The constitution states that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law”. This important phrase was stated both in the fifth and fourteenth amendment. Indeed, this simple clause has been the only command found in the constitution.
From this phrase, we can get a sense of what due process is.
We can think of Due process as a task set by the constitution for the government to follow. This task involves respecting all rights of a person. This is quite intuitive since rights after all are rights and they should be respected by the government as well as other citizens. Due process comes into play on certain processes when the government has to deny the rights of a citizen. An example would be during police action. In policing society, government will have to inter citizens who are convicted of breaking the law.
When this happens, government is effectively denying these citizens the right of liberty. Before the government does deny this right, it should serve due process by assuring that all these person’s rights are not deprived.
Three examples of how the Supreme Court has upheld due process in its decisions include the establishment of Miranda rights in Miranda v. Arizona, the enforcing of Double Jeopardy across all states in Benton v. Maryland, and the end of segregation in public schools via Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In Miranda v. Arizona, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion that the coercive nature of police interrogation rendered any confession produced under interrogation useless without a lawyer. Confessions made under interrogations without a lawyer present were considered inadmissible in court due to the Fifth Amendment’s clause on self-incrimination.
This decision established the Miranda rights - the right of a suspect to remain silent and his right to request for a lawyer, and his right to be provided a lawyer if he is unable to provide one himself. Benton v. Maryland was a landmark decision in extending double jeopardy across state lines.
Double Jeopardy prevents an individual from being tried on the same case twice – this is a check against legal harassment. Originally, Double Jeopardy was only enforceable on the federal level, the Supreme Court decision on Benton v. Maryland established that Double Jeopardy is also applicable at the state court level.
Brown was an especially important landmark decision as it paved the way for integration.
There have also been cases where the Supreme Court has limited due process. In California v. Greenwood, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment did not prohibit warrant less searches of garbage left outside a home. The effect is that law enforcement can search a suspect’s garbage for evidence without the need warrant as long as the garbage sits outside the suspect’s home.
Search was also the subject of New Jersey v. TLO. In this case, the Court reasoned that warrantless searches done by school officials on students while on school ground was reasonable as school officials had to provide a safe environment for the entire student body.
School was also the subject of Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton. The court upheld that random drug testing performed by schools on student athletes as a prerequisite to participating in sports activities was constitutional. In this case, the school had a responsibility to prevent teenage drug use.
Strauss, Peter. "Due Process." Wex. 11 June 2007. Cornell University Law School. 9 April 2008. http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/index.php/Due_process#Equal__Protection__of__the__Laws.
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