The petitioner allegedly made two sales of marihuana to an informer in June and July 1963. He was not indicted until mid-October 1963. According to the State, the delay was due to the State's desire to use the informer in other narcotics cases. By the time the case came to trial, the informer had disappeared. Evidence as to the
The jury found petitioner guilty, but the trial judge ordered a new trial because of the State's delay which had made the informer unavailable. The California District Court of Appeal reversed the trial judge's ruling, 237 Cal.App.2d 320, 46 Cal.Rptr. 855 (1965). It held that the failure to produce the informer did not deny a fair trial.
At the trial, which took place before our decision in Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965), the prosecutor had commented upon petitioner's failure to take the stand. His comment was as follows:
Subsequently, we decided Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967), which disapproved of California's harmless-error rule as applied to federal constitutional errors. Thereafter, we granted a petition for a writ of certiorari in the instant case, vacated the judgment below, and remanded for further consideration in light of Chapman. 386 U.S. 263 (1967). On remand, the District Court of Appeal reinstated its former opinion except that it rewrote the portion dealing with harmless error. This time it recited that the constitutional error in this case was harmless "beyond a reasonable doubt"—the standard announced in Chapman. People v. Fontaine, 252 Cal.App.2d 73, 60 Cal.Rptr. 325.
The disputed issues at the trial centered principally upon whether the petitioner knowingly transferred wax bags of marihuana to the informer. The petitioner
These comments upon petitioner's failure to take the stand violated his constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. Griffin v. California, supra. The jury had been asked to convict petitioner on the basis of circumstantial evidence, in the absence of testimony from the State's agent who allegedly made the purchases from petitioner. In these circumstances, the State has not met its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the erroneous comments and instruction did not contribute to petitioner's conviction. Chapman v. California, 386 U. S., at 24, 25-26.
Accordingly, the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and the petition for a writ of certiorari are granted and the judgment is
MR. JUSTICE BLACK and MR. JUSTICE HARLAN would affirm the judgment of the state court.