Palko v. Connecticut Case Brief

Summary of Palko v. Connecticut
Citation: 302 U.S. 319 (1937)

Relevant Facts: Frank Palko was charged with breaking into a music store in Connecticut and stealing merchandise. Prosecutors alleged that in making his escape, Palko killed two police officers. At trial, the State of Connecticut charged him with first-degree murder. However, he was convicted of the lesser offense of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The State, under authority of State law, appealed the conviction citing several errors and sought a new trial. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed, and ordered a new trial. During Palko’s second trial, defense counsel argued that the second trial violated his Fifth Amendment rights protecting him from double jeopardy. The objection was overruled, Palko was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He appealed his conviction, again citing protections against double jeopardy.

Issue: Is the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy applicable to the States through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Holding: No, double jeopardy protections are not applicable to the States. Through selective incorporation, the Court will decided on a case by case basis what protections of the bill of rights extend to the States, protecting only those rights that are at the very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty.

Reasoning: Justice Cardozo, writing for the majority, explained the Court’s approach to selective incorporation and broader context regarding the meaning of the Due Process Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court rejected the argument that any state action that would violate the federal Constitution, if undertaken by the federal government, also violates the Constitution when undertaken by State government under State law. Justice Cardozo, speaking bluntly, explained that no such general rule existed. The dividing line of rights incorporated versus those that are not, according to the majority, is whether the right in question is so fundamental as to be part of the essence of ordered liberty. While some rights are rightly protected and important, they cannot be said to be so important or so fundamental that justice cannot be done in the absence of protections applicable to the States. While Justice Cardozo suggested the result may have been different had Palko’s first trial been free from error, in evaluating the case at hand and the relevant statute, the Court could not concluded that any fundamental right had been violated. Concluding, Justice Cardozo pointed out that the Connecticut rule merely afforded symmetry to the criminal justice system, in which either side in a criminal case could complain of error and seek to have such errors corrected. Finally, the Court briefly noted that Palko could not challenge his conviction under the Privileges and Immunities clause.

Dissent: Justice Pierce Butler dissented, but did not file an opinion.

Conclusion: The Court determined that the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy was not applicable to the states through incorporation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court would continue its tradition of selective incorporation of individual rights on a case by case basis.

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