In The

Supreme Court of the United States




Decided June 8, 1992

Justice O’Connor, Concurring

Topic: Criminal Procedure*Court vote: 5–4
Note: No other Justices joined this opinion.
Citation: 504 U.S. 527 Docket: 91–5843Audio: Listen to this case's oral arguments at Oyez

* As categorized by the Washington University Law Supreme Court Database

Next opinion >< Previous opinion

DISCLAIMER: Only United States Reports are legally valid sources for Supreme Court opinions. The text below is provided for ease of access only. If you need to cite the exact text of this opinion or if you would like to view the opinions of the other Justices in this case, please view the original United States Report at the Library of Congress or Justia. The Sandra Day O'Connor Institute does not in any way represent, warrant, or guarantee that the text below is accurate."


JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concurring.

I join the Court's opinion but write separately to set forth my understanding that the Court does not hold that an appellate court can fulfill its obligations of meaningful review by simply reciting the formula for harmless error. In Chapman v. California, 386 U. S. 18 (1967), we held that before a federal constitutional error can be held harmless, the reviewing court must find "beyond a reasonable doubt that the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict obtained." Id., at 24. This is a justifiably high standard, and while it can be met without uttering the magic words "harmless error," see ante, at 540, the reverse is not true. An appellate court's bald assertion that an error of constitutional dimensions was "harmless" cannot substitute for a principled explanation of how the court reached that conclusion. In Clemons v. Mississippi, 494 U. S. 738 (1990), for example, we did not hesitate to remand a case for "a detailed explanation based on the record" when the lower court failed to undertake an explicit analysis supporting its "cryptic," onesentence conclusion of harmless error. Id., at 753. I agree with the Court that the Florida Supreme Court's discussion of the proportionality of petitioner's sentence is not an acceptable substitute for harmless error analysis, see ante, at 539-540, and I do not understand the Court to say that the mere addition of the words "harmless error" would have sufficed to satisfy the dictates of Clemons.

Supreme Court icon marking end of opinion

Header photo: United States Supreme Court. Credit: Patrick McKay / Flickr - CC.