1 minute read

Brown v. Mississippi

Due Process

The Court heard arguments in the case on 10 January 1936, and ruled unanimously in favor of the petitioners, reversing their convictions and removing their sentences. The basis for the decision lay in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which states that "state action, whether through one agency or another, shall be consistent with the fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions." Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Hughes rejected both arguments advanced by the Mississippi Supreme Court. With regard to the state's first contention, that federal courts had no jurisdiction in state criminal proceedings, Hughes responded that "the freedom of the state in establishing its policy is the freedom of constitutional government and is limited by due process of law." Hughes also noted the special circumstances of this case with biting language: "Because a state may dispense with a jury trial, it does not follow that it may substitute trial by ordeal. The rack and torture chamber may not be substituted for the witness stand." Hughes did not refute the right of states to ignore constitutional provisions against self-incrimination in their criminal procedures. The Court then dismissed the state's second contention, that an error by counsel had resulted in the failure to exclude the confessions from the trial. "It is a contention that proceeds upon a misconception of the nature of the petitioners' complaint. That complaint is not of the commission of mere error, but of a wrong so fundamental that it made the whole proceeding a mere pretense of a trial and rendered the conviction and sentence null and void."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Brown v. Mississippi - Significance, True Confessions, A Travesty Of Justice, Due Process