Black man gets new trial after Tennessee jury deliberated in room with Confederate emblems

·2 min read

Tim Gilbert was found guilty in March 2020 of assault after an all-white jury discussed case in room that had Confederate memorabilia

A Black man serving prison time in Tennessee for an alleged December 2018 assault has been granted a new trial because the all-white jury that convicted him deliberated in a room filled with Confederate memorabilia, an appeals court has ruled.

An antique Confederate flag and a portrait of Confederate President Jefferson Davis were hanging in the deliberation room at the Giles County courthouse in Pulaski, Tennessee where a jury of white locals found Tim Gilbert guilty of aggravated assault and other charges following a March 2020 trial, according to court records.

(Adobe Stock Image)
(Adobe Stock Image)

The jury deliberation room itself was named after the Daughters of the Confederacy, a group established after the Civil War to preserve the legacy of Southern soldiers and their monuments, according to the Tennessean newspaper.

In June of 2020, Gilbert was sentenced to six years behind bars, the newspaper reported. Gilbert’s defense attorney has argued the Confederate symbols displayed openly at the Giles County courthouse and the jury’s racial makeup violated his client’s right to a fair trial.

On Friday, the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and ruled Gilbert should be retried.

The three-judge panel determined prosecutors failed to disprove defense attorney claims that the Confederate items in the jury deliberation room were prejudicial to Gilbert since the Confederate Constitution and the Articles of Secession legally enshrined the subjugation of Black people in the South.

“These documents establish that slavery and the subjugation of black people are inextricably intertwined with the Confederacy and the symbols thereof,” appeals judge James Curwood Witt, Jr. wrote in the court’s ruling. “Such ideals, however, are antithetical to the American system of jurisprudence and cannot be tolerated.”

Prosecutors had argued that Gilbert waived his right to object to the Confederate items in the courthouse by failing to raise those concerns prior to the trial, according to the New York Times. But the appeals court panel said in its ruling that “the location of jury deliberations is not one of the issues that must be raised prior to trial.”

Former Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers president Michael Working told the New York Times the implications of the appellate court’s ruling may affect more than jury deliberation rooms. He speculated whether the ruling could also apply to Confederate statues outside courthouses in Tennessee.

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