Procedural Due Process | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Policing / Procedural Law

Procedural due process refers to the Constitutional idea that the criminal justice system must treat people in a fundamentally fair way.

Procedural due process is a fundamental principle of the American criminal justice system. It is rooted in the Constitution’s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which guarantee that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

At its core, procedural due process requires that the government provide individuals with certain procedural protections when their rights or interests are at stake. This means that the government must follow certain procedures when it seeks to deprive individuals of life, liberty, or property.

These procedures may vary depending on the circumstances of the case, but they generally include notice of the charges or allegations against the individual, an opportunity to be heard, and a neutral decision-maker. The government must also provide individuals with a fair and impartial hearing and must base its decisions on reliable evidence.

Procedural due process is essential to ensuring that the criminal justice system operates in a fair and just manner. It is designed to protect individuals from arbitrary or capricious actions by the government and to provide them with a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves against accusations or charges.

In practice, these protections may be invoked in a wide range of criminal justice contexts. For example, they may be invoked when an individual is arrested or detained, when they are charged with a crime, or when they are facing a sentencing hearing or other criminal justice proceeding.

Procedural due process is not an absolute guarantee of fairness, however. There may be situations where the government is unable to provide individuals with all of the procedural protections they are entitled to, such as in cases where there is a threat to public safety or national security.

Despite these limitations, procedural due process remains a cornerstone of the American criminal justice system. It ensures that individuals are not subject to arbitrary or unfair treatment by the government and provides them with a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves against accusations or charges.

In recent years, there has been growing concern about the erosion of procedural due process protections in the United States. Critics argue that law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are increasingly using tactics such as plea bargaining and civil forfeiture to deprive individuals of their rights without providing them with the full protections of due process.

In response, there have been calls for reform and renewed attention to the importance of procedural due process protections in the criminal justice system. As the United States continues to grapple with issues of fairness and justice in the criminal justice system, it is likely that the principles of procedural due process will remain at the forefront of these debates.

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Last Modified: 04/05/2023


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