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Patterson v. Alabama

The Scottsboro Case

The Scottsboro case, one of the most racially charged criminal trials in American history, began in March of 1931, when nine black youths ranging in age from 13 to 21 were arrested and charged with raping two white girls, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price, near Scottsboro, Alabama. The "Scottsboro boys" pleaded not guilty to the 20 indictments brought against them. Despite a spirited defense led by a coalition of Communists and civil rights leaders, an all-white jury rejected their pleas. Eight of the boys were found guilty, while a mistrial was declared in the case 13-year-old Roy Wright. The eight convicted defendants were sentenced to death on 9 April 1931.

Given a racial climate overwhelmingly hostile to blacks, the verdicts came as little surprise. The jury ignored a great deal of evidence that tended to exonerate the defendants. Further complicating the defense was the appointment by the court of Milo Moody, an inexperienced lawyer, as defense attorney in the case. A crowd of some 10,000 whites gathered outside the courthouse during the critical days of the trial, demonstrating and calling for vigilante justice.

The convictions likewise generated a passionate reaction worldwide. Labor leaders and radical organizations held rallies to protest the jury's verdict. Demonstrations were held as far away as Germany. Many of the leading intellectuals of the day, including Albert Einstein, signed a petition calling for the release of the defendants. Eventually, these supporters were joined by one of the alleged victims, Ruby Bates, who recanted her testimony that she had been raped by the defendants. In November of 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Powell v. Alabama, overturned the convictions. The Court ruled that the Scottsboro boys had been denied due process of the law because the judge had been unacceptably casual in appointing their defense lawyer. New trials were set for all nine defendants.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Patterson v. Alabama - The Scottsboro Case, Patterson's Case, Norris Case Decided, Jury Nullification