Civil Liberties

Dollree Mapp, Plaintiff in Groundbreaking 4th Amendment Ruling Against Police Misconduct, RIP


In 1961 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a watershed decision holding local police officers and prosecutors accountable under the Fourth Amendment. Writing for the majority in Mapp v. Ohio, Justice Tom Clark ruled that "the fruits of an unconstitutional search" are inadmissible as evidence in both state and federal court. Up until that point, the Supreme Court had only voted to exclude illegally obtained evidence from federal proceedings. Mapp was therefore a critical step in the development of America's modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

The plaintiff in the case was an Ohio woman named Dollree Mapp, also known as Dolly. The police came to her residence after allegedly receiving a tip about a bombing suspect. The officers later claimed they had a warrant, but neither the police nor the prosecution was ever able to produce any evidence that such a warrant had ever existed. Nonetheless, the police muscled their way inside Mapp's home after she denied them entry and discovered some purportedly obscene books and photographs. Mapp was then arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned for possession of those obscene materials. Her victory at the Supreme Court erased that conviction and secured greater legal protections for all Americans in their dealings with law enforcement.

As The New York Times is now reporting, Dollree Mapp died in late October. Here is a portion of the Times' obituary for the late civil liberties pioneer:

On May 23, 1957, three police officers arrived at a house in Cleveland and demanded to enter. They wanted to question a man about a recent bombing and believed he was hiding inside. A woman who lived there, Dollree Mapp, refused to admit them.

It was a small gesture of defiance that led to a landmark United States Supreme Court ruling on the limits of police power….

Even though Ms. Mapp's name is etched in legal history, she had lived quietly in recent years, and besides a brief notice on a funeral home website, it took more than a month for her death to be reported. She was believed to be 90 or 91 when she died on Oct. 31, in or near Conyers, Ga.

Colorful, sometimes brash, Ms. Mapp was married for a time to Jimmy Bivins, a top-ranked fighter who died in 2012. She was later engaged to Archie Moore, a light-heavyweight champion, whom she sued in 1956 for $750,000, claiming he had assaulted her and had backed out of their marriage plans. (He died in 1998.) The bombing that officers were investigating in 1957 had been at the home of Don King, who would go on to become a famous boxing promoter. Ms. Mapp's encounter with the police that day would not be her last run-in with the law.

Mapp v. Ohio may not ring as familiar as other cases involving civil rights and civil liberties, but it became a legal touchstone that continues to shape cases and stir debate.

Read the rest here.