Supreme Court: Exonerated Defendants Deserve a Refund

The Supreme Court ruled 7-1 in the case of Nelson v. Colorado that individuals who have had wrongful convictions overturned are entitled to a refund of fees, court costs and restitution from the state.

As reported on Governing:

“They are entitled to be presumed innocent” once their convictions are thrown out, said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the state “has zero claim” to their money.

The 7-1 decision orders the state of Colorado to refund several thousand dollars to two defendants, a woman and a man, who were convicted of sex crimes but had their convictions reversed. Shannon Nelson, who was charged with abusing her children, was acquitted in a retrial, and the prostitution-related charges against Louis Madden were dropped.

In both instances, the state insisted on keeping the restitution they had paid.

Colorado had adopted an Exoneration Act that allowed “an innocent person who was wrongly convicted” to file a civil suit to seek refunds, but only if they could prove they were innocent of the crime. Most states allowed exonerated people to file a motion with a trial judge seeking a refund.

Ginsburg said Colorado’s scheme violates the 14th Amendment’s protection for due process of law because it presumes the exonerated defendants are still guilty.

For more information:

Wrongfully Convicted Entitled to Refunds, Rules Supreme Court (Governing)

Supreme Court Voids Colorado’s ‘Presumption of Guilt’ (Washington Post)

Opinion Analysis: States Can’t Keep Money They Collect Pursuant to Subsequently Overturned Convictions (SCOTUS Blog)