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					                                                   TATE v. SHORT

                                                        No. 324

                                   SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

                                      401 U.S. 395; 91 S. Ct. 668; 28 L. Ed. 2d 130

                                               January 14, 1971, Argued
                                                March 2, 1971, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY:       CERTIORARI TO THE
                                                                    LAW §512
COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS.
                                                                   equal protection -- imprisonment of indigent --
DISPOSITION:           445 S. W. 2d 210, reversed and
                                                                   Headnote:[1]
remanded.
                                                                    The imprisonment of an indigent solely because he
                                                               is too poor to pay fines imposed by a state court for traf-
SUMMARY:                                                       fic offenses which are punishable by fines only, consti-
                                                               tutes invidious discrimination in violation of the equal
     In the Corporation Court of Houston, Texas, the pe-
                                                               protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
titioner was convicted of nine traffic offenses which
were punishable by fines only, and he was fined a total
of $ 425. He was unable to pay the fines because of in-         [***LEdHN2]
digency, and pursuant to a state statute and municipal              LAW §512
ordinance, the Corporation Court ordered him impri-
soned for 85 days, each day of imprisonment serving as a           equal protection -- imprisonment of indigent --
substitute for $ 5 of the fines. His petition for habeas           Headnote:[2]
corpus was denied by the County Criminal Court of Har-
ris County, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals                 A violation of the equal protection clause of the
affirmed, rejecting the petitioner's contention that be-       Fourteenth Amendment inheres in jailing an indigent for
cause he was too poor to pay the fines his imprisonment        failing to make immediate payment of any fine, whether
was unconstitutional (445 SW2d 210).                           or not the fine is accompanied by a jail term and whether
                                                               or not the jail term of the indigent extends beyond the
     On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court re-        maximum term that may be imposed on a person willing
versed and remanded the case. In an opinion by Brennan,        and able to pay a fine; in each case the Constitution pro-
J., expressing the view of seven members of the court, it      hibits the state from imposing a fine as a sentence and
was held that imprisonment of the petitioner solely be-        then automatically converting it into a jail term solely
cause of his indigency constituted invidious discrimina-       because the defendant is indigent and cannot forthwith
tion in violation of the equal protection clause of the        pay the fine in full.
Fourteenth Amendment.
    Black, J., concurred in the result.                         [***LEdHN3]

     Harlan, J., concurred in the court's judgment, but on          LAW §512
the basis of due process rather than equal protection.             equal protection -- imprisonment --
     Blackmun, J., concurring in the court's opinion,              Headnote:[3]
stated that the court's decision might encourage legisla-
tures to eliminate fines and to make jail terms the only            The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth
punishment for a broad range of traffic offenses.              Amendment requires that the statutory ceiling placed on
                                                               imprisonment for any substantive offense be the same for
LAWYERS' EDITION HEADNOTES:                                    all defendants irrespective of their economic status.

 [***LEdHN1]                                                    [***LEdHN4]
                                            401 U.S. 395, *; 91 S. Ct. 668, **;
                                                 28 L. Ed. 2d 130, ***


     LAW §512                                                   Joseph G. Rollins argued the cause for respondent.
                                                                With him on the brief were Crawford C. Martin, Attor-
    equal protection -- imprisonment of indigent --
                                                                ney General of Texas, Nola White, First Assistant Attor-
    Headnote:[4]                                                ney General, Alfred Walker, Executive Assistant Attor-
                                                                ney General, and Robert C. Flowers and Gilbert J. Pena,
     Where a state has legislated a policy of punishing
                                                                Assistant Attorneys General.
traffic offenses by fines only, this statutory ceiling can-
not, consistently with the equal protection clause of the
                                                                Allan Ashman filed a brief for the National Legal Aid
Fourteenth Amendment, limit the punishment to payment
                                                                and Defender Association as amicus curiae urging re-
of the fine if one is able to pay it, yet convert the fine      versal.
into a prison term for an indigent defendant without the
means to pay the fine.
                                                                JUDGES: Brennan, J., delivered the opinion of the
                                                                Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Douglas, Stewart,
 [***LEdHN5]                                                    White, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Blackmun,
     LAW §75                                                    J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 401. Black, J.,
                                                                concurred in the result. Harlan, J., filed a statement
    fines --                                                    concurring in the judgment, post, p. 401.
    Headnote:[5]
                                                                OPINION BY: BRENNAN
    There are alternatives other than imprisonment to
which a state may constitutionally resort to serve its          OPINION
concededly valid interest in enforcing payment of fines.
                                                                   [*396]   [***132]      [**669] MR. JUSTICE
 [***LEdHN6]                                                    BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
     LAW §512                                                        Petitioner accumulated fines of $ 425 on nine con-
                                                                victions in the Corporation Court of Houston, Texas, for
    equal protection -- punishment of indigent --               traffic offenses. He was unable to pay the fines because
    Headnote:[6]                                                of indigency 1 and the Corporation Court, which other-
                                                                wise has no jurisdiction to impose prison sentences, 2
     Under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth        [**670] committed him to the municipal prison farm
Amendment, a state is not powerless to enforce criminal         according to the provisions of a state statute and munici-
judgments against those financially unable to pay a fine;       pal ordinance 3 which required that he remain there a
otherwise, there would be inverse discrimination, since         sufficient [*397] time to satisfy the fines at the rate of
an indigent would be able to avoid both the fine and im-        five dollars for each day; this required that he serve 85
prisonment for nonpayment, whereas other defendants             days at the prison farm. After 21 days in custody, peti-
would always have to suffer one or the other conviction.        tioner was released on bond when he applied to the
                                                                County Criminal Court of Harris County for a writ of
SYLLABUS                                                        habeas corpus. He alleged that: "Because I am too poor, I
      Petitioner, an indigent, was convicted of traffic of-     am, therefore, unable to pay the accumulated fine of $
fenses and fined a total of $ 425. Though Texas law             425." The county court held that "legal cause has been
provides only for fines for such offenses, it requires that     shown for the imprisonment," and denied the application.
persons unable to pay must be incarcerated for sufficient       [***133] The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas af-
time to satisfy their fines, at the rate of $ 5 per day,        firmed, stating: "We overrule appellant's contention that
which in petitioner's case meant an 85-day term. The            because he is too poor to pay the fines his imprisonment
state courts denied his petition for habeas corpus. Held:       is unconstitutional." 445 S. W. 2d 210 (1969). We
It is a denial of equal protection to limit punishment to       granted certiorari, 399 U.S. 925 (1970). We reverse on
payment of a fine for those who are able to pay it but to       the authority of our decision in Williams v. Illinois, 399
convert the fine to imprisonment for those who are una-         U.S. 235 (1970).
ble to pay it. Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. 235. Pp.
397-401.                                                               1 At the habeas corpus hearing the assistant
                                                                       district attorney appearing for the State stipu-
COUNSEL: Norman Dorsen argued the cause for peti-                      lated: "We would stipulate he is poverty stricken,
tioner. With him on the briefs were Peter San-                         and that his whole family has been for all periods
chez-Navarro, Jr., and Stanley A. Bass.                                of time therein, and probably always will be." Pe-
                                                                       titioner's uncontradicted testimony at the hearing
                                            401 U.S. 395, *; 91 S. Ct. 668, **;
                                                 28 L. Ed. 2d 130, ***


       was that, prior to his imprisonment, he earned            [***LEdHR1] [1] [***LEdHR2] [2]Although the
       between $ 25 and $ 60 a week in casual employ-           instant case involves offenses punishable by fines only,
       ment. He also received a monthly Veterans                petitioner's imprisonment for nonpayment [*398] con-
       Administration check of $ 104. He has a wife             stitutes precisely the same unconstitutional discrimina-
       and two children dependent on him for support.           tion since, like Williams, petitioner was subjected to im-
       We were advised on oral argument that under              prisonment solely because of his indigency. 4 In Morris
       Texas law his automobile was not subject to ex-          v. Schoonfield, 399 U.S. 508, 509 (1970), four members
       ecution to collect the fines.                            of the Court anticipated the problem of this case and
       2 Tex. Code Crim. Proc., Art. 4.14 (1966) pro-           stated the view, which we now adopt, that
       vides:
                                                                     [**671] "the same constitutional defect con-
            "The corporation court in each incorporated         demned in Williams also inheres in jailing an indigent
       city, town or village of this State shall have juris-    for failing to make immediate payment of any fine,
       diction within the corporate limits in all criminal      whether or not the fine is accompanied by a jail term and
       cases arising under the ordinances of such city,         whether or not the jail term of the indigent extends
       town or village, and shall have concurrent juris-        beyond the maximum term that may be imposed on a
       diction with any justice of the peace in any pre-        person willing and able to pay a fine. In each case, the
       cinct in which said city, town or village is si-         Constitution prohibits the State from imposing a fine as a
       tuated in all criminal cases arising under the           sentence and then automatically converting it into a jail
       criminal laws of this State, in which punishment         term solely because the defendant is indigent and cannot
       is by fine only, and where the maximum of such           forthwith pay the fine in full."
       fine may not exceed two hundred dollars, and
       arising within such corporate limits."                          4    Houston Code § 35-9 provides:
       3 Tex. Code Crim. Proc., Art. 45.53 (1966),
                                                                            "Additional credit against the fine of each
       provides in pertinent part:
                                                                       prisoner may be granted by the superintendent of
            "A defendant placed in jail on account of                  the municipal prison farm for good conduct, in-
       failure to pay the fine and costs can be discharged             dustry and obedience; provided, however, that
       on habeas corpus by showing:                                    such additional credit shall not exceed in time
                                                                       more than one-half (1/2) day credit on his fine for
           "1. That he is too poor to pay the fine and
                                                                       each day's work."
       costs; and
                                                                           An implementing regulation of the Fines
            "2. That he has remained in jail a sufficient
                                                                       Bureau Division of the Houston Corporation
       length of time to satisfy the fine and costs, at the
                                                                       Court interprets this provision as follows:
       rate of $ 5 for each day."
                                                                            "If a person appears in court and is found
            Houston Code § 35-8 provides:
                                                                       guilty and does not have money to pay his fine,
            "Each person committed to the county jail or               he is committed to jail to serve the amount of the
       to the municipal prison farm for non-payment of                 fine at the rate of $ 5.00 per day. In certain cases
       their fine arising out of his conviction of a mis-              a person may be allowed $ 7.50 credit per day."
       demeanor in the corporation court shall receive a
                                                                           It does not appear that petitioner was granted
       credit against such fine of five dollars ($ 5.00) for
                                                                       the increased credit for any of the 21 days he
       each day or fraction of a day that he has served."
                                                                       served before his release.
      The Illinois statute involved in Williams authorized
both a fine and imprisonment. Williams was given the
                                                                  [***LEdHR3] [3] [***LEdHR4] [4]Our opinion in
maximum sentence for petty theft of one year's impri-
                                                                Williams stated the premise of this conclusion in saying
sonment and a $ 500 fine, plus $ 5 in court costs. The
                                                                that "the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
judgment, as permitted by the Illinois statute, provided
                                                                Amendment requires that the statutory [*399] ceiling
that if, when the one-year sentence expired, Williams did
                                                                placed on imprisonment for any substantive offense be
not pay the fine and court costs, he was to remain in jail
                                                                the same for all defendants irrespective of their economic
a sufficient length of time to satisfy the total amount at
                                                                status." 399 U.S., at 244.Since Texas has legislated a
the rate of $ 5 per day. We held that the Illinois statute
                                                                "fines only" policy for traffic offenses, that statutory
as applied to Williams worked an invidious discrimina-
                                                                ceiling cannot, consistently with the Equal Protection
tion solely because he was too poor to pay the fine, and
                                                                Clause, limit the punishment to payment of the fine if
therefore violated the Equal Protection Clause.
                                                                one is able to pay it, yet convert the fine into a prison
                                            401 U.S. 395, *; 91 S. Ct. 668, **;
                                                 28 L. Ed. 2d 130, ***


term for an indigent defendant without the [***134]                    (Approved Draft 1968); President's Commission
means to pay his fine. Imprisonment in such a case is not              on Law Enforcement and Administration of Jus-
imposed to further any penal objective of the State. It is             tice, Task Force Report: The Courts 18 (1967);
imposed to augment the State's revenues but obviously                  ALI, Model Penal Code § 302.1 (1) (Proposed
does not serve that purpose; the defendant cannot pay                  Official Draft 1962). See also Comment, Equal
because he is indigent and his imprisonment, rather than               Protection and the Use of Fines as Penalties for
aiding collection of the revenue, saddles the State with               Criminal Offenses, 1966 U. Ill. L. F. 460; Note,
the cost of feeding and housing him for the period of his              The Equal Protection Clause and Imprisonment
imprisonment.                                                          of the Indigent for Nonpayment of Fines, 64
                                                                       Mich. L. Rev. 938 (1966); Note, Imprisonment
 [***LEdHR5] [5] [***LEdHR6] [6]There are, how-                        for Nonpayment of Fines and Costs: A New Look
ever, other alternatives to which the State may constitu-              at the Law and the Constitution, 22 Vand. L.
tionally resort to serve its concededly valid interest in              Rev. 611 (1969); Note, Fines and Fining -- An
enforcing payment of fines. We repeat our observation in               Evaluation, 101 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1013 (1953); J.
Williams in that regard, 399 U.S., at 244-245 (footnotes               Sellin, Recent Penal Legislation in Sweden 14
omitted):                                                              (1947); Cordes, Fines and Their Enforcement, 2
                                                                       J. Crim. Sci. 46 (1950); S. Rubin, H. Weihofen,
     "The State is not powerless to enforce judgments
                                                                       G. Edwards, & S. Rosenzweig, The Law of
against those financially unable to pay a fine; indeed, a
                                                                       Criminal Correction 253 and n. 154 (1963); E.
different result would amount to inverse discrimination
                                                                       Sutherland & D. Cressey, Principles of Crimi-
since it would enable an indigent to avoid both the fine
                                                                       nology 276 (6th ed. 1960). See also Williams
and imprisonment for nonpayment whereas other defen-
                                                                       v. Illinois, 399 U.S., at 244-245, n. 21.
dants must always suffer one or the other conviction.
                                                                       [**672] We emphasize that our holding today
     "It is unnecessary for us to canvass the numerous al-
                                                                does not suggest any constitutional infirmity in impri-
ternatives to which the State by legislative enactment --
                                                                sonment of a defendant with the means to pay a fine who
or judges within the scope of their authority -- may resort
                                                                refuses or neglects to do so. Nor is our decision to be
in order to avoid imprisoning an indigent beyond the
                                                                understood [*401] as precluding imprisonment as an
statutory maximum for involuntary nonpayment of a fine
                                                                enforcement method when alternative means are unsuc-
or court costs. Appellant has suggested several plans,
                                                                cessful despite the defendant's reasonable [***135]
some of which are [*400] already utilized in some
                                                                efforts to satisfy the fines by those means; the determina-
States, while others resemble those proposed by various
                                                                tion of the constitutionality of imprisonment in that cir-
studies. The State is free to choose from among the
                                                                cumstance must await the presentation of a concrete
variety of solutions already proposed and, of course, it
                                                                case.
may devise new ones." 5
                                                                    The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals of
       5 Several States have a procedure for paying             Texas is reversed and the case is remanded for further
       fines in installments. E. g., Cal. Penal Code §          proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
       1205 (1970) (misdemeanors); Del. Code Ann.,
                                                                    It is so ordered.
       Tit. 11, § 4332 (c) (Supp. 1968); Md. Ann. Code,
       Art. 38, § 4 (a)(2) (Supp. 1970); Mass. Gen. Laws
                                                                MR. JUSTICE BLACK concurs in the result.
       Ann., c. 279, § 1A (1959); N. Y. Code Crim.
       Proc. § 470-d (1)(b) (Supp. 1970); Pa. Stat. Ann.,            MR. JUSTICE HARLAN concurs in the judgment
       Tit. 19, § 953 (1964); Wash. Rev. Code §                 of the Court on the basis of the considerations set forth in
       9.92.070.                                                his opinion concurring in the result in Williams v. Illi-
                                                                nois, 399 U.S. 235, 259 (1970).
            This procedure has been widely endorsed as
       effective not only to collect the fine but also to
                                                                CONCUR BY: BLACKMUN
       save the expense of maintaining a prisoner and
       avoid the necessity of supporting his family under
                                                                CONCUR
       the state welfare program while he is confined.
       See, e. g., Final Report of the National Commis-
                                                                MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concurring.
       sion on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws, Pro-
       posed New Federal Criminal Code § 3302 (2)                   The Court's opinion is couched in terms of being
       (1971); American Bar Association, Project on             constitutionally protective of the indigent defendant. I
       Standards for Criminal Justice, Sentencing Al-           merely add the observation that the reversal of this Texas
       ternatives and Procedures § 2.7 (b), pp. 119-122         judgment may well encourage state and municipal leg-
                                          401 U.S. 395, *; 91 S. Ct. 668, **;
                                               28 L. Ed. 2d 130, ***


islatures to do away with the fine and to have the jail
term as the only punishment for a broad range of traffic      ALR Digests, Constitutional Law 440
offenses. Eliminating the fine whenever it is prescribed
as alternative punishment avoids the equal protection         L Ed Index to Anno, Constitutional Law; Criminal Law;
issue that indigency occasions and leaves only possible       Fines
Eighth Amendment considerations. If, as a nation, we
ever reach that happy point where we are willing to set       ALR Quick Index, Equal Protection of Law; Fines and
our personal convenience to one side and we are really        Penalties; Poor and Poor Laws
serious about resolving the problems of traffic irrespon-
sibility and the frightful carnage it spews upon our          Federal Quick Index, Equal Protection of the Laws;
highways, a development of that kind may not be at all        Fines, Forfeitures, and Penalties; Prisons and Prisoners
undesirable.
                                                                            Annotation References:
REFERENCES
21 Am Jur 2d, Criminal Law 233, 603                           Indigency of offender as affecting validity of imprison-
                                                              ment as alternative to payment of fine. 31 ALR3d 926.
US L Ed Digest, Constitutional Law 512

				
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