On May 23, 1957, in the Cleveland home of future boxing promoter Don King, three police officers demanded to enter to search for a man who they believed had been involved in a recent bombing. The tenant of the home, Dollree Mapp, refused to admit the police without a warrant. The officers left and returned several hours later, forcing their way into the home. Ms. Mapp called an attorney and again insisted that the officers produce a search warrant. A struggle ensued between one officer and Ms. Mapp over a piece of paper which the officer claimed was a warrant. The battle over the unwarranted intrusion into Ms. Mapp’s premises ultimately led to the one of the most important constitutional cases in U.S. history. On October 31, 2014, although only reported last week in the New York Times, Ms. Mapp died at the age of 90 in Conyers, Georgia.
After entering the house under false pretenses, the officers searched and discovered some sexually explicit materials, including books and drawings, which Ms. Mapp indicated were the possessions of a previous tenant. Ms. Mapp was handcuffed and arrested on obscenity charges. She was later convicted and sentenced to four years in jail. Her conviction was upheld on appeal to an Ohio appellate Court.
The U.S Supreme Court decided to hear the case originally on First Amendment issues and questions regarding what constituted obscenity. However, when the case of Mapp v Ohio was heard in June of 1961, it took on much greater significance, and became one of the most important decisions in the history of the Court. The issue the Court focused on was the role of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Due to the fact that the prosecutors had never provided a proper search warrant or proved that it ever existed, Ms. Mapp’s conviction was overturned. The Court, in a 6-3 decision, and in extending what is known as the “exclusionary rule”, held that evidence obtained by illegal means, which was previously suppressed only in federal Courts, would now be excluded in state Courts as well. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Tom C. Clark declared: “The state, by admitting evidence unlawfully seized, serves to encourage disobedience to the federal Constitution which it is bound to uphold.”
Over the last several years, the current Chief Justice John G. Roberts and his conservative brethren on the Court have been attempting to chip away at the constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures by overzealous police officers. When Roberts was an attorney in the Reagan administration, he started this quest to attack the exclusionary rule through litigation and legislation which he introduced. Five years ago, in Herring v. United States, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in a 5-4 decision which upheld the conviction of Mr. Herring based on drug and weapons charges utilizing false information that he had been the subject of a warrant. With the current roster of Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy, there is every reason to be concerned that the attack on the exclusionary rule, and with that attack, increased police misconduct leading to improperly gathered evidence, will continue.
If you or a loved one are charged with a crime, contact the experienced lawyers at the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel online or toll free at 914-224-3086 for a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options.