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Nelson v. Colorado

United States Supreme Court

April 19, 2017

581 U.S. ___ (2017)
v.
COLORADO SHANNON NELSON, PETITIONER LOUIS A. MADDEN, PETITIONER
v.
COLORADO

          Argued January 9, 2017

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF COLORADO

          Syllabus

         Petitioner Shannon Nelson was convicted by a Colorado jury of two felonies and three misdemeanors arising from the alleged sexual and physical abuse of her four children. The trial court imposed a prison term of 20 years to life and ordered her to pay $8, 192.50 in court costs, fees, and restitution. On appeal, Nelson's conviction was reversed for trial error, and on retrial, she was acquitted of all charges.

         Petitioner Louis Alonzo Madden was convicted by a Colorado jury of attempting to patronize a prostituted child and attempted sexual assault. The trial court imposed an indeterminate prison sentence and ordered him to pay $4, 413.00 in costs, fees, and restitution. After one of Madden's convictions was reversed on direct review and the other vacated on postconviction review, the State elected not to appeal or retry the case.

         The Colorado Department of Corrections withheld $702.10 from Nelson's inmate account between her conviction and acquittal, and Madden paid the State $1, 977.75 after his conviction. In both cases, the funds were allocated to costs, fees, and restitution. Once their convictions were invalidated, both petitioners moved for return of the funds. Nelson's trial court denied her motion outright, and Madden's postconviction court allowed a refund of costs and fees, but not restitution. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that both petitioners were entitled to seek refunds of all they had paid, but the Colorado Supreme Court reversed. It reasoned that Colorado's Compensation for Certain Exonerated Persons statute (Exoneration Act or Act), Colo. Rev. Stat. §§13-65-101, 13-65-102, 13-65-103, provided the exclusive authority for refunds and that, because neither Nelson nor Madden had filed a claim under that Act, the courts lacked authority to order refunds. The Colorado Supreme Court also held that there was no due process problem under the Act, which permits Colorado to retain conviction-related assessments unless and until the prevailing defendant institutes a discrete civil proceeding and proves her innocence by clear and convincing evidence.

         Held:

         The Exoneration Act's scheme does not comport with the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of due process. Pp. 5-11.

(a) The procedural due process inspection required by Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, governs these cases. Medina v. California, 505 U.S. 437, controls when state procedural rules that are part of the criminal process are at issue. These cases, in contrast, concern the continuing deprivation of property after a conviction has been reversed or vacated, with no prospect of reprosecution. Pp. 5-6.
(b) The three considerations balanced under Mathews-the private interest affected; the risk of erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures used; and the governmental interest at stake-weigh decisively against Colorado's scheme. Pp. 6-10.
(1) Nelson and Madden have an obvious interest in regaining the money they paid to Colorado. The State may not retain these funds simply because Nelson's and Madden's convictions were in place when the funds were taken, for once those convictions were erased, the presumption of innocence was restored. See, e.g., Johnson v. Mississippi, 486 U.S. 578, 585. And Colorado may not presume a person, adjudged guilty of no crime, nonetheless guilty enough for monetary exactions. Pp. 6-8.
(2) Colorado's scheme creates an unacceptable risk of the erroneous deprivation of defendants' property. The Exoneration Act conditions refund on defendants' proof of innocence by clear and convincing evidence, but defendants in petitioners' position are presumed innocent. Moreover, the Act provides no remedy for assessments tied to invalid misdemeanor convictions. And when, as here, the recoupment amount sought is not large, the cost of mounting a claim under the Act and retaining counsel to pursue it would be prohibitive.
Colorado argues that an Act that provides sufficient process to compensate a defendant for the loss of her liberty must suffice to compensate a defendant for the lesser deprivation of money. But Nelson and Madden seek the return of their property, not compensation for its temporary deprivation. Just as restoration of liberty on reversal of a conviction is not compensation, neither is the return of money taken by the State on account of the conviction. Other procedures cited by Colorado-the need for probable cause to support criminal charges, the jury-trial right, and the State's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt-do not address the risk faced by a defendant whose conviction has been overturned that she will not recover funds taken from her based solely on a conviction no longer valid. Pp. 8-10.
(3) Colorado has no interest in withholding from Nelson and Madden money to which the State currently has zero claim of right. The State has identified no equitable considerations favoring its position, nor indicated any way in which the Exoneration Act embodies such considerations. P. 10.

362 P.3d 1070 (first judgment) and 364 P.3d 866 (second judgment), reversed and remanded.

          GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion. GORSUCH, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

          OPINION

          GINSBURG, JUSTICE

         When a criminal conviction is invalidated by a reviewing court and no retrial will occur, is the State obliged to refund fees, court costs, and restitution exacted from the defendant upon, and as a consequence of, the conviction? Our answer is yes. Absent conviction of a crime, one is presumed innocent. Under the Colorado law before us in these cases, however, the State retains conviction-related assessments unless and until the prevailing defendant institutes a discrete civil proceeding and proves her innocence by clear and convincing evidence. This scheme, we hold, offends the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of due process.

         I

         A

         Two cases are before us for review. Petitioner Shannon Nelson, in 2006, was convicted by a Colorado jury of five counts-two felonies and three misdemeanors-arising from the alleged sexual and physical abuse of her four children. 362 P.3d 1070, 1071 (Colo. 2015); App. 25-26.

          The trial court imposed a prison sentence of 20 years to life and ordered Nelson to pay court costs, fees, and restitution totaling $8, 192.50. 362 P.3d, at 1071. On appeal, Nelson's conviction was reversed for trial error. Ibid. On retrial, a new jury acquitted Nelson of all charges. Ibid.

         Petitioner Louis Alonzo Madden, in 2005, was convicted by a Colorado jury of attempting to patronize a prostituted child and attempted third-degree sexual assault by force. See 364 P.3d 866, 867 (Colo. 2015). The trial court imposed an indeterminate prison sentence and ordered Madden to pay costs, fees, and restitution totaling $4, 413.00. Ibid. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed one of Madden's convictions on direct review, and a postconviction court vacated the other. Ibid. The State elected not to appeal or retry the case. Ibid.

         Between Nelson's conviction and acquittal, the Colorado Department of Corrections withheld $702.10 from her inmate account, $287.50 of which went to costs and fees[1]and $414.60 to restitution. See 362 P.3d, at 1071, and n. 1. Following Madden's conviction, Madden paid Colorado $1, 977.75, $1, 220 of which went to costs and fees[2]and $757.75 to restitution. See 364 P.3d, at 867. The sole legal basis for these assessments was the fact of Nelson's and Madden's convictions.[3] Absent those convictions, Colorado would have no legal right to exact and retain petitioners' funds.

         Their convictions invalidated, both petitioners moved for return of the amounts Colorado had taken from them. In Nelson's case, the trial court denied the motion outright. 362 P.3d, at 1071. In Madden's case, the postconviction court allowed the refund of costs and fees, but not restitution. 364 P.3d, at 867-868.

         The same Colorado Court of Appeals panel heard both cases and concluded that Nelson and Madden were entitled to seek refunds of all they had paid, including amounts allocated to restitution. See People v. Nelson, 369 P.3d 625, 628-629 (2013); People v. Madden, 2013 WL 1760869, *1 (Apr. 25, 2013). Costs, fees, and restitution, the court held, must be "tied to a valid conviction, " 369 P.3d, at 627-628, absent which a court must "retur[n] the defendant to the status quo ante, " 2013 WL 1760869, at*2.

         The Colorado Supreme Court reversed in both cases. A court must have statutory authority to issue a refund, that court stated. 362 P.3d, at 1077; 364 P.3d, at 868. Colorado's Compensation for Certain Exonerated Persons statute (Exoneration Act or Act), Colo. Rev. Stat. §§13-65-101, 13-65-102, 13-65-103 (2016), passed in 2013, "provides the proper procedure for seeking a refund, " the court ruled. 362 P.3d, at 1075, 1077. As no other statute addresses refunds, the court concluded that the Exoneration Act is the "exclusive process for exonerated defendants seeking a refund of costs, fees, and restitution." Id., at 1078.[4] Because neither Nelson nor Madden had filed a claim under the Act, the court further determined, their trial courts lacked authority to order a refund. Id., at 1075, 1078; 364 P.3d, at 867.[5] There was no due process problem, the court continued, because the Act "provides sufficient process for defendants to seek refunds of costs, fees, and restitution that they paid in connection with their conviction." 362 P.3d, at 1078.

         Justice Hood dissented in both cases. Because neither petitioner has been validly convicted, he explained, each must be presumed innocent. Id., at 1079 (Nelson); 364 P.3d, at 870 (adopting his reasoning from Nelson in Madden). Due process therefore requires some mechanism "for the return of a defendant's money, " Justice Hood maintained, 362 P.3d, at 1080; as the Exoneration Act required petitioners to prove their innocence, the Act, he concluded, did not supply the remedy due process demands, id., at 1081. We granted certiorari. 579 U.S. __(2016).

         B

         The Exoneration Act provides a civil claim for relief "to compensate an innocent person who was wrongly convicted." 362 P.3d, at 1075. Recovery under the Act is available only to a defendant who has served all or part of a term of incarceration pursuant to a felony conviction, and whose conviction has been overturned for reasons other than insufficiency of evidence or legal error unrelated to actual innocence. See §13-65-102. To succeed on an Exoneration Act claim, a petitioner must show, by clear and convincing evidence, her actual innocence of the offense of conviction. §§13-65-101(1), 13-65-102(1). A successful petitioner may recoup, in addition to compensation for time served, [6] "any fine, penalty, court costs, or restitution . . . paid ... as a result of his or her wrongful conviction." Id., at 1075 (quoting § 13-65-103(2)(e)(V)).

         Under Colorado's legislation, as just recounted, a defendant must prove her innocence by clear and convincing evidence to obtain the refund of costs, fees, and restitution paid pursuant to an invalid conviction. That scheme, we hold, does not comport with due process. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Colorado.

         II

         The familiar procedural due process inspection instructed by Mathews v. Eldridge,424 U.S. 319 (1976), governs these cases. Colorado argues that we should instead apply the standard from Medina v. California,505 U.S. 437, 445 (1992), and inquire whether Nelson and Madden were exposed to a procedure offensive to a fundamental principle of justice. Medina "provide[s] the appropriate framework for assessing the validity of state procedural rules" that "are part of the criminal process." Id., at 443. Such rules concern, for example, the allocation of burdens of proof and the type of evidence qualifying as admissible.[7]These cases, in contrast, concern the continuing deprivation of property after a conviction has been reversed or vacated, with no prospect of reprosecution. See Kaley v. United States, 571 U.S.__, __, n. 4 (2014) (ROBERTS, C. J., dissenting) (slip op., at ...


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