Imagine that you are Black man on trial for assault and related offenses. Not only is every member of the jury of your “peers” white, but the entire jury deliberation room appears to be a tribute to the Confederacy. A Tennessee man faced just that situation, and after being convicted of assault and several related crimes, his lawyers appealed. A three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the conviction on the grounds, among others, that the exposure of the jurors to symbols glorifying the Confederacy constituted extraneous information that raised a presumption of prejudice against the defendant.
This was not a simple case where a picture or statue presented the only problem. Here are the details:
- The jury room included a portrait of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.
- The jury room included a Confederate flag.
- The jury room was named after the United Daughters of the Confederacy
- The glass panel on the door of the room was inscribed with the following: “U.D.C. [United Daughters of the Confederacy] Room,” along with the first flag of the Confederate states. It also contained a portrait of Confederate General John C. Brown, and a letter stating that Confederate veterans must be honored.
The appeals court ruled, in effect, that these symbols were not merely historical memorabilia. The court analyzed the situation, and stated that the “memorabilia” endorsed slavery, endorsed the subjugation of Black people, and stand for the belief that Black people are mere possessions.
In addition to the memorabilia issues, the court also ruled that another, unrelated issue, presented “reversible error” in the case. That error consisted of a hearsay statement recorded by the prosecution concerning what a third party reported about a statement by the defendant. The court held that the admission of the statement was properly objected to by the defense at trial, and its admission tainted the trial. It is noteworthy that during their deliberations, the jury requested to hear the recording, and 25 minutes later came back with the guilty verdicts. The Court of Appeals noted that without that (hearsay) statement, there was insufficient evidence in the case to support a conviction on assault and other charges in the case.
Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004