Profiles of lesser-known heroines in the fight for women's rights
On May 20, 1957, a short article appeared on the front page of Sanduksy, Ohio’sRegister Star-News, reporting from Cleveland. “Bomb Home of Policy Operator,” the headline read. This policy operator was Don King, who made money as an illegal bookie before he turned to boxing promotion years later. “The home of a known policy operator, Donald King, 25, was bombed here today,” theRegister Star-Newsreported, “but no one was injured. King was alone at the time.” An anonymous tipster, possibly Don King himself, had an idea of who might have been responsible, and where the suspect might be. The address given to police led them to the door of Dollree Mapp.
Donald F. Tibbs recounted for the Stetson Law Review: “By this time, Mapp had already called her attorney, who told her to wait until he arrived to let the police in. However, upon their return the police again requested entrance but were denied. So they walked around to the back of her home and forcibly entered through a side door. Mapp confronted them and demanded to see a warrant. The police said they had a warrant and produced a piece of paper. However, the paper was completely blank—meaning they did not have a warrant. But Mapp did not acquiesce.”
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…Appellant, in handcuffs, was then forcibly taken upstairs to her bedroom where the officers searched…The search spread…
.…”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.”
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.
The Ohio Civil Liberties Union joined the case as amicus curare…lending support and weight to the appeal. They lost; the state supreme court affirmed Dollree’s conviction. Dollree and her lawyers...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....They 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. There was a 6-3 decision in favor of Mapp. 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.”
On June 19, 1961, in a 6-3 decision…the majority justices resolved what they saw as the “asymmetry” created by Wolf v. Colorado. 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.”
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.”
Ten years later 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 Smith...Smith and Mapp helped organize opposition to the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws…,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.”
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.”
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Kathryn S Gardiner