Griffin v. Illinois

351 U.S. 12
Griffin v. Illinois
Argued: December 7, 1955
Decided: April 23, 1956


See 351 U.S. 958, 76 S.Ct. 844.
Mr. Charles A. Horsky, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.
Mr. William C. Wines, Chicago, Ill., for respondent.
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.

Opinion of the Court

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 impossible to prepare such bills of exceptions [3] 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 the trial court that failure to provide them with the needed transcript would violate the 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 be raised in Post-Conviction proceedings. We granted certiorari. 349 U.S. 937, 75 S.Ct. 786, 99 L.Ed. 1266.

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 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.’ Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 241, 60 S.Ct. 472, 479, 84 L.Ed. 716. See also Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 1070, 30 L.Ed. 220. [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 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, 14 S.Ct. 913, 914-915, 38 L.Ed. 867. 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, 68 S.Ct. 514, 517, 92 L.Ed. 644; Dowd v. United States ex rel. Cook, 340 U.S. 206, 208, 71 S.Ct. 262, 263, 95 L.Ed. 215; Cochran v. Kansas, 316 U.S. 255, 257, 62 S.Ct. 1068, 1069, 86 L.Ed. 1453; Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 327, 35 S.Ct. 582, 587, 59 L.Ed. 969.

All of the States now provide some method of appeal from criminal convictions, recognizing the importance of appellate review to a correct adjudication of guilt or innocence. Statistics show that a substantial proportion of criminal convictions are reversed by state appellate courts. [14] Thus to deny adequate review to the poor means that many of them may lose their life, liberty or property because of unjust convictions which appellate courts would set aside. Many States have recognized this and provided aid for convicted defendants who have a right to appeal and need a transcript but are unable to pay for it. [15] A few have not. Such a denial is a misfit in a country dedicated to affording equal justice to all and special privileges to none in the administration of its criminal law. [16] There can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has. Destitute defendants must be afforded as adequate appellate review as defendants who have money enough to buy transcripts.

The Illinois Supreme Court denied these petitioners relief under the Post-Conviction Act because of its holding that no constitutional rights were violated. In view of our holding to the contrary the State Supreme Court may decide that petitioners are now entitled to a transcript, as the State’s brief suggests. See Ill.Rev.Stat., 1955, c. 37, § 163f. Cf. Dowd v. United States ex rel. Cook, 340 U.S., at pages 209-210, 71 S.Ct. at pages 263-264. We do not hold, however, that Illinois must purchase a stenographer’s transcript in every case where a defendant cannot buy it. The Supreme Court may find other means of affording adequate and effective appellate review to indigent defendants. For example, it may be that bystanders’ bills of exceptions or other methods of reporting trial proceedings could be used in some cases. [17] The Illinois Supreme Court appears to have broad power to promulgate rules of procedure and appellate practice. [18] We are confident that the State will provide corrective rules to meet the problem which this case lays bare.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Illinois is vacated and the cause is remanded to that court for further action not inconsistent with the foregoing paragraph. Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER joins in this disposition of the case.

Vacated and remanded.


^1  Ill.Rev.Stat., 1955, c. 38, § 769.1.

^2  Ill.Rev.Stat., 1953, c. 110, § 259.70A (Supreme Court Rule 70A), now Ill.Rev.Stat., 1955, c. 110, § 101.65 (Supreme Court Rule 65). A writ of error may also be prosecuted on a ‘mandatory record’ kept by the clerk, consisting of the indictment, arraignment, plea, verdict and sentence. The ‘mandatory record’ can be obtained free of charge by an indigent defendant. In such instances review is limited to errors on the face of the mandatory record, and there is no review of trial errors such as an erroneous ruling on the admission of evidence. See People v. Loftus, 400 Ill. 432, 81 N.E.2d 495. See also Cullen v. Stevens, 389 Ill. 35, 58 N.E.2d 456; A Study of the Illinois Supreme Court, 15 U. of Chi.L.Rev. 107, 125.

^3  ‘A complete bill of exceptions consists of all proceedings in the case from the time of the convening of the court until the termination of the trial. It includes all of the motions and rulings of the trial court, evidence heard, instructions and other matters which do not come within the clerk’s mandatory record.’ People ex rel. Iasello v. McKinlay, 409 Ill. 120, 124-125, 98 N.E.2d 728, 730.

^4  In oral argument counsel for Illinois stated:

‘With respect to the so-called bystanders’ bill of exceptions or the bill of exceptions prepared from someone’s memory in condensed and narrative form and certified to by the trial judge as to whether that’s available in Illinois I can say that everybody out there understands that it is but nobody has heard of its ever being actually used in a criminal case in Illinois in recent years. I think if you went back before the days of court reporting you would find them but none today. And I will say that Illinois has not suggested in the brief that such a narrative transcript would necessarily or even generally be the equivalent of a verbatim transcript of all of the trial.

‘There isn’t any way that an Illinois convicted person in a noncapital case can obtain a bill of exceptions without paying for it.’

See People v. Yetter, 386 Ill. 594, 54 N.E.2d 532; People v. Johns, 388 Ill. 212, 57 N.E.2d 895; Jennings v. Illinois, 342 U.S. 104, 109-110, 72 S.Ct. 123, 126, 96 L.Ed. 119, on remand, 411 Ill. 21, 23, 25, 27, 102 N.E.2d 824, 825-827; People v. Joyce, 1 Ill.2d 225, 230, 115 N.E.2d 262, 264-265; People v. La Frana, 4 Ill.2d 261, 266, 122 N.E.2d 583, 585-586; People ex rel. Iasello v. McKinlay, 409 Ill. 120, 98 N.E.2d 728; People v. O’Connell, 411 Ill. 591, 104 N.E.2d 825.

^5  Ill.Rev.Stat., 1955, c. 38, § 769a.

^6  Ill.Rev.Stat., 1955, c. 38, §§ 826-832.

^7  Ill.Rev.Stat., 1955, c. 37, § 163f. This section provides in part that ‘In any case arising under (the Post-Conviction Hearing Act) in which the presiding judge has determined that the post-conviction petition is sufficient to require an answer, it shall be the duty of the official court reporter to transcribe, in whole or in part, his stenographic notes of the evidence introduced at the trial in which the petitioner was convicted, if instructed so to do by the State’s Attorney or by the court.’

^8  See note 4, supra, and cases there cited.

^9  A dissenting opinion argues that the constitutional question is narrower because petitioners alleged that a transcript was needed rather than required. The State made no such claim and all the briefs and arguments on both sides together with the opinion of the Illinois Supreme Court treated the sole question as being as we have stated it.

^10  ‘Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor.’ Leviticus, c. 19, v. 15.

^11  Dissenting opinions here argue that the Illinois law should be upheld since by its terms it applies to rich and poor alike. But a law nondiscriminatory on its face may be grossly discriminatory in its operation. For example, this Court struck down the so-called ‘grandfather clause’ of the Oklahoma Constitution as discriminatory against Negroes although that clause was by its terms nondiscriminatory. Guinn v. United States, 238 U.S. 347, 35 S.Ct. 926, 59 L.Ed. 1340. See also Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L.Ed. 1281.

^12  See discussion in Hovey v. Elliott, 167 U.S. 409, 17 S.Ct. 841, 42 L.Ed. 215.

^13  Ill.Constitution of 1818, Art. VIII, § 12. Substantially the same provision has been carried over into the present Illinois Constitution, Art. II, § 19.

^14  See Note, Reversals in Illinois Criminal Cases, 42 Harv.L.Rev. 566.

^15  See, e.g., Ariz.Code Ann., 1939, § 44-2525; Ark.Stat., 1947, § 22-357; Page’s Ohio Rev.Code Ann., 1954, § 2301.24; S.C.Code. 1952, § 15-1903; McKinney’s N.Y.Laws, Crim.Code, 1945 (Supp.1955), § 456. See also Note, 100 A.L.R. 321.

^16  The Criminal Court of Appeals in Oklahoma in 1913 spoke in the tradition of this country’s dedication to due process and equal protection when it declared that the law is no respecter of persons and said:

‘We want the people of Oklahoma to understand, one and all, that the poorest and most unpopular person in the state * * * can depend upon it that justice is not for sale in Oklahoma, and that no one can be deprived of his right of appeal simply because he is unable to pay a stenographer to extend the notes of the testimony.’ Jeffries v. State, 9 Okl.Cr. 573, 576, 132 P. 823, 824.

^17  See Weatherford v. Wilson, 1840, 2 Scam. 253, 3 Ill. 253; People ex rel. Maher v. Williams, 1878, 91 Ill. 87; People ex rel. Hall v. Holdom, 1901, 193 Ill. 319, 61 N.E. 1014; People v. Joyce, 1953, 1 Ill.2d 225, 230, 115 N.E.2d 262, 264-265; Miller v. United States, 1942, 317 U.S. 192, 63 S.Ct. 187, 87 L.Ed. 179; Note, 15 Ann.Cas. 737.

^18  Ill.Rev.Stat., 1955, c. 110, § 2; Ill.Rev.Stat., 1955, c. 110, § 101.65 (Supreme Court Rule 65); People v. Callopy, 358 Ill. 11, 192 N.E. 634.

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