Due process of law is a fundamental right afforded to every person, and pertains to both civil and criminal cases. This term refers to the various procedures and protections put in place to ensure any individual's rights are not violated during a criminal investigation or trial.

In this article, we will discuss what this principle entails, how it applies in practice, and highlight historical court cases which had a major impact on how this principle is applied.

Due Process of Law Definition

This constitutional guarantee, also known as “due process” for short, ensures all individuals will be treated fairly and impartially by the federal and state governments. This right includes both procedural and substantive protections.

Procedural due process refers to the procedures that must be followed to ensure a fair trial. For example, an accused person must be informed of the charges being held against them and the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.

Substantive due process, on the other hand, has to do with whether there is a good enough reason to start these procedures. For instance, the government can’t charge an individual with a crime without probable cause.

What Due Process Entails

Clauses ensuring due process are found in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This principle is also related to the rights secured by the Sixth Amendment.

According to the Fifth Amendment, “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Due process must include:

  • Notice of the accusation
  • A hearing
  • A ruling

Furthermore, a person can’t be forced to testify against themselves, nor can they be put in double jeopardy, i.e., be tried for the same crime more than once. 

The Fourteenth Amendment protects those same civil liberties, but while the Fifth Amendment applies to federal jurisdiction, the Fourteenth extends the due process protections to state law.

The person who is accused of a crime also has the right to an attorney, the right to be tried before an impartial jury, the right to know what crime they’re accused of, and the right to be informed about what evidence there is against them, according to the Sixth Amendment.

Due Process Origins

The origins of this principle can be traced back to 1215 and the 39th Chapter of King John’s Magna Carta, which states:

“No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

The due process clause was first included in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution in 1791. This amendment was ratified as part of the Bill of Rights - 10 amendments designed to protect the rights of individuals from infringement by the government.

Initially, the civil liberties covered in the Bill of Rights applied solely to the federal government, which led to the state government committing due process violations with no consequences. This lasted until the Fourteenth Amendment was introduced to solve this problem.

The Fourteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1868, was created to ensure “equal protection of the laws.” It extended the due process clause to apply to state law as well as federal law.

Due Process in Practice

Now that we’ve established the definition of due process and where it originated, let’s look at some cases that led to significant changes in how this principle is applied.

Meyer vs. Nebraska (1923)

Meyer vs. Nebraska is a 1923 case brought by Robert Meyer, a teacher who taught German to a student in Nebraska. The state had passed a law prohibiting teaching foreign languages to young children, and Meyer was prosecuted for violating that law.

The United States Supreme Court ruled that the state’s law in question violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Miranda vs. Arizona (1966)

In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested and charged with robbery, kidnapping, and rape in Arizona. During questioning by police, Miranda confessed to the crimes. However, he was not informed about his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, which include the right to remain silent, and the right to counsel.

Miranda was convicted and sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison. He appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, but it was rejected. Then, he appealed to the US Supreme Court, and in 1966, it decided the confession was inadmissible evidence, because the suspect was not informed about his rights. Thus, his right to due process wasn’t respected.

This case resulted in the creation of the Miranda warning, which must be read to suspects in police custody before they are questioned.

Loving vs. Virginia (1967)

Loving vs. Virginia is a case that helped put an end to the interracial marriage ban. During the 1960s, Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was still being enforced, even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Virginia’s act supported racial segregation and imposed that no Caucasian person is to be married to a person of color.

Virginia residents, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, were an interracial couple who got married in Washington, DC, in 1958 and then returned to Virginia. One night, the police arrested them at their home. They appealed to the US Supreme Court.

In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that the state's ban on interracial marriages violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling was a step forward in the fight to ensure all individuals would be treated equally under the law, including respecting their right to the due process of law, regardless of their race.

Final Comments

As you can tell, due process is an important concept that helps ensure everyone is treated fairly and equally under the law. It’s essential to know your rights: If you are ever faced with a situation where they might be violated, and there is a lack of due process, you can take action.


What is due process of law, and why is it important?

The purpose of due process is to ensure every individual is granted certain civil liberties that cannot be taken away without a hearing or trial, regardless of the type of offense. The importance of due process lies in the fact that it protects US citizens from being unfairly treated or convicted by the federal and state governments.

What is a violation of due process?

A violation of due process is anything that includes depriving a person of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." An example of such a violation would be law enforcement searching an individual’s property without a warrant.

What are the two types of due process?

The two types of due process are substantive and procedural due process. Substantive due process is there to ensure a legitimate reason to take legal action, such as sufficient evidence to arrest someone for a crime.

On the other hand, procedural due process deals with following legal procedures. For instance, when arresting an individual, the police must read them their rights.

What is an example of the due process of law?

An example of due process would be the police notifying an arrestee about their right to be silent so as not to incriminate themselves, and to be represented by an attorney.