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Weaver v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, No. 16-240

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.

Court

United States Supreme Court, cert. granted January 13, 2017.

Issue

Structural error requires automatic reversal of a conviction, but when the error Is ineffective assistance of counsel in the Strickland context a defendant is required to demonstrate prejudice. Amicus argued separately to emphasize that the Court's guidance is necessary to clarify how lower federal and state courts should approach unpreserved structural errors in other procedural contexts.

Ruling

Courtroom closure error that is not raised until a collateral attack via an ineffective assistance of counsel claim does not require automatic reversal despite being a claim of structural error. The Court categorized differing levels of structural error which the dissent argues defeats the purpose of structural error which requires automatic reversal because of the difficulty in demonstrating harm from the error.

WACDL Amicus Author

Suzanne Elliott

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