• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment’s freedom from unreasonable searches is binding on the states because it is fundamental to the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of ordered liberty, but the Court also decided that state courts were not required to use the exclusionary rule.

When Julius Wolf was convicted in state court for practicing illegal abortions, the prosecution used evidence obtained contrary to the provisions of the Fourth Amendment. In a federal trial, such evidence would have been excluded from consideration by the jury, as required in Weeks v. United States[case]Weeks v. United States[Weeks v. United States] (1914). Wolf’s lawyers claimed that the use of the evidence rendered his conviction invalid.Incorporation doctrine;Wolf v. Colorado[Wolf v. Colorado]Exclusionary rule;Wolf v. Colorado[Wolf v. Colorado]

In Wolf, the Supreme Court made two rulings. First, speaking for a unanimous Court, Justice Felix FrankfurterFrankfurter, Felix;Wolf v. Colorado[Wolf v. Colorado] stated that state laws must honor the Fourth Amendment’s “core” right, which is “the security of one’s privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the police.” Second, the justices decided, by a 6-3 margin, that the exclusionary rule was not “an essential ingredient” of the amendment. Frankfurter, speaking for the majority, emphasized that federalism required the Court to use restraint when placing demands on the states. He noted that other common-law countries did not employ the exclusionary rule and that there were other legitimate ways to restrain police misconduct. The dissenters, in contrast, argued that the exclusionary rule was the only effective means of giving “content to the commands of the Fourth Amendment.”

The Wolf decision gave rise to the silver platter doctrine, which often allowed federal and state prosecutors to share illegally obtained evidence for the purpose of using it in a criminal trial. The Court ended this practice in Elkins v. United States[case]Elkins v. United States[Elkins v. United States] (1960) and accepted the position of the Wolf dissenters in Mapp v. Ohio[case]Mapp v. Ohio[Mapp v. Ohio] (1961).

Exclusionary rule

Incorporation doctrine

Mapp v. Ohio

Privacy, right to

Silver platter doctrine

Weeks v. United States

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