denial of constitutional right & harmless error
In my post “Your Right to be Heard & Void Judgments” I mentioned the harmless error analysis. I came across this opinion on the issue. This opinion dealt with the right to remain silent. I put in some highlights where I thought it would help you. Bear
386 U.S. 18 (1967)
CHAPMAN ET AL.
Supreme Court of United States.
Argued December 7-8, 1966.
Decided February 20, 1967.
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA.
Morris Lavine argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioners.
Arlo E. Smith, Chief Assistant Attorney General of California, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Thomas C. Lynch, Attorney General, Doris H. Maier, Assistant Attorney General, and Raymond M. Momboisse, Deputy Attorney General.
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*19 upon a charge that they robbed, kidnaped, and murdered a bartender. She was sentenced to life imprisonment and he to death. At 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." [The state constitution provided this! Wow!] 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 argument to the jury from beginning to end with numerous references to their silence and inferences of their guilt resulting therefrom. The trial court also charged the jury that it could draw adverse inferences from petitioners' failure to testify. [The judge did this! Wow! What about his oath to uphold the US Constitution??]  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, 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 compelled to be a witness against himself, guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the 20*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." [So much for justice out of the Calif. Supreme Court L] 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.
In this Court petitioners contend that both these questions are federal ones to be decided under federal law; that under federal law we should hold that denial of a federal constitutional right, no matter how unimportant, should automatically result in reversal of a conviction, without regard to whether the error is considered harmless; [They don’t get this; but, they tried.] and that, if wrong in this, the various comments on petitioners' silence cannot, applying a federal standard, be considered harmless here.
Before deciding the two questions here—whether there can ever be harmless constitutional error and whether the error here was harmless—we must first decide whether 21*21 state or federal law governs. The application of a state harmless-error rule is, of course, a state question where it involves only errors of state procedure or state law. But the error from which these petitioners suffered was a denial of rights guaranteed against invasion by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, rights rooted in the Bill of Rights, offered and championed in the Congress by James Madison, who told the Congress that the "independent" federal courts would be the "guardians of those rights." Whether a conviction for crime should stand when a State has failed to accord federal constitutionally guaranteed rights is every bit as much of a federal question as what particular federal constitutional provisions themselves mean, what they guarantee, and whether they have been denied. With faithfulness to the constitutional union of the States, we cannot leave to the States the formulation of the authoritative laws, rules, and remedies designed to protect people from infractions by the States of federally guaranteed rights. We have no hesitation in saying that the right of these petitioners not to be punished for exercising their Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment right to be silent—expressly created by the Federal Constitution itself—is a federal right which, in the absence of appropriate congressional action, it is our responsibility to protect by fashioning the necessary rule.
We are urged by petitioners to hold that all federal constitutional errors, regardless of the facts and circumstances, must always be deemed harmful. Such a holding, 22*22 as petitioners correctly point out, would require an automatic reversal of their convictions and make further discussion unnecessary. We decline to adopt any such rule. All 50 States have harmless-error statutes or rules, and the United States long ago through its Congress established for its courts the rule that judgments shall not be reversed for "errors or defects which do not affect the substantial rights of the parties." 28 U. S. C. § 2111. None of these rules on its face distinguishes between federal constitutional errors and errors of state law or federal statutes and rules. All of these rules, state or federal, serve a very useful purpose insofar as they block setting aside convictions for small errors or defects that have little, if any, likelihood of having changed the result of the trial. We conclude that there may be some constitutional errors which in the setting of a particular case are so unimportant and insignificant that they may, consistent with the Federal Constitution, be deemed harmless, not requiring the automatic reversal of the conviction.
In fashioning a harmless-constitutional-error rule, we must recognize that harmless-error rules can work very unfair and mischievous results when, for example, highly important and persuasive evidence, or argument, though legally forbidden, finds its way into a trial in which the question of guilt or innocence is a close one. What 23*23 harmless-error rules all aim at is a rule that will save the good in harmless-error practices while avoiding the bad, so far as possible.
The federal rule emphasizes "substantial rights" as do most others. The California constitutional rule emphasizes "a miscarriage of justice," but the California courts have neutralized this to some extent by emphasis, and perhaps overemphasis, upon the court's view of "over-whelming evidence." We prefer the approach of this Court in deciding what was harmless error in our recent case of Fahy v. Connecticut, 375 U. S. 85. There we said: "The question is whether there is a reasonable possibility that the evidence complained of might have contributed to the conviction." Id., at 86-87. Although our prior cases have indicated that there are some constitutional rights so basic to a fair trial that their infraction can never be treated as harmless error, this statement in Fahy itself belies any belief that all trial errors which violate the Constitution automatically call for reversal. At the same time, however, like the federal harmless-error statute, it emphasizes an intention not to treat as harmless those constitutional errors that "affect substantial rights" of a party. An error in admitting plainly relevant evidence which possibly influenced the jury adversely to a litigant cannot, under Fahy, be conceived 24*24 of as harmless. Certainly error, constitutional error, in illegally admitting highly prejudicial evidence or comments, casts on someone other than the person prejudiced by it a burden to show that it was harmless. It is for that reason that the original common-law harmless-error rule put the burden on the beneficiary of the error either to prove that there was no injury or to suffer a reversal of his erroneously obtained judgment. There is little, if any, difference between our statement in Fahy v. Connecticut about "whether there is a reasonable possibility that the evidence complained of might have contributed to the conviction" and requiring the beneficiary of a constitutional error to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict obtained. We, therefore, do no more than adhere to the meaning of our Fahy case when we hold, as we now do, that before a federal constitutional error can be held harmless, the court must be able to declare a belief that it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. While appellate courts do not ordinarily have the original task of applying such a test, it is a familiar standard to all courts, and we believe its adoption will provide a more workable standard, although achieving the same result as that aimed at in our Fahy case.
Applying the foregoing standard, we have no doubt that the error in these cases was not harmless to petitioners. To reach this conclusion one need only glance at the prosecutorial comments compiled from the record by petitioners' counsel and (with minor omissions) set forth in the Appendix. The California Supreme Court 25*25 fairly summarized the extent of these comments as follows:
"Such comments went to the motives for the procurement and handling of guns purchased by Mrs. Chapman, funds or the lack thereof in Mr. Teale's possession immediately prior to the killing, the amount of intoxicating liquors consumed by defendants at the Spot Club and other taverns, the circumstances of the shooting in the automobile and the removal of the victim's body therefrom, who fired the fatal shots, why defendants used a false registration at a motel shortly after the killing, the meaning of a letter written by Mrs. Chapman several days after the killing, why Teale had a loaded weapon in his possession when apprehended, the meaning of statements made by Teale after his apprehension, why certain clothing and articles of personal property were shipped by defendants to Missouri, what clothing Mrs. Chapman wore at the time of the killing, conflicting statements as to Mrs. Chapman's whereabouts immediately preceding the killing and, generally, the overall commission of the crime." 63 Cal. 2d, at 196, 404 P. 2d, at 220.
Thus, the state prosecutor's argument and the trial judge's instruction to the jury continuously and repeatedly impressed the jury that from the failure of petitioners to testify, to all intents and purposes, the inferences from the facts in evidence had to be drawn in favor of the State—in short, that by their silence petitioners had served as irrefutable witnesses against themselves. And though the case in which this occurred presented a reasonably strong "circumstantial web of evidence" against petitioners. 63 Cal. 2d, at 197, 404 P. 2d, at 220, it was also a case in which, absent the constitutionally 26*26 forbidden comments, honest, fair-minded jurors might very well have brought in not-guilty verdicts. Under these circumstances, it is completely impossible for us to say that the State has demonstrated, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the prosecutor's comments and the trial judge's instruction did not contribute to petitioners' convictions. Such a machine-gun repetition of a denial of constitutional rights, designed and calculated to make petitioners' version of the evidence worthless, can no more be considered harmless than the introduction against a defendant of a coerced confession. See, e. g., Payne v. Arkansas, 356 U. S. 560. Petitioners are entitled to a trial free from the pressure of unconstitutional inferences.
Reversed and remanded.
APPENDIX TO OPINION OF THE COURT.
Argument and Comments by the Prosecutor on the Failure of the Defendants to Take the Witness Stand
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, I don't know which one of these weapons was purchased first, I don't know that it particularly makes any difference, but as you know, we have had no testimony at all in that regard, in fact, I might add that the only person or persons that could give testimony in that regard would be, of course, the defendants themselves.
"Now, this, there's no question about what this represents, or for the record here, no question in your minds, this is not the weapon that Ruth Elizabeth Chapman purchased in Reno, Nevada, on October the 12th, 1962. I don't know where that weapon is, ladies and gentlemen, and you don't know where it is, you've heard no testimony from the stand at all, and once again, the only 27*27 person or persons that could tell us about where the original .22 caliber Vestpocket is today would be one or the other of the defendants or both.
"This would indicate that there was no small struggle—it would indicate that the body, almost lifeless, was dragged or left in some fashion which would cause a shirt or an article of clothing to tear, one or the other. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, I don't know, I wasn't out there, you were not out there. You heard no testimony on the stand. The only individuals that could give you that information would be the defendants, either one or both of them, Thomas Leroy Teale and Ruth Elizabeth Chapman. And of course you know that you have not heard from them.
"Now, I will comment throughout my entire opening argument to you in reference to the fact that neither one of these defendants has seen fit to go up, raise their right hand, take that witness stand, tell you ladies and gentlemen of the jury exactly what did occur, explain to you any facts or details within their knowledge so that you would know. You would not have to—by His Honor's instructions you can draw an adverse inference to any fact within their knowledge that they couldn't testify to, and they have not subjected themselves, either one or both, to cross-examination. Now, that is—so there is no question in your mind, once again with reference to a defendant taking the stand, none—you are—you or I or anyone else is not required under our legal system in these United States and under the Constitution, you can not be made to testify against yourself or for yourself, as far as that goes.
"So, it is a Constitutional right, and both of these defendants have seen fit to avail themselves of that Constitutional right, but I say to you ladies and gentlemen, there are many things in this case, and I will try to point 28*28 them out to you, at least some, probably not all, that these defendants are in a position to take that stand and to testify under oath and give you facts concerning. They have not seen fit to avail themselves of that opportunity.
"Now whether or not Mr. Teale had any other money at the time or was in the habit of concealing his money in different departments, I don't know, and ladies and gentlemen, you don't know, because you have not had any testimony from that witness stand, and the only person that could clear this up for us ladies and gentlemen is the defendant Thomas Leroy Teale. Ladies and gentlemen, he has not seen fit to tell you about that. But certainly we know that bogus checks are being written, and as I recall we know that—I don't—we may infer, if you wish to believe there is an inference which Mr. Teale could have cleared up, that that was all the money that he had, and he didn't clear it up, so you may draw an adverse inference from that, that that was all the money he had, or in fact that he—at that time he was in desperate need of funds, and you know that through some kind of a discussion between these two defendants in regard to Mr. Teale shooting dice, that this was all he had.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, in reference to the weapons being purchased in Reno, Nevada on October 12th, you have heard, ladies and gentlemen, no testimony, and you will recall clearly, you are going to have some difficulty, you really are in reference to what is and what isn't evidence in this case, and believe me I have a few comments to say on that a little later on, but if you will recall as far as evidence is concerned of the truth of anything at all, you don't have any evidence on why 29*29 these—why these pistols were purchased. Why did Ruth Elizabeth Chapman buy two weapons? Well, you do recall that she told on one occasion that she had had a pistol stolen from her vehicle, her automobile, when she was taking a little trip across country, you remember that testimony, and you can rely on the testimony that you actually hear, ladies and gentlemen, from the stand. She told that, and of course you can only rely that she told the gentleman that, that she had had another one stolen, and so that she needed one to replace it. But why two, ladies and gentlemen? You don't need two. If she is going to be attacked she wasn't going to use one in each hand I assume to defend herself, and there is another area, ladies and gentlemen, besides this that I mentioned to you before, that since you have no testimony from the stand, you must surmise from all facts and circumstances as to the exact reason why they were purchased, because the only one in this room that could tell you why these guns were purchased is either one or both of the defendants. Certainly the defendant Ruth Elizabeth Chapman could tell you, she could tell you under oath, she could subject herself to cross-examination, and she could tell you then and it would be evidence before you. Once again she has not chosen to do this. So any inference you may draw therefrom will be an adverse inference under the circumstances, and under the instructions of the Court. . . .
"So, we know, ladies and gentlemen, that they had the motive, we know that they had the means, we know that they had the opportunity. We also know that they were at that scene, ladies and gentlemen, they were with that man just a matter of minutes before he was shot in the head three times with a gun similar to People's Exhibit No. 12. Now, if they weren't there, and I think the evidence clearly shows they were, scientific evidence, 30*30 that we'll talk about a little later. Once again, why don't they come up and raise their right hand and tell you about it?
"To me they are charged with serious crimes, ladies and gentlemen. They can come up and testify and then it will be evidence for you to consider in this case. If they had just come up and told you about this, because they were there. If they left the Spot Club and just went on their way, well, of course they didn't, the evidence clearly shows they didn't, but you may draw the adverse inference from their refusal to come before you and raise that right hand and incidentally, of course, subject themselves to cross-examination.
"I think it is not an unreasonable inference to infer at this time if the defendants were drinking beer earlier in the evening in Croce's, it's not unreasonable to infer they continued drinking the same thing, therefore the two glasses remaining that had been washed, but not put up were the defendants'. I don't know, it is an inference, I wasn't there, we have had no testimony whatsoever as to what they were drinking at the Spot Club, once again, neither one of the defendants have seen their way clear to come up and tell you what they were drinking if it was beer.
"So you can see that whichever one of these defendants shot him, and once again, ladies and gentlemen, here is an area that I don't know who shot him, and you don't know who shot him, because we have had no testimony from that witness stand to tell you who shot him, and the only two persons in this courtroom that could tell you which one of them it was that shot him are the two defendants; but once again, they have both decided that they will not get up and raise their right 31*31 hand and testify in this regard and subject themselves to cross-examination, so all we know is that one of them shot him.
"We don't know the time here, it doesn't say. We don't have any testimony, ladies and gentlemen, in this regard, and I might say once again in reference to this last, the use of the name, T. L. Rosenthal, Mr. and Mrs., we don't know why, ladies and gentlemen, that name was used. We don't know why, ladies and gentlemen, that UZV 155—was 156 originally on here. You don't know that, and I don't, because we haven't had the testimony from the witness stand on it. Now we know it is in the handwriting of Ruth Elizabeth Chapman, and there is no question about that. She wrote it. It could be evidence, ladies and gentlemen, for you. It could be evidence as to why she wrote that name, and why that five was changed to a six. We could have it. But we don't, because either one or both of the defendants, neither one, have even seen fit to take the stand and to testify in that regard. Then this would be evidence that you can consider. But also ladies and gentlemen, subject to taking the oath and subject to cross-examination.
"We see it here in Mountain View, the Mountain View Motel, the name of Teale, but we don't have the testimony of the defendants and ladies and gentlemen they are the only ones here in this case that could get up there and tell you why they used a phony name two hours after the crime and why they didn't put the correct license down and whatever inference you draw you are permitted to draw since they do not choose to tell you an adverse interest, and I would say, ladies and gentlemen, that it is an adverse interest to the defendants. It shows a consciousness of guilt.
32*32 "Now, ladies and gentlemen, what is this—first of all, `I thought I'd better let you know that Tom arrived here today and we're going south tomorrow'? Now, what does that mean? Well, I think without saying a great deal more about it that each one of you can certainly infer as to what it very readily could mean, especially if one has in fact committed a robbery and kidnapped someone from the premises and that individual has ended up dead, shot three times in the head. And further, ladies and gentlemen, the only other thing I can say about it is this, who can really tell you and who could have told you from evidence, from the witness stand, what that letter meant? Well, the only one is Ruth Elizabeth Chapman, ladies and gentlemen. If it didn't mean what you can reasonably infer that it means, then I say, ladies and gentlemen, she could have come up here and testified, gotten on the witness chair. We have had many witnesses in this case, no one I would assume more interested than Ruth Elizabeth Chapman, or the co-defendant, neither one took the stand. She in no way, nor has there been any way, ladies and gentlemen, any kind of evidence that has actually been admitted for the truth of the evidence, in no way is there any evidence as to why she wrote that letter, and what she meant by `Tom is arriving today and we're going south.' Once again, she did not choose to tell you. So, we may only infer, and this will be, of course, you will have to in your final analysis draw any inferences from that that you feel are appropriate and are proper—
"He was a fugitive from justice, and he knew he was a fugitive from justice, and he never—let's face it, there were four F.B.I. agents and these fellows are professional and they know what they are doing and one of them had a gun out and he never had an opportunity 33*33 to use it, and none of us here will ever know from all the testimony, from the actual testimony on the stand why he had the weapon with him fully loaded, because Mr. Teale has never taken the stand in this case and testified for you. These things are things only within his knowledge, ladies and gentlemen. If there is any fact in this case of any relevancy of any importance it is within the knowledge of a defendant, and they chose not to take the stand and tell you about it, where incidentally they are under oath and can be cross-examined. You may draw an adverse inference from the fact that they do not take it. I think the inference is very clear, too, why they had this weapon here and why he never—why it was fully loaded. Remember there was never an opportunity to use it. The weapon was purchased by Ruth Elizabeth Chapman. Now when he is apprehended and fleeing from the State he had it with him and it was fully loaded. Once again, I don't know where the original is here, and you know the only two that can tell us where that is.
"Now, you recall also that when Mr. Basham took him back in, was fingerprinting him, etc., he told him he was wanted in California and no one mentioned anything about Lodi, and he said that he would waive extradition, and he also did say he said, `They will have a hard time proving I was there.' And Teale himself did mention Lodi. Well, I don't know what he meant by that statement. I certainly can draw my own conclusion, and you sure will draw yours as the triers of the facts and the judges of the facts, ladies and gentlemen, but once again Mr. Teale did not take the stand and testify under oath in this case, and Mr. Teale has not desired to take the stand and explain what he meant by it. He didn't have to, of course, but once again you can draw whatever inferences you may feel, and the law is clear that 34*34 you may draw an adverse—where a defendant does not explain and he does not choose to take the stand and explain it to you you can draw an adverse inference.
"Photographs. You've seen them, ladies and gentlemen, but as you recall the doctor now is pointing, and this is the picture of the deceased, the back of his head, as to where he was shot in the back of the head, you recall the other one as to where he was shot in the side of the head, right here on the left in the general area of where the glasses would be, I think it's a most reasonable inference, ladies and gentlemen. Now, once again we have had no testimony except what would seem clearly logical from the experts, the way the body was found, where he'd been shot, what he'd been shot with, and the position of the glasses in relation to the body at the death scene, we had no other testimony. Certainly none from the defendants in this case.
". . . Agent Gilmore has drawn and made some notations in reference to where that blood was located, blood found on these shoes. Now, all we know, ladies and gentlemen, as far as evidence in this case is concerned, is that these shoes belonged to Ruth Elizabeth Chapman and they were in her possession when she was apprehended in St. Joseph, Missouri, and why do I say that's all you know? That's all you may take into consideration, ladies and gentlemen, because we have no other testimony on this witness stand in relation to any of these articles of clothing that are actually admitted into evidence.
"You have two box lids, two of them, and you've heard the questions concerning them, they would indicate that they were sent to a Mrs. Howard Smith at 2206 Castle Avenue, St. Joseph, Missouri, and I believe it was on 35*35 the 11th of October, says from Thomas Teale, 1105 Del Norte, Eureka, California, they both say essentially the same thing, 10-11, there's no year, but I think we can surely infer it was in 1962, and apparently from Reno.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, there's been a lot of talk, suggestion, and whatever you want to call it, I'll call it a smoke screen, in reference to these two lids that came off, and we'll assume there was a box underneath them, I don't think there's any question about that. Where have you ever heard from that witness stand, ladies and gentlemen, what was ever in those boxes? Now, you've heard some self-serving declarations that are not admitted into evidence because they come through someone else who in some fashion gets testimony before you, but no cross-examination of the original party who is giving that kind of testimony, and you can't consider it.
"Thank you, Your Honor. Counsel has interjected himself into this, and he'll have every opportunity to make his own comments, and I'm sure he'll most adequately express himself when the time comes. I'm telling you, ladies and gentlemen, that the only evidence that you have is that you have two box tops. Now, he's just suggested to you, so I'll answer this ahead of time, but the evidence is clear that Mr. Sperling packed these boxes, but you will recall Mr. Sperling was not at the original scene when they were taken. Maybe it isn't unusual to infer there may have been clothes, but what I'm getting at is this is what clothing? You don't even know there was clothing in them when they were shipped. It could have been other household articles. And even if we assume it was clothing, and that's not unreasonable because basically these are the items we found and brought back with us to Lodi, we don't know which clothing she shipped at this time. Couldn't this be cleared up for us, though? It could be cleared up so 36*36 easily. Ruth Elizabeth Chapman is sitting right over here, she is one of the defendants in this case and she is the one certainly if anyone, if anyone in this room, or in this state knows what was in those boxes she is the one, but once again she did not take the stand, raise her right hand, and tell you about that. She didn't take the stand at all, ladies and gentlemen, she could have come up and told us exactly what articles were sent, so you may draw any inferences from that that you wish to, as long as they are reasonable.
"Now, anything that—is clearly, and I'm sure you know by now and I don't have to repeat it too often, anything in this case that Mr. Teale could get up here now, he don't have to get up here, but all of the things that have been said in this trial and all of the physical evidence and the testimony, he's right here in Court and could he not get up and if there is anything to be said he has the opportunity to say it. Otherwise, you may draw the adverse inference from the fact that he doesn't get up there and tell you about it, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is his defense. Mr. Fransen said in the beginning that what happened in this case is not as the prosecution described it. That the facts will show an entirely different version. Well, I haven't heard any facts, ladies and gentlemen, that show an entirely different version.
"We went through a business with a—dress. We held it up, and then we pointed out the one that she's wearing now, and frankly, ladies and gentlemen, the only one in the Court room that can tell you whether or not it is the same dress is Ruth Elizabeth Chapman, because you know from the evidence no one has ever had an opportunity to examine that dress to see whether it has been dry cleaned, whether or not it was purchased—when 37*37 it was purchased or the labels on it or anything else. All that has been done in this thing is to wear a blue knit dress, ladies and gentlemen, which is similar to the one that—she in fact apparently wore on that night.
"So, I suppose that just through the wearing of it, having it in Court, it is hoped that you will draw something from it, which I have heard no testimony on the stand, except that it looks like or is similar to it. . . .
"But what she told that doctor is not evidence in this case, and yet you know that repeatedly and over and over and over again Mr. Johnson in every way that he could, he would get the story again before you. Now, why? You know why. He did it because he hopes that you wouldn't forget it, although he could put it and make it evidence in this case, which it is not, and if you put Ruth Elizabeth Chapman up on that stand to testify, so it is one way of doing, ladies and gentlemen, if you are going to be taken in by it, indirectly what you can't do directly, because there is no other way that he can get that thing before you without putting her up on that stand.
"But she gave a story on the night of the 17th and early hours of the 18th. She was in San Francisco. Now, why pick on that date so specifically if you are not—if not to beware of that date, that you want to beware. Well, he says, `You have given two different stories. Do you have problems with blackouts or excessive drinking', and she says `No.' And I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that anybody, and there is no evidence to the contrary in this case, if you don't honestly remember what occurred and you know, you are in a situation where there is a fugitive warrant and you have just been arrested and you in all honesty don't remember where you were, that is the first thing that you are going to say. You're not going to sit up and trump up excuses 38*38 and make out a story which you know to be a lie about specific dates and times. And, ladies and gentlemen, there is no legal evidence before you that it is anything to the contrary, because the only one now that can come up and tell you has not seen fit to do so.
". . . Mr. Johnson would have you believe that everything she said was the truth. I think there are some instances that indicate already—I have indicated some, the purpose of the guns, two different ideas there as to why they were purchased, but that is the only legal purpose for that. So it's not evidence, although Mr. Johnson again I say argued and referred to it as though it was. We have no evidence from the lips of Mrs. Chapman. Now, as Mr. Ferguson told you, it is their constitutional right, and I won't go into that again, because I think he handled it very clearly as well as the others, but that is within her right to do as she sees fit. But, you can consider it for the purposes and under the circumstances that Mr. Ferguson indicated a number of times.
"Originally when Dr. Winkler examined her on the 31st, I believe it was, of October, 1962, she told him that she had forgotten after the first shot was fired, after the first shot was fired. Since that time what has happened? The amnesia, or disassociative state, or disassociative reaction, which ever way you want to look at it, psychiatrically or otherwise, seems to have backed up from Dillard Road back up to the Spot Club, back up down Highway 99 south to just outside of Croce's, and by the time we get through cross-examining Dr. Sheuerman it even backed in to Croce's. A vague area. Very interesting. We could have put it on, put the statement in. It's evidence? It's not. Again, the sanctity and 39*39 worthiness of evidence would have to come from her lips, hers on the stand here. Why? Here again, because witnesses would be under oath again, and I repeat, and I repeat for emphasis, they would have to be under oath subject to cross-examination before your very eyes so that you could evaluate it. Oh yes. She said this and she said that. Who said it? Who said it? Ruth Elizabeth Chapman on the stand? No. Dr. Sheuerman said that she said it. Dr. Winkler said that she said. Mr. Johnson said that she said. Well, it's an interesting thing that the only witnesses who weren't here, or weren't on the stand to be cross-examined, the only witnesses who are alive today to the perpetration of these offenses, are these two defendants. That's all. They don't have to take the stand. That's been gone over many times, but you know it would be a fine thing, very fine deed if persons who perpetrated offenses gave a story, put a story on by somebody else, have somebody else speak for you—wouldn't it? It would be a very interesting thing. You would never have the benefit of evaluating their credibility. This is what Mr. Johnson would have you believe that we should have done. Monday morning quarterbacking. And I submit to you—you know, you— you have heard much about lawyers being referred to as `mouthpieces.' It's actually a very rare thing, really, that that type of appellation is applicable to lawyers really. But, I think you have seen a demonstration here, and I'm not saying it in rancor, not anything of it at all, because this is a demonstration where actually Ruth Elizabeth Chapman is speaking through Mr. Johnson. A `mouthpiece.'
"Maybe there is another reasonable one, other than the fact that it was Adcock's blood, because all three who were in the car had type A. Maybe there is, but 40*40 you haven't heard it. You haven't heard any reasonable explanation of that. So, you can draw an adverse inference that it was Billy Dean Adcock's blood. . . .
"Mr. Johnson said these several things which I will go over again. The evidence showed here that she bought two guns for Teale. What evidence? No witness on the stand got up there and said specifically under oath, and the only one that could do it would be Elizabeth Chapman herself. This is hearsay, what she told somebody else for the sole purpose of determining what her state of mind was at the time. It's not evidence. There's some evidence from her own lips through Dennis Mack as to the reason she bought the gun, which is different than what she said otherwise. Mr. Johnson said the evidence shows there was an argument in Fresno. Here again I would say, `What evidence?' The next one—there are only two people there to that argument, and the only way it would be evidence, or testimony in this case, would be if either one or both of them got up there and said there was an argument. They chose not to do it. You can draw an adverse inference that that being within their knowledge, that they could explain, whether it was or not. You can draw an inference that it wasn't the type of argument that Mr. Johnson claims the evidence shows, because the evidence doesn't show that at all.
"So far as the motive is concerned for the murder in a perpetration of a robbery, the motive was set, to gain for their own desires and lusts and so forth, to gain from it. It was a crime of gain, and perhaps another thing too, in deciding—we don't know who pulled the trigger— we may never know. The defendants haven't indicated it, except through Teale in one—Mr. Vowell's testimony, as to what Mr. Teale said, but that is not admissible 41*41 against, and you shouldn't consider it against, Ruth Elizabeth Chapman, but maybe the circumstances of who pulled the trigger might have been a factor that might have been important to you. Only two people know. They didn't tell you. That is the way they want to proceed. But nonetheless, you can consider that too.
"So, in considering what happened here as to why this person was killed, you see you can weigh these things and decide what the motive was. You might have had some help in deciding this very difficult task from the very only two people remaining who were at the scene, but in their best judgment they didn't choose to get up and tell you about it, which you certainly can consider that fact that they did not in the light of using your reason as I have indicated here too.
"You know that somebody shot Billy Dean Adcock, and you know that it was either—it was one or even both of these defendants, in view of your verdict, but which one you don't know. Now, this is something that perhaps might have been of help to you in deciding what punishment to mete out, whether both should be punished equally in this case, or whether there should be some distinction between the two. It might have been helpful to know who pulled that trigger, for if it was Ruth Elizabeth Chapman you could well deduce that it was either her intoxication or emotional stress or a jealousy of Teale, or anger, and a lot of things other than the motive to destroy a witness; whereas, with respect to Mr. Teale it would seem to be a logical thing to conclude that he wanted to get rid of the only eyewitness. Differences there, you see. But you don't know. You don't know whether they did it in consort [sic]. You don't know that as far as pulling the trigger. But, this is 42*42 a factor which has not been brought to light, and you can consider that factor which has not been, from the stand-point there have been two people that might have explained that.
"I have gone into the statement here and why it hasn't been presented. If you are going to decide things such as character and sympathy, the law says you may take into consideration, how can you do it by a statement? Now, we are talking about this phase of the case. This now. You like to know that persons get—if there is something about their character that they can tell you, or something about their background that they can tell you, you like to hear it from them, because you have a very serious and difficult task, and the fact that they chose to rest upon whatever evidence there is here in the case in chief is something that you can consider in deciding whether or not they had been fair with you.
"This is the chance that they take by not having taken the stand."
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concurring in the result.
In devising a harmless-error rule for violations of federal constitutional rights, both the Court and the dissent proceed as if the question were one of first impression. But in a long line of cases, involving a variety of constitutional claims in both state and federal prosecutions, this Court has steadfastly rejected any notion that constitutional violations might be disregarded on the ground that they were "harmless." Illustrations of the principle are legion.
When involuntary confessions have been introduced at trial, the Court has always reversed convictions regardless of other evidence of guilt. As we stated in Lynumn v. Illinois, 372 U. S. 528, 537, the argument that the error in admitting such a confession "was a harmless one . . . is an impermissible doctrine." That conclusion 43*43 has been accorded consistent recognition by this Court. Malinski v. New York, 324 U. S. 401, 404; Payne v. Arkansas, 356 U. S. 560, 568; Spano v. New York, 360 U. S. 315, 324; Haynes v. Washing
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