Douglas v. California
372 U.S. 353, 83 S. Ct. 814, 9 L. Ed.2d 811 (1963)

  • Douglas et. al. were convicted of 13 felonies related to a robbery, and sentenced to prison. They appealed.
    • At Trial, they were appointed legal counsel because they were too poor to afford to pay for it themselves.
  • On appeal, Douglas requested that legal counsel be appointed again. The Court refused the request.
    • California’s Rules of Criminal Procedure did not require the State to appoint legal counsel on appeal. It was to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
    • The 6th Amendment only requires a lawyer during the trial phase. It says nothing about appeals.
  • The Appellate Court upheld the conviction. Douglas appealed.
  • The California Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Douglas appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that, “where the merits of the one and only appeal an indigent has as of right were decided without benefit of counsel in a state criminal case, there has been a discrimination between the rich and the poor which violates the 14th Amendment.”
      • That’s a question of equal protection, because it put the poor at a disadvantage in receiving justice, and having counsel is a gateway to asserting all your other rights.
    • The Court found that appeals are part of the judicial process. Therefore the requirement for counsel is a due process issue.
      • Although, technically, there is no constitutional requirement that States allow appeals at all, the 6th Amendment only requires counsel be provided for a trial.
  • In a dissent it was argued that the rich will always be able to afford more than the poor, so it wasn’t the State’s responsibility to change that.
    • “The Equal Protection Clause does not impose on the States an affirmative duty to relieve handicaps flowing from differences in economic circumstances…The State may have a moral obligation to eliminate the evils of poverty, but it is not required to give to some whatever others can afford.”
      • That sounds a lot like communism…!
  • In combination with Griffin v. Illinois (351 U.S. 12 (1956)), the US Supreme Court established the Griffin-Douglas Doctrine, which basically says that whenever an indigent defendant has the right to appointed counsel, the State must furnish them with any and every legal service that a wealthy defendant is able to purchase.
    • In Griffin, the defendant needed transcripts of the Trial Court transcripts in order to mount an appeal, and the US Supreme Court found that they must be provided to him at no expense.
      • But, not having a transcript is an absolute bar to filing an appeal, while not having a lawyer just makes your appeal harder to win.
  • This decision was a strange combination of the requirement for due process and the requirement for equal protection. Neither requirement would have been convincing by itself, but together they make for a convincing argument.