Brown v. Mississippi


Significance: The Supreme Court held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited states from using criminal confessions obtained by means “revolting to the sense of justice.”

In the early 1930's, three African American tenant farmers in Mississippi were convicted of murdering a white planter. The main evidence was their confessions. At trial, police officers admitted that they had employed brutal whippings and threats of death to obtain the confessions. The defendants, nevertheless, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged. The Mississippi supreme court upheld the constitutionality of their trials and convictions. By a 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court reversed the state court's ruling. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes's opinion held that coerced confessions violated a principle “so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.” At the same time, however, the Court reaffirmed that the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment was not binding on the states. Despite its modest requirements, Brown was the first in a line of cases requiring fundamental fairness for the use of confessions in state trials.