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Under Colorado law, a restitution order tied to a criminal conviction is rendered as a separate civil judgment. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-603(4)(a) (2005). If the conviction is reversed, any restitution order dependent on that conviction is simultaneously vacated.
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 ordered petitioner Nelson 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 ordered petitioner Madden 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 post conviction review, the State elected not to appeal or retry the case. Once their convictions were invalidated, both petitioners moved for return of the funds. Nelson’s trial court denied her motion outright, and Madden’s post conviction 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, holding 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 permitted Colorado to retain conviction-related assessments unless and until the prevailing defendant instituted a discrete civil proceeding and proved her innocence by clear and convincing evidence.
Could the State of Colorado retain conviction-related assessments, notwithstanding the fact that the conviction of a defendant was overturned?
The Court held that the State of Colorado violated petitioners’ due process rights by retaining funds paid by petitioners as fees, court costs, and restitution after the petitioners' convictions were invalidated with no possibility of retrial, since the presumption of the petitioners' innocence was restored and the statutory remedy of applying for refunds of funds to which the state had no claim of right upon proof of petitioners' innocence did not comport with due process. According to the Court, the State of Colorado may not presume a person, adjudged guilty of no crime, nonetheless guilty enough for monetary exactions.