Tennessee Court Holds That Black Defendant Did Not Receive A Fair Trial Because Jury Deliberated In Room With Confederate Flag and Portrait of Jefferson Davis
Last year, a state judge in Virginia made headlines by removing judicial portraits from his courtroom. The judge reasoned that the portraits depicted white men. Thus, the mere presence of these portraits could deprive non-whites of fair trials.
At the time, I didn’t have any intrinsic objections to this decision. Judges have certain inherent powers over their courtrooms, including decor. Rather, I raised a concern. If, in fact, the mere presence of these portraits could render a trial unfair, then defendants convicted in those courtrooms could object to their convictions in those courtrooms.
If Judge Bernhard is correct, could an African-American defendant previously convicted in that courtroom file a motion to set aside his conviction, on the ground that trial was inherently biased?
Thousands of defendants who were convicted in those courtrooms could challenge their convictions. Those arguments could be raised on direct or even on collateral appeal.
Now, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has taken a first step towards that outcome. For more than four decades, juries in Giles County have deliberated in a room named after the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The room is decorated with a Confederate flag and a portrait of Jefferson Davis. A jury that deliberated in that room convicted a
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