Palko v. Connecticut

Following is the case brief for Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319 (1937)

Case Summary of Palko v. Connecticut:

  • The defendant was indicted on first-degree murder, but was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder by a jury.  The State of Connecticut appealed that conviction.  On appeal, a new trial was ordered.
  • At the second trial, the jury convicted defendant of first-degree murder.  He was sentenced to death.
  • Defendant appealed, arguing that he was improperly subjected to double jeopardy for the same crime.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court rejected defendant’s argument.  It held that certain Fifth Amendment protections, including immunity from double jeopardy, are not so fundamental that they should apply to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.

Palko v. Connecticut Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

The defendant was indicted for first-degree murder.  After a trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of second-degree murder.  He was sentenced to life in prison.  Under a statute allowing the prosecution to appeal in criminal cases with permission of the trial judge, the State of Connecticut appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Errors.  Finding several errors of law in the trial, the Supreme Court of Errors reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial.

Over his double jeopardy objection, the defendant was tried again.  The jury in the second trial found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder.  The court sentenced him to death.

Procedural History:

Defendant appealed his second conviction.  The Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors affirmed the second conviction.  The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Issue and Holding:

Does a second trial in state court for the same crime violate a defendant’s right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment?  No.

Judgment:

The judgment of the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors is affirmed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

The Fifth Amendment prohibition against double jeopardy is not a fundamental right that flows to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Reasoning:

The defendant/appellant argues that all of the original Bill of Rights (the first eight amendments) are incorporated to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That would include the Fifth Amendment’s immunity from double jeopardy.  That argument, however, is incorrect.

There are some rights, such as the First Amendment’s freedom of speech, that are so fundamental that they are the essence of “ordered liberty.”  However, there are others, such as the prohibition of double jeopardy, that do not rank as fundamental.  Justice can still be achieved even if a state decides to put a defendant in jeopardy twice for the same offense.

Significance:

Palko v. Connecticut is a vestige of an earlier time when the Court selectively determined which constitutional amendments should be incorporated to the states.  Now, the Court consistently finds that the original Bill of Rights applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.  Palko was expressly overruled by Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784 (1969), which held that the Fifth Amendment’s immunity from double jeopardy applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Student Resources:

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/302/319/case.html

https://www.oyez.org/cases/1900-1940/302us319

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/395/784/

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