”Miscarriage of Justice” Definition

In People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818, 835, 299 P.2d 243, the Supreme Court "crystallized" the various definitions of the phrase "miscarriage of justice" then in use into what generally is referred to as the "reasonable probability" test. ( Watson, supra, at p. 835; People v. Cahill (1993) 5 Cal.4th 478, 491, 853 P.2d 1037; see also Soule v. General Motors Corp., supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 574.)

In so doing, the court in Watson first reviewed the general principles relating to the constitutional harmless-error provision, noting that several courts had employed a double negative in formulating the test (stating, for example, that reversal would be required if the appellate court "is of the opinion that 'a different verdict would not have been improbable had the error not occurred' . . . or 'if it cannot be said that, in the absence of the error complained of, a different verdict would have been improbable . . .'"), while others had used affirmative linguistic formulations (such as "that 'it must affirmatively appear to the satisfaction of this court . . . that the accused may well have been substantially injured by the error of which he complains' . . . or that there should be no reversal where 'it appears that a different verdict would not otherwise have been probable'"). (46 Cal.2d at p. 836.)

To eliminate the confusion wrought by the differently worded tests, the court in Watson articulated a single standard to be employed in this context: "It appears that the test generally applicable may be stated as follows: That a 'miscarriage of justice' should be declared only when the court 'after an examination of the entire cause, including the evidence,' is of the 'opinion' that it is reasonably probable that a result more favorable to the appealing party would have been reached in the absence of the error." (46 Cal.2d at p. 836.)

According to the Watson court:

"Phrasing the test in this language avoids any complexity which may be said to result from the language employed in the double negative approach, and such phrasing seems to coincide with the affirmative language used in the constitutional provision. We are of the view, however, that the test as above stated does not constitute a departure from the tests heretofore applied, but is merely a crystallization in affirmative form of the guiding principle which the courts have sought to enunciate in phrasing the test in other language. for example, the application of the double negative approach, as stated in some of the recent decisions, presupposes that a reversal will result only when there exists, in the opinion of the court, at least such an equal balance of reasonable probabilities as to leave the court in serious doubt as to whether the error has affected the result. But the fact that there exists at least such an equal balance of reasonable probabilities necessarily means that the court is of the opinion 'that it is reasonably probable that a result more favorable to the appealing party would have been reached in the absence of the error.'" ( Watson, 46 Cal.2d at pp. 836-837)