Structural Error Legal Definition

Arizona v. Fulminante (1991) 499 U.S. 279, defined structural errors as "structural defects in the constitution of the trial mechanism," such as the total deprivation of the right to counsel at trial and trial before an impartial judge, both of which defy analysis by harmless error standards. (Id. at p. 309-310.) Other structural errors identified by Fulminante include the unlawful exclusion of members of the defendant's race from a grand jury, denial of the right to self-representation at trial, and denial of the right to a public trial. (Id. at p. 310.) "Each of these constitutional deprivations is a similar structural defect affecting the framework within which the trial proceeds, rather than simply an error in the trial process itself. 'Without these basic protections, a criminal trial cannot reliably serve its function as a vehicle for determination of guilt or innocence, and no criminal punishment may be regarded as fundamentally fair.' ." (Ibid.)