Plain Error

The plain error doctrine is an extraordinary remedy used by appellate courts to rectify errors committed at trial.[i]  Plain error is of such monumental proportion that they threaten to erode the system of justice and work a serious and manifest injustice on the aggrieved party.[ii]

The plain error doctrine is reserved for truly extraordinary situations in which the existence of the error is so obvious that it affects the fairness and integrity of and public confidence in the judicial proceedings.[iii]

The plain error doctrine is not a rule of reviewability.  It is a rule of reversibility.[iv]  It is a doctrine that a reviewing court invokes in order to rectify a trial court ruling that, although either not properly preserved or never raised at all in the trial court, nonetheless requires reversal of the trial court’s judgment, for reasons of policy.

A party cannot prevail under plain error unless it has demonstrated that the failure to grant relief will result in manifest injustice. [v] Furthermore, even if the error is so apparent and review is afforded, the defendant cannot prevail on the basis of an error that lacks constitutional dimension if it has not affected the result of the trial.

Thus, in addition to examining the patent nature of the error, a reviewing court should examine that error for the grievousness of its consequences in order to determine whether reversal under the plain error doctrine is appropriate.[vi]  A party cannot prevail under plain error unless it has demonstrated that the failure to grant relief will result in manifest injustice.  Only where plain error is evidenced may an appellate court reverse a verdict in the absence of a proper objection.[vii]

The Federal Rules of Evidence state that nothing in the rule precludes taking notice of plain errors affecting substantial rights although they were not brought to the attention of the court.[viii]  Further, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provide that a plain error that affects substantial rights may be considered even though it was not brought to the court’s attention.[ix]

Harmless error and plain error are not the same, and the fact that an error is not harmless does not necessarily mean it is plain error.[x]  Plain error is an error so grievous that it causes an actual miscarriage of justice.[xi]  Reversal for plain error rule is to be used sparingly, solely in those circumstances in which a miscarriage of justice would otherwise result.  This stringent standard for plain error is applied in cases involving alleged constitutional errors.

[i]State v. Myers, 290 Conn. 278 (Conn. 2009)

[ii] id

[iii] State v. Dalton, 100 Conn. App. 227 (Conn. App. Ct. 2007)

[iv] State v. King, 116 Conn. App. 372 (Conn. App. Ct. 2009)

[v] Menon v. Dux, 81 Conn. App. 167 (Conn. App. Ct. 2004)

[vi] State v. Myers, 290 Conn. 278 (Conn. 2009)

[vii] United States v. Wigley, 627 F.2d 224 (10th Cir. Okla. 1980)

[viii] USCS Fed Rules Evid R 103 (d)

[ix] USCS Fed Rules Crim Proc R 52 (b)

[x] United States v. Hastings, 134 F.3d 235 (4th Cir. N.C. 1998)

[xi] United States v. McKinney, 954 F.2d 471 (7th Cir. Ill. 1992)


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