due process of law

[ doo-pros-esuhv law ]
/ ˈdu ˈprɒs ɛs əv ˈlɔ /
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the regular administration of the law, according to which no individual may be denied their legal rights and all laws must conform to fundamental, accepted legal principles, such as the right of the accused to confront their accusers.
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Also called due proc·ess, due course of law.

Origin of due process of law

First recorded in 1885–90

Words nearby due process of law

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is due process?

Due process is the principle that you will be treated equally and fairly by the justice system, which will adhere to established processes and procedures.

In American law, due process, also known as due process of law, is required by law in both the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Specifically, the Constitution states that the government cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Due process generally means that a person’s “life, liberty, or property” can only be taken from them by a government that is adhering to both the Constitution and the established rules and procedures of the legal system, which usually means a fair trial and equal treatment under the law. In practice, the courts’ idea of due process is much stricter (and easier to understand) in criminal trials than in civil trials.

In criminal trials, due process starts with telling an accused person what crime they are accused of. Then the accused must be guaranteed a fair trial that involves evidence, an unbiased jury, and cross-examination. They are also guaranteed that the court will respect all of their Constitutional rights during the entire legal process.

In civil trials, what is considered acceptable due process is much less clear and the issue has been debated in courts for centuries. Very broadly, due process in a civil dispute means that before a person’s liberty or property can be taken away, they must receive adequate notice that someone intends to take it away from them. They must also be given a reasonable opportunity to dispute it, and the decider of this challenge must be impartial.

Due process only applies to the government, however. Private businesses and other groups don’t have to follow due process, but they still have to obey all applicable laws.

Why is due process important?

The first records of the phrase due process come from around 1791. This phrase combines the words due, meaning owed, and process, meaning a system of actions or procedures. Due process guarantees that a person will be given the fair and equal treatment that they are owed by or due from their government.

Due process was established in American law for the federal government by the Fifth Amendment and for state governments by the Fourteenth Amendment. Since the inclusion, the American court system, including the Supreme Court, has debated what qualifies as acceptable due process. As is often the case, the Court has allowed for due process to be less strict or even entirely unnecessary under certain circumstances.

For example, you cannot appeal or challenge the government for raising taxes or trying to collect them. You also cannot appeal or challenge the government for a police department depriving you of your property if the police have a reason to believe that the property is needed as evidence in a criminal trial.

Did you know … ?

Due process is considered so important to a fair and equal justice system that the so-called Due Process Clause is the only restriction placed on the government that uses the exact same language twice in the Constitution. The phrase “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law” is used in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

What are real-life examples of due process?

This video gives a general overview of due process:

Due process most often comes up when people, especially lawyers, argue that the government violated it.


Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Due process is a legal principle that protects you from unfair or unjust violations of your protected rights.

British Dictionary definitions for due process of law

due process of law

the administration of justice in accordance with established rules and principles
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for due process of law

due process of law

The principle that an individual cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property without appropriate legal procedures and safeguards. The Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution guarantee that any person accused of a crime must be informed of the charges, be provided with legal counsel, be given a speedy and public trial, enjoy equal protection of the laws, and not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, unreasonable searches and seizures, double jeopardy, or self-incrimination.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.