Griffin v. State of California, No. 202

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtDOUGLAS
PartiesEddie Dean GRIFFIN, Petitioner, v. STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Docket NumberNo. 202
Decision Date28 April 1965

380 U.S. 609
85 S.Ct. 1229
14 L.Ed.2d 106
Eddie Dean GRIFFIN, Petitioner,

v.

STATE OF CALIFORNIA.

No. 202.
Argued March 9, 1965.
Decided April 28, 1965.
Rehearing Denied June 7, 1965.

See 381 U.S. 957, 85 S.Ct. 1797.

Morris Lavine, Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioner.

Albert W. Harris, Jr., San Francisco, Cal., for respondent.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was convicted of murder in the first degree after a jury trial in a California court. He did not testify at the trial on the issue of guilt, though he did testify at the separate trial1 on the issue of penalty. The trial court instructed the jury on the issue of guilt, stating

Page 610

that a defendant has a constitutional right not to testify. But it told the jury:2

'As to any evidence or facts against him which the defendant can reasonably be expected to deny or explain because of facts within his knowledge, if he does not testify or if, though he does testify, he fails to deny or explain such evidence, the jury may take that failure into consideration as tending to indicate the truth of such evidence and as indicating that among the inferences that may be reasonably drawn therefrom those unfavorable to the defendant are the more probable.'

It added, however, that no such inference could be drawn as to evidence respecting which he had no knowledge. It stated that failure of a defendant to deny or explain the evidence of which he had knowledge does not create a presumption of guilt nor by itself warrant an inference of guilt nor relieve the prosecution of any of its burden of proof.

Petitioner had been seen with the deceased the evening of her death, the evidence placing him with her in the alley where her body was found. The prosecutor made much of the failure of petitioner to testify:

'The defendant certainly knows whether Essie Mae had this beat up appearance at the time he left her apartment and went down the alley with her.

'What kind of a man is it that would want to have sex with a woman that beat up is she was beat up at the time he left?

Page 611

'He would know that. He would know how she got down the alley. He would know how the blood got on the bottom of the concrete steps. He would know how long he was with her in that box. He would know how her wig got off. He would know whether he beat her or mistreated her. He would know whether he walked away from that place cool as a cucumber when he saw Mr. Villasenor because he was conscious of his own guilt and wanted to get away from that damaged or injured woman.

'These things he has not seen fit to take the stand and deny or explain.

'And in the whole world, if anybody would know, this defendant would know.

'Essie Mae is dead, she can't tell you her side of the story. The defendant won't.'

The death penalty was imposed and the California Supreme Court affirmed. 60 Cal.2d 182, 32 Cal.Rptr. 24, 383 P.2d 432. The case is here on a writ of certiorari which we granted, 377 U.S. 989, 84 S.Ct. 1926, 12 L.Ed.2d 1043, to consider whether comment on the failure to testify violated the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment which we made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth in Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 12 L.Ed.2d 653, decided after the Supreme Court of California had affirmed the present conviction.3

Page 612

If this were a federal trial, reversible error would have been committed. Wilson v. United States, 149 U.S. 60, 13 S.Ct. 765, 37 L.Ed. 650, so holds. It is said, however, that the Wilson decision rested not on the Fifth Amendment, but on an Act of Congress, now 18 U.S.C. § 3481.4 That indeed is the fact, as the opinion of the Court in the Wilson case states. And see Adamson v. People of State of California, 332 U.S. 46, 50, n. 6, 67 S.Ct. 1672, 1674, 91 L.Ed. 1903;

Page 613

Bruno v. United States, 308 U.S. 287, 294, 60 S.Ct. 198, 200, 84 L.Ed. 257. But that is the beginning, not the end, of our inquiry. The question remains whether, statute or not, the comment rule, approved by California, violates the Fifth Amendment.

We think it does. It is in substance a rule of evidence that allows the State the privilege of tendering to the jury for its consideration the failure of the accused to testify. No formal offer of proof is made as in other situations; but the prosecutor's comment and the court's acquiescence are the equivalent of an offer of evidence and its acceptance. The Court in the Wilson case stated:

'* * * the act was framed with a due regard also to those who might prefer to rely upon the presumption of innocence which the law gives to every one, and not wish to be witnesses. It is not every one who can safely venture on the witness stand, though entirely innocent of the charge against him. Excessive timidity, nervousness when facing others and attempting to explain transactions of a suspicious character, and offenses charged against him, will often confuse and embarrass him to such a degree as to increase rather than remove prejudices against him. It is not every one, however, honest, who would therefore willingly be placed on the witness stand. The statute, in tenderness to the weakness of those who from the causes mentioned might refuse to ask to be witnesses, particularly when they may have been in some degree compromised by their association with others, declares that the failure of a defendant in a criminal action to request to be a witness shall not create any presumption against him.' 149 U.S., p. 66, 13 S.Ct. p. 766.

If the words 'fifth Amendment' are substituted for 'act' and for 'statute' the spirit of the Self-Incrimina-

Page 614

tion Clause is reflected. For comment on the refusal to testify is a remnant of the 'inquisitorial system of criminal justice,' Murphy v. Waterfront Comm., 378 U.S. 52, 55, 84 S.Ct. 1594, 1596, 12 L.Ed.2d 678, which the Fifth Amendment outlaws.5 It is a penalty imposed by courts for exercising a constitutional privilege. It cuts down on the privilege by making its assertion costly. It is said, however, that the inference of guilt for failure to testify as to facts peculiarly within the accused's knowledge is in any event natural and irresistible, and that comment on the failure does not magnify that inference into a penalty for asserting a consitutional privilege. People v. Modesto, 62 Cal.2d 436, 452—453, 42 Cal.Rptr. 417, 426—427, 398 P.2d 753, 762—763. What the jury may infer, given no help from the court, is one thing. What it may infer when the court solemnizes the silence of the accused into evidence against him is quite another. That the infer-

Page 615

ence of guilt is not always so natural or irresistible is brought out in the Modesto opinion itself:

'Defendant contends that the reason a defendant refuses to testify is that his prior convictions will be introduced in evidence to impeach him ((Cal.) Code Civ.Proc. § 2051) and not that he is unable to deny the accusations. It is true that the defendant might fear that his prior convictions will prejudice the jury, and therefore another possible inference can be drawn from his refusal to take the stand.' Id., p. 453, 42 Cal.Rptr., p. 427, 398 P.2d, p. 763.

We said in Malloy v. Hogan, supra, 378 U.S. p. 11, 84 S.Ct. p. 1495, that 'the same standards must determine whether an accused's silence in either a federal or state proceeding is justified.' We take that in its literal sense and hold that the Fifth Amendment, in its direct application to the Federal Government and in its bearing on the States by reason of the Fourteenth Amendment, forbids either comment by the prosecution on the accused's silence or instructions by the court that such silence is evidence of guilt.6

Reversed.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE took no part in the decision of this case.

Mr. Justice HARLAN, concurring.

I agree with the Court that within the federal judicial system the Fifth Amendment bars adverse comment by federal prosecutors and judges on a defendant's failure to take the stand in a criminal trial, a right accorded him by that amendment. And given last Term's decision in Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 12 L.Ed.2d 653, that the Fifth Amendment ap-

Page 616

plies to the States in all its refinements, I see no legitimate escape from today's decision and therefore concur in it. I do so, however, with great reluctance, since for me the decision exemplifies the creeping paralysis with which this Court's recent adoption of the 'incorporation' doctrine is infecting the operation of the federal system. See my opinion concurring in the result in Pointer v. State of Texas, 380 U.S. 400. at 408, 85 S.Ct. 1065, at 1070.

While I would agree that the accusatorial rather than inquisitorial process is a fundamental part of the 'liberty' guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, my Brother STEWART in dissent, post, this page, fully demonstrates that the nocomment rule 'might be lost, and justice still be done,' Palko v. State of Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325, 58 S.Ct. 149, 152, 82 L.Ed. 288. As a 'non-fundamental' part of the Fifth Amendment (cf. my opinion concurring in the result in Pointer, 380 U.S., at 409, 85 S.Ct. at 1070), I would not, but for Malloy, apply the no-comment rule to the States.

Malloy put forward a single argument for applying the Fifth Amendment, as such, to the States:

'It would be incongruous to have different standards determine the validity of a claim of privilege * * *, depending on whether the claim was asserted in a state or federal court. Therefore, the same standards must determine whether an accused's silence in either a federal or state proceeding is justified.' Malloy v. Hogan, supra, 378 U.S. at 11, 84 S.Ct. at 1495. (Emphasis added.)

My answer then (378 U.S., at 27, 84 S.Ct. at 1503) and now is that 'incongruity,' within the limits of fundamental fairness, is at the heart of our federal system. The powers and responsibilities of the State and Federal...

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4926 practice notes
  • Lakeside v. Oregon, No. 76-6942
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 22, 1978
    ...against compulsory self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 336-341. (a) Though in Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 85 S.Ct. 1229, 14 L.Ed.2d 106, the Court stated that "comment on the refusal to testify" violates the constitutional privilege, the Court ......
  • Keenan v. Bagley, CASE NO. 1:01 CV 2139
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • April 24, 2012
    ...my employees. What happened? What's going on?" (Id. at 2593.)(ECF No. 197, 40.) Respondent counters that, applying Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965), these remarks do not amount to prosecutorial misconduct because they are "indirect" rather than "direct" references to Keenan's fail......
  • Rienhardt v. Shinn, CV-03-0290-TUC-DCB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Arizona
    • November 8, 2021
    ...Fifth Amendment prohibits a prosecutor from commenting to the jury about a defendant's failure to testify at trial. Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 615 (1965). “Griffin prohibits the judge and prosecutor from suggesting to the jury that it may treat the defendant's silence as substanti......
  • Bromwell v. Williams, Civ. No. K-76-926.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • December 30, 1977
    ...A juror, mindful of the trial judge's admonition not to hold Bromwell's failure to testify against him, cf. Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 85 S.Ct. 1229, 14 L.Ed.2d 106 (1965), may perhaps have not excluded from his memory the prosecutor's pre-trial statement linking the handgun to In......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4919 cases
  • Lakeside v. Oregon, No. 76-6942
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 22, 1978
    ...against compulsory self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 336-341. (a) Though in Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 85 S.Ct. 1229, 14 L.Ed.2d 106, the Court stated that "comment on the refusal to testify" violates the constitutional privilege, the Court ......
  • Keenan v. Bagley, CASE NO. 1:01 CV 2139
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • April 24, 2012
    ...my employees. What happened? What's going on?" (Id. at 2593.)(ECF No. 197, 40.) Respondent counters that, applying Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965), these remarks do not amount to prosecutorial misconduct because they are "indirect" rather than "direct" references to Keenan's fail......
  • Rienhardt v. Shinn, CV-03-0290-TUC-DCB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Arizona
    • November 8, 2021
    ...Fifth Amendment prohibits a prosecutor from commenting to the jury about a defendant's failure to testify at trial. Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 615 (1965). “Griffin prohibits the judge and prosecutor from suggesting to the jury that it may treat the defendant's silence as substanti......
  • Bromwell v. Williams, Civ. No. K-76-926.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • December 30, 1977
    ...A juror, mindful of the trial judge's admonition not to hold Bromwell's failure to testify against him, cf. Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 85 S.Ct. 1229, 14 L.Ed.2d 106 (1965), may perhaps have not excluded from his memory the prosecutor's pre-trial statement linking the handgun to In......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • The Unconstitutionality of Protective Orders Under the Texas Family Code – Part II
    • United States
    • LexBlog United States
    • February 1, 2022
    ...case-in-chief at trial. Under Griffin v. California, the prosecution may not use a defendant’s failure to testify against him at trial. 380 U.S. 609, 615 (1965). Using a person’s silence in the face of pre-arrest, pre-Miranda questioning against him would leave the person no way to avoid cr......
6 books & journal articles
  • Operation-Infrastructure and Practice
    • United States
    • Environmental crimes deskbook 2nd edition Part One
    • June 20, 2014
    ...basis that the civil ines were criminal in nature; and 76. E.g. , Carter v. Kentucky, 450 U.S. 288, 302-03 (1981); Griin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 615 (1965). 77. See Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 316-20 (1976) (adverse inference is not an impermissible consequence of the exercise ......
  • The Overseas Exchange of Human Rights Jurisprudence: The U.S. Supreme Court in the European Court of Human Rights
    • United States
    • International Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 19-3, September 2009
    • September 1, 2009
    ...the European Social Charter. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe.Goodwin v. UK [GC], no. 28957/95, ECHR 2002-VI.Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965).Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 479 (1965).Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971).Groppera Radio AG v. Switzerland, 28 March 1990,......
  • POLITICAL TRUST, SOCIAL TRUST, AND JUDICIAL REVIEW.
    • United States
    • Constitutional Commentary Vol. 36 Nbr. 2, September 2021
    • September 22, 2021
    ...v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89 (1964) (if arrest not supported by probable cause incident search violates Fourth Amendment); Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965) (Fifth Amendment prohibits prosecutor from commenting on defendant's refusal to testify); Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) (Fi......
  • A Comparative View of the Law of Interrogation
    • United States
    • International Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 17-1, March 2007
    • March 1, 2007
    ...In C. M. Bradley (Ed.), Criminal procedure: A worldwide study (pp. 143-185).Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965).Harris v. New York, 401 U. S 222 (1971).Hatchard, J. (1996). Criminal procedure in England and Wales. In J. Hatchard, B. Huber, & R. Vog......
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