Frost v. Van Boening

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 04-29-2014
  • Case #: 11-35114
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Thomas for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski; Circuit Judges Reinhardt, Thomas, Wardlaw, Paez, Tallman, Rawlinson, Bybee, Callahan, M. Smith, and Nguyen en banc
  • Full Text Opinion

A trial court infringes on a defendant's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when it precludes defense counsel from making a legitimate defense theory to the jury.

Joshua Frost is serving a 55 year prison sentence for convictions stemming from his involvement in 5 robberies. Frost admitted his involvement, but in his defense theory argued there was reasonable doubt as to accomplice liability and his actions were made under duress. The trial judge only allowed the defense to make the duress argument during closing, reasoning that the defense first had to admit to the elements of accomplice liability before pleading the affirmative defense of duress. By the trial judge not allowing the defense to make both arguments, Frost argues his 14th and 6th Amendment rights were violated. Frost filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition; however, the district court denied the petition .The panel chose to review the petition en banc. The panel holds that the violation of Frost’s 14th and 6th Amendment rights amounted to a Constitutional error and Constitutional errors constitute either trial errors or structural errors. Under Herring, if a judge prohibits a defendant from arguing a legitimate defense theory, a structural error has occurred. Since the judge prohibited Frost’s defense from arguing reasonable doubt as to accomplice liability, a structural error had occurred. By only allowing the defense to argue duress, the trial court denied the defense the opportunity to adequately make a closing argument, did not require the jury to find Frost guilt of all the elements of accomplice liability, and shifted the burden of proof to Frost. These structural errors require that the district court’s denial of Frost’s federal habeas corpus petition be reversed and remanded. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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