Burns v. Ohio

LOCATION: New York Life Insurance & Annuity

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 360 US 252 (1959)
ARGUED: May 18, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Burns v. Ohio

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - May 18, 1959 in Burns v. Ohio

Earl Warren:

Number 581, William W. Burns, Petitioner, versus State of Ohio.

Mrs. Washington.

Helen G. Washington:

May it please the Court, my argument will be very brief.

As in Griffin against Illinois and Eskridge against Washington State Prison Board recently decided by this Court, this case concerns an indigent convicted defendant who was deprived of the appeal rights given him by state law, solely because he was too poor to pay one of the costs of appeal, here the docket fee demanded in advance for docketing his appeal papers.

As in the Griffin and Eskridge case the only question is whether the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited the state from denying appeal rights given to others, to one who does not have the money to pay the cost.

The details giving rise to this question maybe quickly stated.

The petitioner was convicted by a jury of a felony in a trial court in Ohio.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment in the state penitentiary.

Upon an appeal to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, his conviction was affirmed.

Ohio Law gave him further appeal rights in the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Under the law there is an appeal as of right if a constitutional question is involved.

In other cases one whose conviction of a felony has been affirmed by the Court of Appeals, may move the Supreme Court of Ohio for leave to appeal and will have leave granted if good cause for the appeal is shown.

The state statute and the rules of the Supreme Court provide, however, for the payment of the docket fee of $20 before the appeal papers will be docketed.

This petitioner who was in the penitentiary without the assistant of counsel prepared a motion for leave to appeal, a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and then affidavit of poverty.

He transmitted these papers to the Supreme Court of Ohio together with a copy of the notice of appeal filed in the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court, acting through its clerk, immediately returned his papers to him, with the explanation that the docket fee required by statute and the Court's rule had not have been paid and that an appeal in forma pauperis was not an acceptable substitute.

Thus the Supreme Court of Ohio construed the statute and its rules as denying access through the Court to those who were unable to pay the fee, although everyone else could have his appeal docketed.

Under the Griffin and Eskridge decision such a discriminatory interpretation of the statute cannot stand.

Since Ohio has a general policy of allowing appeals, or appeal rights in the Supreme Court, it under those decisions cannot consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment deny them to one who does not have the money to pay the cost.

I don't think I need to elaborate anymore on that point.

We rest our case on the decisions in the Griffin and Eskridge cases.

On brief the state advances only one reason why those cases should not apply here.

The state says that the petitioner has had one appeal here, his conviction was affirmed and that he is not entitled to anything more, that when Ohio does give a second appeal it can establish any conditions for it that it sees fit.

I think that this is a misreading of Griffin.

The teaching of that case certainly is that if a state does grant appeal, it should grant it to rich and poor alike, that would be regardless of the level at which appeal was, regardless of whether it was the first, second or tenth appeal.

And we submit that this case could return to the Supreme Court of Ohio with appropriate instructions to give petitioner his rights.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Vance.

William M. Vance:

Mr. Chief Justice and justices, please the Court.

I think the whole question before this Court here is whether or not the effect of Griffin should be extended because in Griffin under the statues of the State of Illinois, felony cases are appealed only and directly to the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Misdemeanor cases are appealed to the appellate court.