July 5, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
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Alito Carries On The Rehnquist Legacy Of Limiting Mapp v. Ohio (1961) and Miranda v. Arizona. (1966).

In the area of criminal law Chief Justice Rehnquist spent thirty-three years narrowing the application of Mapp v. Ohio and Miranda v. Arizona in criminal cases. Mapp makes the Fourth (illegal search and seizure) Amendment through the Fourteenth Amendment (due process) applicable to the States and prevents evidence seized during an illegal search and seizure from being admissible under the collateral exclusionary rule.

Miranda v. Arizona made “confessions” inadmissible. Chief Justice Warren, a former prosecutor, wrote the opinion of the Court, ruling that due to the coercive nature of custodial interrogation by police (to bolster his point, Warren controversially cited several police training manuals), no confession could be admissible under the Fifth Amendment( self-incrimination clause) and Sixth Amendment (right to an attorney) unless a suspect had been made aware of his right too remain silent and right to counsel and the suspect had then waived them.

When crictised that his opinion in Mapp set a criminal free, Justice Tom C. Clark said, “it is the law that sets him (the criminal) free” and that “nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws.”

Clark was right. The effect of Miranda and Mapp has been to
make law enforcement more efficient and professional in the investigation and gathering of evidence in criminal matters, thus making criminal convictions more credible. This bolsters the integrity of the law and law enforcement in the eyes of the public.

The Hudson opinion written by Alito found that  police officer’s, who had a warrant,  failure to knock and announce (still a requirement but no longer subject to exclusionary rule because  civil law deterrents are enough) did not reach the issue if evidence illegally procured should be excluded because the illegal evidence would have been discovered anyway thus the “but for” violation requirement was not reached and Hudson’s conviction stood.

So the conviction stood on a technicality avoiding for the time being the issue if the exclusionary rule is still necessary given the fact that application of the rule would set a criminal free and there are other deterrents i.e. a civil action or interdepartmental disciplinary proceedings. When weighed beside the deterrent effect of the exclusionary rule both these remedies are found to be lacking. Justice Kennedy in a concurring opinion has said that the exclusionary rule as far as he is concerned is alive and well. He is likely to be the fifth vote necessary to retain the exclusionary rule in a future case if the Supreme Court remains composed as it is at present.


The great benefit of Mapp and Miranda is to society and not to the accused who it must be remembered are not criminals until duly convicted. These rulings have made law enforcement more professional, objective and if police procedural media is to be believed more scientific and less reliant on the “intuition” of detectives that build a case around an initial suspicion. Much of this professionalism and scientific expertise can be attributed to the long-range effect of Miranda and Mapp.

Instead of coercing a confession out of a dimwit, police now take the time to investigate a crime to be certain there is substantial evidence of guilt. Further they tend not to go on warrantless fishing expeditions looking for evidence by breaking down doors in the middle of the night thus increasing the probability of mistakes and violence.

Now the public has greater confidence that those accused of a crime will receive their due process rights from powerful law enforcement agencies and a conviction is less likely to be overturned because of shoddy police work.

Although Hudson was a minor case it does give an indication that Alito and Roberts, who voted with the majority, may follow in Rehnquist’s footsteps on criminal procedure.