Moore v. Dempsey

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261 U.S. 86 (1923), argued 9 Jan. 1923, decided 19 Feb. 1923 by vote of 6 to 2; Holmes for the Court, McReynolds and Sutherland in dissent, Clarke not participating. Moore resulted from a racial clash in Phillips County, Arkansas, in the fall of 1919, in which as many as two hundred blacks and five whites died. The Moore case involved six blacks sentenced to death for the murder of whites following the incident. They had petitioned the federal courts for a writ of habeas corpus, contending that their trials had been mob dominated and that witnesses were tortured to force testimony against them. The federal district court, however, dismissed the habeas corpus petition.

On appeal sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Supreme Court reversed the district court and ordered that a habeas corpus hearing be held. Speaking for the Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes held that a mob-dominated trial violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that, upon being petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, the federal courts were duty bound to review claims of mob domination of state trials and to order the release of defendants convicted in mob-dominated trials. In dissent, Justices James McReynolds and George Sutherland contended the Court's decision would result in undue interference by the federal courts in state criminal trials.

Moore v. Dempsey marked the beginning of stricter scrutiny of state criminal trials by the Supreme Court and more liberalized use of federal writs of habeas corpus to attack state convictions obtained in violation of federal constitutional rights.

Richard C. Cortner

Subjects: Law.

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