Should Defendant Be Required to Prove Actual Innocence After Reversing a Conviction?

The oral argument transcript is now available on Nelson v. Colorado. the audio should be available later this week. This case challenges the constitutionality of Colorado’s Exoneration Act on procedural due process grounds. The two petitioners in the case were each convicted of crimes. While incarcerated, the State of Colorado took fine money from their prison accounts. One was retried and acquitted. Another will not be tried again. After their convictions were reversed, each filed motions on the criminal case demanding that their money be returned to them.

The State of Colorado said that the money could not be returned because the defendant failed to file a civil claim for the return of money under the Exoneration Act. Under that act, the defendants would have been required to file suit and prove actual innocence in order to have their fine money refunded to them. For each, the amount of money paid was so small that it would have been eaten up by attorney’s fees.

Petitioners argued that the Act was a violation of procedural due process because the hurdles to a refund were ridiculously onerous. The State of Colorado argues that the Act comports with Due Process because there is a judicial process for the refund of money.

One should never read too much in to oral argument, but it appears that the petitioners fared well. Adam Liptak has more here. Oyez has more here. And the SCOTUS Blog’s coverage is here. 

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