Nelson v. Colorado

Summary of the cause of action

The question before the U.S. Supreme Court was whether the State is required to return court fines and fees paid upon conviction when the conviction is reversed on appeal. Both Petitioners’ convictions were reversed on appeal, and they sought a refund of the fines and fees they paid. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with the petitioners that the state must automatically refund the fines and fees, but Colorado Supreme Court reversed, holding that Colorado’s Compensation for Certain Exonerated Person statute (Exoneration Act) is the exclusive process to seek refunds and is constitutionally sufficient. The Act provides relief “to compensate an innocent person wrongly convicted” and requires a person to prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence to obtain a refund of court fines and fees.


The Colorado Exoneration Act fails to comport with due process.  Under Matthews v Eldridge, the Court is required to examine the private interest affected, the risk of erroneous deprivation of the interest through the procedures used, and the governmental interest at stake.  An acquittal restores the presumption of innocence. There is a clear risk of erroneous deprivation. The Act conditions a refund on proof of innocence but there should be no additional burden on defendants to obtain their money. The state can only impose minimal procedures for a refund after a conviction is overturned with no prospect of re-prosecution.

You can read the full text of relevant documents via SCOTUSblog.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 (alleging Due process and Equal Protection violations)
No. 137 S. Ct. 1249 (2017)
April 2016
Colorado Office of the Public Defender and Scott Banner, UCLA School of Law