Standard of Prejudice: Penalty Phase Error
October 10th, 2016

People v. Grimes (2016)1 Cal.5th 698, 721-23 held that under California law trial court’s erroneous exclusion of evidence is harmless as to penalty unless there is a “reasonable possibility” that the jury would have rendered a different verdict had the erroneously excluded evidence been presented to the jury.  The “reasonable possibility” standard is “the same, in substance and effect” as the Chapman test for federal constitutional error which requires reversal unless the reviewing court can say beyond a reasonable doubt that the error was harmless.

In Grimes, while the CSC “cannot say with certainty whether the evidence would ultimately have cause the jury to render a different verdict,”  by the same token the court cannot conclude that the jury’s verdict was “surely unattributable” to the error in the exclusion of exculpatory evidence from the co-perpetrator’s statement against interest.  Consequently, the CSC concludes that there is a “reasonable possibility” that had the jury heard the excluded evidence a different verdict would have been rendered.

Tags: ,