Defective Reasonable Doubt Instructions
In Sullivan v. Louisiana [(1993)] 508 U.S. 275 [113 S. Ct. 2078, 124 L. Ed. 2d 182], the trial court gave a constitutionally deficient reasonable doubt instruction.
In explaining why Chapman v. California (1967) harmless error analysis cannot be applied to such an error, Sullivan stated: 'Harmless-error review looks . . . to the basis on which "the jury actually rested its verdict."
The inquiry, in other words, is not whether, in a trial that occurred without the error, a guilty verdict would surely have been rendered, but whether the guilty verdict actually rendered in this trial was surely unattributable to the error.
That must be so, because to hypothesize a guilty verdict that was never in fact rendered--no matter how inescapable the findings to support that verdict might be--would violate the jury-trial guarantee.'
Because a constitutionally defective reasonable doubt instruction renders it impossible for the jury to return a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, 'there is no object, so to speak, upon which harmless-error scrutiny can operate.
The most an appellate court can conclude is that a jury would surely have found petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt--not that the jury's actual finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt would surely not have been different absent the constitutional error.
That is not enough.
The Sixth Amendment requires more than appellate speculation about a hypothetical jury's action, or else directed verdicts for the State would be sustainable on appeal; it requires an actual jury finding of guilty.' " (People v. Flood (1998), 18 Cal. 4th at p. 494, original italics, citing Sullivan v. Louisiana, supra, 508 U.S. 275, 280-281 [113 S. Ct. 2078, 2082, 124 L. Ed. 2d 182].)
The California Supreme Court has interpreted United States Supreme Court authority as indicating "instructional errors--whether misdescriptions, omissions, or presumptions--as a general matter fall within the broad category of trial errors subject to Chapman review on direct appeal." (Flood, supra, 18 Cal. 4th at p. 499.)