Bearden v. Georgia
461 U.S. 660 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983)

Bearden v. Georgia

No. 81-6633

Argued January 11, 1983

Decided May 24, 1983

461 U.S. 660

Syllabus

Petitioner pleaded guilty in a Georgia trial court to burglary and theft by receiving stolen property, but the court, pursuant to the Georgia First Offender's Act, did not enter a judgment of guilt, and sentenced petitioner to probation on the condition that he pay a $500 fine and $250 in restitution, with $100 payable that day, $100 the next day, and the $550 balance within four months. Petitioner borrowed money and paid the first $200, but about a month later he was laid off from his job, and, despite repeated efforts, was unable to find other work. Shortly before the $550 balance became due, he notified the probation office that his payment was going to be late. Thereafter, the State filed a petition to revoke petitioner's probation because he had not paid the balance, and the trial court, after a hearing, revoked probation, entered a conviction, and sentenced petitioner to prison. The record of the hearing disclosed that petitioner had been unable to find employment and had no assets or income. The Georgia Court of Appeals rejected petitioner's claim that imprisoning him for inability to pay the fine and make restitution violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Georgia Supreme Court denied review.

Held: A sentencing court cannot properly revoke a defendant's probation for failure to pay a fine and make restitution, absent evidence and findings that he was somehow responsible for the failure or that alternative forms of punishment were inadequate to meet the State's interest in punishment and deterrence, and hence, here the trial court erred in automatically revoking petitioner's probation and turning the fine into a prison sentence without making such a determination. Pp. 461 U. S. 664-674.

(a) If a State determines a fine or restitution to be the appropriate and adequate penalty for the crime, it may not thereafter imprison a person solely because he lacked the resources to pay it. Williams v. Illinois,399 U. S. 235; Tate v. Short,401 U. S. 395. If the probationer has willfully refused to pay the fine or restitution when he has the resources to pay or has failed to make sufficient bona fide efforts to seek employment or borrow money to pay, the State is justified in using imprisonment as a sanction to enforce collection. But if the probationer has made all reasonable bona fide efforts to pay the fine and yet cannot do so through no fault of his own, it is fundamentally unfair to revoke probation automatically without considering whether adequate alternative methods of punishing

Page 461 U. S. 661

the probationer are available to meet the State's interest in punishment and deterrence. Pp. 461 U. S. 664-669.

(b) The State may not use as the sole justification for imprisonment the poverty or inability of the probationer to pay the fine and to make restitution if he has demonstrated sufficient bona fide efforts to do so. Pp. 461 U. S. 669-672.

(c) Only if alternative measure of punishment are not adequate to meet the State's interests in punishment and deterrence may the court imprison a probationer who has made sufficient bona fide efforts to pay the fine. To do otherwise would deprive the probationer of his conditional freedom simply because, through no fault of his own, he cannot pay. Such a deprivation would be contrary to the fundamental fairness required by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 461 U. S. 672-673.

161 Ga.App. 640, 288 S.E.2d 662, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed all opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 461 U. S. 675.

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