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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Todd A. Brecht
Gordon A. Abrahamson, Superintendent, Dodge Correctional Institution
(on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae supporting the Respondent)
(on behalf of the Petitioner)
(on behalf of the Respondent)
Facts of the Case 

Todd Brecht was charged with murder for shooting his brother-in-law. During his trial, he testified that the shooting was an accident. In addition to presenting other evidence, the prosecution pointed out his silence (both prior to his receiving the Miranda warnings and after) in an attempt to discredit his testimony. Brecht was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Brecht appealed, claiming that the prosecution's reference to his post-Miranda silence violated his right to due process according to Doyle v. Ohio. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, but the Supreme Court of Wisconsin reinstated it. They found that the mention of post-Miranda silence was impermissible under Doyle, but was also harmless error according to the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard from Chapman v. California.

Brecht sought a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The District Court upheld his Doyle claim and found that the violation was not harmless error under Chapman. Brecht's conviction was thus overturned again, only to be reinstated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The Seventh Circuit held that Chapman was not the appropriate standard under which to review Doyle error in federal habeas petitions. Rather than adhering to the Chapman standard, the court applied the Kotteakos v. United States test, which requires that the Doyle error have a "substantial and injurious effect" on the jury's verdict. Brecht's Doyle claim did not meet this standard, and the Seventh Circuit denied the writ.


Is the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard from Chapman v. California the appropriate standard for setting aside a conviction on the basis of constitutional error?

Decision: 5 votes for Abrahamson, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision:

No. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that the "substantial and injurious effect" test was preferable to the "beyond a reasonable doubt" test in requests for habeas corpus relief. Habeas proceedings are not to be the primary avenue for resolving disputes; Rehnquist called the writ "an extraordinary remedy", reserved for the victims of grave injustice. The Kotteakos standard, then, was sufficient to determine whether Brecht deserved habeas relief.

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BRECHT v. ABRAHAMSON. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 27 August 2015. <>.
BRECHT v. ABRAHAMSON, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 27, 2015).
"BRECHT v. ABRAHAMSON," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 27, 2015,