Saturday, May 21, 2005


Case Brief: Mapp v. Ohio (1961)

Here's another case brief that should make the lives of law school students and CJ students a whole lot easier. Please do not copy this verbatim. Instead, use it as reference for writing your own case brief. Sometimes the issues of older cases are hard to grasp compared to the varied legal issues surrounding the cases we work on today, which is the only reason I post my own briefs.

Name of the Case

Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)

Facts of the Case

In Cleveland, Ohio, three police officers arrived at a house with the intent to perform a search for lewd materials that violated state law. At the house were the plaintiff, Mapp, and her daughter, both of whom lived on the second story of the two-family residence. The officers received information that someone was hiding in the home that was wanted for questioning in relation to a recent bombing, and that there was a large amount of related literature that was hidden in the home as well. Upon knocking on the door and demanding entrance to search the premises, Miss Mapp denied the request after speaking with her attorney about the situation. The officers informed their command post, and waited in a surveillance position outside of the house. A few hours later, the officers attempted to gain entry into the house again after the arrival of four more of their colleagues, and after Miss Mapp did not open the door immediately at their request, they proceeded to enter by force. When Miss Mapp's attorney arrived at the residence, the officers would not allow him entrance, nor would they allow him to view the search warrant. When Miss Mapp questioned the officers about the warrant, an officer flashed a piece of paper, at which point Miss Mapp promptly grabbed the piece of paper and held it against her chest. A conflict between the officers and Miss Mapp began as a result of her grabbing the "warrant," at which point the officers placed her in custody under the premise of her being belligerent. In handcuffs, Miss Mapp was taken to the upstairs of the house, where officers searched the dresser, the drawers, the closet, some suitcases, and various personal items. The second place they searched was the child's bedroom, followed by the living room, the kitchen, and the dining area. Finally, they searched the basement, where a trunk was discovered. The materials in question were discovered throughout various points of contact in the house. When brought to trial, a search warrant was never produced, and the reason for its disappearance was never accounted for. However, despite that fact, the court did allow the evidence to be admitted, citing case law that pertained to the acquisition of evidence in comparison to the use of force.


The issue at hand is whether or not evidence that was seized under a violation of the Fourth Amendment is admissible in court. According to the law, people have a right under the Fourth Amendment to be guarded against unlawful searches and seizures.

Court Decision

The Court reversed the decision of the State Supreme Court.

Rationale for the Decision

Justice Clark wrote for the majority. The materials that were introduced into evidence for the prosecution of Miss Mapp were obtained in an illegal search of the defendants' house. However, the court realized the importance of dissecting the Fourth Amendment and figuring out how to apply it to people, and not inanimate objects, which in this case make up the bulk of the evidence. The police broke down the door to the house, and entered it to locate the lewd materials that violated state law. In the course of searching, the defendant got into a physical altercation with the police, and they detained her. This is the part of the story where Fourth Amendment privileges become blurred. The way the court sees it, a Fourth Amendment violation would have occurred if the defendant was handcuffed as soon as the peace officers entered the premises, and dragged along on the search, all of the while asked to point-out and locate the materials in question. It is stated that a breach of "personal security or personal liberty" is the essence of a Fourth Amendment violation. Falling down the center of the aisle, the court sees the evidence as being obtained illegally, but still admissible in court due to the legality of the evidence in question.

Concurring Opinions

Justices Black and Douglas concur.

Dissenting Opinions

Justice Harlan wrote the dissenting opinion. Justices Frankfurter and Whittaker join. It is noted that an issue of legality can be established by observing whether or not a Fourteenth Amendment violation occurred in this case as well. The Fourteenth Amendment grants the same rights as the Fourth Amendment to citizens of each state, and prevents the state from taking action against them if there is a clear case of a violation of due process rights. In fact, one can take it a step further and say that it is a violation of the Federal Constitution to incite fear into people by making them believe that "Big Brother" is watching their every move, thus making it impossible "to read, to believe or disbelieve" in a private manner. A violating of this basic principal would provide for a violation of the Fourth, or Fourteenth Amendments, and any evidence seized would not be allowed in a court of law, as covered by the exclusionary rule, regardless of the legality of the evidence.

Holding of the Court

Evidence that is obtained illegally is admissible in a court of law and can be used in the prosecution of the defendant.

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