January 18, 2017

Can the government define away your property?

By Ethan W. Blevins Attorney

The U.S. Supreme Court heard an oral argument recently that would be more at home in a Kafka novel than a real court transcript. In Nelson v. Colorado, the Court is considering whether Colorado can force an exonerated individual to prove her own innocence to retrieve the fines and fees she had to pay because of her conviction.

Bizarrely, the court and the advocates spent most of the time arguing over whether these exonerated people had any interest in the money that they shelled out because of their convictions. The solicitor general argued that the money that the state takes from criminal convicts becomes the state’s forever, even if their conviction is later overturned. He basically argued that the state could deem property to no longer be yours with a wave of the wand. At the climax of this surreal argument, Justice Breyer asked whether the state could just decide to keep a $15 million criminal fine even after the defendant was exonerated. The solicitor general said yes. Thankfully, the Court didn’t seem to bite on that point.

To read more about the deeper legal issues at play in this important case, check out my op-ed just published by the San Francisco Daily Journal and the amicus brief we filed with the Court.

What to read next