461 U.S. 660 (1983), 81-6633, Bearden v. Georgia

Docket Nº:No. 81-6633.
Citation:461 U.S. 660, 103 S.Ct. 2064, 76 L.Ed.2d 221
Party Name:Danny R. BEARDEN, Petitioner v. GEORGIA.
Case Date:May 24, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 660

461 U.S. 660 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 2064, 76 L.Ed.2d 221

Danny R. BEARDEN, Petitioner

v.

GEORGIA.  

No. 81-6633.

United States Supreme Court.

May 24, 1983

        Argued Jan. 11, 1983.  

         [103 S.Ct. 2065] Syllabus[*]

        SYLLABUS

        Petitioner pleaded guilty in a Georgia trial court to burglary and theft by receiving [103 S.Ct. 2066]  stolen property, but the court, pursuant to the Georgia First Offender's Act, did not enter a judgment of guilt and sentenced petitioner to probation on the condition that he pay a $500 fine and $250 in restitution, with $100 payable that day, $100 the next day, and the $550 balance within four months.  Petitioner borrowed money and paid the first $200, but about a month later he was laid off from his job, and, despite repeated efforts, was unable to find other work.  Shortly before the $550 balance became due, he notified the probation office that his payment was going to be late.  Thereafter, the State filed a petition to revoke petitioner's probation because he had not paid the balance, and the trial court, after a hearing, revoked probation, entered a conviction, and sentenced petitioner to prison.  The record of the hearing disclosed that petitioner had been unable to find employment and had no assets or income.  The Georgia Court of Appeals rejected petitioner's claim that imprisoning him for inability to pay the fine and make restitution violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The Georgia Supreme Court denied review.

        Held:  A sentencing court cannot properly revoke a defendant's probation for failure to pay a fine and make restitution, absent evidence and findings that he was somehow responsible for the failure or that alternative forms of punishment were inadequate to meet the State's interest in punishment and deterrence, and hence here the trial court erred in automatically revoking petitioner's probation and turning the fine into a prison sentence without making such a determination.  Pp. 2068-2074.

        (a) If a State determines a fine or restitution to be the appropriate and adequate penalty for the crime, it may not thereafter imprison a person solely because he lacked the resources to pay it.  Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. 235, 90 S.Ct. 2018, 26 L.Ed.2d 586;  Tate v. Short, 401 U.S. 395, 91 S.Ct. 668, 28 L.Ed.2d 130.   If the probationer has willfully refused to pay the fine or restitution when he has the resources to pay or has failed to make sufficient bona fide efforts to seek employment or borrow money to pay, the State is justified in using imprisonment as a sanction to enforce collection.  But if the probationer has made all reasonable bona fide efforts to pay the fine and yet cannot do so through no fault of his own, it is fundamentally unfair to revoke probation automatically without considering whether adequate alternative methods of punishing

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 the probationer are available to meet the State's interest in punishment and deterrence.  Pp. 2068-2071.

        (b) The State may not use as the sole justification for imprisonment the poverty or inability of the probationer to pay the fine and to make restitution if he has demonstrated sufficient bona fide efforts to do so.  Pp. 2071-2072.

        (c) Only if alternative measures of punishment are not adequate to meet the State's interests in punishment and deterrence may the court imprison a probationer who has made sufficient bona fide efforts to pay the fine.  To do otherwise would deprive the probationer of his conditional freedom simply because, through no fault of his own, he cannot pay.  Such a deprivation would be contrary to the fundamental fairness required by the Fourteenth Amendment.  P. 2072.

        161 Ga.App. 640, 288 S.E.2d 662, reversed and remanded.

        COUNSEL

        James H. Lohr, by appointment of the Court, 459 U.S. 819, argued the causepro hac vice and filed briefs for petitioner.

        George M. Weaver, Assistant Attorney General of Georgia, argued the cause for respondent.  With him on the brief were Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General,Robert S. Stubbs II, Executive Assistant Attorney General, and Marion O. Gordon and John C. Walden, Senior Assistant Attorneys General.

        James H. Lohr, Chattanooga, Tenn., for petitioner, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

        George M. Weaver, Atlanta, Ga., for respondent.

        OPINION

        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 [103 S.Ct. 2067]  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

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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, 161 Ga.App. 640, 288 S.E.2d 662, upholding the revocation of probation, and remand for a new sentencing determination.

        I

        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.  (1982 Supp.)), 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. 1  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

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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. 2  After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court revoked probation for failure to pay the balance of the fine and restitution,3 entered a conviction and sentenced petitioner to serve the remaining portion of the probationary period in prison. 4  The Georgia [103 S.Ct. 2068] Court of Appeals, relying on earlier Georgia Supreme Court cases,5 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

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 Clause,6 we granted certiorari to resolve this important issue in the administration of criminal justice.  458 U.S. 1105, 102 S.Ct. 3482, 73 L.Ed.2d 1365 (1981).

        II

         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, 76 S.Ct. 585, 591, 100 L.Ed. 891 (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, 83 S.Ct. 814, 9 L.Ed.2d 811 (1963) (indigent entitled to counsel on first direct appeal);  Roberts v. LaVallee, 389 U.S. 40, 88 S.Ct. 194, 19 L.Ed.2d 41 (1967) (indigent entitled to free transcript of preliminary hearing for use at trial);  Mayer v. Chicago, 404 U.S. 189, 92 S.Ct. 410, 30 L.Ed.2d 372 (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, 90 S.Ct. 2018, 26 L.Ed.2d 586 (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, 91 S.Ct. 668, 28 L.Ed.2d 130 (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, 94 S.Ct. 2437, 41 L.Ed.2d 341 (1974), we held that indigents

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had no constitutional right to appointed counsel for a discretionary appeal.  In United States v. MacCollum, 426 U.S. 317, 96 S.Ct. 2086, 48 L.Ed.2d 666 (1976) (plurality opinion), we...

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