Fuller v. Oregon 8212 5280

Decision Date20 May 1974
Docket NumberNo. 73,73
Citation417 U.S. 40,40 L.Ed.2d 642,94 S.Ct. 2116
PartiesPrince Eric FULLER, Petitioner, v. State of OREGON. —5280
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Petitioner, who pleaded guilty to a crime and was given a probationary sentence, conditioned upon his complying with a jail work-release program permitting him to attend college and also upon his reimbursing the county for the fees and expenses of an attorney and investigator whose services had been provided him because of his indigency, attacks the constitutionality of Oregon's recoupment statute, which was upheld on appeal. That law requires convicted defendants who are indigent at the time of the criminal proceedings against them but who subsequently acquire the financial means to do so, to repay the costs of their legal defense. Defendants with no likelihood of having the means to repay are not even conditionally obligated to do so, and those thus obligated are not subjected to collection procedures until their indigency has ended and no manifest hardship will result. Held:

1. The Oregon recoupment scheme does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 46—50.

(a) The statute retains all the exemptions accorded to other judgment debtors, in addition to the opportunity to show that recovery of legal defense costs will impose 'manifest hardship.' James v. Strange, 407 U.S. 128, 92 S.Ct. 2027, 32 L.Ed.2d 600, distinguished. Pp. 46—48.

(b) The statutory distinction between those who are convicted, on the one hand, and those who are not or whose convictions are reversed, on the other, is not an invidious classification, since the legislative decision not to impose a repayment obligation on a defendant forced to submit to criminal prosecution that does not end in conviction is objectively rational. Pp. 48—50.

2. The Oregon law does not infringe upon a defendant's right to counsel since the knowledge that he may ultimately have to repay the costs of legal services does not affect his ability to obtain such services. The challenged statute is thus not similar to a provision that 'chill(s) the assertion of constitutional rights by penalizing those who choose to exercise them,' United States v. Jackson, 390 U.S. 570, 581, 88 S.Ct. 1209, 1216, 20 L.Ed.2d 138. Pp. 51—54.

12 Or.App. 152, 504 P.2d 1393, affirmed.

J. Marvin Kuhn, Salem, Or., for petitioner.

W. Michael Gillette, Salem, Or., for respondents.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we are called upon to determine whether Oregon may constitutionally require a person convicted of a criminal offense to repay to the State the costs of providing him with effective representation of counsel, when he is indigent at the time of the criminal proceedings but subsequently acquires the means to bear the costs of his legal defense.

The petitioner Fuller pleaded guilty, on July 20, 1972, to an information charging him with sodomy in the third degree.1 At the hearing on the plea and in other court proceedings he was represented by a local member of the bar appointed by the court upon the petitioner's representation that he was indigent and unable to hire a lawyer. Fuller's counsel in turn hired an investigator to aid in gathering facts for his defense, and the investigator's fees were also assumed by the State. Fuller was subsequently sentenced to five years of probation, conditioned upon his satisfactorily complying with the requirements of a work-release program at the county jail that would permit him to attend college, and also upon his reimbursement to the county of the fees and expenses of the attorney and investigator whose services had been provided him because of his indigent status. On appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals, his principal contention was that the State could not constitutionally condition his probation on the repayment of these expenses. 2 With one judge dissenting, the imposition of his sentence was affirmed, 12 Or.App. 152, 504 P.2d 1393, and the Supreme Court of Oregon subsequently denied Fuller's petition for review. Because of the importance of the question presented and the conflict of opinion on the constitutional issue involved, 3 we granted certiorari, 414 U.S. 1111, 94 S.Ct. 840, 38 L.Ed.2d 737.

I

We begin with consideration of the plan and operation of the challenged statute. By force of interpretation of the State's Constitution and comprehensive legislation, Oregon mandates that every defendant in a criminal case must be assigned a lawyer at state expense if '(i)t appears to the court that the defendant is without means and is unable to obtain counsel.' Or.Rev.Stat. § 135.050(1)(d) (1973).4 As part of a recoupment statute passed in 1971, Oregon requires that in some cases all or part of the 'expenses specially incurred by the state in prosecuting the defendant,' § 161.665(2), be repaid to the State, and that when a convicted person is placed on probation repayment of such expenses may be made a condition of probation.5 These expenses include the costs of the convicted person's legal defense.6

As the Oregon appellate court noted in its opinion in this case, however, the requirement of repayment 'is never mandatory.' 12 Or.App., at 156, 504 P.2d at 1395. Rather, several conditions must be satisfied before a person may be required to repay the costs of his legal defense. First, a requirement of repayment may be imposed only upon a convicted defendant; those who are acquitted, whose trials end in mistrial or dismissal, and those whose convictions are overturned upon appeal face no possibility of being required to pay. Ore.Rev.Stat. § 161.665(1). Second, a court may not order a convicted person to pay these expenses unless he 'is or will be able to pay them.' § 161.665(3). The sentencing court must 'take account of the financial resources of the defendant and the nature of the burden that payment of costs will impose.' Ibid. As the Oregon court put the matter in this case, no requirement to repay may be imposed if it appears at the time of sentencing that 'there is no likelihood that a defendant's indigency will end . . ..' 12 Or.App., at 159, 504 P.2d, at 1397. Third, a convicted person under an obligation to repay 'may at any time petition the court which sentenced him for remission of the payment of costs or of any unpaid portion thereof.' Ore.Rev.Stat. § 161.665(4). The court is empowered to remit if payment 'will impose manifest hardship on the defendant or his imme- diate family . . ..' Ibid. Finally, no convicted person may be held in contempt for failure to repay if he shows that 'his default was not attributable to an intentional refusal to obey the order of the court or to a failure on his part to make a good faith effort to make the payment . . ..' § 161.685(2).

Thus, the recoupment statute is quite clearly directed only at those convicted defendants who are indigent at the time of the criminal proceedings against them but who subsequently gain the ability to pay the expenses of legal representation. Defendants with no likelihood of having the means to repay are not put under even a conditional obligation to do so, and those upon whom a conditional obligation is imposed are not subjected to collection procedures until their indigency has ended and no 'manifest hardship' will result. The contrast with appointment-of-counsel procedures in States without recoupment requirements7 is thus relatively small: a lawyer is provided at the expense of the State to all defendants who are unable, even momentarily, to hire one, and the obligation to repay the State accrues only to those who later acquire the means to do so without hardship.

II

The petitioner's first contention is that Oregon's recoupment system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because of various classifications explicitly or implicitly drawn by the legislative provisions. He calls attention to our decision in James v. Strange, 407 U.S. 128, 92 S.Ct. 2027, 32 L.Ed.2d 600, which had invalid under the Equal Protection Clause a law enacted by Kansas that was somewhat similar to the legislation now before us. But the offending aspect of the Kansas statute was its provision that in an action to compel repayment of counsel fees '(n)one of the exemptions provided for in the code of civil procedure (for collection of other judgment debts) shall apply to any such judgment . . .,' Kan.Stat.Ann. § 22—4513(a) (Supp.1971), a provision which 'strip(ped) from indigent defendants the array of protective exemptions Kansas has erected for other civil judgment debtors . . ..' 407 U.S., at 135, 92 S.Ct., at 2031.8 The Court found that the elimination of the exemptions normally available to judgment debtors 'embodie(d) elements of punitiveness and discrimination which violate the rights of citizens to equal treatment under the law.' Id., at 142, 92 S.Ct., at 2035.

The Oregon statute under consideration here suffers from no such infirmity. As the Oregon Court of Appeals observed, '(n)o denial of the exemptions from execution afforded to other judgment debtors is included in the Oregon statutes.' 12 Or.App., at 159, 504 P.2d, at 1397. Indeed, a separate provision directs that '(a) judgment that the defendant pay money, either as a fine or as costs and disbursements of the action, or both, shall be docketed as a judgment in a civil action and with like effect . . ..' Ore.Rev.Stat. § 137.180. The convicted person from whom recoupment is sought thus retains all the exemptions accorded other judgment debtors, in addition to the opportunity to show at any time that recovery of the costs of his legal defense will impose 'manifest hardship,' § 161.665(4). The legislation before us therefore, is wholly free of the kind of discrimination that was held in James v. Strange to violate the Equal Protection Clause.9

The petitioner contends further, however, that the Oregon statute denies equal protection of the laws in another way—by...

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