Hurtado v. California

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110 U.S. 516 (1884), argued 22–23 Jan. 1884, decided 3 Mar. 1884 by vote of 8 to 1; Matthews for the Court, Harlan in dissent. This case involved a provision in the constitution of California that authorized prosecutions for felonies by information, after examination by a magistrate, without indictment by a grand jury. The defendant, on the basis of information filed by district attorney, was tried for murder and sentenced to death. He argued on appeal that proceeding by information in capital cases violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment asserting that this clause incorporated the Fifth Amendment requirement of grand jury indictment in federal capital cases, thus making it binding upon the states. The Supreme Court rejected the argument, holding that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment could not logically encompass the specific procedural guarantees of the Fifth Amendment.

The defendant also contended that due process signified those settled usages and modes of proceeding existing in the common and statute law of England before the settlement of the American colonies, unless unsuited to colonial conditions. He claimed that proceeding by information in capital cases was not authorized by English or colonial law. The Court disagreed, holding that other procedures may be consonant with due process. The test that the Court adopted was that any legal proceeding, whether sanctioned by age or newly devised, which preserved the fundamental principles of liberty and justice lying at the base of American political institutions, must be deemed to constitute due process. In the Court's opinion, the California procedure did not violate these principles.

Edgar Bodenheimer

Subjects: Law.

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