Adamson v. People of State of California

Decision Date23 June 1947
Docket NumberNo. 102,102
Citation91 L.Ed. 1903,67 S.Ct. 1672,171 A.L.R. 1223,332 U.S. 46
PartiesADAMSON v. PEOPLE OF STATE OF CALIFORNIA
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Appeal from the Supreme Court of the State of California.

Mr. Morris Lavine, of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellant.

Mr. Walter L. Bowers, of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellee.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appellant, Adamson, a citizen of the United States, was convicted, without recommendation for mercy, by a jury in a Superior Court of the State of California of murder in the first degree.1 After considering the same objections to the conviction that are pressed here, the sentence of death was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the state. 27 Cal.2d 478, 165 P.2d 3. Review of that judgment by this Court was sought and allowed under Judicial Code § 237, 28 U.S.C. § 344, 28 U.S.C.A. § 344.2 The provisions of California law which were challenged in the state proceedings as invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution are those of the state constitution and penal code in the margin. They permit the failure of a defendant to explain or to deny evidence against him to be commented upon by court and by counsel and to be considered by court and jury.3 The defendant did not testify. As the trial court gave its instructions and the District Attorney argued the case in accordance with the constitutional and statutory provisions just referred to, we have for decision the question of their constitutionality in these circumstances under the limitations of § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment.4

The appellant was charged in the information with former convictions for burglary, larceny and robbery and pursuant to § 1025, California Penal Code, answered that he had suffered the previous convictions. This answer barred allusion to these charges of convictions on the trial.5 Under California's interpretation of § 1025 of the Penal Code and § 2051 of the Code of Civil Procedure, however, if the defendant, after answering affirmatively charges alleging prior convictions, takes the witness stand to deny or explain away other evidence that has been introduced 'the commission of these crimes could have been revealed to the jury on cross-examination to impeach his testimony.' People v. Adamson, 27 Cal.2d 478, 494, 165 P.2d 3, 11; People v. Braun, 14 Cal.2d 1, 6, 92 P.2d 402. This forces an accused who is a repeated offender to choose between the risk of having his prior offenses disclosed to the jury or of having it draw harmful inferences from uncontradicted evidence that can only be denied or explained by the defendant.

In the first place, appellant urges that the provision of the Fifth Amendment that no person 'shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself' is a fundamental national privilege or immunity protected against state abridgment by the Fourteenth Amendment or a privilege or immunity secured, through the Fourteenth Amendment, against deprivation by state action because it is a personal right, enumerated in the federal Bill of Rights.

Secondly, appellant relies upon the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to invalidate the provisions of the California law, set out in note 3 supra, and as applied (a) because comment on failure to testify is permitted, (b) because appellant was forced to forego testimony in person because of danger of disclosure of his past convictions through cross-examnation and (c) because the presumption of innocence was infringed by the shifting of the burden of proof to appellant in permitting comment on his failure to testify.

We shall assume, but without any intention thereby of ruling upon the issue, 6 that state permission by law to the court, counsel and jury to comment upon and consider the failure of defendant 'to explain or to deny by his testimony any evidence or facts in the case against him' would infringe defendant's privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment if this were a trial in a court of the United States under a similar law. Such an assumption does not determine appellant's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. It is settled law that the clause of the Fifth Amendment, protecting a person against being compelled to be a witness against himself, is not made effective by the Fourteenth Amendment as a protection against state action on the ground that freedom from testimonial compulsion is a right of national citizenship, or because it is a personal privilege or immunity secured by the Federal Constitution as one of the rights of man that are listed in the Bill of Rights.

The reasoning that leads to those conclusions starts with the unquestioned premise that the Bill of Rights, when adopted, was for the protection of the individual against the federal government and its provisions were inapplicable to similar actions done by the states. Barron v. Baltimore, 7 Pet. 243, 8 L.Ed. 672; Feldman v. United States, 322 U.S. 487, 490, 64 S.Ct. 1082, 1283, 88 L.Ed. 1408, 154 A.L.R. 982. With the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, it was suggested that the dual citizenship recognized by its first sentence,7 secured for citizens federal protection for their elemental provileges and immunities of state citizenship. The Slaughter-House Cases8 decided, contrary to the suggestion, that these rights, as privileges and immunities of state citizenship, remained under the sole protection of the state governments. This Court, without the expression of a contrary view upon that phase of the issues before the Court, has approved this determination. Maxwell v. Bugbee, 250 U.S. 525, 537, 40 S.Ct. 2, 5, 63 L.Ed. 1124; Hamilton v. Regents, 293 U.S. 245, 261, 55 S.Ct. 197, 203, 79 L.Ed. 343. The power to free defendants in state trials from self-incrimination was specifically determined to be beyond the scope of the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, 91—98, 29 S.Ct. 14, 16—19, 53 L.Ed. 97. 'The privilege against self-incrimination may be withdrawn and the accused put upon the stand as a witness for the state.'9 The Twining case likewise disposed of the contention that freedom from testimonial compulsion, being specifically granted by the Bill of Rights, is a federal privilege or immunity that is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against state invasion. This Court held that the inclusion in the Bill of Rights of this protction agai nst the power of the national government did not make the privilege a federal privilege or immunity secured to citizens by the Constitution against state action. Twining v. New Jersey, supra, 211 U.S. at pages, 98, 99, 29 S.Ct. at page 19, 53 L.Ed. 97; Palko v. Connecticut, supra, 302 U.S. at page 328, 58 S.Ct. at page 153, 82 L.Ed. 288. After declaring that state and national citizenship co-exist in the same person, the Fourteenth Amendment forbids a state from abridging the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States. As a matter of words, this leaves a state free to abridge, within the limits of the due process clause, the privileges and immunities flowing from state citizenship. This reading of the Federal Constitution has heretofore found favor with the majority of this Court as a natural and logical interpretation. It accords with the constitutional doctrine of federalism by leaving to the states the responsibility of dealing with the privileges and immunities of their citizens except those inherent in national citizenship.10 It is the construction placed upon the amendment by justices whose own experience had given them contemporaneous knowledge of the purposes that led to the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. This construction has become embedded in our federal system as a functioning element in preserving the balance between national and state power. We reaffirm the conclusion of the Twining and Palko cases that protection against self-incrimination is not a privilege or immunity of national citizenship.

Appellant secondly contends that if the privilege against self-incrimination is not a right protected by the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against state action, this privilege, to its full scope under the Fifth Amendment, inheres in the right to a fair trial. A right to a fair trial is a right admittedly protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.11 Therefore, appellant argues, the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects his privilege agaist self-in crimination. The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, however, does not draw all the rights of the federal Bill of Rights under its protection. That contention was made and rejected in Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 323, 58 S.Ct. 149, 150, 82 L.Ed. 288. It was rejected with citation of the cases excluding several of the rights, protected by the Bill of Rights, against infringement by the National Gov- ernment. Nothing has been called to our attention that either the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment or the states that adopted intended its due process clause to draw within its scope the earlier amendments to the Constitution. Palko held that such provisions of the Bill of Rights as were 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,' 302 U.S. at page 325, 58 S.Ct. at pages 151, 152, became secure from state interference by the clause. But it held nothing more.

Specifically, the due process clause does not protect, by virtue of its mere existence the accused's freedom from giving testimony by compulsion in state trials that is secured to him against federal interference by the Fifth Amendment. Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, 99—114, 29 S.Ct. 14, 19—26, 53 L.Ed. 97; Palko v. Connecticut, supra, 302 U.S. at page 323, 58 S.Ct. at page 150, 82 L.Ed. 288. For a state to require testimony from an accused is not necessarily a breach of a state's obligation to...

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