The state of Mississippi might be on the smaller side as far as population goes, but there have been some pretty famous court cases throughout history involving the Magnolia State. Several cases have grabbed national headlines, playing important roles in changing laws not only within state borders, but nationwide as well.
What are some of the most famous court cases in Mississippi history? Below is a look five that stand out.
Gates v. Collier (1974)
This case was decided in US Federal Court, ultimately bringing the end of the Trusty System and the extreme amount of inmate abuse at the Mississippi State Penitentiary.
There were a lot of firsts with Gates v. Collier. It was the first time that corporal punishment against prisoners was deemed as cruel and unusual punishment. This violated the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners. It changed quite a bit about the supervision of prison practices, which was overlooked more often than not in the past.
Some of the types of punishment prisoners were being subjected to included being handcuffed to fences for long periods of time, forcing inmates to stand or sit in weird positions and more.
After the case was settled, all the other states stopped using the Trusty System as well. This system allowed some inmates to have power and control over others in the system, which was ultimately causing more harm than good by the 1970s.
Mississippi University For Women v. Hogan (1982)
In Mississippi University For Women v. Hogan, the United States Supreme Court decided in favor of Hogan on a 5-4 vote. The court decided that the controversial single-sex admissions policy that was in place for the Mississippi University For Women actually violated the Equal Protection Clause that is found in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Back in the 1880s, when the Mississippi University For Women was established, women’s rights were not nearly the same as nearly 100 years later. As the world evolved, the college was still only enrolling women into their nursing school. This was challenged by Joe Hogan in 1979, as he wanted to get a degree in nursing.
He qualified for the school in every way except for his sex. Instead of enrolling in other public, coeducational programs in the state, he decided to file action and challenge the single sex admissions policy.
Although the Supreme Court did rule in favor of Hogan, they did not require that the university becomes truly coeducational. It simply ruled that if qualified males applied, they have the same ability to get into the school.
To this day, the school still carries the name Mississippi University for Women, and approximately 10-15% of the students are male.
Brown v. Mississippi (1934)
This case became very controversial after it was discovered that the confession from the defendants in a murder trial came only after extreme police violence. It was ruled that this was a direct violation of what is known as the Due Process Law found in the Fourteenth Amendment. It ultimately was an unanimous decision, and it helped all three defendants avoid their original sentence to be hanged.
In 1934, a white planter named Raymond Stewart was killed in Kemper County, Mississippi. Three black farmers, Arthur Ellington, Henry Shields and Ed Brown, were quickly arrested in relation to the murder. When the case went to trial, the prosecution used the confessions of the defendants as their damning evidence.
it became a major issue once it was discovered that the defendants only confessed after being whipped by officers. The local officers made the three strip down and take severe beatings over and over until they begin to talk. The confessions changed quite a bit, depending on just how much abuse they were receiving. They were not left alone until the prosecution received what they needed to hear.
The confession was used by the prosecution during the one day trial as the only evidence they needed. It was enough to convict the defendants originally, ordering them to be hanged to death. The prosecution did not do much to hide the way they ultimately got the confession, but it still took the US Supreme Court to reverse the convictions. That led to sentences for the three to be changed to strictly prison time.
Lum v. Rice (1927)
About 30 years before Brown v. Board of Education, race still played a huge part in segregation in public schools. It was challenged by a Chinese-American named Martha Lum, who was trying to attend school in Bolivar County, Mississippi. Since there was no school in her district for Chinese students, she wanted to attend the school in the area reserved for whites. The court decision ended up holding that the exclusion on account of race did not violate the Fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution.
Lum actually won in a lower court, but the decision was ultimately reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Once it reached the US Supreme Court, Chief Justice William Howard Taft affirmed that Lum should be attending the colored school in the area instead of the school for whites.
Now almost 100 years later, this ruling appears to be very outdated. There is still a decision stemming from that case that still plays a role today. Each state still has the power to make racial distinctions if they wish in its school system. This was not an issue in Brown vs. Board of Education, so it has not been overturned.
Flowers v. Mississippi (1986)
Way back in 1986, Curtis Flowers was sentenced to death for killing four people in a furniture store located in Winona, Mississippi. The case went to trial six times, and in two or the trials, the prosecution was ultimately found in violation of the Ban on Racial Discrimination when selecting a jury.
Once the sixth trial concluded, Flowers ultimately challenged the rejection of black jurors, but the Supreme Court in Mississippi turned down that challenge. After it reached the US Supreme Court, it was ruled that the state’s Supreme Court needed to reconsider. It was remanded by a 7-2 vote.
In the opinion of the US Supreme Court, it was wrong for the state of Mississippi to come to the conclusion that’s the peremptory strike of a black prospective juror was not in any way racially motivated. Race relations in the state of Mississippi have always had a tricky history, and this ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court certainly did not help that perception.
For more informative articles about local regions we work in and other articles for legal professionals, including deposition technology and tips, court reporting, and other tips for attorneys and paralegals, visit The Brooks Court Reporting Blog.
Image credit: By formulanone from Huntsville, United States – Mississippi State Supreme Court, CC BY-SA 2.0
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