Law School Case Brief
Bearden v. Georgia - 461 U.S. 660, 103 S. Ct. 2064 (1983)
In revocation proceedings for failure to pay a fine or restitution, a sentencing court must inquire into the reasons for the failure to pay. If the probationer willfully refused to pay or failed to make sufficient bona fide efforts legally to acquire the resources to pay, the court may revoke probation and sentence the defendant to imprisonment within the authorized range of its sentencing authority. If the probationer could not pay despite sufficient bona fide efforts to acquire the resources to do so, the court must consider alternative measures of punishment other than imprisonment.
Petitioner Danny Ray Bearden pleaded guilty in Georgia state court to burglary and theft by receiving stolen property. The trail court, pursuant to the Georgia First Offender's Act, did not enter a judgment of guilt, but rather sentenced Bearden 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. Bearden 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 Bearden's probation because he had not paid the balance, and the trial court, after a hearing, revoked probation, entered a conviction, and sentenced Bearden to prison. The record of the hearing disclosed that Bearden had been unable to find employment and had no assets or income. The Court of Appeals of Georgia rejected Bearden's claim that imprisoning him for inability to pay the fine and make restitution violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court of Georgia denied review. Bearden was granted a writ of certiorari.
Did the trial court err in revoking Bearden's probation?
The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals of Georgia and remanded for a new sentencing determination. The Court held that the trial court erred in revoking the Bearden's without determining whether he had made bona fide efforts to pay and/or whether alternative forms of punishment existed. The Court found that if Bearden willfully refused to pay or failed to make sufficient bona fide efforts legally to acquire the resources to pay, the trial court could revoke probation and sentence him appropriately. If Bearden could not pay despite sufficient efforts to do so, the trial court should have considered measures other than imprisonment. If he had made bona fide efforts, the trial court could only imprison Bearden if alternative measures were not adequate to meet the state's interests in punishment and deterrence.
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