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SCOTT v. CALIFORNIA, 364 U.S. 471 (1960)

U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTT v. CALIFORNIA, 364 U.S. 471 (1960)

364 U.S. 471

Decided December 5, 1960.

Appellant was convicted in a state court of murdering his wife. The evidence against him was entirely circumstantial. Proof of the corpus delicti, as well as proof of appellant's criminal agency, was to be inferred only from his wife's inexplicable disappearance coupled with appellant's unnatural behavior thereafter. He did not take the stand in his own defense, and the trial judge instructed the jury that his failure to do so could be made the basis of inferences unfavorable to him. On appeal to this Court, appellant contended that his conviction violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Held: Appeal dismissed and certiorari denied.

Reported below: 176 Cal. App. 2d 458, 1 Cal. Rptr. 600.

Morris Lavine for appellant.

Stanley Mosk, Attorney General of California, William E. James, Assistant Attorney General, William B. McKesson and Lewis Watnick for appellee.


The motion to dismiss is granted and the appeal is dismissed. Treating the papers whereon the appeal was taken as a petition for certiorari, certiorari is denied.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.

The salient facts in this case are related in 176 Cal. App. 2d 458, 1 Cal. Rptr. 600. A reading of the report shows that the entire evidence against the defendant was circumstantial. It was not even shown directly that his wife, whom he is now convicted of murdering, is dead. Proof of the corpus delicti, as well as proof of petitioner's criminal [364 U.S. 471, 472]   agency, was to be inferred from his wife's inexplicable disappearance coupled with his unnatural behavior thereafter. A prominent aspect of this unnatural behavior was his silence. At the trial, the petitioner did not take the stand. The trial judge in accord with California law charged the jury as follows:

Using a defendant's silence as evidence against him is one way of having him testify against himself. This would not be permitted, we have assumed, in a federal trial by reason of the Fifth Amendment. Adamson v. California, 332 U.S. 46, 50 . That rule, embodied in a federal statute, has much history behind it. See Wilson v. United States, 149 U.S. 60 . Its value in protecting the interests of an accused was well stated in Bruno v. United States, 308 U.S. 287, 294 , where we said:

And see Johnson v. United States, 318 U.S. 189, 199 .

The Court in 1947 held that the Fourteenth Amendment by its Due Process Clause did not incorporate the Fifth Amendment (Adamson v. California, supra), with the result that the failure of a defendant to testify could be taken as evidence against him. I dissented in that case and continue to believe it was wrong. The present case shows how utterly devastating the state rule which it sanctions can be. I would accordingly note probable jurisdiction. [364 U.S. 471, 474]  

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