Significant Cases from the Cuyahoga County Courthouse


Judge Sean C. Gallagher, Ohio Court of Appeals, 8th District.


THE SAM SHEPPARD MURDER CASE ‑ For some, the ultimate who done it

If you were born and raised or spent any appreciable amount of time in Cleveland over the past 50 years, you undoubtedly heard about, or formed an opinion about, Sam Sheppard and the murder of his wife, Marilyn Reese Sheppard. He was convicted of second‑degree murder on December 21, 1954. He was sentenced to life in prison. The original appeal of his conviction for her murder was heard and rejected in this courthouse in 1955. Eventually, the United States Supreme Court overturned his conviction due to adverse pretrial publicity and he was acquitted after a second trial in 1966. Sam Sheppard died of liver failure on April 6, 1970. An attempt by the Estate of Sam Sheppard to recover compensation for his alleged wrongful imprisonment was rejected by a jury on April 12, 2000. The unsuccessful appeal of that case was also heard in this courthouse in 2002. The United States Supreme Court decision defined what protections from media coverage were necessary for defendants under the Fourteenth Amendment.


TERRY v. OHIO - The Terry Stop


The most significant criminal case in modern American history had its initial review in this courthouse in 1966. On October 31, 1963, Officer Martin McFadden, who was 62 years old at the time, stopped three men he believed were about to rob a store in what is now Playhouse Square. McFadden, without a warrant, searched the men and recovered two guns. The case set off a major debate about the scope of police intrusion in the absence of a warrant. In the end, the United States Supreme Court in 1968 upheld McFaddden's search. The Court determined that for their own protection, police may perform a quick surface search of a person's outer clothing for weapons if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person stopped is armed. This reasonable suspicion must be based on "specific and articulable facts" and not merely upon an officer's hunch. This permitted police action has subsequently been referred to in short as a "stop and frisk," or simply a "Terry stop." In 2003, a historical marker was set up in Playhouse Square commemorating Officer McFadden and the case. One of the defendants, John Terry, was represented by future Congressman Louis Stokes.


MAPP v. OHIO ‑ A man's home (and a woman's too) is his (her) castle.

What is arguably the second most significant criminal case in American history has ties to this courthouse. On May 23, 1957, Cleveland police officers entered the home of Ms. Dollree Mapp, without a warrant, purportedly looking for a person wanted for questioning in a bombing and for illegal gambling paraphernalia. What they found were “books” in the basement that were termed obscene materials. She was convicted for possessing them and was sentenced to 1 to 7 years in prison. Her initial appeal challenging the warrantless search of her home was heard and rejected in this courthouse in 1959. In 1961, after several unsuccessful appeals, the United States Supreme Court's 5‑4 decision overturned Mapp's conviction, on the grounds that evidence seized without a search warrant cannot be used in state criminal prosecutions under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which extends that protection to state jurisdictions. The case also had major First Amendment implications and was argued in part by noted Cleveland attorney Bernard A. Berkman, who represented the American Civil Liberties Union.


JACOBELLIS v. OHIO ‑ AI know it when I see it.

On November 13, 1959, Nico Jacobellis, manager of the Heights Art Theatre in Cleveland Heights, showed the motion picture Les Amants (The Lovers) at the theater. Law enforcement officials raided the theater, confiscated the film, and arrested Jacobellis. He was convicted of possessing and exhibiting an allegedly obscene motion picture. His initial appeal was heard and rejected in this courthouse in 1961. On June 22, 1964, the United States Supreme Court overturned the conviction and reaffirmed the Court's right to independently determine whether a particular work is obscene and whether it is entitled to the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression. The Court ruled that the film, which had one explicit scene, did not meet the obscenity test and could be publicly shown. The case is arguably one of the biggest cases in American history on the First Amendment and obscenity. When attempting to define pornography, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart penned the immortal phrase I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.