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Amdt14.S1.5.5.1 Overview of Procedural Due Process in Criminal Cases

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of procedural due process affects procedures in state criminal cases in two ways. First, through the doctrine of incorporation, the Supreme Court has held that the Due Process Clause applies to the states nearly all the criminal procedural guarantees of the Bill of Rights, including those of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments.1 Second, the Court has held that the Due Process Clause prohibits government practices and policies that violate precepts of fundamental fairness, even if they do not violate specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights.2 The procedural due process protections of the Fourteenth Amendment are comparable in scope to the limitations that the Fifth Amendment imposes on federal criminal proceedings.3

The Court has explained, “Due process of law requires that the proceedings shall be fair, but fairness is a relative, not an absolute concept. . . . What is fair in one set of circumstances may be an act of tyranny in others.” 4 In assessing whether a challenged criminal procedure denies a person procedural due process, the Court generally considers whether the practice violates “a fundamental principle of liberty and justice which inheres in the very idea of a free government and is the inalienable right of a citizen of such government.” 5 The Court has also held that, “as applied to a criminal trial, denial of due process is the failure to observe that fundamental fairness essential to the very concept of justice,” and that to find a denial of due process the Court “must find that the absence of that fairness fatally infected the trial; the acts complained of must be of such quality as necessarily prevents a fair trial.” 6

Procedural due process analysis contains a historical component, as Supreme Court cases “have proceeded upon the valid assumption that state criminal processes are not imaginary and theoretical schemes but actual systems bearing virtually every characteristic of the common-law system that has been developing contemporaneously in England and in this country.” 7 The Court thus asks “whether given this kind of system a particular procedure is fundamental—whether, that is, a procedure is necessary to an Anglo-American regime of ordered liberty.” 8

Those provisions guarantee rights of criminal suspects and prisoners including the right to counsel, the right to speedy and public trial, the right to be free from use of unlawfully seized evidence and unlawfully obtained confessions, and the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishments. See Amdt14.S1.4.3 Modern Doctrine on Selective Incorporation of Bill of Rights. back
For instance, In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970), held that, despite the absence of a specific constitutional provision requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases, such proof is required by due process. See also, e.g., United States v. Bryant, 136 S. Ct. 1954, 1966 (2016) (holding that principles of due process did not prevent a defendant’s prior uncounseled convictions in tribal court from being used as the basis for a sentence enhancement, as those convictions complied with the Indian Civil Rights Act, which itself contained requirements that ensure the reliability of tribal-court convictions); Hicks v. Oklahoma, 447 U.S. 343 (1980) (where sentencing enhancement scheme for habitual offenders found unconstitutional, defendant’s sentence cannot be sustained, even if sentence falls within range of unenhanced sentences); Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 (1979) (conclusive presumptions in jury instruction may not be used to shift burden of proof of an element of crime to defendant); Kentucky v. Whorton, 441 U.S. 786 (1979) (fairness of failure to give jury instruction on presumption of innocence evaluated under totality of circumstances); Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U.S. 478 (1978) (requiring, upon defense request, jury instruction on presumption of innocence); Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197 (1977) (defendant may be required to bear burden of affirmative defense); Henderson v. Kibbe, 431 U.S. 145 (1977) (sufficiency of jury instructions); Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501 (1976) (a state cannot compel an accused to stand trial before a jury while dressed in identifiable prison clothes); Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684 (1975) (defendant may not be required to carry the burden of disproving an element of a crime for which he is charged); Wardius v. Oregon, 412 U.S. 470 (1973) (defendant may not be held to rule requiring disclosure to prosecution of an alibi defense unless defendant is given reciprocal discovery rights against the state); Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973) (defendant may not be denied opportunity to explore confession of third party to crime for which defendant is charged). back
While the following essays focus primarily on Supreme Court litigation challenging state criminal procedures, some of the cases cited discuss federal criminal procedures. See also Amdt5.6.1 Overview of Due Process Procedural Requirements. The doctrine of incorporation applies only to state government action in criminal cases, because the Bill of Rights applies directly to the federal government without any need for incorporation. back
Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 116, 117 (1934). See also Buchalter v. New York, 319 U.S. 427, 429 (1943). back
Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, 106 (1908). The Court has also phrased the question as whether a claimed right is “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,” whether it “partakes of the very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty,” Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325 (1937), or whether it “offend[s] those canons of decency and fairness which express the notions of justice of English-speaking peoples even toward those charged with the most heinous offenses,” Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165, 169 (1952). back
Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219, 236 (1941). back
Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 149–50 n.14 (1968). back
Id. back