A state may not, consistent with the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of U.S. Const. amend. XIV, condition appeals from trial court decrees terminating parental rights on the affected parent's ability to pay record preparation fees. Just as a state may not block an indigent petty offender's access to an appeal afforded others, so may it not deny a parent, because of her poverty, appellate review of the sufficiency of the evidence on which the trial court found her unfit to remain a parent.
After petitioner's parental rights to her minor children were terminated, she sought to appeal. However, since she lacked funds to pay for record preparation required by Miss. Code Ann. §§ 11-51-3 and 11-51-29 as a predicate to appeal, her appeal was dismissed.
Can a State condition an appeal for an indigent’s loss of child custody due to the latter’s inability to pay record preparation fees?
The court held that: (a) an indigent's right to a transcript at state expense for purposes of appeal, while absolute in criminal cases, applied rarely in civil cases; (b) the right did apply in civil cases, pursuant to the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of U.S. Const. amend. XIV, when the interest involved is sufficiently strong; and (c) parents' interest in their relationship with their children was sufficiently strong as to require provision of a free transcript for indigents.