Hugo Black: Dissent in Adamson v. California

(1947)

In the case of Adamson v. California, Admiral Dewey Adamson was charged with first-degree murder but chose not to testify on his own behalf at trial. The prosecutor made the jury aware of that fact and argued that his refusal to testify could be construed as an admission of guilt under California statute. On appeal, Adamson’s attorney contended that his client’s freedom against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment had been violated. In the majority opinion written by Justice Stanley Reed, the Supreme Court found that the rights guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment did not extend to state courts, based on the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In his dissent, Hugo Black maintained that the protections of the Bill of Rights should be recognized at the state and local levels as well as the federal level. The Court has continued to reject Black‚Äôs “total incorporation” thesis, but subsequent to the Adamson decision, the Court overruled a number of prior...

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Hugo Black (Library of Congress)

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