Harmless Error Analysis Definition

The United States Supreme Court held that the admission of an involuntary statement at trial is not subject to a plain error analysis, but a harmless error analysis. Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 303, 111 S. Ct. 1246, 113 L. Ed. 2d 302 (1991). The Commonwealth Rules of Criminal Procedure sets forth the harmless error standard and provides that "any error, defect, irregularity or variance which does not affect substantial rights shall be disregarded." Com. R. Crim. P. 52(a). The harmless error concept was developed by appellate courts "to embody and implement the truism that no litigant is assured a perfect trial, only a fair one." Commonwealth v. Rabauliman, 2004 MP 12 P 41, 7 N. Mar. I. 54 (citing Commonwealth v. Lucas, 2003 MP 9 P 13 n.10, 6 N. Mar. I. 564). The harmless error doctrine "serves a very useful purpose insofar as it blocks setting aside convictions for small errors or defects that have little, if any, likelihood of having changed the result of the trial." Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 22, 87 S. Ct. 824, 17 L. Ed. 2d 705 (1967); see also Lucas, 2003 MP 9 P 13 n.10, 6 N. Mar. I. 564 (stating that the harmless error rule allows a reviewing court to omit objectionable evidence and then examine the remaining untainted evidence in order to see whether the same result would follow).