Wolf v. Colorado
338 U.S. 25, 69 S.Ct. 1359, L.Ed. 1782 (1949)

  • Martin had a back-alley abortion, which was illegal at the time under Colorado State law. There were medical complications and she ended up in the hospital where she was questioned by police. She implicated Dr. Montgomery and Dr. Wolf.
  • The police entered Wolf’s office without a search warrant and seized some evidence, including a list of Wolf’s patients.
    • The police then used the list to contact other women who admitted under interrogation that Wolf had performed abortions on them.
  • Wolf was arrested and charged with conspiracy to perform abortions.
  • At trial, Wolf argued that the evidence of the patient list, and also the interrogations of the patients was an illegal search and seizure under the 4th Amendment, and therefore could not be used against him.
  • The trial judge allowed the evidence to be admitted.
  • The Trial Court found Wolf guilty. He appealed.
  • The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Wolf appealed.
    • The Colorado Supreme Court found that even if the search had been illegal, the evidence was still admissible under Colorado State law.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the 4th Amendment doesn’t specifically require exclusion as the remedy for evidence found to have been illegally obtained.
      • The Court agreed that if a State affirmatively sanctioned warrantless search and seizures, that would be clearly unconstitutional, but that wasn’t the case here.
    • The Court found that that although exclusion of evidence one effective way of discouraging and preventing unreasonable searches, there exist other methods that can achieve the same effect while complying with the minimal standards set by the Due Process Clause.
      • As an example, the Court suggested civil remedies, such as “the internal discipline of the police, under the eyes of an alert public opinion.”
        • Other examples would be civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions, or ‘the political process’.
      • In fact, the 4th Amendment says nothing about the remedy for an illegal search and seizure. Exclusion only became the Federal standard after Weeks. v. United States (232 U.S. 383 (1914)).
        • Now known as the Weeks Doctrine.
    • The Court noted that if Wolf had been in Federal Court, the evidence would have not been admissible. However, the Court was not ready to say that the 14th Amendment required the States to exactly match the protections of the Bill of Rights and the Federal standard.
      • The Court felt that the Due Process Clause was satisfied as long as the State had some equally effective method for achieving a fair trial.
        • Aka the fundamental fairness approach.
        • At this time, about 2/3rds of the States and a number of other countries did not follow the Weeks Doctrine, so it was reasonable to argue that you could get a fair trial without the benefit of exclusion.
  • This decision was later overturned by Mapp v. Ohio (367 U.S. 643 (1961)).