State of North Carolina v. Joan Little Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 


Case Description 

State of North Carolina v. Joan Little is a 1975 case for which the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) provided assistance to the defense. Joan Little was a prisoner who killed her white jailer after he tried to rape her. CCR documented overwhelming racial prejudice on the part of the jury in her case.

This widely publicized case raised a variety of political and legal issues, including the question of whether or not a racially representative jury can be impaneled given discrimination against Blacks in selecting potential jurors from Beaufort County, North Carolina. In addition, because of the intense racism in eastern North Carolina, the area in which the State sought to try Ms. Little, the question of whether or not a fair and impartial jury could be found was seriously in doubt.

CCR was called upon to assist the defense in challenging the racial composition of the grand jury which indicted Joan Little and in preparing the defense motion for a change of venue to a less racially prejudicial area. Although the grand jury challenge was not successful, the venue motion was granted on the basis of documentation of overwhelming racial prejudice and presumption of guilt throughout the entire area of eastern North Carolina – a rare victory in a motion of this type.

Ultimately, Little was acquitted.