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Abstract

This Article tells the legal story of one of the South’s most infamous trials – the Groveland Boys prosecution in central Florida. Called “Florida’s Little Scottsboro,” the Groveland case garnered international attention in 1949 when four young black men were accused of the gang rape of a white woman in the orange groves north of Orlando. Several days of rioting, Ku Klux Klan activity, three murders, two trials, and three death penalty verdicts followed, in what became the most infamous trial in Florida history. The appeals of the trial reached the United States Supreme Court, with the NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall serving as lead defense counsel in the re-trial of the case. The case reads like a Hollywood movie, but with the underpinnings of a classic 20th century southern courtroom drama. This Article looks not only at the history of the Groveland prosecutions, but undertakes a legal analysis of the trial court decisions made by the trial judge. While the historiographical narrative of the Groveland trials is one of racism and a “legal lynching,” many of the legal decisions made by the trial court were, in fact, surprisingly consistent with legal precedent of the time. Nevertheless, the tragic outcome of the Groveland case inflicted a permanent scar on the reputation of the Florida criminal justice system.

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