Nelson v. Colorado, ___U.S.___, No. 15–1256 (April 1, 2017)
In two cases from Colorado, petitioners/defendants who had their convictions overturned and did not face retrial, the state refused to return monies extracted from the petitioners’ inmate accounts for fees and costs, and in one case, restitution. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling ordering return of the funds, saying there was no statutory authority to do so. (Colorado did have statutes authorizing return of funds to some inmates whose convictions were overturned on proof of actual innocence, but it did not apply to these cases.) Six members of the Supreme Court found authority to do so in the Due Process Clause. Justice Ginsberg wrote, “Colorado has no interest in withholding from Nelson and Madden money to which the State currently has zero claim of right.” The case was remanded for further proceedings. Justice Alito reached the same result by a different route, arguing with what he saw as reasoning that every conviction that is overturned is equivalent to a finding of innocence. Still, he agreed that under the circumstances of this case and the manner which Colorado restricted the return of funds to inmates whose convictions were overturned, the petitioners were entitled to their money back.