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Supreme Court hears arguments in 'harmless error' case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Tuesday in the case of Fry v. Pliler [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-5247, a case in which the defendant was convicted on two counts of murder following two mistrials. Fry subsequently filed several habeas appeals, arguing the trial court improperly precluded a key defense witness from testifying. The Supreme Court will now address whether a court should apply the "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of Chapman v. California [opinion] or the “substantial and injurious effect” standard of Brecht v. Abrahamson [opinion] in a federal habeas proceeding for which the lower state courts did not conduct a harmless error analysis. There is currently split authority among the US Circuit Courts of Appeals on this issue.

Specifically, the Court will consider whether a divided three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] correctly decided [opinion text, PDF] that the Brecht standard should apply and that the error in this case was harmless. AP has more. SCOTUSblog has additional coverage.

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