Glebe v. Frost

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Appellate Procedure
  • Date Filed: November 17, 2014
  • Case #: 14-95
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per Curiam
  • Full Text Opinion

A limitation on closing argument is not a structural error, warranting automatic reversal, but rather allows the possibility that such a limitation is subject to harmless error review.

Respondent assisted two individuals in a series of armed robberies and was then charged with robbery and related offenses. At trial, Respondent argued (1) that the State failed to meet its burden of proving that Respondent was an accomplice to the crimes, and (2) that Respondent acted under duress. The trial court insisted that Respondent choose between the two arguments. Respondent therefore limited his closing argument to duress and was subsequently convicted.

The Washington Supreme Court sustained Respondent’s conviction, even though it rejected the trial court’s view that Respondent could not simultaneously contest criminal liability and argue duress. The Washington Supreme Court held that the trial court’s error was only a mistake reviewable for harmlessness and not a mistake requiring automatic reversal.

Respondent then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §2254. The District Court dismissed Respondent’s petition. However, the Court of Appeals en banc reversed and ordered the District Court to grant relief, stating that the Washington Supreme Court unreasonably applied established federal law by failing to classify the trial court’s error as a mistake requiring automatic reversal.

The United State Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed. The Court highlighted that only mistakes that affect the entire trial process warrant reversal, and stated that none of the Court’s cases places improper restriction of argument in this category.

Advanced Search