Plain Error at Trial Need Only be Plain at the Time of Appellate Review

Plain Error at Trial Need Only be Plain at the Time of Appellate Review

In an interesting and someone paradoxical decision coming out of the Supreme Court, the justices decided that for an appellate court to overturn a trial court's "plain error" that was not raised at trial, the appellant need only show that the error was plain at the time of appellate review.

In Henderson v. United States the defendant was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm; during sentencing, the judge lengthened the defendant's prison term in order to facilitate a drug rehabilitation program that would be administered in prison. Subsequently, the defendant appealed this lengthened sentence after the Supreme Court decided that lengthening of prison sentences for the purposes of rehabilitation programs was a plain legal error.

The question before the court, then, was whether it was appropriate for the Supreme Court to overturn a plain legal error that was not plain during the trial, but became clear during the appellate review. The Supreme Court held that so long as the legal error was plain by the time of the appellate review, then the appellate court was within its rights to overturn the legal error.

Citation: Henderson v. United States No. 11-9307, 2013 BL 44421 (U.S. Feb. 20, 2013)

Categories: Supreme Court
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