WOOD V. GEORGIA, 450 U. S. 261 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wood v. Georgia, 450 U.S. 261 (1981)

Wood v. Georgia

No. 79-6027

Argued November 4, 1980

Decided March 4, 1981

450 U.S. 261


Petitioners, former employees of an "adult" movie theater and bookstore, were convicted of distributing obscene materials in violation of a Georgia statute and received fines and jail sentences, but were placed on probation on the condition that they make monthly installment payments toward the satisfaction of the fines. When petitioners failed to make the payments, a probation revocation hearing was held. Petitioners, who had by that time left their jobs in the "adult" establishments, offered evidence of their inability to make the payments and stated that they had expected their former employer to pay the fines for them. When petitioners were unable to make up their arrearages, the Georgia trial court denied their motion to modify the probation conditions and ordered petitioners to serve the remaining portions of their jail sentences. After the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed, this Court granted a writ of certiorari to decide whether it is constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause to imprison a probationer solely because of his inability to make installment payments on fines.

Held: This is an inappropriate case in which to decide the equal protection question. Since the record suggests that petitioners may be in their present predicament because of their counsel's divided loyalties, a possible due process violation is apparent, and the case is remanded for further findings concerning such possible violation. Pp. 450 U. S. 264-274.

(a) The transcript of the revocation hearing shows that petitioners understood that their former employer would provide legal assistance if they should face legal trouble as a result of their employment, would pay any fines, and would post any necessary bonds. Petitioners have been represented since the time of their arrest by a single lawyer, who was paid by the employer and who posted bonds in this case and paid other fines when each of the petitioners was arrested a second time. If petitioners' counsel was serving the employer's interest in obtaining an equal protection ruling that offenders cannot be jailed for failure to pay fines that are beyond their means, which could only occur if petitioners received fines beyond their own means and then risked jail by failing to pay, this conflict in goals may have influenced the trial court's decisions to impose large fines and to revoke the probations, rather than modify the conditions thereof. Pp. 450 U. S. 264-268.

Page 450 U. S. 262

(b) If counsel was influenced in his basic strategic decisions by the employer's interest, petitioners' due process right to representation free from conflicts of interest was not respected at the revocation hearing, or at earlier stages of the proceedings. The possibility of a conflict of interest was sufficiently apparent at the time of the revocation hearing to impose upon the court a duty to inquire further. If, on remand, the court finds that an actual conflict of interest existed at the time of the probation revocation or earlier, and that there was no valid waiver of the right to independent counsel, it must hold a new revocation hearing untainted by a legal representative serving conflicting interests. Pp 450 U. S. 268-274.

150 Ga.App. 582, 258 S.E.2d 171, vacated and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 450 U. S. 274. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 450 U. S. 274. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 450 U. S. 275. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 450 U. S. 275.

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