Today marks the 82nd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown v. Mississippi. This case marked the Supreme Court holding that confessions obtained through police violence cannot be used as evidence in a criminal trial. This case also marked one of the first real stands the Supreme Court took against racially motivated violence in the Southern States.
The case behind Brown was unfortunately an all to common scenario, and highlights the systematic miscarriage of justice that occurred to African Americans in Southern states. In late March 1934 Raymond Stuart, a white planter and landowner was found murdered in his home in Kemper county Mississippi. Kemper county had a long and storied reputation for racial violence, with frequent riots, massacres, lynching’s, and raids conducted by angry white farmers against their tenant African American farmers.
Law enforcement lacked any real physical or circumstantial evidence relating to Stuart’s death, however they had a hunch that it was probably three black tenant farmers that worked on Stuarts land. The night of March 30th, 1934, the sheriff and law enforcement arrested Arthur Ellington, Ed Brown, and Henry Shields. The three men initially denied any connection with the murder. The police, unsatisfied with their denial separated the men. Two of the men were taken, tied up in a barn and savagely whipped for hours by law enforcement and were informed that if they did not confess, they would be whipped to death. The third man was taken to a large open field, strung up by a noose, repeatedly hung, and told he would be lynched if he did not confess.
By the end of the night, all three men had confessed to the murder of Raymond Stuart. At trial, all three men were tried together. The defendant’s defense counsel failed to object to the admission of the confessions, and the three were quickly convicted in their one-day trial by an all-white jury in less than 5 minutes. All three men were sentenced to death. The three men appealed their sentence all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court who affirmed their convictions noting that torture was an acceptable means to obtain a confession. The three men then sought a writ of certiorari from the Unite States Supreme Court, and were granted cert in late 1935.
On January 10th, 1936, At the Supreme Court, Mr. Brown and his fellow co defendants gave a simple argument. They argued that the state of Mississippi had violated their 14th amendment due process rights by allowing the use of confessions obtained through extreme torture.
The state of Mississippi argued that the Due process clause was not incorporated against the States yet, and as such the Defendant’s rights had not been violated, as the Mississippi constitution allowed for the use of confessions obtained through torture.
The Supreme Court rendered its verdict on February 17th, 1936. A Unanimous Court, lead by Chief Justice Charles E. Hughes overturned Mr. Brown, and his co defendants convictions and remanded the case for a new trial. The Supreme Court penned a blister judgment noting:
“The transcript reads more like pages torn from some medieval account than a record made within the confines of a modern civilization.”
The Court further held that confessions that were extracted by police by means of extreme violence and torture could not be used as evidence. Finally, the Court held that if a confession obtained by torture were used, the 14th amendment due process clause would be violated.
With their convictions overturned, the three men all plead nolo contendere to avoid another trial in front of an all-white jury. Arthur Ellington was sentenced to 6 months in prison, Ed Brown was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison, and Henry Shields was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison for manslaughter. On a somber note, the man who had prosecuted these three John C. Stennis would later serve 42 years and a US senator for the state of Mississippi becoming one of the longest serving US senators in history.
While the outcome of this case did not necessarily address the miscarriage of justice which occurred to these three men, it did strike a blow against the status quo of the southern justice systems treatment of African Americans. This case also cemented a constitutional protection, guaranteeing that torture cannot be used as a means of obtaining a confession from a suspect. With Experienced Legal Representation, you can guarantee that police are held accountable for physical coercion they perpetrate against you to obtain a confession.
Written by Hunter White
 Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278, 56 S. Ct. 461 (1936)
 Cortner, Richard C. (1986). A “Scottsboro” Case in Mississippi: The Supreme Court and Brown v. Mississippi. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press. ISBN 0-87805-284-4.
 Neil R. McMillen, Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow, at 200 (University of Illinois Press 1990)