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Supreme Court hears arguments on acquittal refunds, tribal immunity

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] in Nelson v. Colorado [SCOTUSblog materials]. The court granted certiorari in September to decide whether Colorado's requirement that defendants must prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence to get their money back, after reversal of conviction of a crime entailing monetary penalties, is consistent with due process. Petitioners argued that Colorado's actions go directly against the common law of property which all other states follow. They further argued that the only entitlement the state had to the money was the conviction. Therefore, upon acquittal they have no right to the money and should not be able to require those acquitted to go through their unique process. Under Colorado statute, the Exoneration Act [text, PDF], individuals of vacated convictions must bring a seperate civil suit and prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence to have their money returned. This is different than most jurisdictions which automatically refund those who have been acquitted. Respondents argued that since the money was taken lawfully at the time of a lawful conviction, even if it ended up being erroneous, then the funds are the state's funds. Therefore, the state has a right to require acquitted individuals to go through this process of proving their innocence to retrieve their funds.

The court also heard arguments [transcript, PDF] in Lewis v. Clarke [SCOTUSblog materials]. The court granted certiorari to determine whether the sovereign immunity of an Indian tribe bars individual-capacity damages actions tribal employees for torts committed within the scope of their employment. Petitioners argued that in an individual capacity action against a government employee, plaintiff would seek relief from the employee personally and would not be able to enforce liability against the government. Under this scenario, sovereign immunity is not implicated and such an application should apply equally for an employee of an Indian tribe. Furthermore, Plaintiff asserts that since they had no interaction with the tribe and are solely concern with negligence actions carried on by a tribal employees miles away from a reservation, should mean that the tribe has no jurisdiction and authority in this matter. Since these actions did not arise on tribal land, they should fall under the jurisdiction of Connecticut law, where the instance occurred. Respondents argue that under Westfall v. Erwin [opinion], tribes are owed the same protections as employees for the states and federal government, therefore sovereign immunity should apply and this should fall under the tribes jurisdiction.

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