Palko v. State of Connecticut
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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