Constitutional Law: Due Process Rights

Students are required to answer the following questions. Each question is worth the number of points designated after the question. and should be answered in a separate essay. Exams should be no longer than 20 pages. Exams do not have to be 20 pages, but should be as long as is necessary to answer the questions.

Students must type their answers, and answers must be in complete sentences, where grammar and spelling are checked and will be considered in the grading. Be sure to number the essay responses in your file.


Students should only refer to the class material, no outside sources can be cited. When referring to the Epstein and Walker book, students can cite with a simple page number. When referring to or quoting from a case (majority, concurring or dissenting opinion) students should cite with the name of the opinion writer, the opinion type and the case name (Marshall writing for the majority in Marbury v. Madison – note too that all case names should be italicized). Be sure to cite any thoughts or ideas that are not your own. Any citation to outside material will result in an automatic deduction of 10 points for each citation.


1. The Warren Court significantly expanded the rights of the accused. Citing cases from this time, explain how the rights of a defendant in a death penalty case would have changed if they were on trial in 1977 as opposed to 1960. Following the process from investigation to sentencing, what are the major protections that would be extended to a defendant in 1977 that were not in place in 1960? Be sure to address the cases that resulted in changes to the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eights Amendments as well as the important role of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Further, many worried after the Warren Court, that the Burger, Rehnquist and Roberts Courts would significantly curtail the rights of the accused. Focusing the Fourth amendment, was this concern warranted? Did these courts significantly curtail the rights of the accused as related to the 4th amendment? Be sure to cite cases to support your argument. (30 points)

*For the first part of this question you do not need to reference every major case, but make clear how given the decisions of the Warren Court the criminal trial process generally would be different. For the second part of the question, many more 4th amendment cases should be referenced.

2. The right to be represented at a criminal trial by a competent attorney is viewed by many as fundamental in a modern democracy. However, the Supreme Court has recognized this right relatively recently, making it binding on the states. How has the right to counsel evolved over time? Discuss the Supreme Court cases that have extended to right to counsel to indigents. At what stages are the criminally accused entitled to counsel? In addition, during the trial, the 6th amendment protects the right to confront the witnesses against oneself. How has the confrontation clause evolved and expanded since Crawford v. Washington (2004)? (10 points)

2a. The voir dire is a critical component of the criminal trial. It is at this stage that prosecutors and defense attorneys may exclude potential jurors for cause or through the use of peremptory challenges. Explain the differences between these two methods of removal and how attorneys use them. Are there limitations on the use of peremptory challenges by either the prosecution or the defense? If so, what are they? Has the Court provided working rules to help defendants prove that peremptory challenges have been used in a discriminatory manner? If so, what are those rules? Be sure to address the role of race in jury selection as described in the Alexander book. (10 points)

3. When did the Court begin interpreting the application of cruel and unusual punishment using the “evolving standards of decency” standard? How have they determined what these evolving standards are? How has this changed how we interpret and to whom we apply the death penalty in this country? Explain in detail, citing all relevant cases. (10 points)

4. The Supreme Court has held that before interrogating suspects who are in custody, police must warn them of their right to remain silent and the right to have counsel present during questioning (Miranda v. Arizona). Unless these warnings have been made to suspects, the statements they make cannot be used against them at trial. However, the Court has substantially refined this requirement so that it applies only in certain circumstances. Discuss the Court’s interpretation of “custodial interrogation” and “coercive environments.” What do these terms mean, and what effect has the Court recognized that these situations have on the admissibility of statements? As always, discussion of the cases covered will enhance your answer. (10 points)

5. Hypothetical: Randall Martinez, a Hispanic man, was convicted in a Texas court for the murder of a security guard during a bank robbery. Texas allows for the death penalty to be given when certain aggravating circumstances accompany the murder. A defendant may be sentenced to death if any two factors are present. Juries must consider (1) whether the murder was committed in the course of a robbery, (2) whether the murder was shamelessly gross and disgusting, and (3) whether the murder victim was a minor.

Prior to sentencing, the judge, William “Wild Bill” Houston, instructed the jury that all murders are inherently gross and disgusting and that they must include that as one of the aggravating circumstances of this crime. He also said that Hispanics were genetically prone to violent and antisocial behavior and were not fit for society. The jury returned with a death sentence for Martinez, having found that the murder was gross and disgusting and that it was committed in the course of a robbery.

The Intermediate Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court upheld Martinez’s conviction and the death sentence. In his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Martinez relied on a study conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University, which showed that in Texas, Hispanics were 40% more likely to get the death penalty than black defendants and 75% more likely to get the death penalty than white defendants in murder trials. In murder cases tried before Judge Houston, 90% of Hispanic defendants received the death penalty while only 40% of black defendants and 25% of white defendants received the death penalty.

Based on this information, if you were a justice of the Supreme Court, would you overturn his sentence? How has the Supreme Court interpreted the 8th Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment with regard to the death penalty? What is the primary limitation that the Court has recognized on the application of the death penalty, and does it apply to the Martinez case? Explain your reasoning and justify your opinion with reference to cases involving the 8th Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. (10 points)

6. What role has the policy of each president since Nixon in the late 1960s played in helping to create this our system of mass incarceration? What types of policies did (especially Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton) advocate for that created and perpetuated our system of mass incarceration? How have both implicit and explicit bias affect the implementation of the laws signed by these presidents? What has that meant for mass incarceration in the United States? In your opinion is mass incarceration, the “New Jim Crow”? In answering this question cite from the documentary 13 , the New Jim Crow book, the Coates reading, and any other class material that is relevant. (You can use information from your responses to the Race and the Criminal Justice System questions.) (20 points)


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