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Law School Case Brief

Hurtado v. California - 110 U.S. 516, 4 S. Ct. 111 (1884)

Rule:

The Supreme Court of the United States is unable to say that the substitution for a presentment or indictment by a grand jury of the proceeding by an information, after examination and commitment by a magistrate, certifying to the probable guilt of the defendant, with the right on his part to the aid of counsel, and to the cross-examination of the witnesses produced for the prosecution, is not due process of law.

Facts:

An information was filed against defendant Joseph Hurtado, charging him with murder. Without any previous investigation of the cause by a grand jury, Hurtado was arraigned and pleaded not guilty. Subsequently, Hurtado was found guilty by a verdict of murder in the first degree and was then sentenced to death. Hurtado appealed the judgment on the ground that he was not legally indicted by or presented to a grand jury and that the proceedings violated due process of law, as they were in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The lower courts rejected Hurtado’s objections and affirmed the conviction. 

Issue:

Were the lower courts correct in convicting defendant Joseph Hurtado, notwithstanding the lack of any previous investigation of the cause by a grand jury?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the decision of the lower courts, finding the substitution of an indictment by a grand jury by an information, which certified the probable guilt of Hurtado, combined with his right to the aid of counsel and to cross-examination of the witnesses, did not violate due process of law. According to the Court, the fact that the Fifth Amendment provided for indictment by grand jury did not mean that the states had to provide such a procedure in order to meet the minimum due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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