Adamson v. California

332 U.S. 46
Adamson v. California
No. 102 Argued: January 15-16, 1947
Decided: June 23, 1947


1. The guaranty of the Fifth Amendment that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” is not made effective against state action by the Fourteenth Amendment. Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, and Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, reaffirmed. Pp. 50-53.

2. The privilege against self-incrimination is not inherent in the right to a fair trial, and is therefore not, on that basis, protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 53-54.

3. The constitution and statutes of California provide that, in any criminal case, whether the defendant testifies or not, his “failure to explain or to deny by his testimony any evidence or facts in the case against him may be commented upon” by the court and by counsel, and may be considered by the court or the jury. If the defendant pleads not guilty, but admits a charge that he has suffered a previous conviction, the charge of the previous conviction must not be read to the jury. However, if the defendant testifies, the previous conviction may, on cross-examination, be [p47] revealed to the jury to impeach his testimony. In a prosecution for murder, in which the defendant admitted previous convictions but did not testify, the trial court instructed the jury, and the state’s attorney argued the case, in accordance with the state law.

Held: The provisions of the California law, as applied in the circumstances of this case, do not violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 53-58.

4. There is no basis in the California law for the defendant’s objection on due process or other grounds that the statutory authorization to comment on the failure to explain or deny adverse testimony shifts the burden of proof or the duty to go forward with the evidence. P. 58.

5. This Court does not interfere with a conclusion of the State Supreme Court that it was improbable that the jury was misled by the prosecutor’s argument to believe that the jury could infer guilt solely from the defendant’s silence. P. 58.

6. The defendant in this case was not denied due process of law by the admission in evidence of tops of women’s stockings that were found in his room, even though they did not match a stocking part which was found under the victim’s body. Pp. 58-59.

Appellant was convicted in a state court of murder in the first degree. The conviction was affirmed by the state supreme court, 27 Cal.2d 478, 165 P.2d 3, which sustained the validity of provisions of the state law challenged as violative of the Federal Constitution. Affirmed, p. 59.

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Dissenting Opinion