The phrase "due process of law" appears multiple times in the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment, which focuses on the rights of persons (primarily in criminal proceedings), includes the guarantee that a person not be deprived of their life, liberty, or property without due process of law. This idea is especially important during criminal trials, where a person's freedom or even their life is on the line.
If you or someone close to you faces criminal charges, it's important to consult with an attorney right away. A lawyer in your area experienced in criminal law can help you protect your rights and achieve a better outcome than going it alone.
What the Fifth Amendment Says
"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
What It Means for Criminal Defendants
United States Library of Congress, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation
The Supreme Court has held that practically all the criminal procedural guarantees of the Bill of Rights—the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments—are fundamental to state criminal justice systems and that the absence of one or the other particular guarantees denies a suspect or a defendant due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment.1
In addition, the Court has held that the Due Process Clause protects against practices and policies that violate precepts of fundamental fairness,2 even if they do not violate specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights.3 The standard query in such cases is whether the challenged practice or policy 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.4
This inquiry contains a historical component, as recent 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. The question thus is 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. . . . [Therefore, the limitations imposed by the Court on the states are] not necessarily fundamental to fairness in every criminal system that might be imagined but [are] fundamental in the context of the criminal processes maintained by the American States."5
- See analysis under the Fourteenth Amendment.
- 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. For other recurrences to general due process reasoning, as distinct from reliance on more specific Bill of Rights provisions, see, 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). See also 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).
- Justice Black thought the Fourteenth Amendment should be limited to the specific guarantees found in the Bill of Rights. See, e.g., In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 377 (1970) (dissenting). For Justice Harlan's response, see id. at 372 n.5 (concurring).
- Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, 106 (1908). The question is phrased 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).
- Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 149–50 n.14 (1968).