The Warren Court left an unprecedented legacy of judicial activism in the area of civil rights law as well as in the area of civil liberties—specifically, the rights of the accused as addressed in Amendments 4 through 8. In the period from 1961 to 1969, the Warren Court examined almost every aspect of the criminal justice system in the United States, using the 14th Amendment to extend constitutional protections to all courts in every State. This process became known as the “nationalization” of the Bill of Rights. During those years, cases concerning the right to legal counsel, confessions, searches, and the treatment of juvenile criminals all appeared on the Court's docket.
The Warren Court's revolution in the criminal justice system began with the case of Mapp v. Ohio, the first of several significant cases in which it re-evaluated the role of the 14th Amendment as it applied to State judicial systems.
On May 23, 1957, police officers in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb received information that a suspect in a bombing case, as well as some illegal betting equipment, might be found in the home of Dollree Mapp. Three officers went to the home and asked for permission to enter, but Mapp refused to admit them without a search warrant. Two officers left, and one remained. Three hours later, the two returned with several other officers. Brandishing a piece of paper, they broke in the door. Mapp asked to see the “warrant” and took it from an officer, putting it in her dress. The officers struggled with Mapp and took the piece of paper away from her. They handcuffed her for being “belligerent.”
Police found neither the bombing suspect nor the betting equipment during their search, but they did discover some pornographic material in a suitcase by Mapp's bed. Mapp said that she had loaned the suitcase to a boarder at one time and that the contents were not her property. She was arrested, prosecuted, found guilty, and sentenced for possession of pornographic material. No search warrant was introduced as evidence at her trial.
The question before the Court involved 4th Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” and the “nationalization” of the Bill of Rights under the 14th Amendment. Was the search of Mapp's home legal and the evidence admissible under State law and criminal procedure? If the State criminal procedure code did not exclude the evidence as having been illegally gained, did Ohio law fail to provide Mapp her 4th Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures”? Weeks v. United States, 1914, established the exclusionary rule barring the admission of illegally obtained evidence in federal courts. Should that rule be extended, making evidence gained by an illegal search inadmissible in State courts as well?
For Mapp: The police, who possessed no warrant to search Mapp's property, had acted improperly by doing so. Any incriminating evidence found during the search should, therefore, be thrown out of court and her conviction overturned. If the 4th Amendment did not limit the prerogatives of police on the local and State level, local law enforcement would have a mandate to search wherever, whenever, and whomever they pleased. The exclusionary rule that applied in federal courts should also be applied to State court proceedings.
For the State of Ohio: Even if the search was made without proper authority, the State was not prevented from using the evidence seized because “the Fourteenth Amendment does not forbid the admission of evidence obtained by an unreasonable search and seizure.” In other words, Ohio argued, the 14th Amendment does not guarantee 4th Amendment protections in the State courts. Furthermore, under the 10th Amendment, the States retain their right to operate a separate court system. The Bill of Rights only restricts and limits the actions of the National Government.
In a 6-3 decision, the Court overturned the conviction, and five justices found that the States were bound to exclude evidence seized in violation of the 4th Amendment. In the majority opinion, Justice Tom Clark declared: “We hold that all evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution [is] inadmissible in a state court…. Were it otherwise…the assurance against unreasonable…searches and seizures would be [meaningless].”
Clark explained that “Only last year [Elkins v. United States, 1960] the Court…recognized that the purpose of the exclusionary rule 'is to deter—to compel respect for the constitutional guarantee in the only effectively available way—by removing the incentive to disregard it.'” The Court thus ensured that “in either sphere [State or federal]…no man is to be convicted on unconstitutional evidence.” The 4th Amendment sets the standards for searches and seizures by law enforcement officials in the United States, the Court noted, and the 14th Amendment requires judges to uphold those standards in every State.
Evidence gained by an illegal search became inadmissible in State courts as a result of the decision. The 50-year development of the exclusionary rule for illegal evidence, begun in the Weeks case, 1914, and continued in Elkins, 1960, culminated with the decision reached in Mapp, 1961.
The “Mapp Rule” has since been modified by decisions of the Burger Court, including Nix v. Williams, 1984 (inevitable discovery rule), and U.S. v. Leon, 1984 (“good faith” exception), so the exclusionary rule is no longer as absolute as when first handed down in Mapp. Critics of the Warren Court charged that it “had gone too far in interfering with police work.”
Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), was a landmark case in criminal procedure, in which the United States Supreme Court decided that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures," may not be used in criminal prosecutions in state courts, as well as federal courts.
When the Cleveland Police Department received an anonymous tip that Dollree Mapp and her daughter were harboring a suspected bombing fugitive, they immediately went to her house and demanded entrance. Mapp called her attorney and under his advice she refused to give them entry because they did not have a warrant. Several hours later, more officers came to her door and demanded that they be permitted to enter her house. After Mapp refused, they forcibly opened a door to the house and proceeded in. Mapp confronted them and demanded to see the search warrant. The police waved a piece of paper in the air (claiming it was the warrant) and Mapp grabbed it and put it down her shirt. The police eventually got the "warrant" back from Mapp. The officers then feet cuffed her and went on to search her entire house for the fugitive. When they reached her basement they found a suitcase with pencil drawings of pornographic images i.e. figures engaging in sexual intercourse.
Mapp claims she was holding the trunk for a friend and was not aware of the contents inside.
The officers arrested Mapp for violating an Ohio law which prohibited the possession of obscene material. No fugitive or any evidence of one was ever found at the house. At her trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County. Mapp was convicted based on the evidence that was presented by the police. Mapp's attorney questioned the police about the warrant but they could not show one.
On appeal, the Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed. Mapp appealed further to the Supreme Court of Ohio. Her attorney argued that she should never have been brought to trial because the material evidence resulted from an illegal, warrantless search. The Court stated that the materials were admissible evidence and explained its ruling by differentiating between evidence that was peacefully taken from an inanimate object (the trunk) and forcibly taken from an individual. Based on this decision, Mapp's appeal was denied and her conviction upheld. She then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Supreme Court decision and rationale
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures but the Amendment does not include how to treat a search done without a warrant. In two previous cases (Boyd v. United States and Weeks v. United States), the court had determined that the federal government may not use such evidence due to the exclusionary rule which forbids evidence gathered illegally to be admissible in court; this rule had not been applied to state courts before. In Weeks v. United States (1914) the Supreme Court created the exclusionary rule for federal prosecutions; it was not enforced at all in state courts until 1949 when the court applied to search and seizure requirements in Wolf v. Colorado. The exclusionary rule was never broadly enforced at the state level until 1961 in Mapp v. Ohio.
The case was decided in Mapp's favor by a vote of 6-3. The court stated that the exclusionary rule also applies to states, meaning that states cannot use evidence gained by illegal means to convict someone. This overturned the Wolf ruling. Justice Clark, who wrote the majority opinion, explained that the court’s rationale is based on the connection between the fourth and the Fourteenth Amendment when he says: "Since the Fourth Amendment's right of privacy has been declared enforceable against the States through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth, it is enforceable against them by the same sanction of exclusion as is used against the Federal Government." The court believed that if the right of privacy stated in the Fourth Amendment is valid with regard to action by the states, so too should be the exclusionary rule. Also, Justice Clark believed that this decision was clearly common sense, and that the exclusionary rule was a very important part of both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Clark defended his decision against the argument that this rule allows criminals to go free just because a police officer made a mistake, writing that "it is the law that sets him [the criminal] free" and that "Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws."
In the concurring opinion written by Justice Black, Black expresses doubt that the Fourth Amendment alone can be used to prevent illegally obtained evidence from being used in state courts because it is not explicitly stated. He believes the command that no unreasonable searches or seizures be allowed is too little to infer such a large decision. With these differences aside he feels that along with previous court decisions that the "Fourth Amendment's ban against unreasonable searches and seizures is considered together with the Fifth Amendment's ban against compelled self-incrimination, a constitutional basis emerges which not only justifies, but actually requires the exclusionary rule."
Justice Harlan's dissenting opinion argued that the majority had wrongly "reached out" to overrule Wolf, saying "[I] can perceive no justification for regarding this case as an appropriate occasion for re-examining Wolf" and complaining that the issue had not been properly briefed. He also felt the wrong question was brought up.