What Is the Effect of Due Process of Law on a Sentence?

What Is the Effect of Due Process of Law on a Sentence?

In the United States, people have the constitutional right to due process. This means that the process has to be fair. It also prevents the government from interfering with your fundamental liberties. But what do your due-process rights mean when it comes to sentencing?

What does due process of law mean?

The Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment protects your right to due process. These constitutional guarantees apply in two different ways. First, they guarantee that everyone has a fair process. The legal term for this is procedural due process. Among other things, this means that you have a right to a hearing in court cases. Second, due process includes a right to certain liberties without government interference. The legal term for this is substantive due process.

The Fifth Amendment’s due-process clause applies to the federal government. And the Fourteenth Amendment’s clause applies to state governments. In sum, the government shouldn’t take anything from you without a fair process.

Discover the effect of due process of law on a sentence.
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It’s worth pointing out, though, that these amendments include other rules, too. For example, the Fifth Amendment also prohibits double jeopardy and self-incrimination. Double jeopardy keeps the government from convicting you of the same crime twice. The self-incrimination rule keeps the government from facing confessions.

Both amendments also include equal-protection clauses. Equal protection is the idea that a government should treat people the same with its laws. This doesn’t mean that the government can’t discriminate, though. Rather, the government must only have a good reason for doing so.

How does due process of law affect your sentence?

The due-process clauses require a fair trial and protect your fundamental liberties. These protections apply during sentencing, too. They might apply in simple ways, such as making sure you’re represented by counsel and face a sentence you could have expected. Due-process protections also come into play when the government tries to keep information from the jury during trial but uses it during sentencing. Another example is that courts can’t punish a criminal defendant for exercising their right to appeal.

While not part of due process, another key fairness element that applies during sentencing are sentencing guidelines. Many states and the federal government require judges to impose a specific sentence or a sentence within a specific range for each crime. On the one hand, this helps keep sentences fair because they are close to the same. But these guidelines can also be a problem if judges can’t use lower sentences in certain circumstances.

Can you request a shorter sentence as part of due process?

The due-process clauses mandate a fair trial and protect your fundamental liberties. These protections apply during sentencing, too. For example, they make sure you’re represented by counsel and face a sentence you could have expected. But due-process protections also come into play in complicated ways, too. They stop the government from using certain information during sentencing. They also stop courts from punishing you for exercising their right to appeal.

Another key fairness element that applies during sentencing are sentencing guidelines. Many states and the federal government make judges impose a specific sentence. They may also have the judge impose a sentence within a specific range for each crime. On the one hand, this helps keep sentences fair because they are close to the same. But these guidelines can also be a problem. This is especially true if judges can’t use lower sentences in certain circumstances.

Discover the effect of due process of law on a sentence.
Image courtesy of Gerasimov172 via Getty Images.

The Takeaway:

The Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment give you the right to due process. These protections apply throughout your case — even at sentencing.

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