Eunice Carter: The Trailblazing Prosecutor Who Helped Take Down Lucky Luciano


NDAA Black History Month Series: Celebrating Pioneering Figures in Justice

Eunice (Hunton) Carter’s strategic brilliance in exposing the prostitution rackets that sustained organized crime laid the foundation for the landmark conviction of Lucky Luciano, a watershed moment in US jurisprudence. As one of New York’s first female African American lawyers and prosecutors, she defied expectations and made history in the fight against organized crime. Carter’s life is a testament to her intellect, unwavering determination, and her commitment to challenging injustice. From her early work as a social worker to her groundbreaking role in the prosecution of mob boss Lucky Luciano, Carter’s contributions paved the way for future generations of minority women in the legal field and exemplified the transformative power of the law as a tool for social change.

Early Life and Education

Eunice Carter was born Eunice Hunton in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 16, 1899. Her intellectual curiosity and drive for social justice were shaped by her influential family. Her father, William Alphaeus Hunton Sr., was a prominent figure in the YMCA and a lifelong advocate for racial equality. Her mother, Addie Waites Hunton, was a social worker and peace activist. Faced with the hostility of the 1906 Atlanta race riot, the family relocated to Brooklyn, New York, seeking a safer and more progressive environment.

Carter’s academic ambitions flourished in New York. She excelled at school and went on to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. At Smith, she distinguished herself by simultaneously earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in social work in 1921. Her interest in law stemmed from her early social work experiences, exposing her to the injustices and systemic inequalities in society.

Eunice (Hunton) Carter

The Path to Law School

After a brief period as a social worker, Carter’s determination to use the law as an instrument for change grew stronger. In 1927, she enrolled in Fordham University School of Law as one of the few women and even fewer African Americans in her class. She faced both racial and gender biases but overcame them, becoming the first African American woman to graduate from Fordham Law in 1932. [1]

The Making of a Prosecutor

Following graduation and passing the New York bar exam in 1933, Carter entered private practice and ran as a Republican candidate for New York’s Nineteenth Assembly District seat in 1934. Her tenacity impressed New York District Attorney William C. Dodge. Though her bid for the Assembly seat was unsuccessful, it was her campaign’s efficiency and street smarts that caught Dodge’s eye. In 1935, DA Dodge hired Eunice Carter as an Assistant District Attorney, where she dedicated herself to prosecuting abuse cases and crimes in New York City’s Women’s Court. [2]

The Luciano Case: Carter’s Strategic Brilliance

When prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey set his sights on dismantling organized crime’s grip on New York City, Eunice Carter’s strategic acumen became a game-changer. While initially assigned to the Women’s Court, Carter had noticed an alarming pattern: many women arrested for prostitution spoke of shadowy figures pressuring them, hinting at deeper criminal networks. She realized that cracking the lucrative prostitution rings within the city could serve as a gateway to exposing the Mafia’s control. [3]

Lucky Luciano’s 1936 Mugshot

Carter used her position to create an atmosphere of trust with the women she interviewed. Recognizing their vulnerability, she ensured that they were treated fairly and received support instead of further condemnation. This approach paid dividends: women provided critical details about the inner workings of the prostitution racket, effectively unraveling a web of forced labor, protection payments, and illicit connections to top mob figures.

The culmination of Carter’s meticulous investigation resulted in the 1936 trial of Charles “Lucky” Luciano and his associates. She was not front and center during the trial itself, but Carter’s work was woven into the fabric of the prosecution’s case, connecting organized prostitution to mafia dominance. Luciano was ultimately convicted on 62 counts of compulsory prostitution, serving a hefty sentence. His conviction dealt a severe blow to organized crime and cemented Carter’s reputation as a brilliant legal strategist.

Eunice Carter in 1942

Life After Luciano — UN Commission on the Status of Women

Eunice Carter’s life and career extended far beyond the high-profile Luciano case. Carter’s expertise in social justice and women’s rights made her a natural fit for involvement with the newly formed United Nations. Having witnessed global conflict and injustice, she was convinced that international cooperation was essential for a more equitable world. Her initial forays into UN-related work began in the late 1940s as a legal advisor and consultant on human rights and the status of women.

Carter was a passionate advocate for gender equality and human rights, dedicating significant effort to advancing the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, she became a regular fixture at UN conferences and assemblies, where her strong voice and keen legal mind helped shape discussions about women in governance, economic opportunity, and the eradication of societal barriers.

In 1957, Carter’s international profile catapulted even further when she was elected chair of the International Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations. This leadership role put her at the helm of a crucial global assembly of NGOs focused on addressing humanitarian, social, and economic issues. Carter became the first woman to hold this prestigious position, a significant affirmation of her abilities on the world stage.

Legacy at the UN and Beyond

Eunice Carter died in 1970 but her influence on the United Nations and women’s rights movements around the world is undeniable. She helped pioneer global conversations about gender equality and expanded the possibilities for women in international cooperation. Her example underscored the potential for dedicated individuals, armed with the law and social justice values, to be true catalysts for change worldwide.

The National District Attorneys Association is committed to supporting and promoting prosecutors of diverse backgrounds. Learn more about the steps our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee is taking to support prosecutors in the field.

1. “Two New York Women Pass Bar Examinations”. The Chicago Defender. May 20, 1933
2. The Mob Museum:
3. Whalen, Robert Weldon (2016). Murder, Inc., and the Moral Life: Gangsters and Gangbusters in La Guardia’s New York. Fordham University Press



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