Griffin v. Illinois

PETITIONER: Judson Griffin and James Crenshaw
RESPONDENT: Illinois
LOCATION: Attorney General of the State of Illinois

DOCKET NO.: 95
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT:

ARGUED: Dec 07, 1955
DECIDED: Apr 23, 1956

Facts of the case

Judson Griffin and James Crenshaw were indicted for armed robbery in Cook County, Illinois. Following their conviction, in preparation for filling for an appeal, Griffin and Crenshaw requested a transcript of their trial proceedings without cost, on the basis that they could not afford the standard fee for the transcript. The lower court dismissed the petition without hearing evidence.

Question

Did requiring Griffin and Crenshaw to pay a fee with their request for a transcript of their trial proceedings violate their rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Griffin v. Illinois

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1955 (Part 2) in Griffin v. Illinois

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1955 (Part 1) in Griffin v. Illinois

Earl Warren:

Number 99, Judson Griffin and James Crenshaw versus People of the State of Illinois.

Mr. Horsky.

Charles A. Horsky:

May it please the Court.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Illinois.

It involves a substantial question as to the applicability of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the system of criminal appeals presently existing in Illinois.

Specifically, it involves the question whether either or both of those clauses are violated by a system of criminal appeals which makes a full review in a criminal case dependent upon the filing in the -- in the Supreme Court of a transcript of the proceeding but which makes no provision by which an indigent defendant may secure a copy of that transcript.

The facts on which the case comes here are relatively simple and can be quickly stated.

The two petitioners were indicted in Illinois for armed robbery and after a trial they were convicted and sentenced respectively to 5 to 10 years and 10 to 15 years in the Illinois penitentiary.

Following the denial of motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment, the petitioners filed in the nisi prius court, the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois, a motion for transcript of proceedings and court record without cost.

This motion alleged in substance that the petitioners needed the court records and the transcript of the proceedings in order to perfect an appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois that they believe that there were appealable errors in the record and that they were without funds.

They also alleged that the failure of the State of Illinois to supply a record on which they could perfect an appeal would deny them the equal protection of the laws and due process of law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

This motion was denied by the trial court without hearing and without argument in February 1954.

In April, the petitioners filed a petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act of Illinois.

That Act provides a summary means by which prisoners confined in Illinois penitentiaries may seek a review of any claim that they are being held in violation of their constitutional rights.

The petition in this case asserted that the failure -- it asserted essentially the same grounds as were asserted in the previous motion that the failure of the State of Illinois to accord them a record upon which they could perfect an appeal when they were unable to do so because of indigence and when they believed that there were appealable errors denied them rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The state attorney in the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois moved to dismiss on the ground that that raised no substantial question of either state or federal constitutional law and the District Judge dismissed the petition.

The petitioners then filed a timely petition for a writ of error to the Supreme Court of Illinois seeking a review of that order.

The Supreme Court of Illinois, although allowing the petitioners to proceed in forma pauperis as they had requested, also dismissed the petition.

Its memorandum order, which is quite short, appears in the record at page 13 and I think it's worth reading it so we'll be sure what the court below decided.

After reciting some of the facts which I recited here, the opinion states, “Petitioners' soul contention is that they were deprived the due process of law and the equal protection of the laws, in that, they were financially unable to purchase a bill of exceptions and were therefore unable to -- to obtain a complete review by this Court.

This charge presents no substantial constitutional question and the writs of error are therefore denied."

Thereupon this Court granted a writ of certiorari.

Now, basic to the issue which this case presents is an understanding of exactly what the criminal appeals system in Illinois amounts to today.

It was recently reviewed by this Court in the Jennings case but I think it well to resummarize it so we'll have it in our mind.

The procedure for review of the criminal conviction in Illinois is basically by a writ of error and Illinois has provided that writs of error in all criminal cases are writs of right and shall be issued as of course.

The scope of the review on a writ of error, however, may vary widely.

It is possible to have in Illinois -- I don't mean it's possible, there are in Illinois, frequently, appeals for writs of error on what is known as the clerk's mandatory record or what might be called the common law record.

The clerk maintains this record in every case, the indictment, the plea, the arraignment of plea and the sentence.

When review on writ of error to the Supreme Court of Illinois is on a record of that sort, the Supreme Court does and it must limit its review to the questions which are open on the face of those documents.

Felix Frankfurter:

Documents of general entry is practically (Voice Overlap) --