Wolf v. Colorado Case Brief

Facts of the case

Julius A. Wolf, Charles H. Fulton, and Betty Fulton were charged with conspiracy to perform an abortion. At trial, Wolf objected to evidence material and admissible as to his co-defendants would be inadmissible if he were tried separately. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld all three convictions in which evidence was admitted that would have been inadmissible in a prosecution for violation of a federal law in a federal court.

Why is the case important?

The petitioner, Julius Wolf (the “petitioner”) was convicted by a State court of conspiring to commit abortions based upon evidence allegedly obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure clause.

Question

Whether a State court conviction for a State offense denies due process protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution because evidence that would have been excluded in a federal court under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) was admitted?

ANSWER

Justice Felix Frankfurter (“J. Frankfurter”) filed a majority opinion. No, due process is not denied when evidence obtained through an illegal search and seizure is admitted by a State court for a State offense. Unlike the requirements and restrictions placed by the Bill of Rights upon federal authorities, the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution does not subject criminal justice in the States to certain limitations. In Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914), the Supreme Court held that in a federal prosecution, evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution was barred from use. As of the Weeks decision, twenty-seven states had passed on the Weeks doctrine, but had not left other means of protection which would be as effective as the federal exclusionary rule. The common law provides for an action for damages, the officer may have been resisted, and the officer may have been prosecuted for oppression. Additionally, the Weeks exclusionary rule is a federal court construct that is not found implicitly in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution nor is a law promulgated by Congress. Congress may easily remove the protection granted by Weeks by legislative enactment to the contrary. In light of alternatives to the States and legislative policy, the federal exclusionary rule does not apply to the States.

CONCLUSION

A majority of the Supreme Court held that, in a prosecution in a state court for a state crime, the Fourteenth Amendment does not forbid the admission of evidence obtained by an unreasonable search and seizure. The question whether Congress could validly enact legislation permitting the introduction in Federal courts of evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment was left open.

  • Advocates: Philip Hornbein for the petitioner James S. Henderson for the respondent
  • Petitioner: Julius A. Wolf
  • Respondent: Colorado
  • DECIDED BY:Vinson Court
  • Location: Denver District Court
Citation: 338 US 25 (1949)
Argued: Oct 19, 1948
Decided: Jun 27, 1949
Wolf v. Colorado Case Brief