Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dolly Mapp

Excluding Evidence

In legal jargon, the area of the law concerning evidence searches and seizures is known as the exclusionary rule. If evidence of a crime is illegally obtained, should it be excluded from use at a defendants trial? Does the end justify the means?

This has been a push-and-pull issue among crooks, cops and the courts for a century.

As Benjamin Cardozo, a future Supreme Court justice, put it in the 1920s, Why should the criminal go free just because the constable blundered?

Justice Benjamin Cardozo
Justice Benjamin Cardozo
Yet the Fourth Amendment to Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures from persons, houses, papers and effects.

But what is unreasonable?

In 1911, police in Kansas City collared a woman for shoplifting gloves. After the arrest, police intercepted a warning note she sent to her husband, Fremont Weeks. Police rushed to the Weeks home without a search warrantlegal authorization signed by a judge--and seized records and correspondence that seemed to confirm that Weeks operated a numbers game.

He was indicted for sending lottery tickets through the mail, a federal crime. The trial judge allowed use of the seized evidence, and Weeks appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

He won that final appeal, and the conviction was overturned.

But in that era, states considered it their prerogative to ignore or apply federal rulings to their courts.

Some did, but most didnt.

Justice Louis Brandeis
Justice Louis Brandeis
The exclusionary rule of evidence continued to roil the American legal system for decades. In 1928, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis made this impassioned plea:

If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the meansto declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminalwould bring terrible retribution.

Nonetheless, three decades later two-thirds of all states continued to believe that it was their right to ignore the federal exclusionary rule.

Ohio was one of them.

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