How Texas’ criminal court system is impacted by due process
The U.S. Constitution is at the core of America’s judicial system. Without the Constitution, the very idea of a democratic republic breaks down quickly, and the fundamental rights held dear by American citizens fall apart.
While the Constitution preserves and protects rights across a number of different facets of the U.S. justice system, perhaps one of the most important it provides is the right to due process. Provisions for due process can be found in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
To help drive home the importance of due process, the Founding Fathers mentioned “due process” twice in the Constitution—the only command addressed more than once.
What is due process?
Due process refers to the “administration of justice according to fair and systematic procedures.” In a nutshell, due process rights afford citizens protection from the government being able to administer justice arbitrarily.
To use an example, due process prevents government officials from arresting someone and simply placing that person in prison for life. Certain legal proceedings must be afforded to the accused in order to find them guilty or not guilty.
Essentially, governments can’t make up the rules as they go along. Citizens must be provided with access to processes set out and accepted by the justice system as they are laid out by the Constitution as well as federal and state statutes.
Due process in the Fifth Amendment
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is 1 of 2 places that mention due process. This Amendment provides citizens with the right to protection against being deprived of life, liberty or property without due process. This means that the government can’t come and seize your home, imprison you or sentence you to death without first invoking proper legal proceedings.
The Fifth Amendment goes on to back up these protections by laying out specific protections—such as the right to protect yourself from self-incrimination, the right to indictment by a grand jury as well as protection from double jeopardy.
Due process in the Fourteenth Amendment
Much like the Fifth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment also mentions due process as it pertains to the protection of life, liberty and property. The difference between the 2 amendments is that the Fourteenth Amendment’s reference is meant to protect citizens from state laws that would violate due process.
The Fourteenth Amendment lays out defining characteristics of a citizen and goes on to read that no citizen shall be deprived of due process or equal protection under the law by any state.
Due process in criminal proceedings
What due process ultimately means for criminal proceedings is that all defendants who have been accused of violating a federal or state statute must be given fair and equal treatment. Due process in criminal proceedings can depend on the circumstances of each case, but ultimately, the law must be applied according to the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments.
In practice, due process means that a defendant who has been accused by the state or federal government must be given a fair hearing before a judicial authority. Likewise, due process also applies to how laws are to be interpreted.
A law that is written in such a way as to be difficult to understand or define may violate due process requirements. This is referred to as “void of vagueness.” When a statute is worded in a vague manner and is unclear as to the restrictions it places on citizens, citizens run the risk of breaking laws unknowingly.
Failure to provide due process
When due process is violated in a criminal case, the defendant may have grounds to move for the charges to be dismissed. In the above example, a law that is determined to be too vague may result in charges being dropped and a case being dismissed on account of due process protections not being upheld.
Likewise, if proper legal procedures aren’t followed from the first encounter with law enforcement through to the courtroom, due process violations may have occurred.
This may be the case when someone is interrogated without being given a Miranda Warning and the statements are admitted as evidence in court. An argument may be made that the defendant wasn’t provided due process since an admission of guilt during questioning may not have taken place if proper procedures were followed.
Were your due process rights violated?
If you believe that you have been deprived of due process, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. You have the right to represent yourself in any legal proceeding, but many people find that the justice system is too complex and difficult to navigate alone.
A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer will be able to review the specifics of your case, help you to determine whether your due process rights have been violated and provide you with options for taking steps to correct these violations. Your attorney can also represent your interests in court to ensure that you are treated fairly and receive all of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.