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Nelson v. Colorado, USSC No. 15-1256, cert. granted 9/29/16

Question presented:

Colorado, like many states, imposes various monetary penalties when a person is convicted of a crime. But Colorado appears to be the only state that does not refund these penalties when a conviction is reversed. Rather, Colorado requires defendants to prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence to get their money back.

The Question Presented is whether this requirement is consistent with due process.

Lower Court opinion: People v. Nelson, 362 P.3d 1070 (Colo. 2015); USSC docket; Scotusblog page

Given the whole “Colorado is the only state that does this” thing, it’s not immediately apparent what effect this case might have on Wisconsin practice. Perhaps the Court’s resolution or reasoning will have some impact on Wisconsin’s statute governing compensation for exonerated prisoners, Wis. Stat. § 775.05. Or perhaps not.

A question for our readers: On Point’s research has not uncovered statutory or case law authority for refunding fines after reversal of a conviction. One certainly hopes that is the practice, but anyone who knows of any law on the subject is invited to respond in the comments.

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Peter R Heyne October 1, 2016, 12:37 pm

    Cf. the famous case in which the undaunted Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sherman Booth (who did not throw away his shot to be a revolutionary manumission abolitionist), holding the odious Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to be unconstitutional.

    Justice Smith cited, approvingly, a much delayed refund of a federal fine after a presidential pardon, but illustrative all the same:

    “In the matter of the petition of SHERMAN M. BOOTH for a writ of habeas corpus, and to be discharged from imprisonment; and in the matter of the petition of JOHN RYCRAFT.” 3 Wis. 157, 201, note a1 (1854).

    “One of the parties, named Matthew Lyon, was convicted under the sedition act [the infamous law], and sentenced to pay a fine. The fine was collected. The pardon of the president [Thomas Jefferson] released him from imprisonment, but did not refund the fine paid or collected; but thirty years afterwards, congress restored to the heirs of Lyon the amount of the fine and interest.”

    So if an executive pardon of someone who was guilty of a crime (even if the statute was in reality unconstitutional and later repealed by the legislature) can trigger a refund, why not also a refund after a judicial reversal, where there no longer is a conviction in the first place?

    To adapt an old maxim, “Nulla poena sine culpa.” Or to coin a new one, “Nulla poena nisi prius convicta.”

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