Historic Supreme Court Cases

This is a sampling of some of the major Supreme Court cases that are frequently studied in law school

Criminal Law Cases

Gideon v. Wainwright 372 U.S. 335 (1963) (W|L)

  • The petitioner brought habeas corpus proceedings against the Director of the Division of Corrections. The Florida Supreme Court, 135 So.2d 746, denied all relief, and the petitioner brought certiorari. The United States Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Black, held that the Sixth Amendment to the federal Constitution providing that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy right to assistance of counsel for his defense is made obligatory on the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, and that an indigent defendant in a criminal prosecution in a state court has the right to have counsel appointed for him.

Mapp v. Ohio 367 U.S. 643 (1961) (W|L)

  • Prosecution for possession and control of obscene material. An Ohio Common Pleas Court rendered judgment, and the defendant appealed. The Ohio Supreme Court, 170 Ohio St. 427, 166 N.E.2d 387, affirmed the judgment, and the defendant again appealed. The Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Clark, held that evidence obtained by unconstitutional search was inadmissible and vitiated conviction.

Katz v. United States 389 U.S. 347 (1967) (W|L)

  • Defendant was convicted in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division, Jesse W. Curtis, J., of a violation of statute proscribing interstate transmission by wire communication of bets or wagers, and he appealed. The Court of Appeals, 369 F.2d 130, affirmed, and certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Stewart, held that government's activities in electronically listening to and recording defendant's words spoken into telephone receiver in public telephone booth violated the privacy upon which defendant justifiably relied while using the telephone booth and thus constituted a ‘search and seizure’ within Fourth Amendment, and fact that electronic device employed to achieve that end did not happen to penetrate the wall of the booth could have no constitutional significance. The Court further held that the search and seizure, without prior judicial sanction and attendant safeguards, did not comply with constitutional standards, although, accepting account of government's actions as accurate, magistrate could constitutionally have authorized with appropriate safeguards the very limited search and seizure that government asserted in fact took place and although it was apparent that agents had acted with restraint.

Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436 (1966) (W|L)

  • The Supreme Court, Mr. Chief Justice Warren, held that statements obtained from defendants during incommunicado interrogation in police-dominated atmosphere, without full warning of constitutional rights, were inadmissible as having been obtained in violation of Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238 (1972) (W|L)

  • The Supreme Court held that imposition and carrying out of death penalty in cases before court would constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Heafey Law Library Research Team