Colorado Case Involving Wrongful Convictions and Whether Court Fees Should Be Reimbursed to be Heard by U.S. Supreme Court

What happens when a defendant is found guilty of a crime, and later exonerated of the charges? It depends, and may not end in the same results in all states. Recently, a man and woman in Colorado were exonerated (basically found innocent) of sex-related charges, however what would happen in regards to reimbursement of court costs would raise questions and result in appeals that will ultimately be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to news reports, in 2005 Louis Alonzo Madden was found guilty of attempting to patronize a prostituted child and attempted sexual assault. In 2006, Shannon Nelson was determined guilty on five counts of sexual assault against children. Madden’s court fees and costs included those for a sex offender surcharge, genetic testing, and other costs that came to a grand total of more than $4,400. For Nelson, the total court fines, fees, and restitution totaled nearly $8,200.

Nelson’s conviction was reversed when a member of the Colorado Supreme Court, Justice William W. Hood III, found that Nelson was presumed innocent because she was never “validly” convicted of the charges she faced. Upon release from prison, should it have been required she was also released from court costs and restitution?

Nelson and Madden both appealed and under the basis of due process according to the Fourteenth Amendment requested they be reimbursed for payments; their motions were denied. While the appeals court confirmed that both were entitled to a full refund under state law, the Colorado Supreme Court disagreed and overturned the appeals court’s ruling. The state Supreme Court found that a refund of restitution, court fees, or other costs is not required when the defendant is acquitted and a conviction reversed.

In the state of Colorado, a defendant who is wrongfully convicted and later acquitted of criminal charges currently are only reimbursed if he/she proves innocence after filing a civil lawsuit. According to attorney Robert Fishman, who supported Nelson and Madden’s appeal and wrote an amicus brief, proving a defendant’s innocence is an “extraordinarily high” burden. He went on to say that in many cases the costs associated with hiring a lawyer and proving innocence would ultimately result in costs that are greater than the court fees and costs the client is attempting to recover, making it impractical.

According to a September 29th article at CBS in Denver, the U.S. Supreme Court will make a decision regarding whether those who are found guilty but later exonerated will get a refund of court and other costs. In this case, both Nelson and Madden had their sexual assault convictions overturned on appeal, however a trial court declined to reimburse money that in total for both amounted to approximately $13,500. The two maintain that the state’s Supreme Court ruling that innocence must be proven by convincing evidence violates their due process rights.

When individuals are convicted of a sex or other crime and found by an appellate court to have been wrongfully convicted, should court costs, restitution, and other costs be reimbursed? What’s your opinion?

The fact is, many individuals are wrongfully convicted of all types of crimes including not only those that are sex-related but theft, property crimes, even violent crimes such as armed robbery or even murder. When an innocent person is adjudicated guilty by a judge or jury, should he or she pay the price monetarily even when a conviction is thrown out on appeal? While it is nothing compared to years or even life in prison, it is still a form of punishment. Why punish someone who did not commit the crime?

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