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Justices: Colorado policy on court fees unconstitutional

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The Supreme Court of the United States ruled Wednesday that Colorado's practice of not automatically refunding court fees and other costs to people convicted of crimes but later exonerated violates the Constitution.

The 7-1 decision sided with two people whose convictions for sexual offenses were later thrown out. One paid about $700 in court fees, including victim restitution, while the other paid more than $4,400 in similar costs.

Colorado law had required people cleared of wrongdoing to recover their costs in a separate civil lawsuit. But they could not get a refund unless they proved their innocence by clear and convincing evidence.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said those hurdles violated the due process rights of criminal defendants.

"The state may not retain their money simply because their convictions were in place when the funds were taken, for once those convictions were erased, the presumption of Nelson's and Madden's innocence was restored," Ginsburg said.

Colorado appeared to be the only state that didn't automatically refund such fees.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote separately to say that that the majority went too far in saying that an award of victim restitution should always be returned when a defendant's conviction is reversed.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, saying the defendants did not have a constitutional right to recover costs and fees they paid to the state.

Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the U.S. Supreme Court case, which was argued before he took his seat on the court.

Spurred by the Supreme Court case, Colorado's Legislature passed a bill giving those exonerated a refund of court costs and other fees without having to prove their innocence again. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law in March, and it goes into effect Sept. 1.

The measure was supported by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who defended the state before the Supreme Court.

"With the clarity we received from the Supreme Court today, I hope Colorado's new law can be an example for other states. We now have the most complete statute on this subject anywhere in the country," Coffman said.

Hickenlooper signed a second measure into law in April that allows people found innocent of felony crimes after serving time in jail or prison to receive a lump sum compensation payment in lieu of annual payments. Those exonerated are eligible to receive $70,000 per year incarcerated and $25,000 per year spent on parole.

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  1. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

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  5. From the article's fourth paragraph: "Her work underscores the blurry lines in Russia between the government and businesses . . ." Obviously, the author of this piece doesn't pay much attention to the "blurry lines" between government and businesses that exist in the United States. And I'm not talking only about Trump's alleged conflicts of interest. When lobbyists for major industries (pharmaceutical, petroleum, insurance, etc) have greater access to this country's elected representatives than do everyday individuals (i.e., voters), then I would say that the lines between government and business in the United States are just as blurry, if not more so, than in Russia.

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