Tag: Due Process

Disabled woman

Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976)

FACTS: The Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare reviewed George Eldridge’s medical reports and information. Afterwards, it informed Eldridge by letter that his disability benefits had been terminated.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Eldridge (Respondent) sued the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (Petitioner), and challenged the constitutional validity of the administrative procedures that assesses whether there exists a continuing disability. The District Court found the administrative procedures breached Respondent’s right to procedural due process. Therefore, it issued an injunction. The Court of Appeals relied on the District Court’s opinion and affirmed.

JUDGMENT: Reversed.

ISSUE: Whether the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires the recipient be afforded an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing prior to the termination of Social Security disability benefit payments.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: The administrative procedures fully comport with due process in the present case. Thus, an evidentiary hearing is not required prior to the termination of disability benefits.

RATIONALE: While the lower courts found due process requires an evidentiary hearing prior to termination, SCOTUS disagreed because of the private and governmental interests at stake. In its view, due process is not a technical conception with a fixed content unrelated to time, place and circumstances. SCOTUS also reasoned that due process requires (1) the private interest that will be affected by the official action, (2) the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value of additional or substitute procedural safeguards, (3), the Government’s interest, the function involved, and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.

SCOTUS did agree with the lower courts that procedures needed to be tailored to “the capacities and circumstances of those who are to be heard,” and that recipients of benefits must be given a meaningful opportunity to present their case, as in Goldberg v. Kelly. However, in the present case, SCOTUS recognized that the local SSA office offered the Respondent assistance in the completion of his questionnaire. The Respondent was also given an opportunity to submit additional evidence or arguments, which enabled him to challenge the accuracy of information in his file and the agency’s tentative conclusions. Based on these facts, SCOTUS reasoned the potential value of an evidentiary hearing or oral presentation before the decision-maker was inconsequential.

DISSENT: (Brennan, J., Marshall, J.) The Justices in the dissent agreed with the lower courts that Eldridge must be afforded with an evidentiary hearing of the type required for welfare beneficiaries under Title IV of the Social Security Act prior to termination of benefits. However, the dissidents felt SCOTUS did not need to consider whether a recipient suffers only a limited deprivation that stem from a discontinuance of disability benefits. It also felt the argument raised in regard to a worker who could still seek other forms of public assistance, but has been placed in the untenable position of having been denied disability benefits, was irrelevant for SCOTUS to consider. In all, the dissidents believed the legislative determination to provide disability benefits, without any prerequisite determination of need by the recipient, presumed the need at issue.

SYNTHESIS: Eldridge relied exclusively upon Goldberg v. Kelly, which established a right to an “evidentiary hearing” prior to termination of welfare benefits. SCOTUS then went back to its past decisions and found it spoke sparingly about the requisite procedures. In Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., it was silent. In Fuentes v. Shevin, SCOTUS said a determination needed to be more than an ex parte proceeding before a court clerk. Although SCOTUS held in Bell v. Burson, that due process required only a pre-revocation hearing, it reasoned that it “need not take the form of a full adjudication of the question of liability.”

In the examination of these cases, SCOTUS pointed out that a recipient’s sole interest is the uninterrupted receipt of benefits pending final administrative decision on their claim. In the event a recipient’s benefits are terminated, and they prevail on their claim, retroactive relief is provided to them. Given this fact, SCOTUS found the Respondent’s potential injury was similar in nature to Goldberg, and Sniadach, but that an evidentiary hearing was not required prior to the termination of disability benefits.

Say No to War - Guantanamo Bay

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2006)

FACTS: The U.S. Government detained Yaser Esam Hamdi on allegations that he participated in Taliban conflict. Government officials then transferred Hamdi from Guantanamo Bay and held him in a Virginia naval brig.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Hamdi (Petitioner) sued the U.S. Government (Respondent) under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments for violation of due process. The district court agreed with Petitioner, that the Mobbs Declaration did not support his detention. Respondent appealed the decision. The Fourth Circuit reversed. Petitioner then filed a writ of certiorari with SCOTUS.

JUDGMENT: Vacated and remanded.

ISSUE: Whether the President’s detention of citizens who qualify as enemy combatants violates the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments right to due process.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: Detained citizens who seek to challenge the Government’s enemy combatant classification must receive notice and be given a fair opportunity to rebut the assertion before an impartial decision-maker.

RATIONALE: Independent review of enemy combatant classification are not burdensome as to eclipse a citizen’s right to challenge the Government’s position and to be heard by an impartial decision-maker.

SYNTHESIS: In Fuentes v. Shevinthe Court said individuals are entitled to notice and the opportunity to be heard when their rights are affected. Then in Mathews v. Eldridge, the Court laid out the necessary procedure to ensure that citizens are not deprived of procedural due process (private interest vs. governmental interests vs. functions). Based on these two cases, the Court found the Petitioner’s incommunicado detention violated procedural due process.

DISSENT: (Thomas, J., dissenting) The Judiciary does not have the aptitude to question the validity of an enemy combatant status. Justice Thomas was of the opinion that the majority misapplied the Eldridge framework. If it were applied ‘correctly’ the Court would have reached a different conclusion.

Medical care

Lassiter v. Department of Social Svcs., 452 U.S. 18 (1981)

FACTS: The Durham County Department of Social Services (Department) alleged, Abby Gail Lassiter did not provide her son William with proper medical care. Based on this fact, the Department took custody of William. The Department further claims Lassiter did not make future plans for William, ceased all contact with him, and left him in foster care.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: The trial court served Lassiter (Petitioner) with the petition and with notice of hearing. At the hearing, the trial court terminated Petitioner’s parental rights. Petitioner argued on appeal that she was indigent. She further argued that the trial court violated her Fourteenth Amendment right to counsel when the trial court refused to provide counsel for her. The Appeals Court rejected Petitioner’s appeal and the Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the decision.

JUDGMENT: Affirmed.

ISSUE: Whether Petitioner the Due Process Clause requires the appointment of counsel when a State seeks to terminate an indigent’s parental status.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: The trial court did not err when it failed to appoint counsel for the Petitioner.

RATIONALE: SCOTUS articulated that the right to appointed counsel exists only where a litigant may lose her physical liberty if she loses the litigation. In the present case, the Petitioner expressly declined to appear at a child custody hearing. She also failed to speak to her retained lawyer after she was notified of the termination hearing. While Petitioner failed to make an effort to contest the termination proceeding, the litigation did not result in the loss of her physical liberty.

SYNTHESIS: It was not a struggle for SCOTUS to decide that the Eldridge factors—the protection of parental rights in judicial proceedings—did not overcome the presumption against the right to appointed counsel. Due process does not require the appointment of counsel in every parental termination proceeding. While Gideon v. Wainwright recognized that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel exists to protect the fundamental right to a fair trial, SCOTUS resurrected the decision of Betts v. Brady. In that case, SCOTUS decided that a defendant did not have a constitutional right to counsel. SCOTUS further relied on Betts and refused to extend the right to appointed counsel to include proceedings that did not result in a defendant’s loss of personal liberty. In SCOTUS’ view, as a litigant’s interest in personal liberty diminishes, so does their right to appointed counsel.

SEPARATE OPINION: (Blackmun, J.; Brennan, J.; Marshall,J., dissenting). The Dissenters argued that the unique importance of a parent’s interest in the care and custody of their child cannot constitutionally be extinguished through formal judicial proceedings without the benefit of counsel. To do so would revive the ad hoc approach that SCOTUS discredited in Gideon v. Wainwright. For instance, SCOTUS rejected the Betts reasoning that counsel for indigent criminal defendants was ‘not a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial.’ Although the Dissenters used the same approach to evaluate the “three distinct Eldridge factors” as the majority, it came to a different conclusion. In their view, the countervailing governmental interest was insubstantial. Thus, the majority should have decided whether Petitioner was given a meaningful opportunity to be heard when the State moved to terminate her parental rights.

Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 688 (1984)

FACTS: Charles E. Strickland kidnapped, tortured, murdered, assaulted, extorted victims and committed theft. Strickland later confessed to a third of the criminal episodes.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: The State of Florida indicted Strickland (Respondent) for kidnaping and murder, and appointed an experienced criminal lawyer to represent him. Counsel advised Respondent to invoke his right under Florida law to an advisory jury at his capital sentencing hearing. Respondent rejected the advice and waived the right. The case proceeded to bench trial. There, Counsel did not seek out character witnesses for Respondent, nor did he cross-examine the medical experts who testified about the manner of death of Respondent’s victims. The trial judge sentenced Respondent to the death penalty. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the convictions and sentences on direct appeal. Thereafter, the Respondent appealed the decision and argued ineffective assistance at the sentencing proceedings.

JUDGMENT: Reversed.

ISSUE: Whether the Constitution requires a conviction or death sentence to be set aside because counsel’s assistance at the trial or sentencing was ineffective.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: The Court held the District Court properly declined to issue a writ of habeas corpus, as Respondent suffered insufficient prejudice to warrant setting aside his death sentence.

RATIONALE: A court hearing on an ineffectiveness claim must consider the totality of the evidence before the judge or jury. In order for a defendant to succeed on an ineffective assistance claim, he must show that counsel’s performance was deficient. In other words, counsel made errors so serious that counsel had not functioned as “counsel” guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. The defendant must also show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel’s errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Respondent asserted counsel was ineffective because he failed to move for a continuance, did not request a psychiatric report, nor investigated and presented character witnesses. Respondent further argued Counsel did not seek a presentence investigation report, did not investigate the medical examiner’s reports, nor cross-examine the medical experts. The Court found the omitted evidence to be irrelevant, and stated there was no reasonable probability that it would have changed the conclusion of the sentence imposed.

SYNTHESIS: In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Court recognized that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel exists to protect the fundamental right to a fair trial. The Constitution guarantees a fair trial through the Due Process Clauses, which includes the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for a defense. While the Court acknowledged that the effective assistance guarantee of the Sixth Amendment is to ensure that criminal defendants receive a fair trial, it did not find the deficiencies in Counsel’s performance in the present case prejudicial enough to the defense to constitute ineffective assistance under the Constitution.

SEPARATE OPINION: (Brennan, J.) Justice Brennan wanted to vacate the Respondent’s death sentence because he believes the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Justice Marshall (dissenting) argued that “every defendant is entitled to a trial in which his interests are vigorously and conscientiously advocated by an able lawyer.” A proceeding in which the defendant does not receive meaningful assistance, in Justice Marshall’s view, does not constitute due process. Justice Marshall further stated if counsel had investigated evidence, he could have presented that evidence at trial. If additional evidence were presented, it could a resulted in the Respondent being given a life sentence instead of the death penalty. In all, Justice Marshall contends Counsel’s failure to investigate was more than sufficient to establish a violation of the Sixth Amendment and to entitle respondent to a new sentencing proceeding.

Evidentiary hearing

Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970)

FACTS: Residents of New York City receiving financial aid under the federally assisted program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or under New York State’s general Home Relief program alleged that the New York State and New York City officials administering these programs terminated, or were about to terminate, such aid without prior notice and hearing, thereby denying them due process of law.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: An action was brought in the District Court for the Southern District of New York. The District Court held that only a pre-termination evidentiary hearing would satisfy the constitutional command. It rejected New York officials’ argument that the combination of the post-termination ‘fair hearing‘ with the informal pre-termination review disposed of all due process claims.

JUDGMENT: Affirmed.

ISSUE: Whether the Due Process Clause requires that the recipient be afforded an evidentiary hearing before the termination of benefits.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: Due process requires an adequate hearing before termination of welfare benefits (later constitutionally fair proceeding does not alter the result).

RATIONALE: When welfare is discontinued, only a pre-termination evidentiary hearing provides the recipient with procedural due process. The pre-termination hearing need not take the form of a judicial or quasi-judicial trial. While the Court reasoned that counsel need not be provided at the pre-termination hearing, it did state that a recipient must be allowed to retain an attorney if [s]he so desires. The Court also noted that a welfare official’s prior involvement in some aspects of a case will not necessarily bar them from acting as a decision maker, however, they should not participate in the determination under review.

DISSENT: (Black, J.) When federal judges use judicial power for legislative purposes, they wander out of their field of vested powers and transgress into the area constitutionally assigned to the Congress and the people. Justice Black stated no provision in our Constitution paralyzes the governments’ efforts to protect itself against making payments to people who are not entitled to them. It strains credulity to say that the government’s promise of charity to an individual is property belonging to that individual when the government denies that the individual is honestly entitled to receive such a payment.

Justice Black felt the majority reached its result by a process of weighing ‘the recipient’s interest in avoiding’ the termination of welfare benefits against ‘the governmental interest in summary adjudication.’ According to Justice Black, today’s balancing act requires a ‘pre-termination evidentiary hearing,’ yet there is nothing that indicates what tomorrow’s balance will be. The end result of the Court’s decision may be that the government, once it decides to give welfare benefits, cannot reverse that decision until the recipient has had the benefits of full administrative and judicial review, including, the opportunity to present his case to this Court. For Justice Black, this case is a new experiment carrying out a welfare program that should not be frozen into the U.S.’s constitutional structure. It should be left, as are other legislative determinations, to the Congress and the legislatures that the people elect to make our laws.

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