Tuesday, March 25, 2014
U.S. Supreme Court Hands Down Decision in the Scottsboro Nine Case - 1932
On March 25, 1932, the United States Supreme Court hands down its decision in the case of Powell v. Alabama. The case arose out of the infamous Scottsboro case. Nine young black men were arrested and accused of raping two white women on train in Alabama in March 1931. The boys were fortunate to barely escape a lynch mob sent to kill them, but were railroaded into convictions and death sentences. The Supreme Court overturned the convictions on the basis that they did not have effective representation. Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, the alleged victims, were not the virtuous women that the white establishment in Alabama had tried to portray. In fact, both were prostitutes who had invented the charges out of thin air. Bates eventually recanted her testimony. The accused boys were not given lawyers until the morning of the trial and these attorneys made almost no effort to defend their clients. On the same day that the case began, the defendants were convicted and received death sentences. The blatant unfairness of the case attracted the attention of liberals across the country. The transcript of the trial left the Supreme Court with no other choice but to throw out the convictions. Still, Alabama insisted on retrying the defendants. This time, Samuel Liebowitz, one of the premier defense attorneys of the day, came to represent the Scottsboro nine. It didn't matter. The jury made up of all white men, convicted them all again. In fact, there would be many more trials of the Scottsboro defendants over the years and each time they were convicted, the convictions were over turned on appeal. When the saga finally ended in 1937, four of the defendants were released without any further trials, while the five remaining defendants were convicted again and sentenced to long prison terms. All them were eventually released or pardoned for the original rape offenses, but several were arrested for unrelated crimes and served many more years in jail.
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