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Woman behind landmark Supreme Court decision on searches and seizures dies

Dollree Mapp's Supreme Court case, Mapp v. Ohio, is a staple of law school textbooks and considered a milestone case on the Fourth Amendment, which requires law enforcement officers to get a warrant before conducting a search.

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    In this undated file photo, Dollree Mapp is escorted into 105th precinct in New York.
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A woman who stood up to police trying to search her Ohio home in 1957 and ultimately won a landmark Supreme Court decision on searches and seizures has died.

Dollree Mapp died Oct. 31 in Conyers, Georgia. A relative and caretaker, Carolyn Mapp, confirmed her death Wednesday and said she died on the day after her birthday at the age of 91.

Mapp's Supreme Court case, Mapp v. Ohio, is a staple of law school textbooks and considered a milestone case on the Fourth Amendment, which requires law enforcement officers to get a warrant before conducting a search. The case curbed the power of police by saying evidence obtained by illegal searches and seizures could not be used in state court.

Mapp's path to the U.S. Supreme Court began on May 23, 1957, when three Cleveland police officers arrived at her home. There had just been a bombing at the home of Don King, who later became famous as a boxing promoter, and police believed that a person wanted for questioning was hiding in Mapp's home. The officers demanded to enter, but Mapp refused to let them in without a search warrant. More officers later arrived and police forced open a door, according to a summary of the case in the Supreme Court opinion.

When the officers confronted Mapp, one held up a piece of paper, claiming it was a warrant, and Mapp snatched it away. After a struggle an officer got the paper back, Mapp was handcuffed for being "belligerent," and officers searched her home. They didn't find the person they were looking for, but they did find some pornographic books and pictures. At the time, an Ohio law made having obscene material a crime, and Mapp was convicted, though she said the materials belonged to a former boarder. Prosecutors never produced a search warrant at trial.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court overturned Mapp's conviction in a 6-3 decision, ruling in 1961 that illegally obtained evidence could not be used in state court. The court had previously ruled that this was the case in federal court, but Mapp's case extended the "exclusionary rule" to states where the vast majority of criminal prosecutions take place, broadening the protection.

Following the landmark ruling, Mapp sold real estate in New York, said Carolyn Mapp, who called her "a force to be reckoned with." She made news again in 1971 when she was convicted of heroin possession in New York and sentenced to 20 years to life. Her sentence was ultimately commuted.

Mapp was briefly married to Cleveland heavyweight boxer Jimmy Bivins who died in 2012. A daughter, Barbara Bivins, is also deceased.

A memorial for Mapp will be held in New York.

Late in life Mapp told a professor who wrote a book about her case that she was pleased the ruling helped protect other Americans but always considered her case a personal struggle.

"Any time someone is abused by the system, they have a right to stand up for themselves," she told Carolyn N. Long of Washington State University Vancouver. Mapp also told Long she never got back the pornographic books that touched off her case.

"I guess they're having a good time with them," she said.

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