DUE PROCESS AND COLORADO’S PRESUMPTION OF GUILT

April 19, 2017, was a good day for individual due process rights thanks to the 7-1 decision handed down by the  United States Supreme Court in the case of Nelson v. Colorado.  In this case, a Colorado jury found Shannon Nelson guilty on two felony and three misdemeanor charges. As a result , the trial court ordered Nelson to pay $8,192.50 in court costs, fees and restitution.  Nelson then appealed and the convictions were later overturned.  At the conclusion of a second trial, Nelson was acquitted on all charges. Most people would probably assume that after the acquittal, the State of Colorado quickly refunded Nelson’s money.  However, that was not the case.  Instead, Colorado said that in order for Nelson to get his money back — he had to file a civil suit and prove by clear and convincing evidence that he was actually innocent. This requirement pretty much annihilated the presumption of innocence while creating a difficult and expensive process for recovering  forfeited money. Fortunately for Nelson, we still have due process rights under the 14th amendment.  In analyzing this situation, the Supreme Court concluded that the presumption of innocence was restored when the conviction was erased. Therefore, it was violation of due process for Colorado to impose an obligation on Nelson to prove his innocence. More specifically, the presumption of innocence means that a person who can’t prove his or her “actual innocence” isn’t any less innocent than one who can. Accordingly, the Due Process Clause prohibits a state government from making a person who was not convicted go through “anything more than minimal procedures” to get...

WARRANTLESS COLLECTION OF DNA — MARYLAND V. KING, 133 S.CT. 1958 (2013)

One of the areas of criminal law that I have always found interesting involves the standards for warrantless searches. Today, I am revisiting an important criminal law case from a few years ago known as Maryland v. King, 133 S.Ct. 1958 (2013). In Maryland v. King, the United States Supreme Court was asked to decide if the Constitution prevented the routine collection of DNA from someone who is arrested. The challenge to collecting DNA without a warrant was based on the Fourth Amendment. As a refresher, the Fourth Amendment states: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. The Fourth Amendment protects each of us from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and stands as one of the pinnacles of privacy law by restricting government conduct. The facts in Maryland v. King were rather simple. In 2003 a woman was raped. She reported the attack and a underwent a rape exam. A sample of the unknown perpetrator’s DNA was obtained and entered into a Maryland DNA database. Six years later, Mr. King, was arrested on unrelated assault charges. After his arrest, a routine warrantless DNA sample was taken by means of a cheek swab. Mr. King’s DNA sample was run through the Maryland DNA database and matched the sample from the 2003 rape exam. Charges were then brought against Mr. King for...

THE RIGHT TO EFFECTIVE COUNSEL

Today’s we review the accused’s constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel. This not only encompasses the right to have counsel — but also to have competent legal representation, regardless of whether you hire your lawyer or your lawyer is appointed by the court.  The right to effective assistance of counsel applies at trial as well as to the plea bargain process. The right to effective counsel comes from the Sixth Amendment which specifically states that: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. One of the seminal cases is Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). This case affirmed that the right to effective counsel exists and is needed to protect an individual’s fundamental right to a fair trial. In Strickland the Supreme Court was asked to determine whether in the death penalty phase the criminal defendant had received effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court established a two part test for an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. To be successful on an ineffective assistance of counsel appeal, the defendant must establish the following: That the attorney’s actions and/or inactions fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and That but for the attorney’ ineffective...

THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT

In our experience, local police and law enforcement officers can usually be counted on to act fairly and professionally when interacting with members of the public. Nevertheless, it is still important for you to understand your rights. So today we want to revisit one of the most important constitutional rights that we all share — the right to remain silent. In the United States, the right to remain silent comes from that part of the Fifth Amendment which says that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This is also known as your right against self-incrimination. These rights are communicated to you with the familiar words used by law enforcement: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? These five sentences together are known as a Miranda Warning. They are the result of the decision by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966). As a result of the Miranda decision, law enforcement officials must specifically advise anyone taken into custody of the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney. It is important for you to remember that while you have a right to remain silent, it has to be asserted by you or it will be waived. You affirmatively assert your...

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution gives each of us some of our most valuable rights as U.S. citizens. It specifically gives each of us the right to be secure in our homes. It also protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, because these rights are personal —  only you can assert them. And if you don’t assert them, no one will assert them on your behalf. In fact, you actually waive your rights when you fail to personally assert them. Moreover, with very limited exceptions the government does not have to explain your rights to you before asking you to do something that will waive those rights. Because the 4th Amendment is one of the fundamental underpinnings of individual liberty in our society, a look at its history is informative. The founders of our country generally agreed that all persons had a natural right to be free from government intrusion into their homes. In fact, one of the biggest grievances that led to the American Revolution was the use of “writs of assistance” by the British government. With a “writ of assistance,” the King’s representatives could enter your property with no notice and for no particular reason. In a well known case from that time, Boston lawyer James Otis represented a group of merchants who sued the British government claiming that the use of writs of assistance against was unjust. While Mr. Otis lost the case, his argument condemning writs of assistance and general search warrants was considered by many (including John Adams who was present in the courtroom) to be one of the sparks...

LIMITING CIVIL FORFEITURE

Civil forfeiture cases across the country have drawn increasing scrutiny because of a combination of the financial incentives which encourage abuse, and the lack of due process. The Mississippi Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion protecting individual due process rights, and specifically the right to speedy trial/hearing in any forfeiture case. The case began when Eric Jones was arrested after being caught with 6.2 grams of cocaine in May 2002. The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department gave notice of its intent to forfeit Jones’s 1984 Chevy Camaro. Jones timely filed an objection contesting the forfeiture. The forfeiture was stayed pending disposition of the criminal charges. It is unclear why the case languished but the forfeiture hearing did not take place until more than 9 years later. For unknown reasons Jones did not show up for the hearing. When Jones did not appear at the hearing, the County made a tactical mistake. Because Jones timely filed his objection to the forfeiture, the County had the burden of proof. However, rather than put on their proof, the County moved to dismiss the case. In response, the trial court issued an order dismissing Jones’s objection with prejudice for failure to prosecute. Jones appealed the decision claiming that his right to a speedy trial had been denied, and that the trial court erred in dismissing his objection. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for an initial determination as to whether Jones’s right to a speedy trial had been violated. The Court of Appeals also reversed the trial court and remanded the case because the County failed to put on the...