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Not Guilty, Pay Anyway: An Update

Late last week, I blogged [1] 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 [2]:

The Supreme Court [3] on Monday seemed deeply skeptical [4] 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 ConservativeFollow @RAVerBruggen [5]

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "Not Guilty, Pay Anyway: An Update"

#1 Comment By Liam On January 9, 2017 @ 4:55 pm

When the state shifts part of revenue collection to these kinds of penalties that tend to fall hardest that have the least resources to resist the state. The result is viewed as a feature, not a bug. There’s a long history that many would prefer not to see at work here.

#2 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 9, 2017 @ 5:15 pm

Imagine if you can’t pay the fine, but were innocent. Then you got to jail for the crime of not paying the fine.

But hey, offshoring’s creative destruction, creating seemingly new revenue opportunities that most resemble the worst excesses of the past. Debtor prisons reincarnate as imprisonment for profit.

#3 Comment By Rugeirn Drienborough On January 9, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

There are dozens of ways in which the American criminal justice system is fundamentally and systematically corrupt. This is one of them. That’s how this case arises and that’s why it reached the Supreme Court.

#4 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On January 9, 2017 @ 7:32 pm

Time is money, but money is not time.

#5 Comment By connecticut farmer On January 10, 2017 @ 8:34 am

A check of Colorado’s bank account may provide a clue. If it’s low or filled with IOU’s then we are dealing with a state which is revenue-starved and desperate for moolah.

#6 Comment By Stacy On January 11, 2017 @ 5:40 pm

One could argue if they do admit to monetary redress for fines they may become liable for redress for time served as well.

#7 Comment By Mia On January 12, 2017 @ 10:46 am

I’d like you to also address the issue of what the Old Testament says about false imprisonment, lying in court, and related topics. The reason I bring this up is because there’s often this ho-hum attitude toward this sort of expose. Oh, sure it’s a shame these terrible things were done to innocent people, had their lives destroyed and all, can barely keep it together because they were also robbed blind as well, but it’s no big deal. There are some pretty incendiary passages in the Old Testament that directly address this. I’ll let you look them up, but it was a major reason for God’s judgment on a country. I find it rather amazing for the US, which touts itself as one of the most Christian nations, that no one ever really noticed that particular issue’s theological implications.