The legality of ex post facto laws in the United States
Often referred to as retroactive laws, ex post facto laws are criminal laws that make conduct that occurred before a law was passed illegally. The laws also change the rules of evidence and penalties for a crime.
The United States Constitution prohibits legislatures from passing laws that retroactively create or alter criminal actions. The constitution makes it clear that this type of law is unjust. In addition, the constitution also prohibits Congress from issuing bills of attainder. These are bills that punish a named individual or group without the right to a fair trial.
The first case that dealt with the Ex Post Facto Clause was Calder v. Bull, a 1798 case. In this case, a Connecticut legislature passed a statute to provide a losing party in a probate contest with the benefit of a new hearing. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to both a fine and a prison term. The court held that the defendant’s right to a new trial was a substantial right.
Despite the Constitution’s prohibition on ex post facto laws, it does not offer a definition of the word. In its most basic sense, ex post facto means “after the fact.” Although there is no precise definition, there is general agreement that the term is used to mean that an act was legal at the time it was performed, but now it is considered a crime.
The legality of ex post facto laws in Florida
Whether or not a statute is ex post facto is not a simple question. It depends on the type of statute and how the legislature intended to implement the statute.
In a 1992 Florida Attorney General opinion, provisional overcrowding credits for violent crimes were canceled. The new law made it more difficult to obtain early release credits and required a judge to decide whether a defendant qualified for early release.
The new system also forbade the restoration of good time credits. However, the statute did not withdraw good time credits already earned by the defendant. The court determined that the change in law was not an ex post facto violation.
The issue, in this case, was whether or not the changes in the law disadvantaged the petitioner. The trial court held that the law was not ex post facto because the statute was construed as a non-punitive civil remedy.
In order to determine the legality of the new law, the Florida Supreme Court decided to address the issue of the petitioner’s failure to exhaust state remedies. If the court had ruled that the petitioner had failed to exhaust state remedies, the statute would have been unconstitutional.
While the Supreme Court held that the new law did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause, the Court found that the law deprived the petitioner of substantial protection under existing law. It also rejected the argument that the overcrowding credit was not a part of the sentence. The court emphasized that the new law was designed to ensure maximum deterrence.
The legality of ex post facto laws in other countries
Several countries have a law that goes by the name of ex post facto, i.e. making legal conduct illegal after it occurred. Although the law may have its merits, it can be a burden on the accused and the innocent alike.
There are two main components to an ex post facto law: a retroactive change in the rules of procedure, and an increase in punishment for a crime already committed. The former is not a particularly difficult task to achieve, but the latter is not as obvious as one might think. The most notable benefit of an ex post facto law is its ability to increase the punishment for a crime that is already committed. However, it is not an ideal situation for the accused or the victim, as such an enlargement of a criminal statute is likely to be a violation of due process.
There is an even more obscure concept known as nulla poena sine lege, a Roman concept meaning “without the law”. This would be the same as the ex post facto statute but with the addition of a “law” requiring the law to be followed in all cases, regardless of the circumstances. This is not the cheapest way to do it, and it can result in the unfortunate outcome of having a person or group convicted of a crime that should have been indicted in the first place.