It is imperative for police officers to adhere to the law when controlling crime. Legal restrictions might negatively affect police efficiency but positively affect social legitimacy. This paper reviews three cases (Read Weeks v. United States, Silverthorne Lumber Company, Inc., Et Al. v. United States, and Mapp v. Ohio) including the main issue, precedent or laws used in deciding the case, the application of the law by the court, and how these cases established standards with regard to constitutional seizures and searches in the US.
Main Issues or Question(s) Involved in Each Case
In Weeks v. United States, the main issue was whether seizing items from an individual’s private residence without a warrant resulted in a violation of the Fourth Amendment (Tanenhaus, 2008). Another issue in the case related to the right of the court to retain evidence seized without a search or an arrest warrant. Other constitutional issues in the case involved determining evidence obtained using an illegal search is admissible in a federal court. Fremont Weeks was the defendant in the case, and was arrested on December 21, 1911 at his place of work. Weeks was charged with using mails to transport lottery tickets, which violated federal statute. As he was being arrested, police officers visited his house to conduct a search (Tanenhaus, 2008). Weeks’ neighbor informed them where to locate the key, after which they proceeded to conduct a warrantless search and seizure of articles and papers that they would later give U.S Marshalls. Later, the police officers went back to Weeks’ house without a search warrant and took envelopes and latters, which they used for convicting Weeks for the transportation of lottery tickets using the mail. Weeks filed a petition against the police to return his private belongings. Weeks argued that police officers violated the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution (Tanenhaus, 2008). Weeks also argued that the Fourth Amendment is useless unless it offers some real protection. The prosecution argued that they made an arrest linked to the search and found evidence of crime. The prosecution insisted that Weeks should be punished due to incriminating evidence.
In Silverthorne Lumber Company, Inc., Et Al. v. United States, the main constitutional issue raised in the case related to whether or not the derivatives of evidence obtained in court are admissible in court (McInnis, 2010). In essence, the court sought to determine whether or not the government can use knowledge acquired from reading documents that have been acquired illegally as evidence. The defendants in the case had been indicted and arrested. Department of Justice Representatives visited their company office and seized all documents, papers, and books without any warrant (McInnis, 2010). The defendants filed a petition for the illegally obtained evidence to be returned. The prosecution maintained that the evidence had been presented to the Grand Jury (McInnis, 2010). The District Court had ordered for the originals to be returned by allowed the prosecution to retain copies and photographs. The government then devised a novel indictment basing on the knowledge derived from illegally acquired evidence.
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In Mapp v. Ohio, the main issue was whether evidence acquired illegally by violating the Fourth Amendment may be utilized in criminal prosecutions in state and federal courts (Long, 2006). In this case, officers searched the house of Dollree Mapp without a warrant because they believed that she was hosting a suspected fugitive (Thomas III, 2014). The police did not find any suspect; however, they came across numerous obscene pictures in the basement of the house, Mapp was subsequently arrested and charged in the state court. Mapp maintained that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by conducting the search (Thomas III, 2014). By the time of this, the use of illegally obtained evidence was prohibited only in federal courts and allowed in state courts.
The Precedent or Laws the Court Used to Come to its Ultimate Conclusion
The decision by the court in Weeks v. United States was based on the Fourth Amendment and a precedent set in Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886) (McInnis, 2010). The Fourth Amendment safeguards against invading into the private matters of a person and that restricts the government from compelling an individual to surrender private papers using a subpoena. In the Boyd Case, the Court maintained that there is no need to physically invade a person’s home to violate his Fourth Amendment rights against seizures and searched deemed unreasonable. In this way, the court extended the Fourth Amendment protections into compulsorily surrendering one’s papers (Tanenhaus, 2008). Thus, the Court’s decision was that Weeks was protected from unreasonable seizures and searches and that the warrantless searches conducted by the police were illegal.
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In reaching its decision in Silverthorne Lumber Company, Inc., Et Al. v. United States, the court used the Fourth Amendment and numerous earlier precedents including Weeks v. United States, Adams v. New York, 192 U.S 585, Flagg v. United States, 233 Fed. Rep 481, 483, and Linn v. United States, 251 Fed. Rep. 476, 480 (Tanenhaus, 2008). The Court ruled that the government cannot utilize derivatives from evidence that has been acquired illegally.
The decision in Mapp v. Ohio was based on an interpretation of the Fourth Amendment and numerous precedents set by Boyd v. United States, Weeks v. United States, Wolf v. Colorado, Byars v. United States, Olmstead v. United States, McNabb v. United States, Palko v. Connecticut, Elkins v. United States, Irvine v. California, People v. Defore, Rea v. United States, and United States v. Rabinowitz (Thomas III, 2014). The Court ruled that illegally obtained evidence is not admissible in both state and federal courts, indicating that state courts were required to exclude any evidence obtained by violating the Fourth Amendment.
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How the Court Applied the Law to the Facts of the Cases
In Weeks v. United States, the Court embarked on analyzing the case based on the Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches and seizures deemed unreasonable (Tanenhaus, 2008). The Court maintained that the Fourth Amendment had the main aim of restricting and restraining federal and court officials from edict abusing their authority and power; and securing papers, houses, and persons against unreasonable seizures and searches performed under the pretext of law (Thomas III, 2014). The Court illustrated that the protection guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment is applicable to all persons, whether or not one is accused of an offense. Moreover, the Court warned officials and officers from obtaining convictions using illegal seizures as well as forced confessions.
The Court interpreted that the essence of the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for evidence to be acquired legally is not just that the obtained evidence shall not be admitted in the Court, but that it should not be used at all (Tanenhaus, 2008). The Court ruled that permitting the derivatives of illegally acquired evidence would reduce the Fourth Amendments to words (Tanenhaus, 2008). Essentially, allowing derivatives of illegally acquired evidence would encourage officers to by-pass the Fourth Amendment; thus, such evidence is inadmissible and tainted.
In reaching the decision in Mapp v. Ohio, the Court applied the selective incorporation principle. This doctrine entails the Court applying parts of the Bill of Rights not only to the federal government but also state as well as local government (Thomas III, 2014).
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These three cases helped established the standards for constitutional seizures and searches in the US. The Weeks v. United States led to the establishment of the exclusionary rule, which initially stipulated the inadmissibility of evidence acquired using unreasonable searches and seizures in a federal court. Prior to this case, illegally obtained evidence was admissible in order to ensure that guilty persons convicted. This implies that courts emphasized administering justice at the cost of the rights of people. Therefore, this case marked a change in the thinking of the Court, wherein the rights of a person were deemed more important than administering justice. The exclusionary rule provided a way through which the Fourth Amendment could be enforced by compelling police officers to conduct legal searches when looking for evidence. The precedence set by the Silverthorne Lumber Company, Inc., Et Al. v. United States led to the establishment of the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, which prohibits introducing any evidence that has been developed as a result of an illegal seizure and search. This doctrine extended the exclusionary rule with respect to deterring officers from using illegally obtained evidence. Lastly, the Mapp v. Ohio helped in strengthening the protection accorded by the Fourth Amendment against illegal seizures and searches by extending the prohibition of illegally acquired evidence in state courts. The Court’s decision also established the exclusionary rule officially.