Frank v. Mangum 237 U.S. 309 (1915)

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FRANK v. MANGUM 237 U.S. 309 (1915)

Vicious anti-Semitism and bitter resentment against encroaching industrialization joined in Atlanta, Georgia, in the spring of 1913. Leo Frank, a young Jewish businessman from the North, was arrested and convicted of murdering a thirteen-year-old girl in a factory he superintended. Prejudice, disorder, and blatant public hostility characterized the trial and its coverage. The Georgia Supreme Court denied Frank a new trial, 4–2, dismissing claims of procedural errors, irregularities, and the trial judge's stated doubts about Frank's guilt.

Justices joseph r. lamar and oliver wendell holmes each turned down requests for writs of error on procedural grounds (though Holmes was not convinced that Frank had received due process), as did the entire Supreme Court, without opinion. Frank then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus because mob domination had effectively denied him procedural due process. The Court likewise denied this relief, 7–2. Justice mahlon pitney declared that habeas corpus could not be substituted for a writ of error to review procedural irregularities. Further, when Frank neglected to object during the trial, he effectively waived the right to claim a denial of due process later. Justices Holmes and charles evans hughes dissented, pointing to the lack of a fair trial : "Mob law does not become due process of law by securing the assent of a terrorized jury." Less than two months after the Georgia governor commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, Frank was kidnapped from prison and lynched. That he was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted is no longer doubted.

The Supreme Court subsequently embarked on a series of decisions insuring the observance of the constitutional safeguards of procedural due process. In moore v. dempsey (1923), the turning point, Holmes wrote for the Court, permitting the use of habeas corpus as a means of preserving criminal defendants' rights. Frank 's rule of forfeiture through failure to object, however, returned with only slight modification in wainwright v. sykes (1977).

In 1982 a witness came forward and stated that shortly after the murder he had seen another man carrying the victim's body. In 1986 the governor of Georgia posthumously pardoned Leo Frank.

David Gordon


Dinnerstein, Leonard 1968 The Leo Frank Case. New York: Columbia University Press.