Petitioner, an indigent, was convicted of web traffic offenses and also fined a total of $425. Though Texas legislation offers only for fines for such offenses, it needs that persons unable to pay should be incarcerated for adequate time to meet their fines, at the price of $5 per day, which, in petitioner"s instance, expected an 85-day term. The state courts denied his petition for habeas corpus.

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Held: It is a denial of equal protection to limit punishment to payment of a fine for those that are able to pay it, but to transform the fine to imprisonment for those who are unable to pay it. Williams v. Illinois, 399 U. S. 235. Pp. 401 U. S. 397-401.

445 S.W.2d 210, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and also DOUGLAS, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring statement, article, p. 401 U. S. 401. BLACK, J., concurred in the result. HARLAN, J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, short article, p. 401 U. S. 401.

Page 401 U. S. 396


Tate v. Quick, 401 UNITED STATE 395 (1971)

Tate v. Short

No. 324

Argued January 14, 1971

Decided March 2, 1971




Petitioner, an indigent, was convicted of traffic offenses and also fined a complete of $425. Though Texas legislation provides just for fines for such offenses, it requires that persons unable to pay need to be incarcerated for enough time to satisfy their fines, at the rate of $5 per day, which, in petitioner"s instance, intended an 85-day term. The state courts denied his petition for habeas corpus.

Held: It is a denial of equal protection to limit punishment to payment of a fine for those that are able to pay it, however to transform the fine to imprisonment for those who are unable to pay it. Williams v. Illinois, 399 U. S. 235. Pp. 401 U. S. 397-401.

445 S.W.2d 210, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., yielded the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and DOUGLAS, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and also BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring statement, article, p. 401 U. S. 401. BLACK, J., concurred in the result. HARLAN, J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, article, p. 401 U. S. 401.

Page 401 U. S. 396

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN ceded the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner collected fines of $425 on nine convictions in the Corporation Court of Houston, Texas, for web traffic offenses. He was unable to pay the fines because of indigency, and the Corporation Court, which otherwise has actually no jurisdiction to impose prichild sentences, committed him to the municipal priboy farm according to the provisions of a state statute and municipal ordinance, which forced that he remain there a sufficient

Page 401 U. S. 397

time to accomplish the fines at the rate of 5 dollars for each day; this required that he serve 85 days at the prikid farm. After 21 days in custody, petitioner was released on bond when he applied to the County Criminal Court of Harris County for a writ of habeas corpus. He alleged that: "Because I am as well poor, I am, therefore, unable to pay the gathered fine of $425." The county court organized that "legal reason has actually been shown for the imprisonment," and also denied the application. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas affirmed, stating: "We overdominion appellant"s contention that, bereason he is too bad to pay the fines, his imprisonment is unconstitutional." 445 S.W.2d 210 (1969). We granted certiorari, 399 UNITED STATE 925 (1970). We reverse on the authority of our decision in Williams v. Illinois, 399 U. S. 235 (1970).

The Illinois statute involved in Williams authorized both a fine and also imprisonment. Williams was offered the maximum sentence for petty theft of one year"s imprisonment and also a $500 fine, plus $5 in court expenses. The judgment, as permitted by the Illinois statute, offered that, if, once the one-year sentence expired, Williams did not pay the fine and also court prices, he was to remajor in jail a sufficient length of time to meet the full amount at the rate of $5 per day. We hosted that the Illinois statute, as applied to Williams, worked an invidious discrimination exclusively bereason he was as well poor to pay the fine, and also therefore violated the Equal Protection Clause.

Although the prompt instance entails offenses punishable by fines just, petitioner"s imprisonment for nonpayment

Page 401 U. S. 398

constitutes precisely the very same unconstitutional discrimination, considering that, prefer Williams, petitioner was based on imprisonment specifically bereason of his indigency. In Morris v. Schoonfield, 399 U. S. 508, 399 U. S. 509 (1970), 4 members of the Court anticipated the trouble of this case and also proclaimed the watch, which we now embrace, that

"the same constitutional defect condemned in Williams additionally inheres in jailing an indigent for failing to make prompt payment of any type of fine, whether or not the fine is accompanied by a jail term and also whether or not the jail term of the indigent exhas a tendency past the maximum term that might be imposed on a person willing and also able to pay a fine. In each situation, the Constitution prohibits the State from imposing a fine as a sentence and then immediately converting it into a jail term specifically bereason the defendant is indigent, and cannot forthwith pay the fine in complete."

Our opinion in Williams declared the premise of this conclusion in saying that

"the Equal Protection Clausage of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that the statutory

Page 401 U. S. 399

ceiling put on imprisonment for any substantive offense be the very same for all defendants irparticular of their economic condition."

399 U.S. at 399 U. S. 244. Because Texas has actually legislated a "fines only" policy for traffic offenses, that statutory ceiling cannot, repetitively via the Equal Protection Clausage, limit the punishment to payment of the fine if one is able to pay it, yet convert the fine right into a prison term for an indigent defendant without the indicates to pay his fine. Imprisonment in such a case is not applied to better any type of penal objective of the State. It is implemented to augment the State"s revenues, but obviously does not serve that purpose; the defendant cannot pay, because he is indigent, and also his imprisonment, quite than aiding collection of the revenue, saddles the State via the cost of feeding and housing him for the period of his imprisonment.

Tbelow are, yet, various other alternatives to which the State might constitutionally resort to serve its concededly valid interest in enforcing payment of fines. We repeat our observation in Williams in that regard, 399 UNITED STATE at 399 U. S. 244-245 (footnotes omitted):

"The State is not powermuch less to enforce judgments versus those financially unable to pay a fine; indeed, a different result would amount to inverse discrimicountry, considering that it would enable an indigent to prevent both the fine and also imprisonment for nonpayment, whereas other defendants must always suffer one or the other conviction."

"It is unessential for us to canvass the many options to which the State by legislative enactment -- or judges within the scope of their authority -- might retype in order to prevent imprisoning an indigent beyond the statutory maximum for involuntary nonpayment of a fine or court prices. Appellant has said several plans, some of which are

Page 401 U. S. 400

already made use of in some States, while others resemble those proposed by assorted studies. The State is complimentary to pick from among the selection of remedies already proposed and, of course, it might devise new ones. "

We emphasize that our holding today does not imply any type of constitutional infirmity in imprisonment of a defendant with the implies to pay a fine that refoffers or neglects to do so. Nor is our decision to be interpreted

Page 401 U. S. 401

as precluding imprisonment as an enforcement approach once alternative indicates are uneffective despite the defendant"s reasonable initiatives to accomplish the fines by those means; the determination of the constitutionality of imprisonment in that circumstance should await the presentation of a concrete situation.

The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inregular through this opinion.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK concurs in the result.

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN concurs in the judgment of the Court on the basis of the considerations collection forth in his opinion concurring in the result in Williams v. Illinois, 399 U. S. 235, 399 U. S. 259 (1970).

At the habeas corpus hearing, the assistant district attorney showing up for the State stipulated:

"We would stipulate he is poverty-stricken, and that his entirety household has actually been for all durations of time therein, and also most likely constantly will certainly be."

Petitioner"s uncontradicted testimony at the hearing was that, before his imprisonment, he earned in between $25 and also $60 a week in casual employment. He also received a monthly Veterans Administration inspect of $104. He has actually a wife and also two youngsters dependent on him for assistance. We were advised on dental dispute that, under Texas legislation, his automobile was not topic to execution to collect the fines.

Tex.Code Crim.Proc., Art. 4.14 (1966) provides:

"The corporation court in each incorporated city, town or village of this State shall have jurisdiction within the corporate boundaries in all criminal cases developing under the ordinances of such city, town or village, and shall have actually concurrent jurisdiction with any justice of the tranquility in any precinct in which said city, town or village is positioned in all criminal cases emerging under the criminal laws of this State, in which punishment is by fine just, and wbelow the maximum of such fine might not exceed 2 hundred dollars, and developing within such corpoprice borders."

Tex.Code Crim.Proc., Art. 45.53 (1966), provides in pertinent part:

"A defendant inserted in jail on account of faientice to pay the fine and also prices deserve to be discharged on habeas corpus by showing: "

"1. That he is as well negative to pay the fine and also costs; and"

"2. That he has actually stayed in jail a sufficient size of time to meet the fine and also expenses, at the rate of $5 for each day."

Houston Code § 38 provides:

"Each perboy committed to the county jail or to the municipal prison farm for nonpayment of their fine developing out of his conviction of a misdemeanor in the corporation court shall receive a credit versus such fine of 5 dollars ($5.00) for each day or fraction of a day that he has served."

Houston Code § 35-9 provides:

"dditional crmodify versus the fine of each prisoner may be granted by the superintendent of the municipal prikid farm for excellent conduct, market and also obedience; gave, yet, that such extra credit shall not exceed in time more than one-half (1/2) day credit on his fine for each day"s job-related."

An implementing regulation of the Fines Bureau Division of the Houston Corporation Court interprets this provision as follows:

"If a person shows up in court and also is found guilty and also does not have actually money to pay his fine, he is committed to jail to serve the amount of the fine at the price of $5.00 per day. In certain instances, a perchild might be allowed $7.50 credit per day."

It does not appear that petitioner was granted the boosted crmodify for any type of of the 21 days he offered before his release.

Several States have actually a procedure for paying fines in installments. E.g., Cal.Penal Code § 1205 (1970) (misdemeanors); Del.Code Ann., Tit. 11, § 4332(c) (Supp. 1968); Md.Ann.Code, Art. 38, § 4(a)(2) (Supp. 1970); Mass.Gen.Laws Ann., c. 279, § 1A (1959); N.Y.Code Crim.Proc. § 470-d(1)(b) (Supp. 1970); Pa.Stat.Ann., Tit.19, § 953 (1964); Wash.Rev.Code § 9.92.070.

This procedure has been commonly endorsed as reliable not only to collect the fine, but likewise to conserve the cost of maintaining a prisoner and stop the necessity of supporting his family under the state welfare regimen while he is confined. See, e.g., Final Report of the National Commission on Redevelop of Federal Criminal Laws, Proposed New Federal Criminal Code § 3302(2) (1971); Amerideserve to Bar Association, Project on Standards for Criminal Justice, Sentencing Alternatives and Procedures § 2.7(b), pp. 119-122 (Apverified Draft 1968); President"s Commission on Law Enforcement and also Administration of Justice, Task Force Report: The Courts 18 (1967); ALI, Model Penal Code § 302.1(1) (Proposed Official Draft 1962). See also Comment, Equal Protection and also the Use of Fines as Penalties for Criminal Offenses, 1966 U.Ill.L.F. 460; Note, The Equal Protection Clause and also Imprisonment of the Indigent for Nonpayment of Fines, 64 Mich.L.Rev. 938 (1966); Keep in mind, Imprisonment for Nonpayment of Fines and Costs: A New Look at the Law and also the Constitution, 22 Vand.L.Rev. 611 (1969); Note, Fines and Fining -- An Evaluation, 101 U.Pa.L.Rev. 1013 (1953); J. Sellin, Recent Penal Legislation in Sweden 14 (1947); Cordes, Fines and also Their Enforcement, 2 J.Crim. Sci. 46 (1950); S. Rubin, H. Weihofen, C. Edwards, & S. Rosenzweig, The Law of Criminal Correction 253 and also n. 154 (1963); E. Sutherland also & D. Cressey, Principles of Criminology 276 (sixth ed.1960). See additionally Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. at 399 U. S. 244-245, n. 21.


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The Court"s opinion is couched in regards to being constitutionally protective of the indigent defendant. I simply include the observation that the reversal of this Texas judgment might well encourage state and municipal legislatures to do away via the fine and to have the jail term as the just punishment for a vast array of website traffic offenses. Eliminating the fine whenever before it is prescribed as different punishment stays clear of the equal security issue that indigency occasions, and also leaves just feasible Eighth Amendment considerations. If, as a nation, we ever reach that happy point wright here we are willing to collection our personal convenience to one side and we are really significant about readdressing the problems of website traffic irobligation and also the frightful carnage it spews upon our highways, a advance of that sort may not be at all unpreferable.

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