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Powell v. Alabama

Law Dictionary

Law Dictionary

Featuring Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed.
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Criminal Procedure keyed to Saltzburg

Citation. Powell v. Ala., 287 U.S. 45, 53 S. Ct. 55, 77 L. Ed. 158, 1932 U.S. LEXIS 5, 84 A.L.R. 527 (U.S. Nov. 7, 1932)

Brief Fact Summary. African-Americans accused of rape were not given adequate counsel.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. “Where the defendant is unable to employ counsel, and is incapable of making his own defense… it is the duty of the court, whether requested or not, to assign counsel for him as a necessary requisite of due process of law; and that duty is not discharged by an assignment at such a time or under such circumstances as to preclude the giving of effective aid in the preparation and trial of the case.”

Facts. A group of African-American youths were on a freight train through Alabama. They got into a fight with some white youths, throwing the white boys from the train. A message was sent, requesting all blacks be removed from the train. Two white girls on the train testified that they had been raped by six different youths in turn. The youths were taken into custody. The community was very hostile, as a mob met the youths. The trial judge appointed “all members of the bar” for the purpose of the arraignment. The defendants themselves were illiterate and “ignorant”. They were all tried separately, each trial lasting a day, convicted, and sentenced to death.

• Whether the defendants had sufficient counsel.
• Whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment had been violated.

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