Robertson v. Goldman, No. 18250

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtMcGRAW; NEELY
Citation179 W.Va. 453,369 S.E.2d 888
PartiesJames Wesley ROBERTSON and Wesley Neal Robertson v. Honorable Jay GOLDMAN, Charleston Municipal Judge, and Connie Felty, Deputy Clerk of the Municipal Court of the City of Charleston.
Docket NumberNo. 18250
Decision Date23 May 1988

Page 888

369 S.E.2d 888
179 W.Va. 453
James Wesley ROBERTSON and Wesley Neal Robertson
v.
Honorable Jay GOLDMAN, Charleston Municipal Judge, and
Connie Felty, Deputy Clerk of the Municipal Court
of the City of Charleston.
No. 18250.
Supreme Court of Appeals of
West Virginia.
May 23, 1988.
Dissenting Opinion June 21, 1988.

[179 W.Va. 454]

Page 889

Syllabus by the Court

1. The right to the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by our federal and state constitutions blocks unequal treatment of criminal defendants based on indigency.

2. When final judgment has been entered against a criminal defendant, the condition of an appearance bond has been satisfied, and the surety has a right to be exonerated and have any bail deposit returned.

3. The concept of equal protection of the laws is inherent in article three, section ten of the West Virginia Constitution, and the scope and application of this protection is coextensive or broader than that of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution.

4. Where a statute is susceptible of more than one construction, one which renders the statute constitutional, and the other which renders it unconstitutional, the statute will be given the construction which sustains constitutionality.

5. The requirement of Code § 8-34-1 that an "appeal bond with surety deemed sufficient" be entered into before a defendant sentenced in a municipal court may be allowed an appeal de novo to the circuit court shall be interpreted to allow a recognizance where appropriate or where the defendant is an indigent.

Marye L. Wright, Charleston, for petitioners.

John M. Charnock, Jr., City Atty., Charleston, for respondents.

McGRAW, Justice:

This is an original petition for writs of mandamus and prohibition. The Petitioners are James Wesley Robertson, who was arrested for shoplifting, and Wesley Neal Robertson, who posted a cash bond to secure James' release. The Respondents are Jay Goldman, a Charleston Municipal Judge, and Connie Felty, a Deputy Clerk of the Municipal Court. The Petitioners pray that the Respondents be required to return the cash bond and cease incarcerating criminal defendants solely because they cannot post a cash bond.

Petitioner James Robertson was arrested on December 18, 1987, and charged with a misdemeanor, first offense shoplifting. The maximum penalty for such a conviction under Charleston City Code § 18-58(e)(1) (1975) is a fine of two hundred fifty dollars. 1 The Petitioner was informed that he must post a $500.00 real estate bond or a $305.00 cash bond in order to be released. 2 [179 W.Va. 455] He informed the Respondent Deputy Clerk

Page 890

he was unable to post bond in any amount, and he was, therefore, incarcerated.

Petitioner Wesley Neal Robertson posted $305.00 cash appearance bond the next morning, and the other Petitioner was released. Counsel was later appointed for the defendant Petitioner. On January 14, 1988, the Petitioner was found guilty of the shoplifting charge and fined $205.00. Counsel informed the Respondent Judge that an appeal would be taken and asked that the $305.00 appearance bond be returned. The Respondent Judge replied that the appearance bond posted by Petitioner Wesley Neal Robertson would only be returned when Petitioner James Robertson posted a $205.00 appeal bond.

The Petitioners contend that the incarceration of Petitioner James Robertson because of his inability to post bond violated his constitutional rights and that the post-conviction retention of the $305.00 cash appearance bond posted by Petitioner Wesley Neal Robertson in lieu of posting an appeal bond was unauthorized by law.

I.

No jail time was involved in the maximum penalty faced by the Petitioner herein if convicted of first offense shoplifting; yet, because he was unable to post bond, the Petitioner was incarcerated the night of December 18, 1987. The United States Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to hold a prisoner longer than his maximum sentence because of his inability to pay fines or court costs, Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. 235, 90 S.Ct. 2018, 26 L.Ed.2d 586 (1970), or to incarcerate a defendant convicted of an offense which did not otherwise carry a jail term in order to have him "satisfy" his fine, Tate v. Short, 401 U.S. 395, 91 S.Ct. 668, 28 L.Ed.2d 130 (1971). Both of these cases rely on the reasoning of the landmark decision Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 76 S.Ct. 585, 100 L.Ed. 891 (1956), which required trial transcripts for indigent criminal appellants. Because our ruling today is based on these same principles, we quote at some length from that decision.

Providing equal justice for poor and rich, weak and powerful alike is an age-old problem. 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 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 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."

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. 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 guilt or innocence and could not be used as an excuse to deprive a defendant of a fair trial.

Griffin, 351 U.S. at 16-17, 76 S.Ct. at 589-590 (footnotes and citations omitted).

[179 W.Va. 456] The law is the same in West Virginia. The right to the equal protection of

Page 891

the laws guaranteed by our federal and state constitutions...

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24 practice notes
  • Appalachian Power Co. v. State Tax Dept. of West Virginia, No. 22795
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 8, 1995
    ...is coextensive or broader than that of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution." Syl. pt. 3, Robertson v. Goldman, 179 W.Va. 453, 369 S.E.2d 888 7. "A state by its legislature may make reasonable classifications in enacting statutes provided the classifications are based ......
  • Sale ex rel. Sale v. Goldman, No. 27315.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 19, 2000
    ...of the laws is inherent in article three, section ten of the West Virginia Constitution[.]" Syl. pt. 3, in part, Robertson v. Goldman, 179 W.Va. 453, 369 S.E.2d 888 (1988). While we have recognized an equal protection guarantee under the state constitution, this Court has never recognized "......
  • In re West Virginia Rezulin Litigation, No. 30958
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 3, 2003
    ...Thus, while the inclusion of Clause # 14 was an unfair practice, we find that the appellants are not entitled to recover damages." 179 W.Va. at 453, 369 S.E.2d at Other jurisdictions interpreting statutes similar to ours have concluded that consumers can meet the "ascertainable loss" requir......
  • Marcus v. Holley, No. 31872.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 11, 2005
    ...Lewis v. Canaan Valley Resorts, Inc., 185 W.Va. 684, 691, 408 S.E.2d 634, 641 (1991) (quoting Syl. Pt. 3, in part, Robertson v. Goldman, 179 W.Va. 453, 369 S.E.2d 888 In syllabus point two of Israel v. West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission, 182 W.Va. 454, 388 S.E.2d 480 (198......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
24 cases
  • Appalachian Power Co. v. State Tax Dept. of West Virginia, No. 22795
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 8, 1995
    ...is coextensive or broader than that of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution." Syl. pt. 3, Robertson v. Goldman, 179 W.Va. 453, 369 S.E.2d 888 7. "A state by its legislature may make reasonable classifications in enacting statutes provided the classifications are based ......
  • Sale ex rel. Sale v. Goldman, No. 27315.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 19, 2000
    ...of the laws is inherent in article three, section ten of the West Virginia Constitution[.]" Syl. pt. 3, in part, Robertson v. Goldman, 179 W.Va. 453, 369 S.E.2d 888 (1988). While we have recognized an equal protection guarantee under the state constitution, this Court has never recognized "......
  • In re West Virginia Rezulin Litigation, No. 30958
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 3, 2003
    ...Thus, while the inclusion of Clause # 14 was an unfair practice, we find that the appellants are not entitled to recover damages." 179 W.Va. at 453, 369 S.E.2d at Other jurisdictions interpreting statutes similar to ours have concluded that consumers can meet the "ascertainable loss" requir......
  • Marcus v. Holley, No. 31872.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 11, 2005
    ...Lewis v. Canaan Valley Resorts, Inc., 185 W.Va. 684, 691, 408 S.E.2d 634, 641 (1991) (quoting Syl. Pt. 3, in part, Robertson v. Goldman, 179 W.Va. 453, 369 S.E.2d 888 In syllabus point two of Israel v. West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission, 182 W.Va. 454, 388 S.E.2d 480 (198......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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