Tate v. Short

LOCATION: Edward Coolidge's Home

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

CITATION: 401 US 395 (1971)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1971
DECIDED: Mar 02, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for Tate v. Short

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1971 in Tate v. Short

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in Tate against Short.

Mr. Dorsen you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Norman Dorsen:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case, arising in Texas is a sequel to the decisions last term in this Court in Williams v. Illinois and Morris v. Schoonfield.

It involves the imprisonment of an indigent for an inability to pay certain fines imposed for traffic offenses.

The facts are not in dispute.

Petitioner, Mr. Tate, committed several traffic offenses in 1966.

These offenses included driving without an operator’s license, driving a car with expired license plates and going through a red light.

Neither alone nor taken together were these offenses punishable by a jail sentence.

They were --

Potter Stewart:

How many different times was he arrested for driving a car without an operator’s license?

Norman Dorsen:

There were nine offenses.

Potter Stewart:

Operator’s license?

Norman Dorsen:

I think there were three of those.

Potter Stewart:

Any indication why he didn’t go down and get a license?

Norman Dorsen:

No, there’s nothing in the record on that.

Potter Stewart:

How much do they cost?

Norman Dorsen:

I don’t know that.

It's probably $10.00 or so, $2.00.

Potter Stewart:


Norman Dorsen:

Neither alone, as I said, or taken together were these offenses punishable by a jail sentence.

Petitioner was tried on two of the traffic offenses in 1966 in the Houston Corporation Court, a court whose jurisdiction is limited by statute to offenses punishable by fine alone.

He was convicted on the two offenses and fined $75.00, but the judgment was not executed.

This was explained by petitioner at the subsequent habeas corpus hearing on the ground that he had paid a lawyer to appeal the convictions. In fact, the lawyer failed to perfect the appeal.

If the appeal had been perfected, petitioner would have been entitled to a trial de novo in the county court and relieved, at least temporarily, from the obligation to pay the fines.

Instead, as I’ve said, the convictions became final, but there’s nothing in the record to indicate that petitioner ever knew that this had occurred.

Petitioner’s attorney incidentally has since been disbarred for other reasons.

Petitioner was not tried on the remaining traffic tickets until August 7, 1968.

He appeared then in the same corporation court, the court with jurisdiction only to punish by fines, and he pleaded guilty to the other charges.