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

One Virginia judge removed portraits of his judges from his courtroom last year. He argued that these portraits were of white men. These portraits might be enough to deprive nonwhites from fair trials.

I had no intrinsic objections to the decision at that time. The judges have some inherent power over courtroom decor. Instead, I brought up a concern. I raised a concern that if these portraits were to be considered unfair in a trial, defendants who are convicted could challenge their convictions.

If Judge Bernhard is right, can an African American defendant convicted of a crime in this courtroom make a motion for the revocation of his conviction on grounds that it was biased in nature?

There are thousands of defendants who have been convicted in these courtrooms and could contest their convictions. Arguments could be brought up on either direct or collateral appeal.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals is now taking a step toward that end. Over the past four decades juries from Giles County deliberated in the room named for the United Daughters of the Confederacy. This room features a Confederate Flag and Jefferson Davis portrait. One black defendant was convicted of aggravated assault by a jury who deliberated in the room. The defendant challenged that there was no fair jury deliberations. While the trial court dismissed the claim, the appellate court agreed. Below is an overview of all arguments:

The defendant then claims that having grand and petite juries deliberate in an “inherently prejudicial Confederate Jury Room” violated his constitutional right “to an fair trial, his rights to an impartial jury and his due process right, as well as his constitutional right to equal protection under the law.” Only the State claims the defendant did not challenge the jury rooms conditions before trial and has therefore waived any plenary discussion of the issue. Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“TACDL”) stated in an amicus brief that it had “observed the following:[m]”Ultiple courts have acknowledged the racially-hostile and disruptive nature Confederate flag,” says the court. It argues that exposing Confederate Icons to jurors denies defendant a fair trial, free from extraneous information and inappropriate outside influence.

The judge ordered that the defendant be retried.

Accordingly, there is no evidence to show that the State has refuted the State’s presumption about prejudice caused by this jury’s exposure. In the event that the defendant has established that the jury received improper or extraneous information, and the State did not adequately refute the presumption about prejudice, the defendant can be granted a new trial.

The Court didn’t decide whether Giles County should remove confederate symbols.

It is not clear whether or not the U.D.C. The Giles County Courthouse should continue to house the room in its current state. We have found that the U.D.C. jury was not allowed to deliberate in Room. The jury was exposed to additional information in Room and the State did not counter the prejudice resulting from this.

Giles County is likely to take the hint and remodel. What happens next?

This room has been used by judges for over four decades. Presumably every black defendant who was convicted can now challenge the verdict and request a fresh trial. The Court didn’t address the issue. Other courts throughout the state and possibly in other parts of the south may also have deliberation rooms or courtrooms. These opinions could lead to many convictions being vacated if they are popular. These consequences would have disastrous results. McGirt seem tame.