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The standard for determining whether habeas relief must be granted when the prosecution, in violation of due process, uses a petitioner's post-Miranda silence for impeachment purposes, is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.
At his first-degree murder trial in Wisconsin state court, petitioner Brecht admitted shooting the victim, but claimed it was an accident. In order to impeach this testimony, the State, inter alia, made several references to the fact that, before he was given his Miranda warnings at an arraignment, Brecht failed to tell anyone with whom he came in contact that the shooting was accidental. The State also made several references to his post-Miranda-warning silence in this regard. The jury returned a guilty verdict and Brecht was sentenced to life in prison, but the State Court of Appeals set the conviction aside on the grounds that the State's references to his post-Miranda silence violated due process under Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610, 49 L. Ed. 2d 91, 96 S. Ct. 2240, and this error was sufficiently "prejudicial" to require reversal. The State Supreme Court reinstated the conviction, holding that the error was "'harmless beyond a reasonable doubt'" under the standard set forth in Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24, 17 L. Ed. 2d 705, 87 S. Ct. 824. The Federal District Court disagreed and set aside the conviction on habeas review. In reversing, the Court of Appeals held that the proper standard of harmless-error review was that set forth in Kotteakos v. United States, 328 U.S. 750, 776, 90 L. Ed. 1557, 66 S. Ct. 1239, i. e., whether the Doyle violation "'had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.'" Applying this standard, the court concluded that Brecht was not entitled to relief. Certiorari was granted.
Was the petitioner entitled to federal habeas corpus relief on the ground of the prosecution's Doyle error?
The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that for purposes of determining whether federal habeas corpus relief must be granted to a state prisoner on the ground of a federal constitutional "trial error" such as a Doyle error, the appropriate harmless error standard to apply was whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict, rather than whether the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, because although the reasonable-doubt standard has been applied to constitutional errors on direct review of criminal proceedings, the substantial-effect standard was better tailored to the nature and purpose of collateral review. Moreover, the application of the less onerous substantial-effect standard in such cases promoted the considerations underlying the Supreme Court's federal habeas corpus jurisprudence. Thus, in this case, petitioner was not entitled to federal habeas corpus relief on the ground of the prosecution's Doyle error, because, under the circumstances, the error did not substantially influence the jury's verdict, and thus was harmless.