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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Harmless Error? The Kings County DA obtained the conviction of Guy Zappulla with the use of a confession taken in violation of Zappulla's Miranda rights. The Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed his conviction, holding that the use of the tainted confession was harmless error. The District Court denied Zappulla's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. But the Second Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the Appellate Division applied the harmless error review in an objectively unreasonable manner and that the admission of the confession required the Court to vacate the conviction.

The factors relevant to a harmless error determination as to improperly admitted evidence, based on Supreme Court precedent, are:

the overall strength of the prosecutor's case;

the prosecutor's conduct with respect ot the improperly admitted evidence;

the importance of the wrongfully admitted testimony; and

whether such evidence was cumulative of other properly admitted evidence.

Based on these factors, the Second Circuit held that the admission of the confession was not harmless error.

The decision in Zappulla v. People can be found here.

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