• Last updated on November 11, 2022

In this, the first of the Scottsboro cases, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentences of the seven African Americans convicted of rape.

Near Scottsboro, Alabama, nine young African American men were tried on charges of raping two white women on a freight train in 1931. Eight were convicted and sentenced to death. Alabama’s highest court upheld the convictions of seven of the young men. The Scottsboro cases were then appealed to the Supreme Court. Justice George SutherlandSutherland, George;Powell v. Alabama[Powell v. Alabama] wrote the opinion of the 7-2 majority, overturning the conviction and death sentence of the Scottsboro boys for rape. Sutherland held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause mandated a fair trial, which required the effective assistance of legal counsel in capital cases. Because the Fourteenth Amendment applied to the states, the Alabama conviction could not stand. Justice Pierce Butler dissented and was joined by James C. McReynolds, arguing that the defendants had had effective representation and that the Court was making an unnecessary intrusion into the functioning of state courts.African Americans;death penalty[death penalty]Counsel, right to;Powell v. Alabama[Powell v. Alabama]African Americans;death penalty[death penalty]

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