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Understanding Due Process

The right to due process is guaranteed to Americans by the fifth and the fourteenth Constitutional amendments. Both amendments include a final clause stating that no person can be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The fifth amendment imposes this limitation on the federal government, while the fourteenth extends it to all state governments as well.

Clearly, the authors of these two amendments were concerned with protecting the rights of citizens. What is not so clear is the exact meaning of the phrase due process. As such, the due process clause has been the subject of much debate, and its interpretation has formed the focal point of many Supreme Court cases and decisions. While the issue is far from being resolved, some standard interpretations have been established, including a distinction between the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of due process, creating the categories of procedural due process and substantive due process, respectively.

Procedural Due Process

Procedural due process is a standard applied to the ‘how’ of a law. It asks questions about the way a law is written and applied. For example, a law which governs DUI may be struck down on procedural grounds if it is too vague (i.e., does not define DUI correctly), if it presumes guilt (i.e., a law biased towards prosecutors), or if it is unfair (i.e., a law which legalizes DUI for older drivers but not younger ones).

Substantive Due Process

Substantive due process is described as the ‘why’ of a law, or whether a law is reasonable or justifiable. The substantive standard can be applied to even to laws which may have passed the procedural test. That is to say, even if a law is written in a way which is fair, clear, and presumes innocence, it can still be found unconstitutional if it is an unreasonable statute. A good example of a substantive due process violation is the Texas abortion law struck down by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. The court’s decision stated that it was unreasonable for the state to prevent a woman from having an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy, and therefore concluded that the abortion law violated the due process clause of the Constitution.

Other Implications of Due Process

The due process clause has also been interpreted to guarantee certain rights which are not explicitly stated. These rights include such things as:

  • The right to a trial by an unbiased jury
  • The right to a fair trial
  • The right to be present at one’s own trial
  • And more

If you have been accused of a DUI, make sure the rights granted to you by the Constitution are respected. Contact Rhode Island DUI defense lawyer Matthew Marin today by calling 401-287-4384.