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

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

Facts—Adamson was convicted, without recommendation for mercy, by a jury in the superior court of the state of California of murder in the first degree. The state supreme court affirmed his life sentence.

Citing the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, Adamson challenged the provisions of California law that permitted the court and counsel to comment on, and the court and jury to consider, a defendant’s failure to explain or deny evidence.


(a) Do the provisions of the California state constitution and its penal law abridge the guarantee against self-incrimination and of due process?

(b) Do all the guarantees in the Bill of Rights apply to the states as well as to the national government?

Decisions—(a) No; (b) No.

ReasonsJ. Reed (5–4). The Fourteenth Amendment does not make this clause of the Fifth Amendment effective as a protection against state action. The clause in the Bill of Rights is for the protection of the individual from the federal government, and its provisions are not applicable to the states. As a matter of fact, the Fourteenth Amendment forbids a state from abridging privileges of citizens of the United States, leaving the state free, so to speak, to abridge, within the limits of due process, the privileges and immunities of state citizenship.

The Fourteenth Amendment undoubtedly guarantees a right to a fair trial. However, the due process clause does not include all the rights of the federal Bill of Rights under its protection. The purpose of due process is not to protect the accused against a proper conviction, but against an unfair conviction. The Court held that the state may control such a situation as this, where the defendant remains silent, with its own ideas of efficient administration of criminal justice.

J. Frankfurter’s concurring opinion argued that the California procedure did not violate fundamental rules of fairness. J. Black’s ringing dissent, based on his review of the congressional debates on the Fourteenth Amendment, argued for total incorporation of the Bill of Rights. J. Murphy went even further in suggesting that the Fourteenth Amendment carried over all the provisions of the Bill of Rights to the states without necessarily being limited to them—the view often designated as “total incorporation plus.”

NoteMalloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1 (1964) and Murphy v. New York Water- front Commission, 378 U.S. 52 (1964) reversed Adamson. Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965), along with reversing Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78 (1908), also reversed Adamson.

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