1957 May 23

Cleveland Police Raid Dolree Mapp’s House: Case Leads to Exclusionary Rule


The Cleveland police sought to enter the home of Dolree Mapp on this day, suspecting she had equipment related to bombing and gambling. She turned them away, and they returned three hours later with a “warrant” to search her home. No copy of the alleged warrant was ever found. The police found nothing related to bombing or gambling but did find a suitcase filled with pornographic material. She was arrested, tried and convicted for possessing pornography.

Her appeal resulted in the Supreme Court decision, Mapp v. Ohio, decided on June 19, 1961, which overturned her conviction and established the exclusionary rule for local and state police. The rule holds that evidence obtained through an illegal search in violation of the Fourth Amendment cannot be used at trial against the defendant. The decision became one of the most controversial decisions issued by the Warren Court. The Supreme Court had many decades earlier established the exclusionary rule in federal criminal cases, in Weeks v. United States, decided on February 24, 1914.

Interestingly, as Mapp’s appeal went through state court appeals and then to the Supreme Court, the primary focus was on the constitutionality of the Ohio obscenity statute. The ACLU amicus brief before the Supreme Court raised the issue of the unconstitutional search and seizure, and that became the basis for the landmark Supreme Court decision. At the Supreme Court, one of Justice Earl Warren’s law clerks wrote a memo arguing that “The briefs of the parties in this case are among the worst I have seen all year. Happily, however, the amicus brief of the American Civil Liberties Union and Justice Taft’s opinion in the court below tend to bring the major issues into focus.” (See Long, below, p. 69.)

The Court in Mapp: “Having once recognized that the right to privacy embodied in the Fourth Amendment is enforceable against the States . . . we can no longer permit that right to remain an empty promise. . . . we can no longer permit it to be revocable at the whim of any police officer who, in the name of law enforcement itself, chooses to suspend its enjoyment.”

Learn more about the history of the exclusionary rule and Mapp: https://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/aclu-history-mapp-v-ohio

Read: Carolyn Long: Mapp v. Ohio: Guarding Against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures (2006)

Learn more: Stephen Schulhofer, More Essential Than Ever: The Fourth Amendment in the Twenty-First Century (2012)

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