Sleepy Lagoon Zoot Suit Trial

The Sleepy Lagoon case was one of the major civil rights cases of the 1940s and exacerbated ethnic tensions which culminated in Los Angeles' "Zoot Suit Riots" of 1943. 

The Sleepy Lagoon Zoot Suit Trial

Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15, 2022

Delivery of this lesson will require one visit and may be delivered in one hour. Materials under the "Resources" section will help prepare your class for the visit. An exercise is included to test student's critical thinking skills and ability to determine the difference between facts and sensationalism in the media.


Students will:

1. Learn about Latino culture in the 1940’s including the distinctive Zoot Suit attire worn by youths; examine the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial, where 22 young men were tried and 12 were convicted in a mass trial of murder in what is widely considered a travesty of justice and rush to judgment; and discuss the Zoot Suit riots and civil disturbance that followed.

2. Apply the provisions of Constitutional protections to a fair trial and to consult with counsel that led to a reversal of the convictions.

3. Better understand the 14th Amendment right to due process, the state court system, the Three Branches of Government, and the role of a judicial officer.



The PBS videos below do not have ads. For videos that do have ads, if your visiting judge plans to incorporate any of these videos in the lesson, be sure to advance the video past the advertisement so it is ready to play.

Great nephew and great niece (U.S. History Teacher) of “smiles” Perez defendant 16-minute video, 7:20 mark:

Lesson Source:

California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye's Power of Democracy Steering Committee works with members of the state judiciary to create lessons for Judges in the Classroom. This lesson was created in English and Spanish by:

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Alex Ricciardulli, with help from members of the Los Angeles Superior Court Latino Judicial Officers Association

(Judges Maria R. Byrum, Annabelle Cortez, Roberto Longoria, Serena Murillo & Maria Puente-Porras).