351 U.S. 12 (1956), 95, Griffin v. Illinois

Docket Nº:No. 95
Citation:351 U.S. 12, 76 S.Ct. 585, 100 L.Ed. 891
Party Name:Griffin v. Illinois
Case Date:April 23, 1956
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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351 U.S. 12 (1956)

76 S.Ct. 585, 100 L.Ed. 891

Griffin

v.

Illinois

No. 95

United States Supreme Court

April 23, 1956

Argued December 7, 1955

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS

Syllabus

Illinois law gives every person convicted in a criminal trial a right of review by writ of error; but a full direct appellate review can be had only by furnishing the appellate court with a bill of exceptions or report of the trial proceedings, certified by the trial judge, and it is sometimes impossible to prepare such documents without a stenographic transcript of the trial proceedings, which are furnished free only to indigent defendants sentenced to death. Convicted in an Illinois state court of armed robbery, petitioners moved in the trial court that a certified copy of the entire record, including a stenographic transcript of the proceedings, be furnished to them without cost. They alleged that they were without funds to pay for such documents, and that failure of the court to provide them would violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Their motion was denied. They then filed a petition under the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act, under which only questions arising under the State or Federal Constitution may be raised. They alleged that there were manifest nonconstitutional errors in the trial which entitled them to have their convictions set aside on appeal, that the only impediment to full appellate review was their lack of funds to buy a transcript, and that refusal to afford full appellate review solely because of their poverty was a denial of due process and equal protection. This petition was dismissed, and the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, solely on the ground that the petition raised no substantial state or federal constitutional question.

Held: Petitioners' constitutional rights were violated, the judgment of the Illinois Supreme Court is vacated, and the cause is remanded to that Court for further action affording petitioners adequate and effective appellate review. Pp. 13-26.

Judgment vacated, and cause remanded.

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BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, and MR. JUSTICE CLARK join.

Illinois law provides that "Writs of error in all criminal cases are writs of right and shall be issued of course."1 The question presented here is whether Illinois may, consistent with the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, administer this statute so as to deny adequate appellate review to the poor, while granting such review to all others.

The petitioners Griffin and Crenshaw were tried together and convicted of armed robbery in the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois. Immediately after their conviction, they filed a motion in the trial court asking that a certified copy of the entire record, including a stenographic transcript of the proceedings, be furnished them without cost. They alleged that they were "poor persons with no means of paying the necessary fees to acquire the Transcript and Court Records needed to prosecute an appeal. . . ." These allegations were not denied. Under Illinois law, in order to get full direct appellate review of alleged errors by a writ of error, it is necessary for the defendant to furnish the appellate court with a bill of exceptions or report of proceedings at the trial certified by the trial judge.2 As Illinois concedes, it is sometimes

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impossible to prepare such bills of exceptions3 or reports without a stenographic transcript of the trial proceedings.4 Indigent defendants sentenced to death are provided with a free transcript at the expense of the county where convicted.5 In all other criminal cases, defendants needing a transcript, whether indigent or not, must themselves buy it. The petitioners contended in their motion before

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the trial court that failure to provide them with the needed transcript would violate the [76 S.Ct. 589] Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion without a hearing.

Griffin and Crenshaw then filed a petition under the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act.6 Only questions arising under the Illinois or Federal Constitution may be raised in proceedings under this Act. A companion state act provides that indigent petitioners under the Post-Conviction Act may, under some circumstances, obtain a free transcript.7 The effect is that indigents may obtain a free transcript to obtain appellate review of constitutional questions, but not of other alleged trial errors, such as admissibility and sufficiency of evidence. In their post-conviction proceeding, petitioners alleged that there were manifest nonconstitutional errors in the trial which entitled them to have their convictions set aside on appeal, and that the only impediment to full appellate review was their lack of funds to buy a transcript. These allegations have not been denied. Petitioners repeated their charge that refusal to afford full appellate review solely because of poverty was a denial of due process and equal protection. This petition, like the first, was dismissed without hearing any evidence. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal solely on the ground that the charges raised no substantial state or federal constitutional questions -- the only kind of questions which may

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be raised in Post-Conviction proceedings. We granted certiorari. 349 U.S. 937.

Counsel for Illinois concedes that these petitioners needed a transcript in order to get adequate appellate review of their alleged trial errors.8 There is no contention that petitioners were dilatory in their efforts to get appellate review, or that the Illinois Supreme Court denied review on the ground that the allegations of trial error were insufficient. We must therefore assume, for purposes of this decision, that errors were committed in the trial which would merit reversal, but that the petitioners could not get appellate review of those errors solely because they were too poor to buy a stenographic transcript. Counsel for Illinois denies that this violates either the Due Process or the Equal Protection Clause, but states that, if it does, the Illinois Post-Conviction statute entitles petitioners to a free transcript. The sole question for us to decide, therefore, is whether due process or equal protection has been violated.9

Providing equal justice for poor and rich, weak and powerful alike, is an age-old problem.10 People have never ceased to hope and strive to move closer to that goal. This hope, at least in part, brought about in 1215 the royal concessions of Magna Charta:

To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse, or delay, right or justice. . . . No free man shall be taken or imprisoned, or

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disseised, or outlawed, or exiled, or anywise destroyed; nor shall we go upon him nor send upon him, but by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

These pledges were unquestionably steps toward a fairer and more nearly equal application of criminal justice. In this tradition, our own constitutional guaranties of due process and equal protection both call for procedures in criminal trials which allow no invidious [76 S.Ct. 590] discriminations between persons and different groups of persons. Both equal protection and due process emphasize the central aim of our entire judicial system -- all people charged with crime must, so far as the law is concerned, "stand on an equality before the bar of justice in every American court." Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 241. See also Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369.11

Surely no one would contend that either a State or the Federal Government could constitutionally provide that defendants unable to pay court costs in advance should be denied the right to plead not guilty or to defend themselves in court.12 Such a law would make the constitutional promise of a fair trial a worthless thing. Notice, the right to be heard and the right to counsel would, under such circumstances, be meaningless promises to the poor. In criminal trials, a State can no more discriminate on account of poverty than on account of religion, race, or color. Plainly, the ability to pay costs in advance bears no rational relationship to a defendant's

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guilt or innocence, and could not be used as an excuse to deprive a defendant of a fair trial. Indeed, a provision in the Constitution of Illinois of 1818 provided that every person in Illinois

ought to obtain right and justice freely, and without being obliged to purchase it, completely and without denial, promptly and without delay, conformably to the laws.13

There is no meaningful distinction between a rule which would deny the poor the right to defend themselves in a trial court and one which effectively denies the poor an adequate appellate review accorded to all who have money enough to pay the costs in advance. It is true that a State is not required by the Federal Constitution to provide appellate courts or a right to appellate review at all. See, e.g., McKane v. Durston, 153 U.S. 684, 687-688. But that is not to say that a State that does grant appellate review can do so in a way that discriminates against some convicted defendants on account of their poverty. Appellate review has now become an integral part of the Illinois trial system for finally adjudicating the guilt or innocence of a defendant. Consequently at all stages of the proceedings, the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses protect persons like petitioners from invidious discriminations. See Cole v. Arkansas, 333 U.S. 196, 201; Dowd v. United States ex rel. Cook, 340 U.S. 206, 208; Cochran v....

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