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Commonwealth v. Martinez

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Essex, Middlesex

October 30, 2018

COMMONWEALTH
v.
JOSE MARTINEZ. COMMONWEALTH
v.
STEPHANIE GREEN.

          Heard: September 7, 2018

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Haverhill Division of the District Court Department on July 13, 2009.

         A motion for restitution of costs and fees, filed on June 12, 2017, was heard by Stephen S. Abany, J., and questions of law were reported by him to the Appeals Court.

         The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

         Complaints received and sworn to in the Framingham Division of the District Court Department on August 10 and September 14, 2007.

         A motion for return of property, filed on August 25, 2017, was heard by David W. Cunis, J., and questions of law were reported by him to the Appeals Court.

         The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          Benjamin H. Keehn, Committee for Public Counsel Services (Nancy J. Caplan & Eric Brandt, Committee for Public Counsel Services, also present) for the defendants.

          Jessica Langsam & Robert E. Toone, Assistant District Attorneys, for the Commonwealth.

          Sarah M. Joss, Special Assistant Attorney General, for Massachusetts Probation Service.

          Luke Ryan, Daniel N. Marx, & William W. Fick, for Stacy Foster & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          GANTS, C.J.

         In Nelson v. Colorado, 137 S.Ct. 1249, 1252 (2017), the United States Supreme Court held that "[w]hen a criminal conviction is invalidated by a reviewing court and no retrial will occur," the State is required under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution "to refund fees, court costs, and restitution exacted from the defendant upon, and as a consequence of, the conviction." There can be no doubt that, because of this controlling authority, Massachusetts courts are required to order the refund of fees, court costs, and restitution paid by a defendant as a consequence of a later invalidated conviction. These two cases, however, present ten reported questions regarding the scope and application of the due process obligations established in the Nelson decision. We have reformulated the reported questions into three broader questions to provide guidance to trial courts and litigants regarding the repayment of probation fees, victim-witness assessments, restitution, fines, forfeitures, and court costs after a conviction has been invalidated.[1]

         Background.

         1. Jose Martinez.

         In 2010, Jose Martinez pleaded guilty in District Court to three counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and one count of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. On the three drug convictions, Martinez received concurrent sentences of one year in a house of correction, suspended, with two years of probation supervision. On one of his drug convictions, Martinez was also ordered to pay $1, 000 in restitution to the Haverhill police department, [2] a monthly fee of sixty-five dollars, as required under G. L. c. 276, § 87A, for those placed on supervised probation, [3] and a victim-witness assessment of ninety dollars, as required under G. L. c. 258B, § 8, for those convicted of a felony.[4] On his conviction for unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, Martinez was ordered to pay a fine of one hundred dollars. After being sentenced on his drug convictions, Martinez paid a total of $2, 650: $1, 000 in restitution, $1, 560 in monthly probation supervision fees, and a victim-witness assessment of ninety dollars.

         On April 19, 2017, Martinez's drug convictions were vacated and dismissed with prejudice pursuant to the single justice's order arising from our decision in Bridgeman v. District Attorney for Suffolk Dist., 476 Mass. 298 (2017) (Bridgeman II), because the convictions were tainted by the misconduct of Annie Dookhan, a chemist who was employed by the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute when the drugs seized from Martinez were examined by that laboratory. Martinez's misdemeanor conviction of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle was not dismissed.

         After being informed that his drug convictions had been dismissed with prejudice, Martinez filed a motion for the return of his probation supervision fees, victim-witness assessment, and restitution payment. The judge, without ruling on the motion, reported the matter and seven questions of law to the Appeals Court pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 34.[5] We allowed the defendant's motion for direct appellate review.

         2. Stephanie Green.

         On October 8, 2008, Stephanie Green was sentenced in District Court on two drug-related counts arising from a complaint that had been filed after a search warrant had been executed at her residence on August 9, 2007. Green was placed on supervised probation for two years on each count, to be served concurrently. On one of these counts, Green was assessed a probation fee of sixty-five dollars per month and a victim-witness assessment of fifty dollars.[6] The judge at sentencing also allowed the Commonwealth's motion for the forfeiture of $1, 411.63 seized from Green's home during the search.

         That same day, before the same judge, Green was sentenced on four other drug-related counts arising from a complaint that had been filed after a search warrant had been executed at Green's hotel room on September 14, 2007. On counts one and two, Green was sentenced to one year in a house of correction, suspended for two years, with two years of supervised probation. She also was ordered to pay fines totaling $4, 000 and surfines totaling $1, 000. On count one, Green was further ordered to pay a victim-witness assessment of fifty dollars. On count four, she was placed on probation for two years. On count seven, she was sentenced to a term of thirty days in a house of correction, to be served on weekends.

         On April 19, 2017, Green's convictions were vacated and dismissed with prejudice pursuant to the single justice's order arising from Bridgeman II. Green then moved for a refund of the $8, 071.63 she had paid after being sentenced on the drug convictions arising from the two complaints: $1, 411.63 in forfeited cash, $1, 560 in probation fees, one hundred dollars in victim-witness assessments, and $5, 000 in fines and surfines.[7]The judge, without ruling on the motion, reported the matter and three questions of law to the Appeals Court pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 34.[8] We transferred the case to this court on our own motion, and now consider the reported questions in conjunction with those reported in Martinez's case.

         For the sake of providing clear and simple guidance to trial courts and litigants regarding the scope and application of the due process obligation announced in Nelson, we have exercised our authority to reformulate the reported questions into three more general questions. See Commonwealth v. Eldred, 480 Mass. 90, 93-94 (2018) (reformulating reported question to make it answerable on existing record); Tedford v. Massachusetts Hous. Fin. Agency, 390 Mass. 688, 692-693 (1984) (summarizing reported questions). See also McStowe v. Bornstein, 377 Mass. 804, 805 n.2 (1979) ("[r]eported questions need not be answered . . . except to the extent that it is necessary to do so in resolving the basic issue"). The questions are:

1. What is the scope of the due process obligation to refund money paid by a defendant "upon, and as a consequence of" a conviction that has been invalidated? Nelson, 137 S.Ct. at 1252.
2. What is the procedure to be used to determine a defendant's entitlement to a refund and the amount to be refunded, and who bears the burden of proof?
3. Where a judge determines that a defendant is entitled to a refund, how will payment of the refund be accomplished?

         Discussion.

         Before we address these questions, it is important to understand the context and reasoning of the Supreme Court's opinion in Nelson. There, two defendants were convicted of various crimes and ordered to pay court costs and fees, which went to two funds -- a "victim compensation fund" and a "victims and witnesses assistance and law enforcement fund." Nelson, 137 S.Ct. at 1253 nn.1, 2. In addition, the defendants were ordered to pay restitution to the victims of their crimes. Id. at 1253. See People v. Madden, 364 P.3d 866, 867-868 (Colo. 2015); People v. Nelson, 362 P.3d 1070, 1073 (Colo. 2015). All counts of their convictions were later invalidated.[9] Nelson, supra at 1258.

         The defendants then moved for the return of the court costs, fees, and restitution they had paid. Id. at 1253. The Supreme Court of Colorado held that such a refund could be ordered only with statutory authority, and that the exclusive process for exonerated defendants to seek such a refund was through the Compensation for Certain Exonerated Persons act, a Colorado law allowing defendants whose convictions had been invalidated to receive a refund of fines, penalties, costs, and restitution only after they proved their innocence by clear and convincing evidence in a separate civil proceeding. Nelson, 137 S.Ct. at 1254.

         The United States Supreme Court reversed the judgment, holding that a scheme whereby "a defendant must prove [his or] her innocence by clear and convincing evidence to obtain the refund of costs, fees, and restitution paid pursuant to an invalid conviction . . . does not comport with due process." Id. at 1255. The Supreme Court evaluated the defendants' due process claims under the balancing test established in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976), which requires courts to weigh (1) the private interests affected; (2) the risk that the procedures used will result in erroneous deprivation of those interests; and (3) the governmental interests. Nelson, 137 S.Ct. at 1255. The Supreme Court held that all three factors weighed "decisively" in favor of the defendants. Id.

         As to the first factor in the balancing test, the Court stated that there was an "obvious interest" in a refund of money paid as a consequence of convictions that were no longer valid. Id. An overturned conviction restores the presumption of innocence, the Court said, erasing any State claim to funds paid in the form of costs, fees, or restitution. Id. at 1255-56.

         As to the second factor, the Court declared that the act's requirement that defendants prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence created a risk of erroneous deprivation of the defendants' interest in a refund of their money. Id. at 1256. Once the presumption of innocence is restored, "defendants should not be saddled with any proof burden." Id.

         As to the third factor, the Court stated that Colorado had "zero claim of right" to money paid solely as a consequence of subsequently ...


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