Monday, August 15, 2016

Scottsboro Boys' Case - Facts

This is the eleventh post of the series 'LegalTrek'. The last post was 'The Man On The Cigarette Packet'. This post explains is about the facts of the Scottsboro Boys' Case - the case that inspired Harper Lee to write 'To Kill A Mocking Bird'.
Samuel Leibowitz with the Scottsboro Boys - Courtesy Wikipedia

How I Became A Lawyer।। Allahabad High Court Is Born।।Lucknow Bench - Historical Necessity।। Introduction to Setalvad।। Benches and The Law Commission।। Court of Appeal – Not A Good Idea: Some Suggestions।। Courtroom - Finest Legal Biography।। Leibowitz - The First Case।। Art of Cross Examination।। The Man on the Cigarette Packet।। Scottsboro Boys' Case - Facts।।

In later life, Leibowitz would often go on vacation but wherever he went, he would visit the court. He preferred courtrooms to the monuments. Once he visited Miami courthouse. In the case there, there wasn't anything to interest him except for the jury box: there was a black man in the jury. During lunch time, Leibowitz asked the lawyer about it. The lawyer answered (from the book 'Courtroom'),
'Yes, it is something new. This is the first time in our state we have had a nigger on a jury and it's all on account of a son-of-a-bitch named Samuel Leibowitz from New York. He came down to Alabama a few years ago to try a case and somehow he got to the Supreme Court in Washington, and damned if we haven't had to put niggers on our juries over since.' 
This was due to Scottsboro Boys' case.

Scottsboro Boys' case is not only the most talked about US constitutional case of the 20th century but is also a milestone in the area of civil rights. It had gone to US Supreme Court twice and both times, the death penalty was set aside and the case was sent back for re-hearing; it is the only case, where the US Supreme Court looked into facts of the case. 

The case was tried in Albama. Harper Lee used to live there. The case had impact on her. At that time,  she was six year old, the same age as of Scout, who is the protagonist of the book 'To Kill A Mocking Bird'. 

1930's was a time of depression in the US. Hobos often went places from one place to other on freight trains in search of jobs. On March 25, 1931, nine Blacks (aged from 12 to nineteen) were pulled off from a freight train in Alabama and were initially arrested for assaulting white boys on the train. There were two young white women Ms. Victoria Price and Ms. Ruby Bates on the train too. The Blacks were later allegedly charged for raping them in a gondola of the same train.  

On the request of the State, they were tried in three groups in Scottsboro (this is why it is known as Scottsboro Boys' case).  Between April 7-9,1931, eight of the Scottsboro Boys were sentenced to death.  The trial of the ninth one Roy Wright (the youngest 12 or 13 years old) ended in a mistrial when some jurors held out for a death sentence even though the prosecution asked for life imprisonment. 

Their executions were stayed pending appeals before Alabama Supreme Court. In between the hearing before the Supreme Court a new development took place. On January 5, 1932, in a letter Ruby Bates denied that she was raped. However in March, 1932, the Alabama Supreme Court by a vote of 6-1, affirmed the convictions of seven of the boys over the strong dissent by Chief Justice John Arderson that the accused were given a fair trial (242 Ala. 524). The conviction of one of them, Eugene Williams aged 13 years was reversed on the grounds that he was a juvenile under state law. The news of their convictions spread and the plight of the Scottsboro Boys became a 'cause celebre'. 

In the next post, we will talk about what happened in the US Supreme Court.

#LegalTrek #YatindraSingh 
#Courtroom #SamuelLeibowitz
#ToKillAMockingBird, #ScottsboroBoysCase

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