due process of law

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Due Process of Law

A fundamental, constitutional guarantee that all legal proceedings will be fair and that one will be given notice of the proceedings and an opportunity to be heard before the government acts to take away one's life, liberty, or property. Also, a constitutional guarantee that a law shall not be unreasonable, Arbitrary, or capricious.

The constitutional guarantee of due process of law, found in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, prohibits all levels of government from arbitrarily or unfairly depriving individuals of their basic constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. The due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, ratified in 1791, asserts that no person shall "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." This amendment restricts the powers of the federal government and applies only to actions by it. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, declares,"[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" (§ 1). This clause limits the powers of the states, rather than those of the federal government.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has also been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the twentieth century to incorporate protections of the Bill of Rights, so that those protections apply to the states as well as to the federal government. Thus, the Due Process Clause serves as the means whereby the Bill of Rights has become binding on state governments as well as on the federal government.

The concept of due process originated in English Common Law. The rule that individuals shall not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without notice and an opportunity to defend themselves predates written constitutions and was widely accepted in England. The Magna Charta, an agreement signed in 1215 that defined the rights of English subjects against the king, is an early example of a constitutional guarantee of due process. That document includes a clause that declares, "No free man shall be seized, or imprisoned … except by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land" (ch. 39). This concept of the law of the land was later transformed into the phrase "due process of law." By the seventeenth century, England's North American colonies were using the phrase "due process of law" in their statutes.

The application of constitutional due process is traditionally divided into the two categories of Substantive Due Process and procedural due process. These categories are derived from a distinction that is made between two types of law. Substantive Law creates, defines, and regulates rights, whereas procedural law enforces those rights or seeks redress for their violation. Thus, in the United States, substantive due process is concerned with such issues as Freedom of Speech and privacy, whereas procedural due process is concerned with provisions such as the right to adequate notice of a lawsuit, the right to be present during testimony, and the right to an attorney.

Substantive Due Process

The modern notion of substantive due process emerged in decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court during the late nineteenth century. In the 1897 case of Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U.S. 578, 17 S. Ct. 427, 41 L. Ed. 832, the Court for the first time used the substantive due process framework to strike down a state statute. Before that time, the Court generally had used the Commerce Clause or the Contracts Clause of the Constitution to invalidate state legislation. The Allgeyer case concerned a Louisiana law that proscribed the entry into certain contracts with insurance firms in other states. The Court found that the law unfairly abridged the right to enter into lawful contracts, as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The next 40 years after Allgeyer were the heyday of what has been called the freedom-of-contract version of substantive due process. During those years, the Court often used the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to void state regulation of private industry, particularly regarding terms of employment such as maximum working hours or minimum wages. In one famous case from that era, lochner v. new york, 198 U.S. 45, 25 S. Ct. 539, 49 L. Ed. 937 (1905), the Court struck down a New York law (N.Y. Laws 1897, chap. 415, art. 8, § 110) that prohibited employers from allowing workers in bakeries to be on the job more than ten hours per day and 60 hours per week. The Court found that the law was not a valid exercise of the state's Police Power. It wrote that it could find no connection between the number of hours worked and the quality of the baked goods, thus finding that the law was arbitrary.

In Allgeyer and Lochner and in other cases like them, the Court did not find that state legislatures had failed to enact their laws using the proper procedures—which would present an issue of procedural due process. Instead, it found that the laws themselves violated certain economic freedoms that inhered in the Due Process Clause, specifically its protection of liberty and what the Court described as freedom or liberty of contract. This freedom meant that individuals had the right to purchase or to sell labor or products without unreasonable interference by the government.

This interpretation of the Due Process Clause put the Court in direct opposition to many of the reforms and regulations passed by state legislatures during the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century. Justices who were opposed to the Court's position in such cases, including oliver wendell holmes jr. and john m. harlan, saw such rulings as unwarranted judicial activism in support of a particular free-market ideology.

During the 1930s, the Court used the doctrine of substantive due process to strike down federal legislation as well, particularly legislation associated with President franklin d. roosevelt's New Deal. In 1937, Roosevelt proposed a court-packing scheme in which Roosevelt would have sought to overcome Court opposition to his programs by appointing additional justices. Although the plan was never adopted, the Court quickly changed its position on substantive due process and other issues and began to uphold New Deal legislation. Now, a majority on the Court, including Chief Justice charles e. hughes and Justice benjamin n. cardozo, abandoned the freedom-of-contract version of substantive due process.

Even before the Court abandoned the freedom-of-contract approach to substantive due process, it began to explore using the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to re-evaluate state laws and actions affecting civil freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights. Since the 1833 case of barron v. baltimore, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 243, 8 L. Ed. 672, the Court had interpreted the Bill of Rights as applying only to the federal government. Beginning in the 1920s, however, it began to apply the Bill of Rights to the states through the incorporation of those rights into the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In gitlow v. new york, 268 U.S. 652, 45 S. Ct. 625, 69 L. Ed. 1138 (1925), the Court ruled that the liberty guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause protects First Amendment free speech from State Action. In near v. minnesota, 283 U.S. 697, 51 S. Ct. 625, 75 L. Ed. 1357 (1931), the Court found that Freedom of the Press was also protected from state action by the Due Process Clause, and it ruled the same with regard to freedom of religion in Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S. Ct. 900, 84 L. Ed. 1213 (1940).

Because incorporation has proceeded gradually, with some elements of the Bill of Rights still unincorporated, it has also been called selective incorporation. Nevertheless, during the twentieth century, most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights were incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, thereby protecting individuals from arbitrary actions by state as well as federal governments.

By the 1960s, the Court had extended its interpretation of substantive due process to include rights and freedoms that are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution but that, according to the Court, extend or derive from existing rights. These rights and freedoms include the freedoms of association and nonassociation, which have been inferred from the First Amendment's freedom-of-speech provision, and the right to privacy. The right to privacy, which has been derived from the First, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments, has been an especially controversial aspect of substantive due process. First established in griswold v. connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965), the Court later used it to protect a woman's decision to have an Abortion free from state interference, in the first trimester of pregnancy (roe v. wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 [1973]).

In several recent decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has considered the application of substantive due process in light of actions taken by law enforcement officers. It often has determined that police actions have not violated a defendant's due process rights. In County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 118 S. Ct. 1708, 140 L. Ed. 2d 1043 (1998), for example, the Court determined that high-speed chases by police officers did not violate the due process rights of the suspects whom the officers were chasing. In that case, two police officers had engaged in a pursuit of two young suspects at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour through a residential neighborhood. One of the young men died, while the other suffered serious injuries. A unanimous Court held that the officers' decision to engage in the pursuit had not amounted to "governmental arbitrariness" that the Due Process Clause protects due to the nature of the judgment used by the officers in such a circumstance.

The Court in City of West Covina v. Perkins, 525 U.S. 234, 119 S. Ct. 678, 142 L. Ed. 2d 636 (1999) again held in favor of law enforcement officers in a claim that police had violated the plaintiff's due process rights. After seizing Personal Property, including cash savings, of two owners of a home they had searched during a murder investigation, the police retained the property at the police station. When the homeowners sought to have the property returned, the police failed to provide the homeowners with detailed information about how the owners could have their property returned. The homeowners then filed a 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 action against the police, claiming deprivation of Civil Rights under the Due Process Clause. The Supreme Court held that because information about the proper procedures to retrieve this property under state law was readily available to the plaintiffs, the police had not deprived the homeowners of their due process rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court is more likely to find due process violations where the actions of a government official are clearly arbitrary. In City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41, 119 S. Ct. 1849, 144 L. Ed. 2d 67 (1999), for example, it struck down a Chicago anti-gang ordinance as unconstitutional on due process grounds. The ordinance allowed police officers to break up any group of two or more persons whom they believed to be loitering in a public place, provided that the officer also believed that at least one member of the group was a gang member. The ordinance had led to more than 43,000 arrests. Because the ordinance did not draw the line between innocent and guilty behavior and failed to give guidance to police on the matter, the ordinance violated the due process rights of the subjects of these break-ups. The Court held that since the ordinance gave absolute discretion to the police officers to determine what actions violated the ordinance, it was an arbitrary restriction on personal liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause.

In 2002, the Court found that arbitrary actions by a trial judge in a murder case violated the due process rights of the defendant (Lee v. Kemna, 534 U.S. 362, 122 S. Ct. 877, 151 L. Ed. 820 [2002]). In that case, the defendant was charged with first-degree murder for driving the getaway car for a man who had pled guilty to a murder charge in Kansas City, Missouri. The defendant claimed that he had been in California at the time of the murder, and four family members were to testify at trial that the defendant was not in Kansas City at the time of the murder. However, the family members left before they were expected to testify, and the defense could not locate them. The defense asked the court for a short Continuance of one or two days, but the judge refused due to personal conflicts and a conflict with another trial. Without the testimony of the family members, the defendant was convicted of murder. The high court held that the judge's arbitrary actions violated the defendant's due process rights, and it vacated the defendant's conviction.

Procedural Due Process

The phrase "procedural due process" refers to the aspects of the Due Process Clause that apply to the procedure of arresting and trying persons who have been accused of crimes and to any other government action that deprives an individual of life, liberty, or property. Procedural due process limits the exercise of power by the state and federal governments by requiring that they follow certain procedures in criminal and civil matters. In cases where an individual has claimed a violation of due process rights, courts must determine whether a citizen is being deprived of "life, liberty, or property," and what procedural protections are "due" to that individual.

The Bill of Rights contains provisions that are central to procedural due process. These protections give a person a number of rights and freedoms in criminal proceedings, including freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures; freedom from Double Jeopardy, or being tried more than once for the same crime; freedom from Self-Incrimination, or testifying against oneself; the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury; the right to be told of the crime being charged; the right to cross-examine witnesses; the right to be represented by an attorney; freedom from Cruel and Unusual Punishment; and the right to demand that the state prove any charges Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. In a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases during the twentieth century, all of these rights were applied to state proceedings. In one such case, gideon v. wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S. Ct. 792, 9 L. Ed. 2d 799 (1963), the Court ruled that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Sixth Amendment right to have an attorney in "all criminal prosecutions," including prosecutions by a state. The case proved to be a watershed in establishing indigents' rights to legal counsel.

Procedural due process also protects individuals from government actions in the civil, as opposed to criminal, sphere. These protections have been extended to include not only land and personal property, but also entitlements, including government-provided benefits, licenses, and positions. Thus, for example, the Court has ruled that the federal government must hold hearings before terminating Welfare benefits (Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S. Ct. 1011, 25 L. Ed. 2d 287 [1970]). Court decisions regarding procedural due process have exerted a great deal of influence over government procedures in prisons, schools, Social Security, civil suits, and public employment.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Lujan v. G&G Firesprinklers, Inc., 532 U.S. 189, 121 S. Ct. 1446, 149 L. Ed. 2d 391 (2000) held that a state is not required to hold a hearing before withholding money and imposing penalties on a building contractor. The California Division of Labor & Standards Enforcement determined that a building subcontractor had failed to pay the prevailing wage to workers who installed fire sprinklers in state buildings. The California agency, without providing notice or a hearing, fined the general contractor, which in turn withheld money from the subcontractor. The sub-contractor, G&G Firesprinklers, Inc., sued the California agency, claiming that the agency had violated the company's procedural due process rights. The Court disagreed, holding that because the company could sue the agency for breach of contract, the fine did not constitute a due process violation.

Further readings

Cassel, Douglass W., Jr. 2003. "Detention Without Due Process." Chicago Daily Law Bulletin 149 (March 13).

Israel, Jerold H. 2001. "Free-Standing Due Process and Criminal Procedure: the Supreme Court's Search for Interpretive Guidelines." Saint Louis University Law Journal 45 (spring).

Pennock, J. Roland, and John W. Chapman. 1977. Due Process. New York: New York University Press.


Criminal Procedure; Incorporation Doctrine; Judicial Review; Labor Law; Right to Counsel.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

due process of law

n. a fundamental principle of fairness in all legal matters, both civil and criminal, especially in the courts. All legal procedures set by statute and court practice, including notice of rights, must be followed for each individual so that no prejudicial or unequal treatment will result. While somewhat indefinite the term can be gauged by its aim to safeguard both private and public rights against unfairness. The universal guarantee of due process is in the Fifth Amendment to the U. S. The American Constitution which provides "No person shall...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," and applied to all states by the 14th Amendment. From this basic principle flow many legal decisions determining both procedural and substantive rights.

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

due process of law

the legal mechanism. It suggests a freedom from arbitrary detention. The concept is particularly important in the USA, being enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment preventing interference in private life without due process. See BILL OF RIGHTS (USA). See also HUMAN RIGHTS.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006
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