Constitutional and Criminal Law

The case I am going to review is the case Shinseki v. Sanders, 07–1209 (2009) a decision on which has been provided by the Supreme Court on April 21, 2009. The parties. The parties to the case are Woodrow Sanders, a WWII veteran as claimant and Eric Shenseki, representing the US Department of Veteran Affairs as Secretary of Veteran Affairs. Facts of the Case. Woodrow Sanders suffered from a bazooka explosion near him in 1944 that severely damaged his face burning the right side of it and, as Sanders claimed, damaging his eye.

Sanders sought for free medical treatment of his wound, yet the Board of Veterans' Appeals denied his claim arguing that previous medical examinations by the Veteran Affairs revealed that it is hard to determine where the injury came from and can be a result if infection. Sanders than applied to the Veterans Court claiming that the Board failed to notify him about his responsibility to provide evidence sustaining his claim as it is stated in the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000. The Veteran Court rejected Sanders’ claim arguing that he has not suffered any notable prejudice due to denial.

Sanders then filed a lawsuit to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The latter found that the Veterans Court decision has to be reversed since any failure to follow the prescribed procedure, including failure to properly notify, is a prejudice as itself, and this fact needs not to be proved by a claimant. The question put before the Supreme Court was whether U. S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit erred in presuming a prejudicial error when the VA fails to give notice to claimant as to who is responsible for obtaining evidence necessary to substantiate the claim?

Legal Issues. The case includes several legal questions that had to be answered by the Supreme Court. These are mostly of the procedural character. Is failure to follow the prescribed legal procedure a prejudice, although this failure is of minor importance? Can such minor failure establish grounds for a lawsuit? Can formal non-notification be contested in case a claimant was aware of the results of the previous medical examination? Supreme Court Decision. The Supreme Court answered positively to the question put before it and reversed the decision of the U. S.

Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Summary of the majority opinions. The majority opinion has been written by Justice Stephen G. Breyer joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Justices Antonin G. Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito. The majority held that the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reasoning conflicted with established law that the Veterans Court "take due account of the rule of prejudicial error . " The rigid framework of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has placed an unreasonable burden on the VA.

The Supreme Court applied the concept of "harmless-error" which it borrowed from the civil law. The dissenting opinion has been provided by Justice David H. Souter joied by Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Souter observed that Sanders has not bore a burden of proof when applying to the Board of Veteran Affairs, referring to the previous practice of supporting veterans in their claims. He also disagreed that the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit framework was to rigid noting that it is rather workable. Case’ Significance.

The case presents a broad interpretation of the civil law concept of "harmless-error" as a general legal conception which can be applied to administrative and constitutional law. Thus the Court preferred efficiency to formalism. However, application of this idea in the criminal law would hardly be justified as it would conflict the presumption of innocence rule allowing to avoid necessary legal procedures when proving guilt.

References The Oyez Project, Shinseki v. Sanders , 556 U. S. ___ (2009) available at: (http://oyez. org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_07_1209) (last visited Thursday, April 23, 2009).