Powell v. Alabama Case Brief

Facts of the case

Nine black youths — described as, young, ignorant, and illiterate– were accused of raping two white women. Alabama officials sprinted through the legal proceedings: a total of three trials took one day and all nine were sentenced to death. Alabama law required the appointment of counsel in capital cases, but the attorneys did not consult with their clients and had done little more than appear to represent them at the trial. This case was decided together with Patterson v. Alabama and Weems v. Alabama.

Why is the case important?

African-Americans accused of rape were not given adequate counsel.


No, the “defendants were not accorded the right of counsel in any substantial sense.” The Supreme Court first observed that by appointing “all members of the bar” for the arraignment, “such designation of counsel … was either so indefinite or so close upon the trial as to amount to a denial of effective and substantial aid.” This unknown number of members “would not…have been given that clear appreciation of responsibility or impressed with that individual sense of duty which should and naturally would accompany the appointment of a selected member of the bar.”


The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the convictions and remanded upon holding that defendants were denied their right to counsel in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that defendants did not have the aid of counsel in any real sense from the time of their arraignment until the beginning of trial. The Court noted that defendants’ illiteracy, youth, and the circumstances of public hostility made the necessity of counsel so imperative that the trial court’s failure to make an effective appointment of counsel and the failure to give defendants a reasonable opportunity to secure counsel was a clear denial of due process.

  • Advocates: Walter H. Pollak for the petitioners Thomas E. Knight, Jr. for the respondent
  • Petitioner: Ozie Powell
  • Respondent: Alabama
  • DECIDED BY:Hughes Court
  • Location: –
Citation: 287 US 45 (1932)
Argued: Oct 10, 1932
Decided: Nov 7, 1932
Powell v. Alabama Case Brief