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decided: May 24, 1983.



O'connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, and Stevens, JJ., joined. White, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Burger, C. J., and Powell and Rehnquist, JJ., joined, post, p. 675.

Author: O'connor

[ 461 U.S. Page 661]

 JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this case is whether the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a State from revoking an indigent defendant's probation for failure to pay a fine and restitution. Its resolution involves a delicate balance between the acceptability, and indeed wisdom, of considering all relevant factors when determining an appropriate sentence for an individual and the impermissibility of imprisoning a defendant solely because of his lack of financial resources. We conclude that the

[ 461 U.S. Page 662]

     trial court erred in automatically revoking probation because petitioner could not pay his fine, without determining that petitioner had not made sufficient bona fide efforts to pay or that adequate alternative forms of punishment did not exist. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Georgia Court of Appeals upholding the revocation of probation, and remand for a new sentencing determination.


In September 1980, petitioner was indicted for the felonies of burglary and theft by receiving stolen property. He pleaded guilty, and was sentenced on October 8, 1980. Pursuant to the Georgia First Offender's Act, Ga. Code Ann. § 27-2727 et seq. (current version at § 42-8-60 et seq. (Supp. 1982)), the trial court did not enter a judgment of guilt, but deferred further proceedings and sentenced petitioner to three years on probation for the burglary charge and a concurrent one year on probation for the theft charge. As a condition of probation, the trial court ordered petitioner to pay a $500 fine and $250 in restitution.*fn1 Petitioner was to pay $100 that day, $100 the next day, and the $550 balance within four months.

Petitioner borrowed money from his parents and paid the first $200. About a month later, however, petitioner was laid off from his job. Petitioner, who has only a ninth-grade education and cannot read, tried repeatedly to find other

[ 461 U.S. Page 663]

     work but was unable to do so. The record indicates that petitioner had no income or assets during this period.

Shortly before the balance of the fine and restitution came due in February 1981, petitioner notified the probation office he was going to be late with his payment because he could not find a job. In May 1981, the State filed a petition in the trial court to revoke petitioner's probation because he had not paid the balance.*fn2 After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court revoked probation for failure to pay the balance of the fine and restitution,*fn3 entered a conviction, and sentenced petitioner to serve the remaining portion of the probationary period in prison.*fn4 The Georgia Court of Appeals, relying on earlier Georgia Supreme Court cases,*fn5 rejected petitioner's claim that imprisoning him for inability to pay the fine violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Georgia Supreme Court denied review. Since other courts have held that revoking the probation of indigents for failure to pay fines does violate the Equal Protection

[ 461 U.S. Page 664]

     Clause,*fn6 we granted certiorari to resolve this important issue in the administration of criminal justice. 458 U.S. 1105 (1982).


This Court has long been sensitive to the treatment of indigents in our criminal justice system. Over a quarter-century ago, Justice Black declared that "[there] can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has." Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 19 (1956) (plurality opinion). Griffin 's principle of "equal justice," which the Court applied there to strike down a state practice of granting appellate review only to persons able to afford a trial transcript, has been applied in numerous other contexts. See, e. g., Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963) (indigent entitled to counsel on first direct appeal); Roberts v. LaVallee, 389 U.S. 40 (1967) (indigent entitled to free transcript of preliminary hearing for use at trial); Mayer v. Chicago, 404 U.S. 189 (1971) (indigent cannot be denied an adequate record to appeal a conviction under a fine-only statute). Most relevant to the issue here is the holding in Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. 235 (1970), that a State cannot subject a certain class of convicted defendants to a period of imprisonment beyond the statutory maximum solely because they are too poor to pay the fine. Williams was followed and extended in Tate v. Short, 401 U.S. 395 (1971), which held that a State cannot convert a fine imposed under a fine-only statute into a jail term solely because the defendant is indigent and cannot immediately pay the fine in full. But the Court has also recognized limits on the principle of protecting indigents in the criminal justice system. For example, in Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600 (1974), we held that indigents

[ 461 U.S. Page 665]

     had no constitutional right to appointed counsel for a discretionary appeal. In United States v. MacCollum, 426 U.S. 317 (1976) (plurality opinion), we rejected an equal protection challenge to a federal statute which permits a district court to provide an indigent with a free trial transcript only if the court certifies that the ...

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