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Griffin v. Illinois

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff, wanting to appeal an armed robbery conviction, petitioned the trial court on grounds of indigence for a free copy of the trial court record. The trial court denied Plaintiff’s motion for free transcripts. The trial court denied Plaintiff’s second petition, alleging that the denial of transcripts violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Plaintiff petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Denying an indigent criminal defendant access to adequate appellate review violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

    Facts.

    Griffin (Plaintiff) was convicted of armed robbery in the state courts of Illinois (defendant). Plaintiff wanted to appeal his conviction and petitioned the trial court on grounds of indigence for a free copy of the trial court record. Illinois law limited the provision of free transcripts to individuals sentenced to death and defendants raising constitutional issues. The trial court denied Plaintiff’s motion for free transcripts. Plaintiff filed a second petition alleging that the denial of transcripts violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s second petition and the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the dismissal. Plaintiff petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review.

    Issue.

    Whether denying an indigent criminal defendant access to adequate appellate review violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

    Held.

    Yes. The Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling is reversed and the case is remanded for determination of which form of trial court records Plaintiff is entitled.

    Dissent.

    It is not unreasonable to require a defendant to pay the costs of appeal. The majority opinion construes the Equal Protection Clause as requiring the state to remedy financial disparities. The majority rule forces states to provide something for free to certain individuals while requiring payment from everyone else. This rule actually forces the state to discriminate against those with the ability to pay the costs of appeal. The ability to pursue an appeal in state courts is a privilege, not a right. The exercise of many privileges is conditioned upon the ability to pay for the privilege. The majority rule implies that any limitation of privilege on the basis of financial ability represents unconstitutional discrimination. Given that a state is not constitutionally required to afford appellate review, it follows that the mandates of due process simply require that a state not arbitrarily exclude any class of individuals from the appellate process. Even though the implementation of a system for providing indigent defendants with access to appellate review may be desirable from a policy standpoint, absence of such a system does not affront concepts of fundamental fairness or the ideals of justice. Only recently has the federal government begun to provide free transcripts to criminal defendants and roughly one third of states have not yet chosen to do so. The majority rule infringes upon the constitutional rights of the states to self-governance. 

    Concurrence.

    Due process does not require a state to provide the opportunity for appellate review of a criminal conviction. Equal protection does not prohibit a state from making distinctions between different classifications of individuals when it comes to access to appellate review. However, any such distinctions must have a rational basis. If a state generally offers appellate review, it cannot deny appellate review on the basis of financial capacity.

    Discussion.

    The Constitution demands equal treatment of any person charged with a crime. A statute that denies access to appellate review to those who cannot afford it while allowing appellate review to those who can afford it amounts to unconstitutional discrimination. There is no rational relationship between a defendant’s ability to pay the costs of an appeal and the defendant’s guilt or innocence. Although the Constitution does not require the states to provide an appellate court system, those states that do provide appellate review cannot limit access on the basis of poverty. Equal access does not necessarily require states to provide transcripts in all cases. State court systems may implement alternative procedures that ensure equal access to fair appellate review


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