The same day in March of 1969 that Amsterdam, Harris, and Langston argued Maxwell v. Bishop, the Supreme Court heard the appeal of Edward Boykin, Jr., one of the few men on death row for a crime other than murder or rape. A twenty-seven-year-old black, Boykin had been indicted for committing a series of holdups in Mobile, Alabama during a two-week period in the spring of 1966.
Alabama was one of nine states that provided the death penalty as the maximum punishment for robbery, but all the others required the presence of aggravating circumstances before authorizing a capital sentence. After a brief conference with his court-appointed attorney, Boykin decided to plead guilty to five robbery charges. For all that the court records of the case showed, he never knew that his guilty pleas subjected him to electrocution.
Despite the admission of guilt, Alabama presented seven witnesses to a jury, simply to confirm that the crimes had in fact occurred. They described the holdups and identified Boykin as the culprit. The amounts taken in the robberies ranged from $150 to $373, and in each holdup he was armed. In one of the robberies he fired a shot that ricocheted and hit a girl in the leg, but the sole witness to this