James v. Strange (1972)

Court affirmed District Court’s invalidation of state civil law to recoup legal defense fees for indigent criminal defendants. Law is impermissible burden upon the right to counsel established in Gideon v. Wainwright.

Citation: 407 U.S. 128 (1972)
Date decided: Jun 12, 1972
Longer case name: James, Judicial Administrator, et al. v. Strange
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: Kansas
Topic(s):Debt collection, Equal protection, and Right to counsel: Civil
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:John E. Wilkinson for appellee.
Others involved:Marshall J. Hartman filed a brief for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association as amicus curiae.
More info:

Case Importance

Although this is a civil case, it is important for indigent criminal defendants because it says that the state cannot recoup criminal defense fees from criminal defendants.

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)



Kansas recoupment statute enabling State to recover in subsequent civil proceedings legal defense fees for indigent defendants, invalidated by District Court as an infringement on the right to counsel, held to violate the Equal Protection Clause in that, by virtue of the statute, indigent defendants are deprived of the array of protective exemptions Kansas has erected for other civil judgment debtors. Pp. 407 U. S. 129-142.

323 F. Supp. 1230, affirmed.

From the opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents a constitutional challenge to a Kansas recoupment statute, whereby the State may recover in subsequent civil proceedings counsel and other legal defense fees expended for the benefit of indigent defendants. The three-judge court below held the statute unconstitutional, finding it to be an impermissible burden upon the right to counsel established in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U. S. 335 (1963). [Footnote 1] The State appealed, and we noted jurisdiction, 404 U.S. 982.

The relevant facts are not disputed. Appellee Strange was arrested and charged with first-degree robbery under Kansas law. He appeared before a magistrate, professed indigency, and accepted appointed counsel under the Kansas Aid to Indigent Defendants Act. [Footnote 2] Appellee was then tried in the Shawnee County District Court on the reduced charge of pocket-picking. He pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence and three years’ probation.

Thereafter, appellee’s counsel applied to the State for payment for his services and received $500 from the Aid to Indigent Defendants Fund. Pursuant to Kansas’ recoupment statute, the Kansas Judicial Administrator requested appellee to reimburse the State within 60 days or a judgment for the $500 would be docketed against him. Appellee contends this procedure violates his constitutional rights.

Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:50
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
Case internal status notes: Cannot find importance online.