Mapp v. Ohio: Plaintiff in Landmark Civil Rights Case Dies

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 12, 2014 7:44 AM

Dollree Mapp, the appellant in a groundbreaking case, Mapp v. Ohio, which fundamentally strengthened our Fourth Amendment rights, has passed away.

Despite being in a landmark Supreme Court case, it took about a month after Mapp's death for the media to take notice. The New York Times reports that Mapp was believed to be 90 or 91 when she died October 31 in or near Conyers, Georgia.

In remembrance, let's review the Mapp case and all it has done for civil rights.

Mapp Defied Police Wanting to Search her Home

More than 57 years ago, police officers showed up at Dollree Mapp's home in Cleveland, Ohio, demanding that they be let inside. Authorities believed that there was a bomber hiding inside the home, and they requested that Mapp let them in. She refused, asking for a search warrant which police never really produced. The whole incident ended with police forcing their way into Mapp's home, searching her and her daughter's room, and eventually arresting Mapp based on some sexually explicit materials they found.

Four years later, Mapp had appealed her obscenity conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps hoping to get it thrown out on the basis of a First Amendment free speech argument. But lo and behold, the Supreme Court took a significant look at the police searches in Mapp's case and determined that they violated her Fourth Amendment rights.

And even more importantly, they determined that the exclusionary rule applied, throwing out the evidence gained from the illegal search of Mapp's house.

Warrantless Search Evidence Excluded in All Courts

Prior to Mapp, the exclusionary rule had only been successfully used to exclude evidence that was the fruit of an illegal search or seizure in federal court. The rule came out of a 1914 case, Weeks v. United States, which, prior to Mapp, did not apply to state police or state courts.

With state police and prosecutors now threatened with the thought of losing their cases as the result of Fourth Amendment violations, more care would be taken to safeguard suspects' rights -- at least hypothetically. Future courts would carve out exceptions to the exclusionary rule that were seen as eroding Mapp (inevitable discovery, good faith on a defective warrant, etc.)

But the fact remains that none of the expansion of Fourth Amendment rights in the last five decades would have occurred if Mapp hadn't stood her ground. And for that, we thank her.

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