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Washington v. Recuenco

Docket No.: 05-83
Certiorari Granted: Oct 17 2005
Argued: April 17, 2006
Decided: June 26, 2006


Criminal Procedure, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure

PartyNames: Washington v. Arturo R. Recuenco
Petitioner: Washington
Respondent: Arturo R. Recuenco

Court Below: Supreme Court of Washington

Arturo R. Recuenco
548 U.S. 212 (2006)

A single element missing or misdefined in jury instructions can be harmless error if, beyond a reasonable doubt, the error did not contribute to the verdict. Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1 (1999). In contrast, errors that affect the entire framework within which a trial proceeds, rather than errors in the trial process itself, are "structural" and will always invalidate a conviction. Sullivan v. Louisiana, 508 U.S. 275 (1993). It is undisputed in this assault case that the only weapon used was a firearm, but the verdict form for the enhancement failed to distinguish a "firearm" finding from a more generic "deadly weapon" finding -- the "firearm" finding carries a greater sentence.

Question Presented:

The question presented here is whether error as to the definition of a sentencing enhancement should be subject to harmless error analysis where it is shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not contribute to the verdict on the enhancement.


Can a violation of Blakely v. Washington's rule that all factors used in sentencing enhancements must be found by a jury, not a judge, be found legally harmless?

Holding: judgment reversed and remanded
Vote: 7-2
Opinion By:

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