Supreme Court Review 2017/2018 TERM
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2017
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Issue:  Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Weaver v. Massachusetts

16-240

QUESTION(S) PRESENTED

Because “most constitutional errors can be harmless,” this Court has “adopted the general rule that a constitutional error does not automatically require reversal of a [criminal] conviction” and instead is subject to a “harmless-error analysis.” Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 306 (1991). Among the constitutional violations subject to such analysis is ineffective assistance of counsel. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).

At the same time, the Court has identified a category of “structural defects in the constitution of the trial mechanism, which defy analysis by ‘harmlesserror’ standards.” Fulminante, 499 U.S. at 309. The consequences of such errors are “necessarily unquantifiable and indeterminate” and are therefore not susceptible to a harmless-error inquiry. Sullivan v. Louisiana, 508 U.S. 275, 281-282 (1993).

The question presented is whether a defendant asserting ineffective assistance that results in a structural error must, in addition to demonstrating deficient performance, show that he was prejudiced by counsel’s ineffectiveness, as held by four circuits and five state courts of last resort; or whether prejudice is presumed in such cases, as held by four other circuits and two state high courts.

DECISION

Fully Briefed and Argued
Awaiting Decision

PROCEEDING BELOW

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Decided July 20, 2016
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