Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Grandstanding Or Justice?”

I didn’t provide my answer to the ethics quiz about the propriety of charging and trying the woman whose accusation against 14-year-old Emmett Till resulted in his infamous lynching in 1955. Jim Hodgson’s Comment of the Day nicely explains what it would be, though.

I also heard an interesting angle from my lawyer sister that is probably worth a full post. What Carolyn Bryant Donham said in 1955 would be literally nothing today. It was only in the warped Jim Crow culture of 1950s Mississippi that a woman false claiming a black teen touched and flirted with her could lead to violence, or could be considered provocation for a violent crime. How do you justify prosecuting someone 67 years later for an act that would no longer be considered a crime?

Here is Jim’s post, in response to “Ethics Quiz: Grandstanding Or Justice?”


My answer to the ethics quiz is that no, she should not be prosecuted. It just isn’t feasible to achieve any fair degree of justice at this point.

As a retired deputy sheriff, the first thing that struck me as odd in the news reports that I read concerning this “discovery” was the clear implication that the “lost” warrant itself was somehow a bar to her being arrested and prosecuted at some time during the past 67 years. It may be news to many people, but paper warrants get lost (or at least temporarily “misplaced”) with some regularity. In my state, any officer of the court with knowledge of the original warrant could have asked for the warrant to be re-issued by the same court that issued the original. In my state this is referred to as issuing an “alias warrant” or an “alias writ.”

All warrants issued are logged in actual docket books by the clerk of the issuing court (and were even back in 1955) in most jurisdictions. The court clerks also maintain the supporting documents for issuing a warrant (affidavits of complaint, etc.) and all this documentation must be maintained (either on paper or digitally) forever. So, it wasn’t like, “Gee we would really like to arrest and charge this woman, if we could just find that pesky warrant.”

To me this suggests that for at least a significant period of years, there was no interest (by the courts or prosecutors) in arresting and trying the woman, especially since the men charged in the case had been acquitted, and the case against her personally was likely weak to begin with and more a matter of guilt by association. The court documents in most southern counties I know of would normally not be sent to any sort of archives/storage for at least twenty years. It does seem odd that the prosecutor did not simply file a nolle prosequi motion, or even a motion to dismiss the charge altogether. At this point, who knows?

Certainly, at this late date, proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a fair trial is darned near impossible, and any trial resulting from serving this warrant would as a practical matter be just an emotion-packed show trial to appease the family, BLM and their allies. The justice system in Mississippi screwed this one up, and sometimes that which has been screwed up cannot be unscrewed.

Finally, I would be curious as to how those clamoring for the old lady’s prosecution and imprisonment would feel about the matter if it were an equally old and equally infirm black woman who was alleged to have made a false statement in 1955 that may have been the cause of an innocent white man being killed. What would “restorative justice” advocates call for?

3 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Grandstanding Or Justice?”

  1. Well done Jim. I did not weigh in on that post because I really could not develop a well reasoned argument for letting the issue drop. I also could not figure out the charge of kidnapping. It just struck me that she said something and others went nuts. So unless you could prove she knew what was to happen how can you charge her. This is especially true since others were acquitted. Using that logic, any utterance that causes another to act violently may put us all at risk for being complicit.
    Your understanding of and elucidation of the legal processes at play makes the issue a no brainer.

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