The concept of due process is so critical to the United States Constitution and our framework of legal principles that it’s enshrined in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Indeed, it’s the only time that a command is enumerated twice in the Constitution.
The Fifth Amendment dictates to the federal government that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law,” while the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, uses the exact same eleven words, called the Due Process Clause.
It’s important to note that the Bill of Rights was a set of proscriptions against the federal government, but it had no application to the states. In the middle of the 20th century, a series of Supreme Court decisions found that the Due Process Clause “incorporated” most of the important elements of the Bill of Rights and made them applicable to the states.
In the intervening years, the construction of due process has changed from a focus on legal procedures to what is known as substantive due process. But all of these legal constructs stem from the legal protections King John of England was forced to sign in the Magna Carta in 1215.
In the case of Teller County woman Kelsey Berreth, who went missing late last year and is presumed dead, suspected to have been murdered by her fiance, Florissant rancher Patrick Frazee, due process has become a textbook example of how law enforcement and our legal system should act. From the outset of the case, Woodland Park Police Chief Miles de Young and Dan May, our District Attorney, have been scrupulously cautious about safeguarding due process by following the letter of the law.
Though many will naturally speculate in sensational cases such as this, instinctively drawing conclusions and making inferences, our legal system is exacting and provides broad protections against abuse.
In that context, I spoke with Chief de Young concerning the case, and our conversation highlights this deep concern. “I have faith in our process and I’m willing to let this case grind through that legal process.”
The Chief raised a particularly important point in the case concerning the restrictions imposed on law enforcement. “When we initially spoke with (Frazee), the discussion was focused on Kelsey being a missing person. At that time, we couldn’t do a formal interview with him and sit him down as a Mirandized person; and as he subsequently retained a lawyer that froze the process. We took the time to work the landfill to be reasonably certain there was no evidence there. It was the right thing to do for all concerned.”
The civic and legal sanctity of due process is one of the fundamental safeguards our Constitution provides. Critically, the presumption of innocence is at the core of these procedural mandates. History is replete with examples of regimes that routinely abused the rights of their citizens. We’re familiar with the notion of a Kangaroo court, which is a sham trial whose outcome is predetermined. Prominent examples include the People’s Court that convicted “suspects” in the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944, and the 1979 trial of Pol Pot, which subsequently demonstrated the sentencing papers were drafted in advance of the trial.
Another example is the Star Chamber, a court of inquisitional and criminal jurisdiction in England that was conducted without a jury and was notorious for its arbitrary methods and draconian punishments, and which was abolished in 1641.
The process for pursuing justice is painstakingly slow and can be frustrating, but it’s the best guarantor that our rights will be preserved. As Chief de Young said, “I want to be sure we’ve done everything on our side to ensure that law enforcement is has fulfilled its responsibilities.”
Philip Mella serves on the 4th Judicial District Nominating Commission and is a health care administrator with a passion for history, politics and the written word. He also served on the Woodland Park City Council for seven years. Email Philip at email@example.com.