The Supreme Court on Monday seemed deeply skeptical of a Colorado law that makes it hard for criminal defendants whose convictions are overturned to get refunds of the fines and restitution they had been ordered to pay.This may be stating the obvious, but when the state subverts the administration of justice such that it becomes little more than a protection racket, you have a Mafia state.
The justices were helped by the forthright presentation of the state’s solicitor general, Frederick R. Yarger, who did not shy away from the more extreme implications of his argument. Money taken from defendants after valid convictions belongs to the state, he said.
A Colorado law requires people cleared by the courts to file separate civil suits and prove their innocence with clear and convincing evidence in order to obtain reimbursement. But Mr. Yarger said the state was under no obligation to do even that much. He said the state was not only free to impose onerous procedures, but could also enact a law making exonerated defendants forfeit the money entirely.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked if the state could impose a $10,000 fine on everyone convicted of a crime and refuse to return the money if the convictions were later overturned.
Mr. Yarger said yes. Just as there is no need to pay people for the time they spend in prison after their convictions are reversed, he said, there is no need to reimburse them for fines and fees. “The assumption is that the deprivation of both the liberty and the property at the time of conviction is lawful, and that the property passes into public funds,” he said.
The Colorado law was challenged by Shannon Nelson and Louis Madden, who had been ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fees and restitution after they were convicted of sex offenses. After their convictions were overturned, they filed motions in their criminal cases seeking refunds of what they had paid.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled against them, saying that their trial courts lacked authority to compensate them. Under the state’s law, the State Supreme Court said, they had to file a new civil suit and meet a heightened burden of proof.
Stuart Banner, a lawyer for Ms. Nelson and Mr. Madden, said the state’s approach amounted to “charging people money for the privilege of trying them unlawfully.”
18 January 2017
In Supreme Court arguments, the state of Colorado is arguing that it has no obligation to refund fines collector after a defendant is exonerated: