Palko V. Connecticut - Interpretation

Palko v. State of Connecticut Ben Nguyen

302 U.S. 319 (Dec. 6, 1937)

Interpretation of the Bill of Rights is a task that provides great challenge for the

courts of the United States. As the times change and cases are reviewed, the ruling for a

case may be overruled. In the case of Palko v. Connecticut, this situation had occurred.

Although this case had not been the first to examine the pertinence of the Bill of Rights in

level with State law, it had provided a different modus operandi in doing so.

Frank Palko, the appellant, was defended by David Goldstein and George A.

Saden while William H. Comley served as the chief lawyer for the State of Connecticut.

Palko had been charged with first degree murder in Fairfield County, Connecticut, but

after a jury trial was found guilty of second degree murder and was faced with a

punishment of life in prison. Since Connecticut had a state law permitting it to appeal his

case, he was retried by the Supreme Court of Connecticut and as a result was charged

with first degree murder and faced the punishment of death. In response of facing double

jeopardy or being tried twice for the same offense, Palko then appealed to the Supreme

Court of the United States. Palko and his defense argued that although the fifth

amendment grants protection from double jeopardy on the federal level, as said through

“nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or

limb”, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which states, “nor shall any

State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” would

allow such protection to be utilized on the State level and thus making his second

conviction a violation of the protection against double jeopardy. Unfortunately, the

Supreme Court did not concur with Palko’s argument.

The Supreme Court justices at the time of the case included Hugo Lafayette

Black, Louis D. Brandeis, Benjamin N. Cardozo, Charles Evans Hughes, James Clark

McReynolds, Owen Josephus Roberts, Harlan Fiske Stone, George Sutherland, with

Pierce Butler as the dissenting justice. The verdict decided by the Supreme Court was in

favor of the law of Connecticut that allowed for the state to appeal judgments and retry

defendants. Palko’s argument about the due process clause had originally been brought up

in two earlier cases known as Hurtado v. California (1884) and Twining v. State of New

Jersey (1908). This argument would later on become known as the incorporation doctrine

which would be brought up much more frequently in the mid-twentieth century. But

during the time of which the Supreme Court had heeded Palko, the incorporation doctrine

had not been fully developed and thus remained something that was rather new to the

court. Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo would take the lead of the court and conceded that

although certain aspects of the first eight amendments had been created to be applicable

to the states, it had not meant that such a connection between the amendments would be

automatic but instead, Cardozo argued, that only certain rights were applicable on both

levels of law. For example, Cardozo had refered to rights granted by the First Amendment

and their connection with the Sixth amendment, which he found there to be an obvious

applicability to both the Federal Government and to the States. Through a majority of the

justices who believed that there were not any violations of the fundamental rights of

Palko, Connecticut’s law would be applied and Palko would face the death sentence.

The case of Palko v. Connecticut exemplified the beginning of a fight to find a

method of applying the Due Process Clause as a...

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