HISTORY

Deep Delta Justice: A Black Teen, His Lawyer, and Their Groundbreaking Battle for Civil Rights in the South

Little, Brown. May 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780316435031. $28. HIST
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In Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish during the summer of 1966, 19-year-old Gary Duncan witnessed a group of white boys harassing his two cousins. He attempted to calm the scene by lightly touching the arm of one of the boys who, in turn, feigned injury. That evening, Duncan was arrested and charged with battery. From this point, journalist Van Meter masterfully traces the career of aspiring Jewish corporate lawyer Richard Sobol, who temporarily leaves a prominent Washington law firm to join fellow attorneys in New Orleans on Duncan’s behalf. Duncan and Sobol successfully carry their appeals to the Supreme Court on the issue of denial of trial by jury in Duncan’s misdemeanor charge. They eventually win, and Duncan v. Louisiana (1968) establishes the constitutional right to jury trial in minor wrongdoing cases involving disproportionately higher penalties.
VERDICT A seminal work of impeccable scholarship. Recommended to all working in the intersections of law, criminal justice, and social activism, along with readers of African American history and Southern history. Also see the documentary feature film A Crime on the Bayou (2020), in development with Augusta Films and HBO, which follows Duncan’s story. [See Prepub Alert, 11/4/19.]

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