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Hurtado v. California

The Right To Be Indicted

On 20 February 1882, California resident Hurtado was charged with the murder of Jose Antonio Stuardo. A murder charge often results from an indictment by a grand jury--a process whereby a jury of 13 to 23 citizens hears evidence and decides whether enough cause exists to charge someone with a particular crime. Under this system, a grand jury indictment is needed in order to try someone for murder.

The right to a grand jury for capital crimes (crimes that might result in the death penalty) is actually spelled out in the Fifth Amendment. However, the Fifth Amendment only covers federal courts. Murder trials generally take place in state courts.

That was the case with Hurtado, who was tried in a California state court. According to California law, Hurtado was examined by a magistrate who decided, based on the information presented to him, that there were indeed grounds to try Hurtado for murder. The trial was held, Hurtado was found guilty, and on 5 June 1882, he was sentenced to death.

At this point, Hurtado claimed that he was not being treated fairly. He pointed out that he had never received a grand jury trial which, he charged, violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Hurtado v. California - Significance, The Right To Be Indicted, "ancient Established Law", "incapable Of Progress Or Improvement"