.
Over the next several decades, the Court generally held that this “exclusionary rule” only applied to cases in which federal officers were involved in the illegal searches and seizures.
In 1949, the Court confronted the issue of the exclusionary rule’s application to states in the case of Wolf v. Colorado. The Court surveyed contemporaneous U.S. states and found that although 17 states had adopted the exclusionary rule of Weeks in their own state law, 30 others had rejected it. It therefore concluded that it was not a “departure from basic standards” of due process to allow states to introduce illegally obtained evidence in state trials.
For the next 12 years until Mapp, the Court did not apply the exclusionary rule to evidence obtained by state officers and used in state courts unless coercion, violence, or brutality was involved. For example, in the 1952 case Rochin v. California the Court required a California state court to exclude evidence that state officers had illegally obtained, but only because the officers used “conduct that shocks the conscience” – they had a physician give a suspect an emetic to force him to vomit up capsules he had swallowed.
Dollree “Dolly” Mapp (c. 1923–2014) was a young woman who became involved with the illegal gambling operations of mobster and racketeer Shondor Birns, who dominated organized crime in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1940s and 1950s. On May 23, 1957, Cleveland police received an anonymous tip that a man named Virgil Ogletree might be found at Mapp’s house, along with illegal betting slips and equipment employed in a “numbers game” set up by Mapp’s boyfriend. Ogletree was involved in the Cleveland illegal betting world, and was wanted for questioning in the bombing of rival gambling racketeer (and future boxing promoter) Don King’s home three days earlier.
Three policemen went to Mapp’s home and asked for permission to enter, but Mapp, after consulting her lawyer by telephone, refused to admit them without a search warrant. Two officers left, and one remained, watching the house from across the street.
Thirteen hours later, more police officers arrived and knocked on the door. When Mapp did not answer, they forced the door. Mapp asked to see their search warrant and was shown a piece of paper which she snatched away from an officer, putting it inside her dress. The officers struggled with Mapp and recovered the piece of paper which was not seen by her or her lawyers again, and was not introduced as evidence in any of the ensuing court proceedings.
As the search of Mapp’s second-floor, two-bedroom apartment began, police handcuffed her for being belligerent. The police searched the house thoroughly and discovered Ogletree, who was subsequently cleared on the bombing charge, hiding in the apartment of the downstairs tenant. In the search of Mapp’s apartment and in a footlocker in the basement of the house, the police found betting slips, a pistol, and a small number of pornographic books and pictures, which Mapp stated a previous tenant had left behind. The police arrested Mapp and charged her with a misdemeanor count of possessing numbers-game paraphernalia, but she was acquitted.
Several months later, after Mapp refused to testify against Birns and his associates at their trial for the attempted shakedown of King, she was prosecuted for possession of the pornographic books. Mapp was found guilty at trial of “knowingly having had in her possession and under her control certain lewd and lascivious books, pictures, and photographs in violation of 2905.34 of Ohio’s Revised Code”, and sentenced to one to seven years in prison. Mapp was backed by Don King.
Mapp was convicted even though prosecutors were unable to produce a valid search warrant. She appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which affirmed her conviction because even though the search warrant’s validity was doubtful and the police’s search of her home was illegal, the police officers had not used brutal force against her, and so under the Supreme Court’s precedents in Wolf and Rochin the exclusionary rule did not have to apply. Mapp then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear her case.
Q: Were the confiscated materials protected from seizure by the Fourth Amendment?
A: Yes. All evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the 4th Amendment are inadmissible in state court.
6-3 ruling The Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth, excludes unconstitutionally obtained evidence from use in criminal prosecutions. The exclusionary rule, which prevents prosecutors from using evidence in federal court that was obtained by violating the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution was selectively incorporated to the states overturning Weeks (1914).
Next Criminal Rights Case: Brady v. Maryland (1963)
Previous Criminal Rights Case: Jencks v. United States (1957)
Next Case: Baker v. Carr (1962)
Previous Case: Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960)