Criminal Defense: 1960s & 1970s
State v. Spicer—285 N.C. 274, 204 S.E.2d 641 (1974), the firm secured a new trial for the defendant, who had refused to appeal his death sentence and murder conviction until his scheduled execution date neared. The firm represented Mr. Spicer at his retrial. The jury acquitted the defendant after deliberating for just eleven minutes.
State v. Ben Chavis—(The Wilmington 10 Case), the state charged nine black defendants and one white defendant with firebombing a grocery store and shooting at police officers during violent demonstrations in Wilmington after the city authorities denied black students’ request to hold a memorial service for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in January 1971. The firm represented the Wilmington 10 at trial, on appeal, and in protracted state and federal post-conviction proceedings. All ten defendants were convicted in 1972 and given a combined sentence of 282 years. In December 1980, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned all of the defendants’ convictions in Chavis v. State, 637 F.2d 213 (4th Cir. 1980). The court found that the State had illegally withheld material exculpatory evidence and that the trial court had denied the defendants their constitutional rights to confront witnesses against them by improperly restricting the cross examination of the State’s main witnesses. In 1981, the prosecution finally dropped all charges against the Wilmington 10. The case provoked years of sustained international protests by civil and human rights activists until relief was finally granted.
State v. Morris—275 N.C. 50, 165 S.E.2d 245 (1969), the firm established the right to counsel for North Carolina misdemeanants.
Fowler v. North Carolina—428 U.S. 904 (1976), the Unites States Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether North Carolina’s judicially-created mandatory death sentence for murder was cruel and unusual punishment. The firm represented Mr. Fowler in association with the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. The case was argued but not decided during the Supreme Court’s 1974 Term. Mr. Fowler’s death sentence was ultimately set aside by a Memorandum Order when the Supreme Court ruled in Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 (1976), that mandatory death penalties were unconstitutional.