Thompson v. City of Louisville

RESPONDENT: City of Louisville
LOCATION: Calumet River

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: State trial court

CITATION: 362 US 199 (1960)
ARGUED: Jan 11, 1960 / Jan 12, 1960
DECIDED: Mar 21, 1960

Facts of the case


Media for Thompson v. City of Louisville

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 12, 1960 in Thompson v. City of Louisville

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 11, 1960 in Thompson v. City of Louisville

Earl Warren:

Number 59, Sam Thompson, Petitioner, versus City of Louisville.

Mr. Lusky, you may proceed with your argument.

Louis Lusky:

May it please the Court.

This case presents for review, two judgments of the Police Court of Louisville, adjudicating the petitioner to be guilty of violating two City of Louisville ordinances.

These ordinances proscribe -- prescribe penalties -- criminal penalties for loitering and disorderly conduct.

The case comes here directly from the Police Court of Louisville, because it happens that that is the highest court of Kentucky and which a decision on the merits of the case can be held.

The reason --

Charles E. Whittaker:

Is that clear and undisputed?

Louis Lusky:

That is clear and undisputed.

Charles E. Whittaker:

There is no power in the Court -- intermediate Court of Appeals to hear this under any circumstances?

Louis Lusky:

There is no intermediate Court of Appeals in Kentucky at all, Mr. Justice.

And the exact statutory situation is that judgments of the Police Court of Louisville are not appealable unless they involve a fine of at least $20 or a jail sentence of more than 10 days, or both.

It is also clear, under the Kentucky decisions, that even the extraordinary power possessed by the Kentucky Court of Appeals to exercise control over inferior jurisdictions under Section 110 of the Kentucky Constitution, which is a kind of an all writs section, that even this power is not available despite the existence of timely and substantial federal constitutional claims where, as in this case, the sentence is unappealable because of its smallness.

In other words, the Kentucky Court of Appeals has squarely held that where a $10 fine is involved and where the fine is unappealable on the merits because it is so small, that the Court of Appeals will consider the injustice to be too small to justify the invocation of relief under the All Writs Act.

The cases for that are cited in our brief, Walters against Fowler, Thompson against Wood.

And actually, a proceeding collateral to this case and which it was also reaffirmed, which I will describe if you'd like to hear it now.

It's -- I mean, our -- we had a problem on this case in -- in this rather peculiar way.

It was clear enough that this was the -- that -- that since these cases were -- involved sentences too small to take any Kentucky court, this was the only court that they could be taken to.But it was also unfortunately true that under Kentucky law, there is no provision for bail, unless you are taking an appeal to a state court, no statutory provisions for bail.

Third, it was true under Kentucky law that there was -- that -- that whether you want to or not, if you're put in the Louisville workhouse in default of paying a fine, you automatically get credit on your fine at the rate of $2 a day for everyday you spend in the workhouse.

This petitioner has two $10 fines and that meant that -- that at the end of 10 days, whether he wanted to or not, he would've paid those fines by being in the workhouse for 10 days and the case would be moot.

So, for that reason, desiring to file a petition for certiorari in this Court and knowing that this Court -- it's hard even to write a petition for -- in 10 days, much less get it ruled on.

We had to initiate collateral proceedings in order to get him out of jail, long enough so that we could get a petition for certiorari filed here and we -- we did file a habeas corpus proceeding in the State Circuit Court.

Habeas corpus was granted on constitutional grounds.

There was no statutory provision for it, but Judge Lawrence Grauman of the Jefferson Circuit Court held that if he had a federal constitutional claim and a substantial one which he -- which Judge Grauman thought he did, that he had an ancillary right to have that -- to have an opportunity to present that claim without having his case become moot, before he could possibly get it up here.

And since the only way to do that was to grant him his liberty on -- on reasonable bail, by a fix bail in the amount of $35 and let him out.

One thing I'm just curious about, why didn't you ask, His Honor, the Police Judge, to give you a $20 fine the way you did in the earlier case and then you could've gone up to Kentucky Court of Appeals and if I read their opinion that you've been referring to correctly, you probably would not come to Washington at all.

Louis Lusky:

Well, if Your Honor please.

In the first case, if you -- and I -- I see you have studied the record already.

(Voice Overlap) --

Louis Lusky:

You will see that the -- that the Police Court Judge offered an appealable sentence.