Hurtado v. California

Following is the case brief for Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516 (1884)

Case Summary of Hurtado v. California:

  • The law of California allows for accusation by information to begin a criminal case, in addition to indictment by grand jury.
  • Hurtado was accused by information of murder.  He was subsequently tried and found guilty of murder.
  • Hurtado claimed that his due process rights were violated under the Fourteenth Amendment because he was not indicted by a grand jury.  The trial court and California Supreme Court rejected that argument.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts.  It held that an indictment by grand jury is not necessarily required to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in a state felony prosecution.

Hurtado v. California Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Joseph Hurtado was charged with killing Jose Antonio Stuardo.  He was ultimately tried by a jury and convicted of first-degree murder.  The court sentenced Hurtado to the death penalty.

The law in California allowed for an accusation by information, rather than an indictment by a grand jury.  An information is a document filed by the district attorney that lists the charges against a defendant and is reviewed and approved by a magistrate before it becomes effective. In Hurtado’s case, the district attorney charged him by filing an information.  Following his conviction, Hurtado contended that not presenting his case to a grand jury for indictment violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Procedural History:

  • The trial court denied Hurtado’s motion to set aside the verdict based upon a due process violation.
  • The California Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court took the case upon a writ of error from the California Supreme Court.

Issue and Holding:

Is an indictment by grand jury necessary to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in state felony prosecutions?  No. 


The judgment of the California Supreme Court is affirmed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not require that a state felony prosecution begin with indictment by a grand jury.


The Constitution is a document written for an expanding and undefined future.  The broad concept of “due process of law” should not be held static by requiring a certain legal process over another.  Accordingly, indictment by grand jury is not mandated by the term “due process.”

Indeed, the Fifth Amendment mentions both indictment by a grand jury and due process. Because there is no surplus language in the Constitution, the Fifth Amendment must be read to mean that due process does not necessarily include the right to indictment by grand jury. That is supported by the fact that the Fourteenth Amendment mentions due process, but not the grand jury.  Moreover, the accusation by information in this case was reviewed by a magistrate.  Thus, liberty and justice are still protected in that procedure such that Hurtado received due process.

Dissenting Opinion (Harlan):

The history of the concept of “due process” should necessarily include the requirement that a person be indicted by a grand jury, made up of people not beholden to the government.


Hurtado v. California, although over one-hundred years old, is still the source of the notion that state criminal legal systems do not have to allow for indictment by grand jury under the Fourteenth Amendment.

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