Illegal Police Searches

Mapp v. Ohio
367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684,
6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961)

Police officers forcibly entered Mapp’s home in search of a bombing suspect. In the course of the search, officers failed to produce a valid search warrant and denied Mapp contact with her attorney, who was present at the scene. While the suspect was not found, officers did discover illegal pornography in Mapp’s home, for which she was charged and convicted. Mapp appealed her conviction claiming that the evidence against her should not be admissible in court because it was illegally obtained.

In Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled that illegally obtained evidence is not admissible in State courts. The Court found that the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law and the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures could not be properly enforced as long as illegally obtained evidence continued to be presented in court. The ruling argued that there was no other effective means of deterring widespread Fourth Amendment violations by police. The ruling acknowledged that sometimes a criminal could go free due to improper police conduct, but argued that the interest in promoting professionalism among police outweighed this concern

What you should know about illegally seized evidence:

The policy established in Mapp v. Ohio is known as the “exclusionary rule.” This rule holds that if police violate your constitutional rights in order to obtain evidence, they cannot use that evidence against you. If you have been charged with a crime and you feel that the evidence was illegally obtained, your lawyer can make a “motion to suppress” in which the judge will consider the manner in which the evidence was obtained and make a decision as to whether or not it can be presented during the trial. In many instances, the evidence is central to the prosecution’s case, therefore when the judge grants a motion to suppress, it is common for all charges to be dropped.

The exclusionary rule is a critical remedy against improper searches, and can be used as an effective protection by citizens who know their rights. The reality is that police officers on the street consider it their primary duty to identify and arrest criminals, and often consider the procedural guidelines which restrict their authority as a secondary concern or even a hindrance. In this context, it is understandable that police sometimes perform searches when they shouldn’t. Here’s what you should know about illegally seized evidence:

  1. Consenting to a search automatically makes the evidence admissible in court. Don’t consent to warrantless searches!

  2. A search is legal if the officer has probable cause to believe you may be engaged in criminal activity.

  3. Police officers are quick to conclude that probable cause has been established. Don’t try to be clever, just keep your mouth shut.

  4. If you feel that police have seized evidence from you illegally, don’t discuss it with the arresting officer. Get a lawyer!