Dollree, worried they’d try to destroy the paper, snatched it from the officer and shoved it down her shirt. “When I grabbed the search warrant off him and put it down my bosom, one of them said, ‘What are we going to do now?’” she said at her later trial. “The one that grabbed me said, ‘I’m going down after it.’ I said, ‘No, you are not.’ He went down any way.”
The official court account written by Justice Tom C. Clark told the rest of the incident: “A struggle ensued in which the officers recovered the piece of paper and as a result of which they handcuffed appellant because she had been ‘belligerent’ in resisting their official rescue of the ‘warrant’ from her person. Running roughshod over appellant, a policeman ‘grabbed’ her, ‘twisted (her) hand, and she ‘yelled (and) pleaded with him’ because ‘it was hurting.’ Appellant, in handcuffs, was then forcibly taken upstairs to her bedroom where the officers searched a dresser, a chest of drawers, a closet and some suitcases. They also looked into a photo album and through personal papers belonging to the appellant.
“The search spread to the rest of the second floor including the child's bedroom, the living room, the kitchen and a dinette. The basement of the building and a trunk found therein were also searched. The obscene materials for possession of which she was ultimately convicted were discovered in the course of that widespread search.” These obscene materials included pencil-sketch nudes and four illustrated erotic books with titles like “Memoirs of a Hotel Man” and “Affairs of a Troubadour.”
Lewis R. Katz, Case Western Reserve University School of Law Professor Emeritus, noted, “Even if there had been a warrant to search for the suspected bomber, it would not have extended to a box and suitcase in which he could not have been hiding.”
The police did eventually find the bombing suspect, though he was later cleared of the crime. Dollree, however, was tried and convicted of owning obscene materials. She received a sentence of up to seven years in prison. The search warrant in contention was never verifiably produced.
Dollree and her lawyers, Walter Greene and Alexander L. Kearns, appealed the conviction, first to the Ohio Supreme Court on the grounds that the obscenity laws violated the rights to freedom of speech and privacy. The Ohio Civil Liberties Union joined the case as an amicus curare (a party who has special interest in the ruling, but who is not directly involved in the case), lending support and weight to the appeal. They lost; the state supreme court affirmed Dollree’s conviction “because Ohio courts were allowed to admit unlawfully seized evidence in criminal trials...[and] the police officers' conduct was not overly shocking.”
Dollree and her lawyers—now backed by the American Civil Liberties Union as amicus curare—then submitted a writ of certiorari, arguing that the United States Supreme Court should hear the case. The Supreme Court, headed at this time by Chief Justice Earl Warren, agreed.
On March 29, 1961, the case Mapp v. Ohio came before the Supreme Court. Dollree and her lawyers again presented their case that Ohio’s obscenity laws violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The court easily concurred with part of the argument. “The justices drew laughs from the courtroom gallery while leaving no doubt how absurd they found Ohio’s obscenity statute,” reported Ken Armstrong for The Marshall Project. “They took turns toying with the lawyer for the state, asking, if mere possession of obscene material constituted a crime, why the clerk of court had not been indicted, or the administrators at certain university libraries, or psychologists, or bibliophiles.”
While the emphasis of Dollree’s legal representation was to challenge the constitutionality of the obscenity laws, a different aspect of the case caught the justices’ eyes: Namely, the Fourth Amendment, mentioned only briefly in the writ of certiorari.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution affirms that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Since its writing, the Fourth Amendment had been tested and explicated. A 1948 Supreme Court case, Wolf v. Colorado, ruled that evidence obtained through illegal searches could be used against defendants in state courts, but not in federal ones.
“You’re asking us to overrule Wolf against Colorado?” queried Justice Felix Frankfurter.
“No,” Alexander Kearns answered. “I don’t believe we are.”
But on June 19, 1961, in a 6-3 decision, that’s just what the Supreme Court did (Justice Frankfurter dissented, along with two others). The majority justices resolved what they saw as the “asymmetry” created by Wolf v. Colorado.
“Presently,” the opinion read, “a federal prosecutor may make no use of evidence illegally seized, but a State’s attorney across the street may, although he supposedly is operating under the enforceable prohibitions of the same Amendment.” The protection of the Fourth Amendment, they contended, was not meaningfully held by U.S. citizens “if the whim of any police officer who, in the name of law enforcement itself, chooses to suspend its enjoyment.”
“The white police officers who invaded Dollree Mapp's home did so with confidence that they would not be called to task for violating her fundamental rights by entering her home without a warrant,” said lawyer Lewis R. Katz. “How the police behaved in Dollree Mapp's house was consistent with historical practice in the United States.” That practice was, according to the Supreme Court, no longer acceptable.
Dollree’s conviction was officially overturned, and United States law enforcement was drastically altered. In Search and Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment, author Wayne R. LaFave called Dollree “the Rosa Parks of the Fourth Amendment.”
The Stetson Law Review noted, “law enforcement officials’ reaction to the ruling in Mapp might well be the best evidence of why it was so important.” New York’s police commissioner called the ruling an “earthquake” that would “require rebuilding our institutions sometimes from their very foundations upward.”
Walter Mondale, who would become the Vice President of the United States about a decade later, was, in 1961, Attorney General of Minnesota with a police force in uproar. The “exclusionary rule” created by Mapp v. Ohio, he insisted, “does not reduce police powers one iota. It only reduces potential abuse of power. ... What was a legal arrest before still is. What was a reasonable search before still is.”
Free from the case that had followed her for half a decade, Dollree moved to Queens, New York. There, she started a few businesses, making money by what means she could. Her niece, Carolyn Mapp said, “Some of [the businesses] were legitimate, and some of them were whatever they were.” Those who loved her were under no illusions about Dollree’s personality or lifestyle. “She could be difficult, OK?” said long-time friend Deidra Smith. “She was brilliant and beautiful and bold.”
In 1971, police (this time with a valid, legal warrant) searched Dollree’s home. They found heroin and stolen property valued at $150,000. Under the era’s new “tough on crime” drug laws, she received a mandatory sentence of up to 20 years. Later, Dollree would claim she was targeted by police due to her involvement in Mapp v. Ohio.
It was at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women that Dollree befriended fellow inmate Deidra, who said Dollree “walked with an air of royalty.” Ken Armstrong for The Marshall Project wrote that “[s]he refused to eat in the prison cafeteria, because it reminded her of animals feeding at a trough. Instead, food was brought to Mapp by another inmate. Smith and Mapp helped organize opposition to the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws [for New York’s Governor Nelson Rockefeller], which were later rolled back, with many of the mandatory minimums eliminated, and Mapp, who did extensive research in the law library, helped other inmates with such issues as visitation rights. In 1980 Gov. Hugh Carey, no fan of the state’s unforgiving drug laws, commuted Mapp’s sentence, and she was paroled soon after.”
Free once again in 1981, Dollree, now nearly 60 years old, began working at a non-profit that provided legal assistance to prison inmates. She leaned on her schooling in fashion to work as a seamstress and start a variety of businesses, “from beauty supplies to furniture upholstery to real estate,” according to The Marshall Project. She spoke at law schools about her Supreme Court case, telling what a faculty member called “colorful tales, embellished with curse words and opinionated bravado.”
Daughter Barbara died in 2002. Approaching 80 years old, Dollree began to deteriorate from dementia. Her grand-niece Tiffany Mapp became her legal guardian. “She didn’t prepare for death,” Tiffany said. “I think Aunt Dolly thought she was going to live forever.” The conflicting stories of her birth and the inconsistent birthdate gave Tiffany “fits with Medicare.”
Her family asserted that Dollree was born on Oct. 30, 1923, in Forest, Miss. She died on Oct. 31, 2014, in Conyers, Georgia, at the age of 91. “I am comfortable with the choices I have made in my life, and I’m not embarrassed about anything I’ve done,” she said in 2004. “I have lived my life as I see fit.”
The strength of the exclusionary rule established by Mapp v. Ohio would be undermined in the years to come. Starting as early as 1968 in Terry v. Ohio, the same Warren-led Supreme Court ruled that citizens could be stopped and frisked without probable cause, provided the police had “reasonable suspicion” the person may have committed or would soon commit a crime—a loophole easily abused by those with biases toward minorities.
In the end, the legacy of Mapp v. Ohio seems to be an increase in law enforcement corruption. The requirement of a valid warrant “encouraged police to stretch the truth, telling more elaborate ‘stories’ to bolster the arrests they did make,” including claiming that citizens just “dropped” contraband unprompted or shaking people until items fell from their pockets.
As further outlined in “‘To Corral and Control the Ghetto’: Stop, Frisk, and the Geography of Freedom” by Saint Louis University School of Law Professor Anders Walker in the University of Richmond Law Review, “[T]he Court framed the exclusionary rule in Mapp in terms of intimate privacy rather than racial parity, a point that helps explain why the Court failed to anticipate its negative, urban effects. ... [B]oth police unions and black activists lamented the [Warren] Court’s move into procedure not as a liberal effort to help the poor so much as a deliberate attempt to sidestep the need for more extensive, structural reform.”
“The [Warren] Court sought to end racial discrimination, or at least ameliorate its effects,” wrote University of Tennessee College of Law professor emeritus Thomas Y. Davies, “but its criminal procedure rulings fed a segregationist backlash under the cover of ‘soft on crime’ rhetoric. ... [T]he seemingly permanent conservative majority on the Court has...created such an array of limitations and exceptions that both the exclusionary rule and the Fourth Amendment rights it was meant to enforce have been largely drained of practical significance.”
That does not, however, mean Dollree’s case or her resistance have been drained of significance. Legal cases build on precedence. An argument once made is in conversation with the arguments that came before and those that come after. Dollree was, without a doubt, a woman who knew how to argue. When she shut the door to the police officers demanding to search her home without the right to do so, she picked a fight worth fighting.
Newspapers.com: The Sandusky Register – May 20, 1957, Daily News – Nov. 29, 1956
The Marshall Project: Dollree Mapp, 1923-2014: “The Rosa Parks of the Fourth Amendment”
Oyez: Mapp v. Ohio, Wolf v. Colorado
Wikipedia: Don King, Dollree Mapp
The New York Times: Dollree Mapp, Who Defied Police Search in Landmark Case, Is Dead
Cornell Law School: Dollree Mapp, etc., Apellant, v. Ohio
The Florida Bar: Forgotten Legal History: Mapp v. Ohio
Los Angeles Times: Dollree Mapp dies at 91; arrest led to landmark search warrant ruling
Stetson Law Review: The Start of a Revolution: Mapp V. Ohio and the Warren Court’s Fourth Amendment Case That Almost Wasn’t
The Washington Post: Dollree Mapp, figure in landmark Supreme Court decision in 1961, dies at 91
Mapp V. Ohio: Guarding Against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures by Carolyn Nestor Long
Cleveland.com: Jimmy Bivins, a top Cleveland boxer, has died
Case Western Reserve University School of Law Scholarly Commons: Mapp after Forty Years: Its Impact on Race in America
An Account of Mapp v. Ohio That Misses the Larger Exclusionary Rule Story by Thomas Y. Davies
University of Richmond Law Review: “To Corral and Control the Ghetto”: Stop, Frisk, and the Geography of Freedom