On appeal, an essential question in reviewing a constitutional error in a criminal trial is whether the error was a trial error or a structural error. The Supreme Court’s current framework for answering this question has led to widespread confusion and misapplication in both the courts and scholarship. In practice, that question—whether an error was trial error or structural error—can lead to antithetical results: stuctural error generally results in a new trial for the defendant without any showing of prejudice while trial error only requires the prosecution to prove that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Given the contrast between these two results, it is necessary that the framework under which courts evaluate constitional errors in a criminal trial uphold the purposes of appellate review. This Note begins with an overview of the current standards of review for constitional errors in a criminal trial and then details the history of structural error. Then this Note establishes a mode of analysis for evaluating the merits of the current framework, other scholars’ suggestions, and this Note’s proposal. Finally, this Note introduces a new framework for appellate review of constitional errors in a criminal trial by removing structural errors as a class and requiring all constitutional errors to undergo harmless-error review. The chasm in scholarly work on structural error, coupled with the implications of the Court’s current framework on the chances of a defendant’s success on appeal, call for a revived discussion about the merits of Court’s current framework. This Note hopes to contribute to that discussion.
Tisdale, Gavin R., "A New Look at Constitutional Errors in a Criminal Trial Notes" (2016). Connecticut Law Review. 342.