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Hedgpeth v. Pulido

Docket No.: 07-544
Certiorari Granted: Feb 25 2008
Argued: October 15, 2008
Decided: December 2, 2008

PartyNames: Anthony Hedgpeth, Warden v. Michael Robert Pulido
Petitioner: Anthony Hedgpeth, Warden
Respondent: Michael Robert Pulido

Court Below: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Anthony Hedgpeth, Warden
v.
Michael Robert Pulido
555 U.S. ____ (2008)
Background:

Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931), required the reversal of the judgment if a general verdict could have rested on an instruction that defined a constitutionally defective alternative theory of criminal liability. However, a modern line of cases, including Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1 (1999), establishes that error in instructing on an element of a charged crime is not "structural error," so as to require automatic reversal, but is instead "trial error" and, as such, may be harmless.

Question Presented:

The question presented is: Did the Ninth Circuit fail to conform to "clearly established" Supreme Court law, as required by 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(d), when it granted habeas corpus relief by deeming an erroneous instruction on one of two alternative theories of guilt to be "structural error" requiring reversal because the jury might have relied on it?

Question:

Are jury instructions that instruct a jury on multiple theories of guilt, one of which is legally improper, necessarily "structural error" that exempts the instructions from a harmless-error review?

Holding: judgment vacated and remanded
Vote: 9-0
Opinion By: Per Curiam
Read HEDGPETH V. PULIDO opinion (PDF)
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