Today in History – Mapp v. Ohio

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Today in History – Mapp v. Ohio

2017-09-05T10:28:47+00:00May 23rd, 2017|History, Legal Updates|Comments Off on Today in History – Mapp v. Ohio

Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), was a landmark case in criminal procedure, in which the United States Supreme Court decided that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” may not be used in state law criminal prosecutions in state courts, as well as in federal criminal law prosecutions in federal courts as had previously been the law. The Supreme Court accomplished this by use of a principle known as selective incorporation; in Mapp this involved the incorporation of the provisions, as interpreted by the Court, of the Fourth Amendment which is applicable only to actions of the federal government into the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause which is applicable to actions of the states.

Circumstances of the case

Dollree Mapp was an employee in the illegal gambling rackets dominated by Cleveland rackets kingpin Shon Birns. On May 23, 1957, police officers in Cleveland, Ohio, received an anonymous tip by phone that Virgil Ogletree, a numbers operator who was wanted for questioning in the bombing of rival numbers racketeer and future boxing promoter Don King’s home three days earlier, might be found at Mapp’s house, as well as illegal betting slips and equipment employed in the “California Gold” numbers operation set up by Mapp’s boyfriend Edward Keeling. ¬†Three officers went to the home and asked for permission to enter, but Mapp, after consulting her lawyer by telephone, refused to admit them without a search warrant. Two officers left, and one remained, watching the house from across the street.

Three hours later, four cars full of police arrived and knocked on the door. When she didn’t answer, they forced the door. Mapp asked to see the alleged warrant and was shown a piece of paper which she snatched away from an officer, putting it inside her dress. The officers struggled with Mapp and recovered the piece of paper which was not seen by her or her lawyers again, and was not introduced as evidence in any of the ensuing court proceedings. When asked about the warrant during oral argument at the Supreme Court, the Cleveland prosecutor arguing the case cautiously deflected the question, which the court did not press.

As the search of Mapp’s second-floor, 2-bedroom apartment began, police handcuffed her for being belligerent. The police searched the house thoroughly and discovered Ogletree, who was subsequently cleared of the bombing charge, hiding in the apartment of the downstairs tenant, Minerva Tate. In the search of Mapp’s apartment and in a footlocker in the basement of the house police found a quantity of “California Gold” betting slips and paraphernalia. They also found a pistol and a small quantity of pornographic books and pictures which Mapp stated a previous tenant named Morris Jones had left behind.

Mapp was arrested, charged, and cleared on a misdemeanor charge of possessing numbers paraphernalia; but several months later, after she refused to testify against Shon Birns, Edward Keeling and their associates at their trial that October for the attempted shakedown of Don King, she was prosecuted for possession of the books, found guilty at a 1958 trial of “knowingly having had in her possession and under her control certain lewd and lascivious books, pictures, and photographs in violation of 2905.34 of Ohio’s Revised Code”, and sentenced to one to seven years in prison.

Mapp then appealed her case to the Supreme Court, on the grounds that the police had no probable cause to suspect her of having the books. She stated that the 4th Amendment should be incorporated to the state and local level. She argued that the police couldn’t use the books as evidence in the trial because they were found without a warrant and therefore illegally recovered. Mapp is not the first to call upon this law.


The U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 in favor of Mapp. The Court overturned the conviction, and five justices found that the States were bound to exclude evidence seized in violation of the 4th Amendment. This ruling officially applied the exclusionary rule to the States.

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John Blackmon

A retired law enforcement officer who now serves as the President of the Fraternal Order of Police Tri-County Lodge #3.
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