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CHAPMAN V. CALIFORNIA, 386 U. S. 18 (1967)

U.S. Supreme Court

Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967)

Chapman v. California

No. 95

Argued December 7-8, 1966

Decided February 20, 1967

386 U.S. 18


Petitioners were convicted following a California state criminal trial during which the prosecutor, as then permitted by a state constitutional provision, extensively commented on their failure to testify. The trial judge also charged the jury that it could draw adverse inferences from such failure. After the trial, but before petitioners' appeal was considered, the state constitutional provision was invalidated by Griffin v. California, 380 U. S. 609. Though admitting that petitioners had been denied a federal constitutional right, the California Supreme Court, applying the State Constitution's harmless error provision, upheld the convictions.


1. This Court has jurisdiction to formulate a harmless error rule that will protect a defendant's federal right under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to be free from state penalties for not testifying in his criminal trial. Pp. 386 U. S. 20-21.

2. Before a constitutional error can be held to be harmless, the court must be able to declare its belief that it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Pp. 386 U. S. 21-24.

3. The State in this case did not demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the prosecutor's repetitive comments to the jury, and the trial court's instruction concerning the petitioners' failure to testify did not contribute to their convictions. Pp. 386 U. S. 24-26.

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

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