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Palko v. Connecticut


Palko was not the first test of the applicability of the Bill of Rights at the state level, but it marked the introduction of a new approach to the problem.

Frank Palko was indicted for first degree murder in Fairfield County, Connecticut. After a jury trial, he was found guilty of murder in the second degree, a lesser crime, and sentenced to life in prison. A state law, however, permitted Connecticut to appeal the outcome of his case, and it did so. The Connecticut Supreme Court then found that there had been three errors in the state's favor during the trial: 1) testimony about the defendant's confession had been excluded; 2) testimony from cross-examination of the defendant which challenged his credibility was excluded; and 3) the judge had erred in distinguishing first and second degree murder during his instructions to the jury. The state supreme court overturned the verdict of the first trial and granted a second. At the second trial, Palko was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death.

During his second trial, Palko had repeatedly objected that his constitutional right not to be subjected to double jeopardy--that is, being tried twice for the same offense--was being violated. The prohibition against double jeopardy appears in the Fifth Amendment, and thus applies only to federal proceedings. Palko, however, cited the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: "No state shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." He insisted that this provision made the prohibition against double jeopardy applicable to the states, as well. The Connecticut Supreme Court disagreed, upholding his conviction for first degree murder. Palko then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Palko v. Connecticut - Significance, Supreme Court Announces A "fundamental Fairness" Test For Constitutional Limits On State Power