Screws v. United States

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Screws v. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued October 20, 1944
Decided May 7, 1945
Full case nameMack Claude Screws v. United States
Citations325 U.S. 91 (more)
65 S. Ct. 1031; 89 L. Ed. 2d 1495
Case history
Prior140 F.2d 662 (5th Cir. 1944).
ProceduralCert. granted, 322 U.S. 718 (1944).
In general, a conviction under 18 U.S.C. §242 requires proof of the defendant's specific intent to deprive the victim of a federal right. In Screws, the prosecution has failed to prove such deliberate intent.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Harlan F. Stone
Associate Justices
Owen Roberts · Hugo Black
Stanley F. Reed · Felix Frankfurter
William O. Douglas · Frank Murphy
Robert H. Jackson · Wiley B. Rutledge
Case opinions
PluralityDouglas, joined by Stone, Black, Reed
DissentRoberts, joined by Frankfurter, Jackson

Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91 (1945), also known as the Screws precedent,[citation needed] was a 1945 Supreme Court case that made it difficult for the federal government to bring prosecutions when local government officials killed African-Americans in an extra-judicial manner.

Claude Screws, the sheriff of Baker County, Georgia,[1] arrested Robert "Bobby" Hall, an African American, on January 29, 1943. Hall had allegedly stolen a tire, and was alleged to have tried to fight back against Screws and two of his deputies during the arrest.[2] Hall was arrested at his home.[3] Screws then beat Hall to death.

The local U.S. attorney then convened a grand jury which indicted Screws on charges of violating Hall's civil rights. Screws was then convicted at the federal court house in Albany, Georgia. The conviction was upheld by the Circuit Court and then appealed to the Supreme Court. While the case was moving through the courts Screws was reelected as sheriff by a very wide margin.

The Supreme Court, in a decision authored by William O. Douglas, ruled that the federal government had not shown that Screws had the intention of violating Hall's civil rights when he killed him. This ruling greatly reduced the frequency with which federal civil rights cases were brought over the next few years.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Urofsky, Melvin I. (2004). "Mack Claude Screws". 100 Americans Making Constitutional History: A Biographical History. CQ Press. pp. 180–82.
  2. ^ Chalmers, David Mark (2005). Backfire: How the Ku Klux Klan Helped the Civil Rights Movement. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 74.
  3. ^ Branch, Taylor (1988). Parting the Waters: American in the King Years, 1954–63. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 408. ISBN 0-671-46097-8.
  4. ^ Waldrep, Christopher (2001). Racial Violence on Trial: A Handbook with Cases, Laws and Documents. p. 76.

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