In forma pauperis

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In forma pauperis (/ɪn ˈfɔːrmə ˈpɔːpərs/; IFP or i.f.p.) is a Latin legal term meaning "in the character or manner of a pauper".[1]

United States[edit]

In the United States, the IFP designation is given by both state and federal courts to someone who is without the funds to pursue the normal costs of a lawsuit or a criminal defense.[1] The status is usually granted by a judge without a hearing, and it entitles the person to a waiver of normal costs, and sometimes in criminal cases the appointment of counsel. While court-imposed costs such as filing fees are waived, the litigant is still responsible for other costs incurred in bringing the action such as deposition[citation needed] and witness fees. However, in federal court, a pauper can obtain free service of process through the United States Marshal's Service.[2]

Approximately two-thirds of writ of certiorari petitions to the Supreme Court are filed in forma pauperis.[3][4] Most of those petitioners are prisoners.[3] Statistically, petitions that appear on the Supreme Court's in forma pauperis docket are substantially less likely to be granted review than others on the docket.[5]

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), is a landmark case in United States Supreme Court history where in forma pauperis was invoked.[6] In forma pauperis is usually granted in connection to pro se petitioners, but the two concepts are separate and distinct.


  1. ^ a b Henry Campbell Black. (1979). Black's Law Dictionary (5th ed.). West Publishing. p. 701. ISBN 0-8299-2041-2. 
  2. ^ Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 4(c)(3)
  3. ^ a b Wrightsman, Lawrence S. (2006). The Psychology of the Supreme Court. USA: Oxford University Press. p. 60. ISBN 0-19-530604-X. 
  4. ^ Stephens, Otis H.; Scheb, John M. (2002). American Constitutional Law. Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-54570-X. 
  5. ^ Thompson, David C.; Wachtell, Melanie F. (2009). "An Empirical Analysis of Supreme Court Certiorari Petition Procedures". George Mason University Law Review 16 (2): 237, 241. SSRN 1377522. 
  6. ^ Lewis, Anthony (1964). Gideon's Trumpet. U.S.: Random House. ISBN 0-679-72312-9.