Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91 (1945), also known as the Screws precedent, was a 1945 Supreme Court case that made it difficult for the federal government to bring prosecutions when local government officials killed African-Americans in an extra judicial manner.
Claude Screws, the sheriff of Baker County, Georgia, arrested Robert "Bobby" Hall, an African-American, on January 23, 1942. Hall had allegedly stolen a tire, and was alleged to have tried to fight back against Screws and two of his deputies during the arrest. Hall was arrested at his home. Screws then beat Hall to death.
The local U.S. attorney then convened a grand jury which indicted Screws on charges of violating Hall's civil rights. Screws was then convicted at the federal court house in Albany, Georgia. The conviction was upheld by the Circuit Court and then appealed to the Supreme Court. While the case was moving through the courts Screws was reelected as sheriff by a very wide margin.
The Supreme Court, in a decision authored by William O. Douglas ruled that the federal government had not shown that Screws had the intention of violating Hall's civil rights when he killed him. This ruling greatly reduced the frequency with which federal civil rights cases were brought over the next few years.