Discuss why the Court decided the case the way it did.The case, Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516 (1884) determined that the use of a grand jury was not an essential step that a system of fair...

Discuss why the Court decided the case the way it did.

The case, Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516 (1884) determined that the use of a grand jury was not an essential step that a system of fair justice required.

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In order to understand why the Court decided as it did, it is first necessary to understand the difference between the Fifth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Then the Court's determination can be made clear.

Let's look at the Fifth Amendment first:

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 offense 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.

The Fifth Amendment applies only to the federal government. For a federal offense of any kind, these rights are guaranteed by this amendment.  Since this amendment includes a specific mention of the grand jury, the federal government must convene a grand jury for capital or "otherwise infamous" crimes.  If the defendant in the case had been tried under a federal statute, a grand jury would have been necessary.

The Fourteenth Amendment applies to the states.  Here is the first section, which is the section relevant to this discussion:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This amendment grants us rights in state proceedings, not in federal proceedings.  While both amendments refer to "due process," notice that the Fourteenth Amendment does not mention a number of rights, including the right to a grand jury.

This failure to specificly mention these rights meant that the Court had to ask whether the unmentioned rights were a part of the due process required in state proceedings.  In fact, this was true of the right to counsel, the right to refuse to incriminate oneself, and so on.

Reading the case, for which I have provided a link below, you will see that the defendant in the case is being tried under state law, not federal law.  So the Court's inquiry is whether or not the California Constitution provided due process to the defendant, consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment, not consistent with the Fifth Amendment, because there is no requirement that California law be consistent with the Fifth Amendment. It is a state, not the federal government.

Some rights enumerated in the Fifth Amendment, for example, the right to counsel, have been held by the Court to be necessary for due process.  However, the specific rights mentioned in the Fifth Amendment did not automatically get read into the Fourteenth.

 

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