Griffin v. Illinois: Justice Independent of Wealth? Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • More than sixty years ago in Griffin v. Illinois, Justice Hugo Black opined that equal justice cannot exist as long as “the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.” While Griffin dealt with the limited issue of the inability of a defendant to pay for an appellate transcript, the Supreme Court and legislatures would subsequently extend Black’s equal justice analysis to cases involving other forms of criminal justice debt assessed at trial, appeal, incarceration, and probation. Despite the promise of these judicial and legislative pronouncements, indigent defendants, relative to defendants with financial resources, are still more likely to face difficulty obtaining adequate representation, more likely to be jailed before trial, more likely to plead guilty to avoid continued incarceration, more likely to face difficulty with fees assessed during incarceration, more likely to face continued monetary charges while on probation or parole, and more likely to face incarceration based on inability to pay criminal justice debt. The current two-tiered justice system reflects the concerns expressed by Bryan Stevenson “that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” This Article describes how the promise of equal justice, as developed in Griffin and extended by the Supreme Court, has gone largely unfulfilled in modern society. It also presents an overview of some reforms and recommendations to help the system restore Justice Hugo Black’s concept of equal justice and address Bryan Stevenson’s concerns over the injustice of poverty.
  • More than sixty years ago in Griffin v. Illinois, Justice Hugo Black opined that equal justice cannot exist as long as “the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.” While Griffin dealt with the limited issue of the inability of a defendant to pay for an appellate transcript, the Supreme Court and legislatures would subsequently extend Black’s equal justice analysis to cases involving other forms of criminal justice debt assessed at trial, appeal, incarceration, and probation. Despite the promise of these judicial and legislative pronouncements, indigent defendants, relative to defendants with financial resources, are still more likely to face difficulty obtaining adequate representation, more likely to be jailed before trial, more likely to plead guilty to avoid continued incarceration, more likely to face difficulty with fees assessed during incarceration, more likely to face continued monetary charges while on probation or parole, and more likely to face incarceration based on inability to pay criminal justice debt. The current two-tiered justice system reflects the concerns expressed by Bryan Stevenson “that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” This Article describes how the promise of equal justice, as developed in Griffin and extended by the Supreme Court, has gone largely unfulfilled in modern society. It also presents an overview of some reforms and recommendations to help the system restore Justice Hugo Black’s concept of equal justice and address Bryan Stevenson’s concerns over the injustice of poverty.

author list (cited authors)

  • Sobol, N. L.

publication date

  • May 2020