Monday, September 26, 2016

Scottsboro Boys case - First Round Supreme Court

This is the twelfth post of the series 'LegalTrek'. The last post was 'Scottsboro Boys' Case - Facts'. This post explains, what happened after their conviction was set aside by the US Supreme Court and how Leibowitz entered in the case.
Ruby Bates and Victoria Price Picture courtesy Wikipedia

The appeal was taken to the US Supreme Court and it was argued that the accused were denied due process and equal protection of law in contravention of fourteenth amendment as they were,
  1. Not given a fair, impartial, and deliberate trial,
  2. Denied the right to counsel and opportunity to prepare for the trial; and
  3. Tried before jury from which qualified members of their own race were systematically excluded.

The appeal was allowed by the US Supreme Court by 7-2 on the second ground. Their conviction was set aside: the case was sent back. The US Supreme Court in Powell Vs. Alabama 287 US 45 held,
'A defendant should be afforded a fair opportunity to secure counsel of his own choice. Not only was that not done here, but such designation of counsel as was attempted was either so indefinite or so close upon the trial as to amount to a denial of effective and substantial aid in that regard.

The failure of the trial court to give them reasonable time and opportunity to secure a counsel was clear denial of due process.'
After the case was remanded by the US Supreme Court, it was transferred to Decatur. International Labour Defence (ILD), the law wing of the communist party of the US, had taken control of the defence. It requested Samuel Leibowitz to defend the accused. Leibowitz accepted the brief but put his conditions,
'While, as you are quite aware, your organization and I are not in agreement in our political and economic views, your letter arouses my sympathetic interest, because it touches no controversial theory of economy of government, but the basic rights of man.
 Let me say at the outset that if I serve this cause, as you suggest I should, I will not serve it for money; nor will I permit you to repay the expense I may incur.'

Patterson, one of the nine accused, was tried first. This time Ms. Ruby Bates appeared on behalf of defence. She deposed that the Blacks had not teased them; and she had deposed about the rape earlier on the suggestion of Ms. Victoria Price, because Ms. Price had said that if she did not depose then they could end up in jail for crossing the State boundary like that.

The Jury again awarded death penalty to Patterson on 9.4.1933. However, the trial court Judge, James Edwin Horton postponed the trials of the other Scottsboro Boys on 18.4.1933 because of dangerously high local tensions; set aside the guilty verdict, death penalty to Patterson; and ordered for his retrial on 22.6.1933. He held:
'History, sacred and profane, and the common experience of mankind teach us that women of the character shown in this case are prone for selfish reasons to make false accusations both of rape and of insult upon the slightest provocation for ulterior purposes. These women are shown, by the great weight of the evidence, on this very day before leaving Chattanooga, to have falsely accused two Negroes of insulting them, and of almost precipitating a fight between one of the white boys they were in company with and these two Negroes. This tendency on the part of the women shows that they are predisposed to make false accusations upon any occasion whereby their selfish ends may be gained.
The Court will not pursue the evidence any further.'
He postponed the rest of the remaining trials, as the accused were not likely to get fair trial at that time.

Later Judge Horton was removed and a new judge was appointed by the Alabama Supreme Court. As expected, he was defeated in the reelection. 

Norris and Patterson, two of the accused were tried first. They were awarded death penalty and the trial of rest of the accused were postponed till appeals of Norris and Patterson were decided. Their conviction was affirmed by the Alabama Supreme Court and the case reached the US Supreme Court.

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

#LegalTrek #YatindraSingh 

#Courtroom #SamuelLeibowitz

#ToKillAMockingBird, #ScottsboroBoysCase

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