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Appellate Procedure – Harmless Error Analysis: Structural Error, Generally

State v. William Troy Ford, 2007 WI 138, affirming unpublished decision
For Ford: Ralph J. Sczygelski

Issue/Holding

¶42      … (S)tructural error [is] a “defect affecting the framework within which the trial proceeds, rather than simply an error in the trial process itself.” Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 310 (1991); State v. Shirley E., 2006 WI 129, ¶62, 298 Wis.  2d 1, 724 N.W.2d 623. Structural errors “infect the entire trial process and necessarily render a trial fundamentally unfair.” Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1, 8 (1999)(internal citations and quotations omitted). They “seriously affect the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings and are so fundamental that they are considered per se prejudicial.” Shirley E., 298 Wis.  2d 1, ¶62 (internal quotations omitted).¶43      Structural errors are subject to automatic reversal. Neder, 527 U.S. at 8; State v. Harvey, 2002 WI 93, ¶37, 254 Wis.  2d 442, 647 N.W.2d 189. The United States Supreme Court has found structural error in only a “very limited class of cases.” Id. [4]


 [4]   In Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 468 (1997), the Supreme Court listed as structural errors complete denial of counsel (Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963)); biased trial judge (Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510 (1927)); racial discrimination in grand jury selection (Vasquez v. Hillery, 474 U.S. 254 (1986)); denial of self-representation at trial (McKaskle v. Wiggins, 465 U.S. 168 (1984)); denial of public trial (Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984)); and defect in reasonable-doubt instruction (Sullivan v. Louisiana, 508 U.S. 275 (1993)).

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