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Departments : Point of Law

Four Famous Cases

The stories behind the cases you know by name.

December 02, 2011  |  by Devallis Rutledge - Also by this author

The decade of the 1960s gave us four of the most significant cases that apply to our daily work: Mapp, Brady, Miranda, and Terry. These four are among the most prominent criminal law cases you should know more about to understand how we got to where we are. In the official reports, these cases stretch to a combined total of 206 pages. Here are summaries of the facts and holdings, in just two pages.

Mapp v. Ohio, 1961

Dollree Mapp lived in a second-floor apartment in Cleveland. Police received a tip that someone wanted for questioning in a recent bombing case was hiding there. Without a search warrant, the officers went to the house and demanded entry. Mapp refused, telling the officers to get a warrant. The officers then forced entry.

During a search of the premises, officers found various items of pornography. Mapp was convicted of possession of obscene matter. She appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled that even though it did appear the warrantless entry and search may have violated the Fourth Amendment, the federal exclusionary rule did not apply to state prosecutions. Therefore, the court affirmed the conviction. Mapp appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A federal exclusionary rule had been created by the Supreme Court in the 1914 case of Weeks v. U.S., but this rule had been declared inapplicable to the states in Wolf v. Colorado, in 1949. Reversing Mapp's conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6 to 3 to overturn its own ruling in Wolf and impose the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule on all of the states, via the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause.

In the words of the Mapp majority, "Since the Fourth Amendment's right of privacy has been declared enforceable against the States through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth, it is enforceable against them by the same sanction of exclusion as is used against the Federal

As a result of the ruling in Mapp, all states have procedures permitting a criminal defendant to move to suppress evidence claimed to have resulted from a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Many jurisdictions still use the terms "Mapp motion," "Mapp hearing," and "Mapp ruling" to refer to these procedures.

Brady v. Maryland, 1963

John Brady and an accomplice committed murder in the course of a robbery. The two men were tried separately. They were each convicted and sentenced to death. At Brady's trial, his attorney conceded that Brady was involved and should be convicted of murder, but maintained that he should be spared the death penalty because he wasn't the actual killer.

After the trial, Brady's lawyer learned for the first time that the accomplice had already told police he had done the killing. Brady then appealed, arguing that if this evidence had been disclosed to the defense and presented to the jury, they might have voted for life imprisonment for him instead of death. The Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed Brady's murder conviction but reversed the death sentence and remanded for a new penalty trial.

On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 that Brady was indeed entitled to a new penalty trial and that the withholding of the exculpatory evidence of his accomplice's confession to being the killer denied Brady due process of law. Said the court, "We hold that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution."

This is the case that imposed on prosecutors an obligation to learn about exculpatory evidence from police and to make timely disclosure of it to the defense, to avoid "Brady error."

CONTINUED: Four Famous Cases «   Page 1 of 2   »

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Jack Betz @ 12/11/2011 7:08 AM

They have a name for what happened to MIranda. Poetic justice.

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