JONES V. HELMS, 452 U. S. 412 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Jones v. Helms, 452 U.S. 412 (1981)

Jones v. Helms

No. 80 850

Argued April 28, 1981

Decided June 15, 1981

452 U.S. 412


Under a Georgia statute, a parent who willfully and voluntarily abandons his or her dependent child is guilty of a misdemeanor, and those parents who commit that offense within Georgia and thereafter leave the State are guilty of a felony. Appellee pleaded guilty in a Georgia state court to the felony of abandoning his child and leaving the State, thereby formally admitting that he had willfully and voluntarily abandoned his child, leaving her in a dependent condition, before he left the State. Appellee received a prison sentence and, after exhausting state remedies, filed a petition for habeas corpus in Federal District Court. He claimed that the Georgia statute, by providing for enhanced punishment for parents who left Georgia after abandoning their children, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Art. IV, § 2, of the Constitution. The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed.


1. The Georgia statute does not impermissibly infringe upon the constitutionally protected right to travel. Appellee's guilty plea was an acknowledgment that he had committed a misdemeanor before he initially left Georgia, and his criminal conduct within Georgia necessarily qualified his right thereafter freely to travel interstate. Although a simple penalty for leaving a State is impermissible, if departure aggravates the consequences of conduct that is otherwise punishable, the State may treat the entire sequence of events, from the initial offense to departure from the State, as more serious than its separate components. Appellee has provided no basis for questioning the validity of the legislative judgment that the legitimate purpose of causing parents to support their children is served by making abandonment within the State followed by departure a more serious offense than mere abandonment within the State. Pp. 452 U. S. 417-423.

2. Nor does the Georgia statute violate the Equal Protection Clause. The portion of the statute at issue applies equally to all parents residing in Georgia, and appellee has not shown that it has been arbitrarily or discriminatorily applied. It is not necessary to consider whether the State has available less restrictive means to serve the legitimate purposes

Page 452 U. S. 413

furthered by the felony provision of the statute. The statute does not infringe upon appellee's fundamental rights, and, in this context, the State need not employ the least restrictive, or even the most effective or wisest, means to achieve its legitimate ends. Similarly, it need not be determined whether the statute is unnecessarily broad on the ground that it does not require that the act of leaving the State -- as well as the act of abandonment -- be motivated by a wrongful intent. This is a matter relating to the wisdom of the legislation, and it raises no question with respect to the uniform and impartial character of the State's law. Pp. 452 U. S. 423-426.

621 F.2d 211, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 452 U. S. 426. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 452 U. S. 427.

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