MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issue in these habeas corpus cases concerns the validity, under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, of the requirement of Iowa law that necessitates the payment of statutory filing fees
In No. 174, Neal Merle Smith v. John E. Bennett, Warden, the petitioner was convicted and sentenced to serve 10 years in the state penitentiary for the offense of breaking and entering. In due course he was released on parole. After a short period, however, this was revoked for violation of its conditions. Petitioner was arrested and was thereafter returned to the penitentiary for completion of his sentence. He then forwarded to the Clerk of the District Court of Lee County, Iowa, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with accompanying motion to proceed in forma pauperis and an affidavit of poverty. In the petition he raised constitutional questions as to the validity of the warrant of arrest under which he was taken into custody and returned to the penitentiary. The Clerk refused to docket the petition without payment of the $4 filing fee. Petitioner then filed a motion in the Iowa Supreme Court for leave to appeal in forma pauperis, together with a pauper's oath, which the court denied without opinion. On appeal to this Court, we dismissed the appeal but treated the papers as a petition for certiorari, which was granted, limited to the above question, 363 U.S. 834.
In No. 177, Richard W. Marshall v. John E. Bennett, Warden, the petitioner, who was represented by counsel, pleaded guilty to an information charging the offense of breaking and entering and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment at the Iowa State Penitentiary. A year later he forwarded to the Clerk of the District Court of
In Burns v. Ohio, supra, we decided that a State could not "constitutionally require . . . an indigent defendant in a criminal case [to] pay a filing fee before permitting him to file a motion for leave to appeal in one of its courts." At p. 253. That decision was predicated upon our earlier holding in Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12 (1956), that an indigent criminal defendant was entitled to a transcript of the record of his trial, or an adequate substitute therefor, where needed to effectively prosecute an appeal from his conviction. The gist of these cases is that because "[t]here is no rational basis for assuming that indigents' motions for leave to appeal will be less meritorious than those of other defendants," Burns v. Ohio, supra, at 257-258, "[t]here can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has," Griffin v. Illinois, supra, at 19, and consequently that "[t]he imposition by the State of financial barriers restricting the availability of appellate
The State insists that it may do so for three reasons. First, habeas corpus is a civil action brought by a prisoner to obtain his personal liberty, a civil right, and if it must be made available to indigents free of fees in protection of that right then it must be made available in like manner to all indigents in the protection of every civil right. Second, habeas corpus is a statutory right, Iowa Code § 663.5, and the legislature may constitutionally extend or limit its application. Finally, a habeas corpus action may be brought in the United States District Court because Iowa's fee requirement fulfills the demand of 28 U. S. C. § 2254, that "the existence of circumstances rendering such [state corrective] process ineffective to protect the rights of the prisoner" be present.
To require the State to docket applications for the post-conviction remedy of habeas corpus by indigent prisoners without the fee payment does not necessarily mean that all habeas corpus or other actions involving civil rights must be on the same footing. Only those involving indigent convicted prisoners are involved here and we pass only upon them.
The Attorney General of Iowa also argues that indigent prisoners in the State's custody may seek "vindication of federal rights alleged to have been denied by the state" in the federal courts. But even though this be true—an additional point not involved or passed upon here—it would ill-behoove this great State, whose devotion to the equality of rights is indelibly stamped upon its history, to say to its indigent prisoners seeking to redress what they believe to be the State's wrongs: "Go to the federal court." Moreover, the state remedy may offer review of questions not involving federal rights and therefore not raisable in federal habeas corpus.
Because Iowa has established such a procedure, we need consider neither the issue raised by petitioners that the State is constitutionally required to offer some type of post-conviction remedy for the vindication of federal rights, nor the State's converse claim that the remedy is a matter of legislative grace. However, the operation of the statutes under attack has, perhaps inadvertently,
Throughout the centuries the Great Writ has been the shield of personal freedom insuring liberty to persons illegally detained. Respecting the State's grant of a right to test their detention, the Fourteenth Amendment weighs the interests of rich and poor criminals in equal scale, and its hand extends as far to each. In failing to extend the privilege of the Great Writ to its indigent prisoners, Iowa denies them equal protection of the laws. The judgments of the Supreme Court of Iowa are vacated and each cause is remanded to that court for further action consistent with this opinion.
Vacated and remanded.