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Resolution: The Courts

Excerpts from the U.S. Supreme Court Case, Moore vs. Dempsey.
MOORE et al. v.DEMPSEY, Keeper of Arkansas State Penitentiary.Argued Jan. 9, 1923. Decided Feb. 19, 1923.261 U.S. 86 Messrs. U. S. Bratton, of Detroit, Mich., Scipio A. Jones, of Little Rock, Ark., and Moorfield Storey, of Boston, Mass., for appellants. Mr. Elbert Godwin, of Melbourne, Ark., for appellee. Mr. Justice HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

A link to the full text of the decision may be found on the Links Page.
The appellants are five negroes who were convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death by the Court of the State of Arkansas. The ground of the petition for the writ is that the proceedings in the State Court, although a trial in form, were only a form, and that the appellants were hurried to conviction under the pressure of a mob without any regard for their rights and without according to them due process of law.

On November 3 the petitioners were brought into Court, informed that a certain lawyer was appointed their counsel and were placed on trial before a white jury-blacks being systematically excluded from both grand and petit juries. The Court and neighborhood were thronged with an adverse crowd that threatened the most dangerous consequences to anyone interfering with the desired result.

The counsel did not venture to demand delay or a change of venue, to challenge a juryman or to ask for separate trials. He had had no preliminary consultation with the accused, called no witnesses for the defence although they could have been produced, and did not put the defendants on the stand. The trial lasted about three-quarters of an hour and in less than five minutes the jury brought in a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree.

According to the allegations and affidavits there never was a chance for the petitioners to be acquitted; no juryman could have voted for an acquittal and continued to live Phillips County and if any prisoner by any chance had been acquitted by a jury he could not have escaped the mob. The averments as to the prejudice by which the trial was environed have some corroboration in appeals to the Governor, about a year later, earnestly urging him not to interfere with the execution of the petitioners.

In Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 335, 35 S. Ct. 582, 590 (59 L. Ed. 969), it was recognized of course that if in fact a trial is dominated by a mob so that there is an actual interference with the course of justice, there is a departure from due process of law; and that 'if the State, supplying no corrective process, carries into execution a judgment of death or imprisonment based upon a verdict thus produced by mob domination, the State deprives the accused of his life or liberty without due process of law.'