In what originated as a case to determine the level of criminality concerning the actions of Frank Palko, who was indicted on first degree murder charges by the State of Connecticut eventually emerged as a challenge concerning the constitutionality of the double jeopardy clauses that are contained within the Constitution of the United States. Palko v. Connecticut resulted in a conviction for murder in the second degree, a lesser charge than murder in the first degree, and the defendant was sentenced to life in prison.
However, Connecticut law provided the state with the ability to appeal the verdict and Palko was retried as a result of errors within the original trial consisting of a confession by the defendant that was omitted from being presented during the trial, testimony that challenged the credibility of the defendant was excluded from trial, and the judge provided inaccurate instructions concerning the variances between first degree murder and murder in the second degree to the jury (FindLaw, 2017). The second trial resulted in a guilty verdict for murder in the first degree in which the defendant received the death penalty during the sentencing phase.
The defense presented the argument that the second trial constituted a violation of being placed in jeopardy ‘of life or limb’ twice as addressed by the Fifth Amendment while also addressing the rights of the individual to the protections provided through the Fourteenth Amendment, which states ‘nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law’ (findlaw.com, n.d.). As applied to this case, precedence was established through the rulings issued in Dreyer v. Illinois in 1902 and Kepner v. the United States in 1904 in which retrying the defendant through a motion of the state was forbidden even though the court cases of Hurtado v. California in 1984 and Twining c. State of New Jersey in 1908 supported the theory that the rights established in the Bill of Rights were extended to all individuals on both the state and federal levels (findlaw.com, n.d.). The Supreme Court of Connecticut upheld the verdict issued during the second trial and the case progressed to the Supreme Court of the United States amid questions concerning the scope and reach of double jeopardy.
These issues were eventually presented before the Supreme Court of the United States. As the justices debated the application of the Constitutional protections, it was argued that these protections were applicable only in issues that were presented on the federal level and that states had the ability to determine which aspects of the Fifth Amendment were applicable at the state level as certain aspects of the Constitution are not extended to protect the general populace (jrank.org, n.d.). In addition, it was decided that the states must adhere to two federal requirements in the determination of the inclusion or omission of any aspect of the Fifth Amendment from state law (jrank.com, n.d.). The first requirement stipulated that the states did not have to incorporate the fundamentals of the Fifth Amendment if it does not adhere to the ‘very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty’ as the second requirement addresses whether the omission of the Fifth Amendment is in violation of any principal of justice that is so deeply ingrained into the consciousness and traditions of the general American populace that it is considered to be fundamental (casebriefs.com, n.d.). These requirements comprise a ‘fundamental fairness’ test and provided the theory for the incorporation doctrine (jrank.org, n.d.). It was also noted by the Supreme Court Justices that the rights issued through the First Amendment consisting of free speech, free press, and free religion as well as those defined through Sixth Amendment addressing the right to counsel are fundamental rights and, as such, are extended to all citizens of the United States; however, in the case concerning Palko and the Double Jeopardy clause, the Justices sided with the state and the murder in the first degree and associated death sentence were upheld as the retrial was ordered as the result of the errors that were made by the State during the original trial (jrank.org, n.d.).
In this particular case, the ruling issued by the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States appears to be in error. If each state has the responsibility of determining which aspects of the Constitution, which was created to provide people with certain protections, are applicable through the implementation of state laws, it expands the power of each state in the control and government of the populace. However, in this particular case, the power of the state allowed the same evidence to be presented at the second trial in the hopes of obtaining the conviction that the state desired and they succeeded. The ruling issued in Palko v. the State of Connecticut was overturned in the ruling issued in Benton v. Maryland in 1969 (jrank.org, n.d.). In the Benton case, it was decided that the Due Process clause is equally applicable at the state and federal levels, expanding the protection of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to provide individual liberties to the general populace, effectively nullifying the precedence established through Palko v. the State of Connecticut.
It is easy to dismiss the ruling of Palko v. the State of Connecticut as the standard that occurred during that era, but it also causes one to consider the numerous ways in which the powers of the government have denied American citizens the rights provided through the U.S. Constitution by the Founding Fathers as well as give consideration into the numerous methods various administrations manipulate the intentions of these documents to satisfy their personal objectives. Perhaps one day, the political climate will have the ability to recognize that each individual has specific rights as defined throughout the Constitution and develop a method of applying it consistently to all.
- Casebriefs.com. (n.d.). Palko v. Connecticut. Retrieved from http://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/criminal-procedure/criminal-procedure-keyed-to-israel/the-nature-and-scope-of-fourteenth-amendment-due-process-the-applicability-of-the-bill-of-rights-to-the-states/palko-v-connecticut/
- Findlaw.com. (2017). Palko v. State of Connecticut. Retrieved from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/302/319.html
- Jrank.org. (n.d.). Palko v. Connecticut – Supreme Court Announces A “fundamental Fairness” Test For Constitutional Limits On State Power. Retrieved from http://law.jrank.org/pages/23631/Palko-v-Connecticut-Supreme-Court-Announces-Fundamental-Fairness-Test-Constitutional-Limits-on-State-Power.html