Anthony Hedgpeth, Warden v. Michael Robert Pulido
Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931), required the reversal of the judgment if a general verdict could have rested on an instruction that defined a constitutionally defective alternative theory of criminal liability. However, a modern line of cases, including Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1 (1999), establishes that error in instructing on an element of a charged crime is not "structural error," so as to require automatic reversal, but is instead "trial error" and, as such, may be harmless.
The question presented is:
Did the Ninth Circuit fail to conform to "clearly established" Supreme Court law, as required by 28 U.S.C. section 2254(d), when it granted habeas corpus relief by deeming an erroneous instruction on one of two alternative theories of guilt to be "structural error" requiring reversal because the jury might have relied on it?
J. Bradley O'Connell
First District Appellate Project
San Francisco, CA
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