Can the Police Use Evidence They Got Illegally? | Mapp v. Ohio
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Can the Police Use Evidence They Got Illegally? | Mapp v. Ohio

Mr. Beat presents Supreme Court Briefs Cleveland, Ohio
May 23, 1957 Someone sets a bomb off at Don King’s house. Yep, that Don King, the future boxer promoter who at the time was a controversial bookie who had many enemies. So yeah, apparently one of those enemies was whoever bombed his house that day. The Cleveland police got a tip that a another bookie named Virgil Ogletree might have been involved with the bombing, and that he was hiding out in the house of Dollree Mapp. They also suspected stuff to make a bomb might be at the house. Three Cleveland police officers get to Mapp’s house, knock on the door and she answers. They ask to enter, but Mapp says “you gotta warrant?” After the police say no, she refuses to let them in. Two of the officers leave, but one hangs out across the street to stake out the place. Three hours later, even more officers return and knock on her door. This time Mapp doesn’t answer, and they break down the door and enter without permission. Mapp asks again to see a warrant. One of the officers shows her a piece of paper that is supposedly the warrant. She snatches the paper and puts it in her blouse. The officer reaches inside her clothing and she resists while he tries to get it back. He eventually does it get it back, and that piece of paper is never seen again. The police handcuffed Mapp and continued to search her home. They did find Ogletree, who later was cleared of being connected to the bombing, but while they were looking for him they also found evidence of illegal gambling, a pistol, and a small collection of sexually explicit materials that a previous resident had left behind. The Cleveland police arrested Mapp for having the gambling stuff but was later cleared. However, she didn’t cooperate with authorities very well, and several months later they turned around and charged her with having the sexually explicit materials, which apparently was illegal in Ohio at the time. Illegal, Mr. Beat? Yes, in 1957 it was illegal to possess “obscene materials.” Mapp was found guilty and sentenced to up to seven years in prison. Mapp appealed to the Ohio Court of Appeals for the Eighth District, arguing that the Ohio law banning the possession of obscene material went against the First Amendment. But what about the Fourth Amendment, Mr. Beat? Well, surprisingly, the Fourth Amendment wasn’t Mapp’s focus, but she could have also said that the police broke the Fourth Amendment when they searched through her stuff. Specifically, the police had no probable cause to suspect her of having the sexually explicit books, and they couldn’t use the books as evidence in court because they were found without a warrant. In addition, Mapp could have argued to get the 4th Amendment applied to both the state and local level, not just the federal level. The Ohio Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court, so Mapp appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. They also agreed, so she appealed to the Supreme uh Supreme Court. By this time, 4 years had passed since the police had raided Mapp’s home. The Court heard oral arguments on March 29, 1961. It was soon apparent that the Court didn’t give a darn about the First Amendment…in this case. Lemme finish. They didn’t give a darn about the First Amendment IN THIS CASE. Instead, they were all focused on the 4th amendment. You see, there was this law called the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule said you couldn’t use evidence if the police got it illegally. It had been applied since 1914 in the ruling for the case Weeks v. United States, but only at the federal level. In the 1949 decision Wolf v. Colorado, the Court had declined to extend exclusionary protections at the state level. On June 19, 1961, the Court announced its decision. They voted 6-3, in favor of Mapp, overturning her conviction. The reason? Not because of the First Amendment. Because of the Fourth Amendment. The police did not have a valid warrant, and so the Court threw out any evidence the Cleveland police got that day in May of 1957 when they raided Mapp’s home. They couldn’t use any of it. So yeah, the Court expanded the exclusionary rule to the state level, saying the 14th Amendment gave them the authority to do so. Mapp v. Ohio was really a win for the Fourth Amendment, though. It really put the 4th Amendment back on the map. Ha! Get it? Back on the map? And her name was Mapp? I don’t know why I’m a history teacher when clearly I should be a comedian. Anyway, people later called Dolly Mapp the “Rosa Parks of the Fourth Amendment.” Justice Tom Clark wrote the opinion. “The state, by admitting evidence unlawfully seized, serves to encourage disobedience to the federal Constitution which it is bound to uphold. Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws, or worse, its disregard of the charter of its own existence.” Oh snap Justice Clark. So yeah, more than anything, this case was a win for privacy. So whatever happened to Dolly Mapp? Well, she later was arrested for theft and dealing heroin. During her 10 years in prison, however, she became an activist for prisoner rights, especially for reducing sentences for drug offenses. After she was released from prison, she used all of her experience with courts to work for a nonprofit organization that gave legal help to inmates. I’ll see you for the next Supreme Court case, jury! You know, this case got me thinking… Which of the Bill of Rights do you think is most under attack right now? I think it’s the 4th Amendment, obviously. That’s why I brought up the question. But let me know in the comments below. And a shout out to a couple people this episode. First, my newest Patreon supporter, Matthew Clarke, Another Matthew in the house. Matthew Club, yes. Thank you for your support, Matthew. Also a shout out to my student. He’s in guitar club with me. He wrote an original song, providing the backing music for this episode. So a shout out to Isaac. Great job, Isaac! Thanks for watching.


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