Griffin v. Illinois 351 U.S. 12 (1956)

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GRIFFIN v. ILLINOIS 351 U.S. 12 (1956)

Griffin was the first decision giving constitutional status to an indigent person's claim to invalidate an economic barrier to his or her access to the courts.

Illinois normally required persons appealing from their criminal convictions to provide trial transcripts to the appellate courts. The state supplied free transcripts to indigents appealing in capital cases, but not in other cases. The Supreme Court held, 5–4, that the state must furnish a free transcript to an appellant in a noncapital case.

The opinion of Justice hugo l. black, for four Justices, rested on both due process and equal protectiongrounds, asserting the state's constitutional obligation to provide "equal justice for poor and rich." Justice felix frankfurter, concurring, emphasized the irrationality of the capitalnoncapital distinction. The dissenters found this distinction reasonable and argued that the state had no affirmative duty to alleviate the consequences of economic inequality.

Griffin, along with douglas v. california (1963), raised expectations that the equal protection clause would be interpreted as a broad guarantee against wealth discrimination, but these decisions are seen today as standing for a more modest proposition: that the right to state criminal appeals must not be foreclosed to the poor because of their poverty.

(See ross v. moffitt.)

Kenneth L. Karst

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Griffin v. Illinois 351 U.S. 12 (1956)

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