Unlawfully Seized Criminal Evidence Can Be Excluded in State Courts Because of the Mapp v. Ohio Supreme Court Decision

In light of the recent reports of the passing of Dollree Mapp on November 4, 2014, many in the legal community have taken a moment to reflect back on the seminal US Supreme Court case in that Ms. Mapp was involved. Absent the case of Mapp v. Ohio, the handling of unlawfully seized evidence in state courts would be quite different today. However to understand as to why the Mapp case was a seminal moment in American criminal law, we must first discuss the state of the law in 1961, prior to the Supreme Court Decision in Mapp that extended protections to apply against the states.

Police Crime Scene

Originally the Bill of Rights Applied only to the Federal Government

In general it is not a widely known fact that prior to, roughly, the turn of the 20th century, the Bill of Rights contained in the first 10 amendments of the US Constitution was applicable only to the federal government. That is, as per the 1833 decision in Barron v. Baltimore, the Bill of Rights provided no protections against actions taken by state governments. Essentially, what this could mean is that at the time, evidence that was unlawfully obtained for use federal courts could be excluded. However, if the same individual faced state-based criminal charges where evidence was unlawfully gathered, this evidence could not be excluded.

Thankfully, this cramped and limited view of the Bill of Rights is no longer the law of the land. The first time the Bill of Rights would be held to apply to the states was in regards to the First Amendment, free speech. The process of each of the provisions of the Bill of Rights being applied to the state governments became known as incorporation. However the process of incorporation proceeded slowly and in fits and starts. Wolf v. Colorado (1949) held that the Fourth Amendment, concerned with illegal searches and seizures, was not applicable to the states however protections against unreasonable searches applied through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However the decision was largely toothless due to the lack of a workable remedy, such as exclusion of the evidence, since the court ruled that the 14th Amendment did not forbid the admission of illegally obtained evidence. The Fourth Amendment remedies, would not be addressed until Mapp v. Ohio was granted certiorari by the Supreme Court Justices.

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What Changes Did Mapp Bring?

The Mapp case arose after Ms. Mapp requested that an officer produce a search warrant prior to searching her home for a man that was believed to have been involved in a crime. The officers failed to produce a warrant and, after reinforcements arrived, they forced their way into Ms. Mapp’s home where a search was conducted. The search uncovered sexually explicit materials which were illegal in Ohio at the time. Ms. Mapp was arrested and subsequently convicted on obscenity charges.

The case found its way to the Supreme Court ostensibly because of First Amendment Free Speech issues regarding the sexually explicit materials upon which the conviction was based. However the court’s ultimate decision was more firmly entrenched in the incorporation of the Fourth Amendment and its exclusionary remedies. In his 1961 majority opinion Justice Clark wrote, “The state, by admitting evidence unlawfully seized, serves to encourage disobedience to the federal Constitution which it is bound to uphold.”

While attacks on the exclusionary rule have stretched back to, at least, the Reagan administration, recent developments such as the 2009 Herring decision have made some legal scholars question whether Mapp will survive. The exclusionary rule has already been weakened in that it does not apply when police act under an incorrect assumption, inaccurate information, or mistaken legal guidance when those mistakes are made in good-faith.

The experienced criminal defense attorneys of Lombardo Law can help you understand the law and can protect your rights aggressively and strategically. To schedule your free & confidential legal consultation, contact Lombardo Law today at (609) 445-4300.

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