What was the "Due Process Revolution?"

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By the 1960s, it had become clear that due process was not being applied evenly in many communities across the United States. This was particularly the case when applied to African Americans. Throughout the decade, there were a number of race riots in nearly every major city, in response to...

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By the 1960s, it had become clear that due process was not being applied evenly in many communities across the United States. This was particularly the case when applied to African Americans. Throughout the decade, there were a number of race riots in nearly every major city, in response to police actions in which the lack of proper application of due process of African American suspects took place. Many suspects were being questioned without a lawyer present and without full knowledge of their constitutional rights.

In response to this, the Warren Court put forth a number of key decisions which expanded a citizen's rights to due process and limited law enforcement's power to question and detain suspects outside the bounds of the fourth, fifth, and fourteenth amendments. These decisions typically held local and state officials to the same standards as the federal government when it came to prosecuting crimes. As a result of the Supreme Court's decisions during this period, it became necessary that all police officers inform suspects of their rights upon arrest and that lawyers be provided prior to interrogation. Overall, the due process revolution tilted the criminal justice process in favor of protecting an individual's constitutional rights, instead of merely allowing the police to get results based on potentially unscrupulous tactics.

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The "due process revolution" was a direct response by the U.S. Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren to a growing history of state supreme court decisions that were interpreted by Warren and others on the Court as unfairly and unconstitutionally depriving criminal defendants of their rights.  The United States, of course, was comprised of the 48 contiguous states, with Alaska and Hawaii being added in 1959.  Among those 50 states were 50 different judicial systems, making the propensity for judicial actions in contravention of the intent of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution inevitable, especially given the fractious nature the nation's divide along the old Mason-Dixon line.  As a result, state courts were frequently deciding in favor of state prosecutors in instances where the U.S. Supreme Court would later determine defendants' rights had been violated.  Among those cases was the U.S. Supreme Court's 1965 decision in Pointer v. Texas, where the defendant, Bob Granville Pointer, stood accused and was tried on a charge of robbery despite the main witness's having left the state.  That witness, however, had earlier provided a statement that was used by the prosecution to convict Pointer, who had been without counsel during the earlier crucial phases of the judicial process.  In its eventual decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Pointer's favor, noting that he had been denied due process under the Constitution.

Additional cases involving questionable adherence to the text and, often the intent, of the Constitution precipitated a marked movement by Chief Justice Warren to emphasize individual rights, a movement that became known as the "due process revolution."  At the heart of this "revolution" was the Warren Court's efforts at reaffirming the importance of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution that, respectively, protected citizens' rights against unreasonable searches of their property and against self-incrimination.  

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The Due Process Revolution was the process, carried out mostly by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, of providing more due process rights to criminal defendants and others.

The Due Process Revolution involved, among other things the "selective incorporation" of the Bill of Rights.  This process required the states to adhere to the Bill of Rights even as the federal government did.  The Due Process Revolution also added to the idea of what due process was.  It added, for example, the idea that people who were arrested had to be read their rights (Miranda v. Arizona) before they could be interrogated.

The Due Process Revolution, then, was a process of expanding the due process protections enjoyed by American citizens.

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