Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dolly Mapp

Reversal of Fortune

Eighty-two days later, the court made its ruling. On a 6-3 vote, the justices reversed the Ohio court decision and invalidated Dolly Mapps conviction. She was free.

Dolly Mapp with Attorney Kearns in court
Dolly Mapp with Attorney Kearns in court

The decision would become one of the most scrutinized in Supreme Court history.

The justices were divided in their written opinions, and some justices would later charge collusion among five of their brethren in the majorityClark, who wrote the majority opinion, along with Black, Brennan, Douglas and Warren.

The Clark opinion specifically took on the states-rights implications of the 1949 decision in Wolf v. Colorado.

Presently, a federal prosecutor may make no use of evidence illegally seized, but a states attorney across the street may, Clark wrote. Thus the state, by admitting evidence unlawfully seized, serves to encourage disobedience of the Federal Constitution which it is bound to uphold.

The justice acknowledged that a criminal could go free due to a constables blunder, in the famous phrase of Benjamin Cardozo.

In some cases this will undoubtedly be the result, Clark wrote, ...but it is the law that sets him free. Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws, or worse, its disregard of the charter of its own existence.

The decision had vast practical results: Any evidence seized in violation of the Constitution would no longer be admissible at any criminal trialfederal or state.

Justice Stewart wrote a separate opinion that supported Mapps appeal because he felt Ohios obscenity law was unconstitutional.

Justices Frankfurter, Harlan and Whittaker voted to reject the appeal. Harlan wrote that the five majority justices had overstepped their boundaries to reverse the Colorado case without legal justification since attorney Kearns had flatly stated that Wolf v. Colorado was not at issue.

Potter Stewart would later charge that the five had met in a rump caucus and agreed to use the Mapp appeal to overturn the 1949 case and apply the exclusionary rule to the states.

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