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The exclusionary rule and a notable death

In October, a 91-year-old woman passed away in Georgia, and few around her may have realized that she had been at the center of one of the most significant criminal cases that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the last 50 years.

Her name was Dollree Mapp, and her case, Mapp v. Ohio, extended the exclusionary rule to state law enforcement officials. The exclusionary rule was developed by the Supreme Court to curb illegal behavior by the police, who often ignored the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.

The exclusionary rule had long applied to federal law enforcement. The Supreme Court first enunciated the standard, in Weeks v. U.S., in 1914. If evidence of a crime was discovered, such as illegal lottery ticket, pornography, or drugs, but the police had failed to obtain a warrant for their search or the warrant was defective, the evidence could be excluded from court.

This often meant the prosecutors case evaporated, with no evidence. And because most criminal cases occur in state court, this decision become profoundly important, as it affected thousands of cases.

Some complain that it is unfair to exclude otherwise valid evidence, but when they call it a violation a "technicality," they are being exceedingly disingenuous. The Fourth Amendment is hardly a technicality.

What they should be decrying is lazy, sloppy, incompetent or mendacious conduct by the police. If law enforcement had truly possessed probable cause to search a person, car or property, they likely would have had little difficulty obtaining a valid search warrant.

The courts have a fundamental responsibility to protect the Constitution, and absolving the police of Fourth Amendment violations is a serious dereliction of their duty.

New York Times, "Dollree Mapp, Who Defied Police Search in Landmark Case, Is Dead," William Yardley, December 9, 2014

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