Frost v. Van Boening

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 08-22-2012
  • Case #: 11-35114
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tallman for the Court; Senior Circuit Judge Guy; Dissent by Circuit Judge McKeown
  • Full Text Opinion

In a habeas corpus petition, a trial court’s restriction of the defense’s closing argument, disallowing the simultaneous use of the affirmative defense of duress and accomplice liability, does not amount to a structural error where it does not have a “substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.”

Joshua James Frost was convicted of several counts of robbery, burglary and assault and sentenced to 657 months. After his state personal restraint petitions were denied, Frost filed an amended habeas corpus petition, raising several issues. Frost’s primary argument was that the trial court “violated his constitutional right to council and a fair trail by prohibiting [his] counsel from arguing reasonable doubt as to accomplice liability in closing argument while simultaneously arguing the affirmative defense of duress.” During trial, the court refused to allow Frost’s counsel to argue both defenses, concluding that duress is an affirmative defense, whereas accomplice liability is not. The court instructed Frost’s counsel to limit his arguments to only one defense. Frost argues that the lower court’s error was structural and, according to precedent, require immediate reversal. The Court rejected Frost’s argument, upholding the denial of the habeas corpus petition, holding that the lower court’s restriction on the defense counsel’s argument did not have a “substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.” Therefore, the Court upheld the lower court’s conclusion that the error was not structural because the defense could not demonstrate actual prejudice, and so it amounted to harmless error. AFFIRMED.

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