Mapp v. Ohio Primary Source eText

Primary Source

(American Decades Primary Sources: 1960-1969)

Dollree Mapp, owner of a boarding house, was convicted for possessing pornographic materials that she claimed were left behind by a boarder. Her conviction was appealed to the Supreme Court because the warrant police used to search her house was for an en Dollree Mapp, owner of a boarding house, was convicted for possessing pornographic materials that she claimed were left behind by a boarder. Her conviction was appealed to the Supreme Court because the warrant police used to search her house was for an entirely unrelated investigation. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

Supreme Court decision

By: Thomas C. Clark; William O. Douglas; John Marshall Harlan

Date: June 19, 1961

Source: Clark, Thomas C., William O. Douglas, and John Marshall Harlan Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 11, 2003).

About the Authors: Thomas C. Clark (1899–1977) was named U.S. attorney general in 1945 and served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1949 to 1967. John Marshall Harlan (1899–1971) spent most of his precourt legal career working on Wall Street. In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower (served 1953–1961) appointed Harlan to the Supreme Court, where he served until 1971. William O. Douglas (1898–1980), at age forty, was one of the youngest men ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court, and his thirty-six-year tenure on the Court was the longest in history.


During the early days of America, a sizable number of colonists made their living by smuggling goods into the United States. The British wanted to end this practice and issued general warrants allowing any area to be searched and any illegal items to be seized. This practice angered the colonists and was one of the grievances that led to the American Revolution. As the Constitution was being drafted, some wanted protection against the government's carrying out similar searches. As a result, the Bill of Rights included the Fourth Amendment, which requires that "the right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause … and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The amendment, though, provides no penalty when it is violated, and throughout the nineteenth century courts generally allowed the use of evidence seized illegally. In 1886, the Supreme Court overturned a conviction and excluded from a trial papers that had been seized without a warrant, but it was not until 1914 that the Supreme Court created the "exclusionary rule," which states that evidence seized without a warrant cannot be used in trial in a federal court. It was unclear, though, whether that rule was integral to the Fourth Amendment. In 1949 and again in 1954, the Supreme Court refused to apply the Fourth Amendment against the states and force the states not to use evidence seized without a warrant. The issue arose again in the Mapp case.


In this case, the Supreme Court applied the exclusionary rule against the states, creating a uniform procedure in all prosecutions: Evidence seized without a warrant cannot be used. It should be noted that the evidence used to obtain Dollree Mapp's conviction for obscenity was not what the police were looking for when they entered her boarding house—they were searching for gambling evidence. Further, the police lied to Mapp about having a warrant. Since Mapp, exceptions to the exclusionary rule have been created. The exclusionary rule applies only to evidence used against a person whose Fourth Amendment rights have been violated. The same evidence can be used to prosecute other defendants. Evidence seized illegally may be used if the police can prove that the evidence would have been "inevitably discovered" through normal police procedures. Finally, evidence is allowed in some cases if the police seized it acting in "good faith" under an improperly issued warrant if the police did not know that the warrant had been issued improperly.

In 1984, the Supreme Court upheld a conviction based on evidence that had been seized with a warrant even though the warrant was not supported by probable cause. The Court held that searches should be voided only if the officers did not have a reasonable belief that probable cause existed for the warrant. The court "weighed" the benefits gained by society from the arrest versus the costs to the person whose rights were violated, and decided to err on the side of society. Since 1984, the Warren Burger and William Rehnquist courts have continued to narrow the exclusionary rule and have now recognized at least five major exceptions to it, in addition to those noted above.

Primary Source: Mapp v. Ohio [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: Justice Clark, writing for the majority, notes the growing use of the exclusionary rule and holds that all evidence seized without a warrant should be excluded, whether in state or federal court. Clark then states that government should follow its own rules, even if criminals occasionally go free. In concurring, Justice Douglas castigates the lawlessness of the search. Justice Harlan dissents, arguing that this case deals only with whether this search was reasonable and whether there was a constitutional basis for extending the exclusionary rule.

Mr. Justice Clark delivered the opinion of the Court.

… the Supreme Court of Ohio found that her conviction was valid though "based primarily upon the introduction … of … books and pictures unlawfully seized during an unlawful search of defendant's home.…"

At the trial no search warrant was produced by the prosecution, nor was the failure to produce one explained or accounted for.…

The State says that even if the search were made without authority, or otherwise unreasonably, it is not prevented from using the unconstitutionally seized evidence at trial, citing Wolf v. Colorado … in which this Court did indeed hold "that in a prosecution in a State court for a State crime the Fourteenth Amendment does not forbid the admission of evidence obtained by an unreasonable search and seizure." …

The Court in Wolf first stated that "[t]he contrariety of views of the States" on the adoption of the exclusionary rule of Weeks was "particularly impressive" …; and, in this connection, that it could not "brush aside the experience of States which deem the incidence of such conduct by the police too slight to call for a deterrent remedy … by overriding the [States'] relevant rules of evidence." … While in 1949, prior to the Wolf case, almost two-thirds of the States were opposed to the use of the exclusionary rule, now, despite the Wolf case, more than half of those since passing upon it, by their own legislative or judicial decision, have wholly or partly adopted or adhered to the Weeks rule.… Significantly, among those now following the rule is California, which, according to its highest court, was "compelled to reach that conclusion because other remedies have completely failed to secure compliance with the constitutional provisions.…"

We hold that all evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution is, by that same authority, inadmissible in a state court.

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. Were it otherwise, … the freedom from state invasions of privacy would be so ephemeral and so neatly severed from its conceptual nexus with the freedom from all brutish means of coercing evidence as not to merit this Court's high regard as a freedom "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty." At the time that the Court held in Wolf that the Amendment was applicable to the States through the Due Process Clause, the cases of this Court, as we have seen, had steadfastly held that as to federal officers the Fourth Amendment included the exclusion of the evidence seized in violation of its provisions. Even Wolf "stoutly adhered" to that proposition.… Therefore, in extending the substantive protections ofdue process to all constitutionally unreasonable searches—state or federal—it was logically and constitutionally necessary that the exclusion doctrine—an essential part of the right to privacy—be also insisted upon as an essential ingredient of the right newly recognized by the Wolf case. In short, the admission of the new constitutional right by Wolf could not consistently tolerate denial of its most important constitutional privilege, namely, the exclusion of the evidence which an accused had been forced to give by reason of the unlawful seizure. To hold otherwise is to grant the right but in reality to withhold its privilege and enjoyment.…

There are those who say, as did Justice … Cardozo, that under our constitutional exclusionary doctrine "[t]he criminal is to go free because the constable has blundered." … In some cases this will undoubtedly be the result. But, as was said in Elkins, "there is another consideration—the imperative of judicial integrity." … The criminal goes free, if he must, 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. As Mr. Justice Brandeis, dissenting, said in Olmstead: "Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.… If the Government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy." Nor can it lightly be assumed that, as a practical matter, adoption of the exclusionary rule fetters law enforcement.…

The ignoble shortcut to conviction left open to the State tends to destroy the entire system of constitutional restraints on which the liberties of the people rest. Having once recognized that the right to privacy embodied in the Fourth Amendment is enforceable against the States, and that the right to be secure against rude invasions of privacy by state officers is, therefore, constitutional in origin, we can no longer permit that right to remain an empty promise. Because it is enforceable in the same manner and to like effect as other basic rights secured by the Due Process Clause, 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. Our decision, founded on reason and truth, gives to the individual no more than that which the Constitution guarantees him, to the police officer no less than that to which honest law enforcement is entitled, and, to the courts, that judicial integrity so necessary in the true administration of justice.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Ohio is reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.…

Mr. Justice Douglas, concurring.

Though I have joined the opinion of the Court, I add a few words. This criminal proceeding started with a lawless search and seizure. The police entered a home forcefully, and seized documents that were later used to convict the occupant of a crime.…

When we allowed States to give constitutional sanction to the "shabby business" of unlawful entry into a home … we did indeed rob the Fourth Amendment of much meaningful force.…

The only remaining remedy, if exclusion of the evidence is not required, is an action of trespass by the homeowner against the offending officer. Mr. Justice Murphy showed how onerous and difficult it would be for the citizen to maintain that action and how meagre the relief even if the citizen prevails…. The truth is that trespass actions against officers who make unlawful searches and seizures are mainly illusory remedies.

Without judicial action making the exclusionary rule applicable to the States, Wolf v. Colorado in practical effect reduced the guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures to "a dead letter," as Mr. Justice Rutledge said in his dissent.…

Wolf v. Colorado … was decided in 1949. The immediate result was a storm of constitutional controversy which only today finds its end. I believe that this is an appropriate case in which to put an end to the asymmetry which Wolf imported into the law…. It is an appropriate case because the facts it presents show—as would few other cases—the casual arrogance of those who have the untrammelled power to invade one's home and to seize one's person.…

Mr. Justice Harlan, whom Mr. Justice Frankfurter and Mr. Justice Whittaker join, dissenting.

In overruling the Wolf case the Court, in my opinion, has forgotten the sense of judicial restraint which, with due regard for stare decisis, is one element that should enter into deciding whether a past decision of this Court should be overruled. Apart from that I also believe that the Wolf rule represents sounder Constitutional doctrine than the new rule which now replaces it.…

In this posture of things, I think it fair to say that five members of this Court have simply "reached out" to overrule Wolf. With all respect for the views of the majority, and recognizing that stare decisis carries different weight in Constitutional adjudication than it does in nonconstitutional decision, I can perceive no justification for regarding this case as an appropriate occasion for re-examining Wolf….

Thus, even in a case which presented simply the question of whether a particular search and seizure was constitutionally "unreasonable"—say in a tort action against state officers—we would not be true to the Fourteenth Amendment were we merely to stretch the general principle of individual privacy on a Procrustean bed of federal precedents under the Fourth Amendment. But in this instance more than that is involved, for here we are reviewing not a determination that what the state police did was Constitutionally permissible (since the state court quite evidently assumed that it was not), but a determination that appellant was properly found guilty of conduct which, for present purposes, it is to be assumed the State could Constitutionally punish. Since there is not the slightest suggestion that Ohio's policy is "affirmatively to sanction … police incursion into privacy" … what the Court is now doing is to impose upon the States not only federal substantive standards of "search and seizure" but also the basic federal remedy for violation of those standards. For I think it entirely clear that the Weeks exclusionary rule is but a remedy which, by penalizing past official misconduct, is aimed at deterring such conduct in the future.

I would not impose upon the States this federal exclusionary remedy. The reasons given by the majority for now suddenly turning its back on Wolf seem to me notably unconvincing.…

The preservation of a proper balance between state and federal responsibility in the administration of criminal justice demands patience on the part of those who might like to see things move faster among the States in this respect. Problems of criminal law enforcement vary widely from State to State…. For us the question remains, as it has always been, one of state power, not one of passing judgment on the wisdom of one state course or another. In my view this Court should continue to forbear from fettering the States with an adamant rule which may embarrass them in coping with their own peculiar problems in criminal law enforcement.…

The point, then, must be that in requiring exclusion of an involuntary statement of an accused, we are concerned not with an appropriate remedy for what the police have done, but with something which is regarded as going to the heart of our concepts of fairness in judicial procedure. The operative assumption of our procedural system is that "Ours is the accusatorial as opposed to the inquisitorial system. Such has been the characteristic of Anglo-American criminal justice since it freed itself from practices borrowed by the Star Chamber from the Continent whereby the accused was interrogated in secret for hours on end." … The pressures brought to bear against an accused leading to a confession, unlike an unconstitutional violation of privacy, do not, apart from the use of the confession at trial, necessarily involve independent Constitutional violations. What is crucial is that the trial defense to which an accused is entitled should not be rendered an empty formality by reason of statements wrung from him, for then "a prisoner … [has been] made the deluded instrument of his own conviction." … That this is a procedural right, and that its violation occurs at the time his improperly obtained statement is admitted at trial, is manifest. For without this right all the careful safeguards erected around the giving of testimony, whether by an accused or any other witness, would become empty formalities in a procedure where the most compelling possible evidence of guilt, a confession, would have already been obtained at the unsupervised pleasure of the police.…

I regret that I find so unwise in principle and so inexpedient in policy a decision motivated by the high purpose of increasing respect for Constitutional rights. But in the last analysis I think this Court can increase respect for the Constitution only if it rigidly respects the limitations which the Constitution places upon it, and respects as well the principles inherent in its own processes. In the present case I think we exceed both, and that our voice becomes only a voice of power, not of reason.

Further Resources


Alderman, Ellen, and Caroline Kennedy. In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action. New York: Morrow, 1991.

Greenhalgh, William W. The Fourth Amendment Handbook: A Chronological Survey of Supreme Court Decisions, 2nd ed. Chicago: Criminal Justice Section, American Bar Association, 2002.

Hall, John Wesley. Search and Seizure, 3rd ed. Charlottesville, Va.: Lexis, 2000.

LaFave, Wayne R. Search and Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment, 3rd ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West, 1996.

Levy, Leonard Williams. Origins of the Bill of Rights. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999.

Raskin, Jamin B. We the Students: Supreme Court Decisions For and About Students. Washington: CQ Press, 2000.

Stephen, John A. Officer's Search and Seizure Handbook. New York: Lexis, 2000.


Background Summary and Questions—Landmark Supreme Court Cases, Mapp v. Ohio. Available online at; website home page: (accessed January 23, 2003).