Criminal Justice: Gideon's Echoes

Clyde Harvey is an illiterate Negro farmer who roused the ire of his white neighbors in Corinth, Miss., last summer by letting civil rights workers stay in his house. While Harvey was out, police entered his home, found two cans of beer and what Harvey called "a little whisky in a jar." He was arrested without a warrant and charged with "possession of whisky," a Mississippi misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

Harvey thought he was being charged only with having the beer, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced in...