Washington Law Review


David M. Bowman


Since 1967, federal courts have conducted harmless error analysis to determine whether to uphold a prisoner's conviction notwithstanding a constitutional error committed at the prisoner's trial. A review of the development of the harmless error doctrine reveals how the U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts have solidified a rational impact test to determine harmlessness. More recently, the U.S. Supreme Court has moved away from a clearly defined test with respect to errors alleged by habeas corpus petitioners. This Comment analyzes the obstacles faced by habeas petitioners in establishing a magnitude of error sufficient for reversal under the newer doctrine. It also reveals the difficulty lower courts have in applying the newer doctrine, as illustrated by a recent Ninth Circuit decision, Rice v. Wood. The Comment proposes a collateral-review harmless error standard that balances a defendant's right to a fair trial with a state's interests in finality of convictions.

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