Powell v. Alabama

U.S. Case Law

Legal Definition of Powell v. Alabama 

287 U.S. 45 (1932), extended the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of due process of law to state courts. The first and most important of the so-called Scottsboro Cases (after the Alabama town in which they originated), the decision helped to clarify the rights of the accused in state criminal trials involving indigent defendants. Several black youths who were charged with raping two white women were convicted in a state court after receiving only a cursory defense by two poorly prepared state-appointed attorneys. The Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment required state trial judges to assign an individual attorney to each indigent defendant in a capital case and to otherwise ensure that a fair trial, including assistance of counsel, is provided in noncapital cases. This mandate was expanded in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which provided that all indigent defendants charged with serious crimes (capital or noncapital) must be assigned counsel.

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