Hurtado v. California

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Hurtado v. California
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 22–23, 1884
Decided March 3, 1884
Full case name Joseph Hurtado v. People of California
Citations 110 U.S. 516 (more)
4 S. Ct. 111; 28 L. Ed. 232; 1884 U.S. LEXIS 1716
Prior history In error to the Supreme Court of California
The words "due process of law" in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution do not necessarily require an indictment by a grand jury in a prosecution by a state for murder.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Morrison Waite
Associate Justices
Samuel F. Miller · Stephen J. Field
Joseph P. Bradley · John M. Harlan
William B. Woods · T. Stanley Matthews
Horace Gray · Samuel Blatchford
Case opinions
Majority Matthews, joined by Waite, Miller, Bradley, Woods, Gray, Blatchford
Dissent Harlan
Field took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
5th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution; Article I, Section 8, to the California State Constitution

Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516 (1884), was a case decided on by the United States Supreme Court. The case allowed states, not the federal government, to avoid using grand juries in criminal prosecutions.


Joseph Hurtado discovered that his wife, Susie, was having an affair with their friend, José Antonio Estuardo. After measures that Hurtado took to put an end to the affair, such as temporarily sending his wife away to live with her parents and the assaulting Estuardo in a bar after his wife returned and the affair resumed, proved futile, Hurtado fatally shot Estuardo. Hurtado was arrested for the crime but was not indicted by a grand jury.

According to the California State Constitution at the time, "Offenses heretofore required to be prosecuted by indictment, shall be prosecuted by information, after examination and commitment by a magistrate, or by indictment, with or without such examination and commitment, as may be prescribed by law. A grand jury shall be drawn and summoned at least once a year in each county."[1]

The Sacramento County judge examined the information and determined that Hurtado should be brought to trial. Hurtado was tried, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. At issue was whether or not the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause extended to the states the 5th Amendment's Indictment Clause requiring indictment by grand jury.

The following questions were presented:

  • Does a state criminal proceeding based on an information rather than a grand jury indictment violate the 14th Amendment's due process clause? [2]
  • Is a grand jury indictment required by the 5th Amendment applicable to state criminal trials via the 14th Amendment?


The Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that Hurtado's due process right was not violated by denial of a grand jury hearing and that the 14th Amendment was not intended to work retroactively to apply the 5th Amendment to state criminal trials.

Writing for the majority, Justice Matthews stated that the states should be free to construct their own laws without infringement and that the 14th Amendment was not intended to guarantee the right of a grand jury because it would then have been specifically referenced. His opinion also concluded that Hurtado's due process right was not violated, as an information is "merely a preliminary proceeding and can result in no final judgment." He further concluded that Hurtado still received a fair trial.

Dissenting opinion[edit]

However, Justice Harlan presented a lone dissent, a learned disquisition on the history and meaning of "due process of law" that included quotes of many of the great jurists. "Blackstone says: 'But to find a bill there must be at least twelve of the jury agree; for, so tender is the law of England of the lives of the subjects, that no man can be convicted at the suit of the king of any capital offense, unless by a unanimous voice of twenty-four of his equals and neighbors; that is, by twelve at least of the grand jury, in the first place, assenting to the accusation, and afterwards by the whole petit jury of twelve more finding him guilty upon his trial.'"[3][4] Also, "'But these informations (of every kind) are confined by the constitutional law to mere misdemeanors only; for, wherever any capital offense is charged, the same law requires that the accusation be warranted by the oath of twelve men before the party shall be put to answer it.' Id. 309." He cited Edward Coke, who held that "in capital cases, informations are not allowed by that law [of the land], and was not due process of law."


It has been on the basis of the decision that many states have abandoned the requirement for grand juries, usually replacing them with informations and a preliminary hearing before a judge or the discretion of the prosecutor. However, as Justice Harlan had written, "one of the peculiar benefits of the grand-jury system, as it exists in this country, is that it is composed, as a general rule, of private persons who do not hold office at the will of the government, or at the will of voters." Critics contend that by abandoning the grand jury as originally conceived, the rights of the accused are less well-protected, resulting in more miscarriages of justice. The grand jury has been criticized, however, as ineffective in protecting the rights of the accused. In the words of Sol Wachtler, a former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if the prosecutor asked it to do so.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hurtado v. California". Retrieved 2006-11-30. 
  2. ^ The Oyez Project. "Hurtado v. California". Oyez. Retrieved 2006-11-30.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  3. ^ 4 Bl. Comm. 306.
  4. ^ He failed to mention that in England, a person could be condemned to death without trial by a bill of attainder.
  5. ^

External links[edit]