Generally: The Principle of Fundamental Fairness


Generally: The Principle of Fundamental Fairness

The Court in recent years has held that practically all the criminal procedural guarantees of the Bill of Rights—the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments—are fundamental to state criminal justice systems and that the absence of one or the other particular guarantees denies a suspect or a defendant due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment.974 Further, the Court has held that the due process clause protects against practices and policies which violate precepts of fundamental fairness,975 even if they do not violate specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights.976 The standard query in such cases is whether the challenged practice or policy violates "a fundamental principle of liberty and justice which inheres in the very idea of a free government and is the inalienable right of a citizen of such government."977

974 See analysis under the Bill of Rights, "Fourteenth Amendment," supra.

975 For instance, In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970), held that, despite the absence of a specific constitutional provision requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases, such proof is a due process requirement. For other recurrences to general due process reasoning, as distinct from reliance on more specific Bill of Rights provisions, see, e.g., Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973) (defendant may not be denied opportunity to explore confession of third party to crime for which defendant is charged); Wardius v. Oregon, 412 U.S. 470 (1973) (defendant may not be held to rule requiring disclosure to prosecution of an alibi defense unless defendant is given reciprocal discovery rights against the state).; Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684 (1975) (defendant may not be required to carry the burden of disproving an element of a crime for which he is charged).; Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501 (1976) (a State cannot compel an accused to stand trial before a jury while dressed in identifiable prison clothes); Henderson v. Kibbe, 431 U.S. 145 (1977) (sufficiency of jury instructions); Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197 (1977) (defendant may be required to bear burden of affirmative defense); Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U.S. 478 (1978) (requiring, upon defense request, jury instruction on presumption of innocence); Kentucky v. Whorton, 441 U.S. 786 (1979) (fairness of failure to give jury instruction on presumption of innocence evaluated under totality of circumstances) ; Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 (1979) (conclusive presumptions in jury instruction may not be used to shift burden of proof of an element of crime to defendant); Hicks v. Oklahoma, 447 U.S. 343 (1980) (where sentencing enhancement scheme for habitual offenders found unconstitutional, defendant's sentence cannot be sustained, even if sentence falls within range of unenhanced sentences).

976 Justice Black thought the Fourteenth Amendment should be limited to the specific guarantees found in the Bill of Rights. See, e.g., In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 377 (1970) (dissenting). For Justice Harlan's response, see id. at 372 n.5 (concurring).

977 Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, 106 (1908). The question is phrased as whether a claimed right is "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," whether it partakes "of the very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty," Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325 (1937), or whether it "offend[s] those canons of decency and fairness which express the notions of justice of English-speaking peoples even toward those charged with the most heinous offenses," Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165, 169 (1952).

This inquiry contains a historical component, as "recent cases . . . have proceeded upon the valid assumption that state criminal processes are not imaginary and theoretical schemes but actual systems bearing virtually every characteristic of the common-law system that has been developing contemporaneously in England and in this country. The question thus is whether given this kind of system a particular procedure is fundamental—whether, that is, a procedure is necessary to an Anglo-American regime of ordered liberty… [Therefore, the limitations imposed by the Court on the States are] not necessarily fundamental to fairness in every criminal system that might be imagined but [are] fundamental in the context of the criminal processes maintained by the American States."978

978 Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 149 n.14 (1968).

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