Adamson v. California
332 U.S. 46, 67 S.Ct. 1672, 91 L.Ed. 1903 (1947)

  • Adamson was arrested and charged with first degree murder.
  • At trial, Adamson chose not to testify in his own defense.
    • Adamson was worried that if he took the stand, the prosecutor could impeach his testimony with evidence of Adamson’s prior criminal record.
      • That wouldn’t look good to the jury.
  • During closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that Adamson’s refusal to testify could be seen as an admission of guilt under a California law that allowed the jury to infer guilt in such cases.
  • Adamson was found guilty of first degree murder. He appealed.
  • The California Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Adamson appealed to the US Supreme Court.
    • Adamson argued that the 5th Amendment guaranteed a right against self-incrimination, and that the prosecutor’s statements (and California State law), violated that right.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court agreed that if the case had been handled in Federal Court, Adamson’s 5th Amendment rights would have been violated.
    • However, the Court found that the rights guaranteed under the 5th Amendment did not extend to State courts based on the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.
      • Basically, the Court was saying that while the 14th Amendment guarantees the general concept of a fair trial, State laws did not have to exactly match the Bill of Rights.
      • The Court found that even though the California law was unusual, Adamson still got a reasonably fair trial, so the Due Process Clause was satisfied.
        • In many other European countries (e.g. UK, Germany), there is no right against self-incrimination, so you could argue that it isn’t completely necessary.
  • In a dissent, it was argued that there should be a total incorporation of the Bill of Rights into State law based on the 14th Amendment.
    • “I would follow what I believe was the original purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment- to extend to all of the people of the nation the complete protection of the Bill of Rights. To hold that this Court can determine what, if any, provisions, of the Bill of Rights will be enforced, and if so to what degree, is to frustrate the great design of a written Constitution.”
  • This decision was later overruled by Malloy v. Hogan (378 U.S. 1 (1964)), and Benton v. Maryland (395 U.S. 784 (1969)).