Late last week, I blogged about a Supreme Court case that revolves around this question:

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.

The New York Times has an update:

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.

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.

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.

As I said in my previous post, there’s a real legal argument here. It would be kind of weird for someone to be entitled for their fines and fees back, but not to be entitled for some kind of compensation for the time they spent in prison after being wrongfully convicted. (Read the whole NYT piece for more on the back-and-forth between Colorado’s lawyer and the Supreme Court justices.)

But as I also said, how does this make it all the way to the Supreme Court? When someone’s conviction is overturned and they ask for their money back, how does a state do anything other than just give it to them?

Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative