To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, did Tom Robinson have a fair trial?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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No, Tom Robinson did not get a fair trial. The all-white jury as well as the white residents of Maycomb, with a few notable exceptions, valued keeping black people in their place as second-class citizens more than justice. As Atticus understood, Robinson's fate was sealed as soon as he was accused of raping a white woman. In the racist code of the South, a white woman's word was always believed above a black man's. The truth didn't matter. Blacks had to understand they could never win against whites—and white society felt compelled to uphold this unfair social order.

Nevertheless, Atticus does fight this cruel system and try to give Robinson a full and fair defense. In doing so, he exposes the lies the Ewells have told on the witness stand. Robinson, for example, could not have hit Mayella the way she was struck, because of his withered arm. Somebody else had to have hit her—probably her father. Robinson also comes across as trustworthy and has a plausible reason for being in the Ewell house. However, none of that matters as much as upholding the rigid racial hierarchy.

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are many reasons why one could argue that Tom Robinson did not have a fair trial in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Although Judge Taylor specifically chose Atticus to defend Tom, instead of appointing the inexperienced Maxwell Green, Atticus' convincing arguments are overlooked by the prejudiced jury. Mayella and Bob Ewell give conflicting testimonies; Horace Gilmer presents no circumstantial evidence; Tom Robinson's handicap is not taken into consideration by the jury, and his testimony is dismissed due to racial prejudice. The prosecution's case is riddled with inaccuracies and lacks evidence, yet is still successful. Tom's case is destroyed beyond repair when he mentions that he felt sorry for Mayella Ewell. Mr. Gilmer, sensing an opportunity to make Tom Robinson seem insensitive and rude, begins to talk down to him and uses Tom's comments against him. The jury feels that Tom's attitude is arrogant because, in 1930s Alabama, black individuals were considered inferior to white people. Tom's comments come off as pretentious and are unpopular among the white audience. Atticus' closing remarks affect all but one jury member, and Tom is wrongly convicted of a crime he did not commit. Despite Atticus' strong case, Tom became a victim of racial injustice and therefore did not receive a fair trial.

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engcor eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Tom Robinson did not have a fair trial in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird. However, some of the townspeople in Maycomb might claim that the trial was fair, because Tom had a great lawyer who represented him to the best of his ability. The law states that in order to find a defendant guilty, you must find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This doesn’t mean any slight doubt, or beyond all doubt, it means a doubt which would cause a reasonable person to hesitate in taking away another person’s freedom.

Atticus proved that Tom Robinson was not guilty, and yet Tom was still found guilty by the jury. A jury is supposed to be free of both sympathy and prejudice for the defendant. Obviously, the jury was not impartial to Tom Robinson due to his race, and they convicted him based on their racial prejudices.

For these reasons, Tom Robinson did not receive a fair trial.

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