Glebe v. Frost

PETITIONER: Patrick Glebe, Superintendent of the Stafford Creek Corrections Center
RESPONDENT: Joshua James Frost
LOCATION: King County Superior Court

DOCKET NO.: 14-95
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 574 US (2014)
GRANTED: Nov 17, 2014
DECIDED: Nov 17, 2014

Facts of the case

Over the course of eleven days in April 2003, Joshua James Frost and two associates committed a series of armed robberies in the state of Washington. Frost was charged with robbery and related offenses. During closing arguments, Frost's lawyer expressed his desire to argue both that the prosecution did not meet their burden and that Frost acted under duress. The trial judge made the defense choose between the two alternative defenses, and the defense chose duress. The jury convicted Frost of multiple counts.

The Washington Supreme Court held that the trial court's restriction of the closing argument violated Frost's rights to due process and assistance of counsel. However, that decision constituted trial error, which makes the mistake reviewable, rather than structural error, which would require automatic reversal. Upon such review, the Washington Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence to convict Frost and upheld the conviction.

Frost filed a petition for a writ of habeas of corpus that the district court denied, and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. Upon rehearing en banc, the appellate court reversed and directed the district court to grant the petition because the Washington Supreme Court unreasonably applied clearly established law by failing to classify the trial court's restriction of the defense's closing argument as structural error.

Question

Was the Washington Supreme Court's decision to classify the restriction of closing arguments as trial error rather than structural error correct?