Litigation Toolkit: Constitutional Challenges
Equal Protection and Due Process Cases
General Equal Protection and Due Process
Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12 (1956): The United States Supreme Court held that the Illinois statutory scheme which required criminal defendants to pay a fee for a transcript of their trial proceedings, and which did not permit appeal absent a transcript, violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. 235 (1970): The United States Supreme Court vacated the Supreme Court of Illinois’s decision affirming an order that dismissed a criminal defendant’s petition to vacate part of his sentence. While still incarcerated, the defendant challenged a provision of his sentence that required he remain incarcerated to “work off” unpaid fines and court costs at a rate of $5 per day—to be served after he had served the maximum prison sentence authorized for his crime—arguing that he did not have means to pay. The trial court dismissed his petition, finding that the defendant’s financial situation might change by the end of his sentence. The United States Supreme Court reversed, holding that imposing an aggregate imprisonment that exceeds the maximum period fixed by statute and that results directly from involuntary nonpayment of a fine or cost violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Justice Harlan’s concurring opinion encourages analysis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Equal Protection Clause, because the latter would place a substantial burden on states to create a system of individualized fines.
Tate v. Short, 401 U.S. 395 (1971): The United States Supreme Court held that Texas law, which limited punishment for certain traffic offenses to a fine, but which automatically converted unpaid fines to prison terms for those who were unable to pay, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983): The United States Supreme Court held that revoking probation and imprisoning probationer for his inability to pay a fine and make restitution violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, before revoking probation for failure to pay a fine or restitution, a sentencing court must inquire into the reasons for the failure to pay and determine whether nonpayment was willful.
Jordan v. State, 939 S.W.2d 255 (Ark. 1997): The Supreme Court of Arkansas held that the trial court’s failure to inquire into a criminal defendant’s ability to pay before revoking his probation for non-payment violated equal protection, even when the defendant had promised to pay restitution as part of a plea bargain.
State v. Noel, 191 So.3d 370 (Fla. 2016): The Supreme Court of Florida reversed a sentence which provided for a 2-year sentence reduction if the defendant made certain restitution payments within 60 days, despite his testimony that he could afford those payments, because conditioning shorter term on payment violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
De Luna v. Hidalgo Cty., 853 F. Supp. 2d 623 (S.D. Tex. 2012): The District Court for the Southern District of Texas denied in part the county’s motion for summary judgment of a complaint alleging that placing plaintiffs in jail for unpaid fines and costs violated their federal due process and equal protection rights, when the plaintiffs were required to raise indigency of their own accord as a defense to detention.
Youth-Specific Equal Protection and Due Process Cases
P.B. v. State, 533 So. 2d 883 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1988): The District Court of Appeal of Florida, Third Circuit, reversed a delinquency adjudication and commitment resulting after a youth rejected a plea deal that required he pay restitution, which he could not afford. The court of appeals held that trying, adjudicating, and detaining the youth were all violations of equal protection under the U.S. and Florida constitutions.
J.H. v. State, 950 N.E.2d 731 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011): The Court of Appeals of Indiana found the juvenile court abused its discretion when it ordered a youth to pay restitution as a condition of probation without inquiring into his ability to pay, in violation of equal protection and fundamental fairness. Inquiring into mother's ability to pay did not satisfy this requirement.
M.L. v. State, 838 N.E.2d 525 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005): The Court of Appeals of Indiana vacated the juvenile court's restitution order and remanded for a hearing on the youth’s ability to pay. The court held that, before ordering restitution as a condition of probation, the juvenile court must inquire into the youth's ability to pay, because the youth risked imprisonment for nonpayment.
In re Laurence T., 403 A.2d 1256 (Md. 1979): The Court of Appeals of Maryland held that subjecting a youth to delinquency proceedings based on his mother’s unwillingness to make restitution violated Equal Protection under the U.S. Constitution, when the State declined to pursue adjudications against two similarly-situated youth whose parents promised to pay restitution.
General Excessive Fine Cases
Wright v. Riveland, 219 F.3d 905 (9th Cir. 2000): The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that certain deductions authorized by Washington statute were punitive and thus subject to Eighth Amendment excessive fine scrutiny. The court found that a 35% deduction from all funds received by inmates from outside sources was a fine, as was a mandatory 20% cost of incarceration deduction. The court of appeals held that the fines were not excessive as applied, after a statutory amendment limited total amount of deductions to total cost of the inmate’s incarceration.
State v. Izzolena, 609 N.W.2d 541 (Iowa 2000): The Supreme Court of Iowa held that restitution imposed on an adult criminal defendant is a fine for Eighth Amendment purposes, even though the restitution is paid to the victim and not the state.
State v. Good, 100 P.3d 644 (Mont. 2004): The Supreme Court of Montana held that restitution imposed on an adult criminal defendant is a fine for Eighth Amendment purposes, because it is punitive in part. However, the court affirmed the restitution, holding that an order to pay the full amount of the victim's pecuniary losses is not excessive, when defendant was financially capable of paying that amount.
Youth-Specific Excessive Fine Cases
In re B.A., 104 So.3d 833 (La. App. 2012): The Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit, held that restitution of nearly $6,000 was excessive when imposed as a condition of probation on a youth adjudicated delinquent for vandalizing a school, when the youth had no job, no skills that would help him obtain employment, and only 7 months to pay the restitution.