Wisconsin v. Mitchell Essay

Pages: 5 (1877 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 17  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Business - Law

¶ … fall of 1989, a 14-year-old white boy was beaten up by a group of young black men, who were said to be enraged by a racial movie they had just viewed. One of the attackers, Todd Mitchell, was accused of starting the assault by asking the group of guys if they felt pumped up enough to mess with a white person. Mitchell and the rest of the men were charged with battery and sentenced to two years in prison. However, Mitchell was charged with an additional sentence of seven years because the jury found Mitchell to have purposely selected the young victim because of his race. Under a Wisconsin law, the additional sentence would be allowed, but Mitchell appealed his case to the Supreme Court, believing that his accusation was going against his rights provided by the First Amendment: the freedom of speech. The question is whether the Supreme Court was correct in finding the Wisconsin ruling unconstitutional.

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Mitchell's words to antagonize his group were held against him in the court. Before attacking the young boy, he had asked the group, "Do you feel hyped up to move on some white people?" (Cornell University, "Wisconsin v. Mitchell"). His intentions were clearly racist, which is why his actions were held against him by Wisconsin law. However, under the First Amendment rights, people are allowed to say whatever they feel without being punished. It is not the words of a person that are supposed to be punished, it is the actions. This was Mitchell's appeal to the Supreme Court. He used a couple other Supreme Court cases that dealt with appeals between the state and Supreme Court as examples to support his side of the case and to try and lower his sentencing.

Essay on Wisconsin v. Mitchell Assignment

The case of R.A.V. versus St. Paul also had to do with the freedom of speech amendment. The accused individual, who is labeled as the "petitioner," had put a burning cross in the middle of the lawn of an African-American family. The burning cross is a common practice among white supremacists; it is used to intimidate non-white ethnicities. The petitioner was charged on two counts, and one of those was by a state law in which St. Paul does not allow the use of any objects to be placed in public or private property if it will aggravate people. However, this ruling was also appealed and dismissed by the Minnesota Supreme Court because the court found the law of St. Paul to be too broad and possibly going against the principals held by the First Amendment (Wikipedia, "R.A.V. v. St. Paul"). The accused individual was found guilty for intimidating the family; however, the charges against him for using a symbol on private property were dropped by the ruling of the Supreme Court. The majority's opinion was that the St. Paul's charges could have been more suited to the crime. The Supreme Court did agree that the action of a burning cross did fall under a form of "fighting words" that are considered a manner of threatening another individual, whether it is actually speaking or merely using a symbol like a burning cross to threaten someone.

Mitchell used the case of R.A.V. versus St. Paul as an example of how other specific state or city laws can be overturned by the Supreme Court when those particular laws become too broad or overstep the bounds of the Constitution. and, just as an older case is referred to help solve a more recent one, another example was referred to with R.A.V. versus St. Paul in the case of Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire, which overviewed the meaning of "fighting words" within a court ruling.

Walter Chaplinsky was preaching and handing out pamphlets on a sidewalk when he was arrested because he had drawn a large crowd that had begun to block the streets and cause a disruption. After being taken to headquarters, Chaplinsky yelled and insulted the marshal, calling him a "damned fascist." Chaplinsky was charged under a New Hampshire law that stipulated no one was allowed to insult people who were lawfully in a public place. Once again, this charge was appealed to the Supreme Court because Chaplinsky believed that the law was too vague and went against his free speech rights. Although Chaplinsky was convicted, this was the last time a court sentenced a person based on "fighting" words, which is why this case is often referred to in other cases. The courts have apparently moved on from incriminating a person based on "fighting" words, and no longer feel it is necessarily an acceptable charge or means of finding a person as being guilty. This accusation is similar to what Mitchell was accused of in his case against Wisconsin since his words were definitely violent. However, even though the First Amendment did not protect Chaplinsky since the majority agreed that the "fighting words" used by Chaplinsky were punishable, it protected Mitchell in his case, possibly because his "fighting words" were not said to a police officer, which is why Chaplinsky got into trouble. There is an amendment that defends the rights of verbally abusing a public official (Wikipedia, "Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire").

In figuring the best way to deal with Mitchell's case, the Supreme Court had to refer to a few past cases as examples of its own. In the case of the United State vs. O'Brien, a young man named David Paul O'Brien was charged for burning his draft card on the steps outside of a courthouse. It is illegal to avoid the draft as it is considered a person's national duty to participate in the draft. O'Brien's actions were an act of protest to the war, which he did publicly to try to persuade other people to agree with his anti-war beliefs. Though he was convicted, his case was also appealed to the Supreme Court, where some discrepancies were found in O'Brien's case. Under a 1965 amendment, it is illegal to purposely destroy a draft card, so O'Brien was still found guilty by the Supreme Court; however, a person cannot be arrested on the grounds for protesting since that would break First Amendment laws. O'Brien was within his rights of free speech to display a protest; he just did not go about it in a legal manner since he broke the law by destroying his card. The freedom of speech law can include certain actions, like when O'Brien burned his draft card. The discrepancy was not in his protest, but in his action (Cornell University, United States v. O'Brien).

In a similar case, the boycott by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People against the Claiborne Hardware Company would have been found legal if the boycott was held with non-violent intentions. The First Amendment protects nonviolent boycotts; however, there was damage done during the boycott, and when the case of the N.A.A.C.P versus the Claiborne Hardware Co. was brought to trial, the court found that the people involved in the boycott had all agreed to become violent in order to get their point across. Their plans were to be heard by any means necessary. The First Amendment does not protect violent actions, but it could not hold the violent intentions against those in the boycott (Cornell University, "N.A.A.C.P. v. Claiborne Hardware Co.).

This is why the First Amendment would not protect Mitchell with his actions against the young white boy, though it would still protect Mitchell from being punished for his violent words. Just because Mitchell asked his group if they wanted to beat up somebody did not mean that the group had to listen and follow Mitchell's words.

In looking further at the intentions of Mitchell, the Supreme Court took into consideration the case of Spence vs. Washington. Spence had hung an upside down flag with a peace sign attached to it and was taken to trial for flag desecration. His misuse of the American flag was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; however, his actions were a form of a protest, which were still within his free speech rights (he was against the United States' violent actions towards Cambodia at the time). Although Spence was allowed to protest against the political actions of his country, he was not allowed to display his feelings by breaking another amendment which protected the American flag (Cornell University, "Spence v. Washington). The actual amendment protecting the flag from desecration is still controversial. The majority in favor of the stipulations are barely winning in votes (Wikipedia, "Flag Desecration Amendment"). This shows that even in amendments, there are controversies as to what is right and what is wrong. and, just like the case of the N.A.A.C.P. versus Claiborne Hardware Co. And Wisconsin vs. Mitchell, there was a discrepancy between the amendments broken and the actions committed.

The disagreements between city and state laws with the Supreme Court play a big role in the conviction of a person. Although the laws act as a form of a supplement to the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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