“Innocent until proven guilty” has been a long-time tradition within the United States—as well as the United Nations. However, it seems Americans’ rights within the US Constitution are facing danger as of late—specifically in Colorado. Thank God the US Supreme Court came to the rescue.
Until April, the Golden State enforced a law entailing criminal defendants having to show proof of their being innocent—after their charges are dropped. However, the top court declared, “Absent those convictions, Colorado would have no legal right to exact and retain petitioners’ funds.” Due process prevails, and furthermore, Nelson v. Colorado’s federal ruling might just be foreshadowing a kibosh on state laws across the US.
Upon defendants Shannon Nelson and Louis Madden were slapped with sexual-offense charges, Colorado’s government mandated they shell out thousands in legal costs, fees and indemnity (over $12,000 for both). After Nelson and Madden went through the entire, legal rigmarole (including jail time), the Colorado Court of Appeals deemed they were entitled to a refund of all monies lost. However the Colorado Supreme Court quashed that ruling. The state’s top court ruled that Nelson and Madden could reclaim their money only through the Exoneration Act, which requires filing a civil claim and proving “that the person was actually innocent of the crime for which he or she was convicted.”
If that determination sustained, they may as well dismiss the entire history Western, legal philosophies and policies. Fortunately, the Institute for Justice crafted an amicus brief stating, “…the presumption of innocence has deep historical roots” stemming not just from American jurisprudence but also English and Roman legal culture. Ultimately, Colorado’s assessment’s a threat to the national justice “where individuals can be subjected to arbitrary and irrational deprivations of their liberty and property.”
Again, the US Supreme Court had a seven-to-one determination of Colorado acting against Constitutional rights. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg solidified “the Exoneration Act’s scheme does not comport with the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process.” The defendants in question are “entitled to be presumed innocent” and “should not be saddled with any proof burden” to demand their legal property. (BAM!)
Ginsburg strongly declined Colorado’s stance that “[t]he presumption of innocence applies only at criminal trials” rather than civil claims—re: the Exoneration Act: “Colorado may not presume a person, adjudged guilty of no crime, nonetheless guilty enough for monetary exactions.”
With the Nelson case as ammo, the federal government’s cracking down on a local-government evil lurking in the system—civil forfeiture.
But not every state is suffering from such injustice. Already, 12 states mandate proven, criminal evidence correlating to forfeiture cases—Utah doesn’t allow it at all in terms of acquittals. New Hampshire and Ohio are on the anti-civil-forfeiture effort as well—the government must have irrefutable proof prior to taking property away from innocent folks.
Politicians including Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) are already fighting federal-forfeiture laws, ensuring the innocent-until-proven-guilty tradition sustains and ultimately protects people’s property—if they’re found not guilty of a standing crime. Additionally, Justice Clarence Thomas has been a trailblazer in efforts against asset forfeiture—he feels it entails “egregious and well-chronicled abuses.”
Once more judges can follow in the US Supreme Court’s footsteps in cases similar to Nelson’s, civil forfeiture will simply be a hiccup in time. Even better, Justice Don Willett once said, “Our Constitution was written precisely to prevent carte blanche assertions of governmental power, to prevent police power from devolving into police state.”