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Chapman v. Cal.

Supreme Court of the United States

December 7-8, 1966, Argued ; February 20, 1967, Decided

No. 95


 [*18]  [***707]  [**825]    MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, Ruth Elizabeth Chapman and Thomas LeRoy Teale, were convicted in a California state court  [*19]  upon a charge that they robbed, kidnaped, and murdered a bartender. She was sentenced to life imprisonment and he to death.  At [****3]  the time of the trial, Art. I, § 13, of the State's Constitution provided 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." Both petitioners in this case chose not to testify at their trial, and the State's attorney prosecuting them took full advantage of his right under the State Constitution to comment upon their failure to testify, filling his  [***708]  argument to the jury from beginning to end with numerous references to their silence and inferences of their guilt resulting therefrom. 1 The trial court also charged the jury that it could draw adverse inferences from petitioners' failure to testify. 2 [****5]  Shortly after the trial, but before petitioners' cases had been considered on appeal by the California Supreme Court, this Court decided Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609,  [**826]  in which we held California's constitutional provision and practice invalid on the ground that they put a penalty on the exercise of a person's right not to be [****4]  compelled to be a witness against himself, guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the  [*20]  United States Constitution and made applicable to California and the other States by the Fourteenth Amendment. See Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1. On appeal, the State Supreme Court, 63 Cal. 2d 178, 404 P. 2d 209, admitting that petitioners had been denied a federal constitutional right by the comments on their silence, nevertheless affirmed, applying the State Constitution's harmless-error provision, which forbids reversal unless "the court shall be of the opinion that the error complained of has resulted in a miscarriage of justice." 3 We granted certiorari limited to these questions:

"Where there is a violation of the rule of Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, (1) can the error be held to be harmless, and (2) if so, was the error harmless in this case?" 383 U.S. 956-957.

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386 U.S. 18 *; 87 S. Ct. 824 **; 17 L. Ed. 2d 705 ***; 1967 U.S. LEXIS 2198 ****; 24 A.L.R.3d 1065


Subsequent History: Rehearing denied by Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 987, 18 L. Ed. 2d 241, 87 S. Ct. 1283, 1967 U.S. LEXIS 1978 (1967)


People v. Teale, 63 Cal. 2d 178, 45 Cal. Rptr. 729, 404 P.2d 209, 1965 Cal. LEXIS 175 (1965)

Disposition:  63 Cal. 2d 178, 404 P. 2d 209, reversed.


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Civil Procedure, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Federal Questions, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Appeals, Appellate Jurisdiction, State Court Review, Criminal Law & Procedure, Standards of Review, Harmless & Invited Error, Definition of Harmless & Invited Error, Harmless & Invited Errors, Harmless Error Rule, Constitutional Rights, Trials, Closing Arguments, Defendant's Failure to Testify, Criminal Offenses, Weapons Offenses