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Powell v. Alabama

United States Supreme Court
287 U.S. 45 (1932)

Powell v. Alabama


Powell (defendant) and eight other young, ignorant, illiterate, African American men were charged with and found guilty of raping two white women. The trial judge neglected to give Powell and the others the chance to secure their own representation by withholding contact with their families who resided in neighboring states. Instead, the judge appointed “all members of the bar” to represent Powell and the other men for their arraignment. Three separate trials commenced just six days later and it was only on the morning of trial when an Alabama attorney and a Tennessee attorney volunteered to represent the nine men at trial. Each trial was completed within one day and all three juries convicted the men, sentencing each of them to the death penalty. Powell and the other men filed motions for a new trial but the motions were overruled and the state supreme court affirmed the judgments on appeal. The cases were argued and submitted as one case.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Sutherland, J.)

Dissent (Butler, J.)

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