Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Anybody See 50+ Pages Of Ramble Here?

In Chapman v. California, the Supreme Court first held that a federal constitutional trial error within a state criminal proceeding need not cause automatic reversal of a conviction. Should the prosecution demonstrate that the error in question was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, Chapman declared that the verdict ought to be final and the sentence rendered legal. Yet in concluding that a conviction stained with federal constitutional blunder can still be consistent with federal constitution virtue, the ruling’s inherent paradox opened the door for coming generations to loot, pillage, and plunder the procedural protections won by the past. Much ink has been spilt in the last forty years bearing witness to this phenomenon. Little attention has been paid however to the problems that the harmless error rule and modern iterations of it pose to the wrongfully convicted individual. While adverting to the merits in employing a rule that aids Courts in efficiently dealing with technicalities, this paper attempts to detail and describe how colossal growth in the application of harmless error, substantial misreading of Chapman, and illegitimate judicial consideration of resource constraints all come at the expense of verdict accuracy. In arguing that the judiciary has come to embrace a subversive influence on constitutional values of the criminal justice system and the normative rock at its foundation – that society at large bears the cost of a false acquittal so the individual does not have to tolerate the cost of a false conviction – this paper concludes with some suggested reforms and preferred methods of implementing them.

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