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Name: Powell v. Galaza
Case #: 01-15195
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 03/04/2002
Subsequent History: Opn. vacated by the U.S. Sup. Crt. on 11/12/02

Powell’s conviction is vacated here because the trial court’s mid-trial instruction violated the 14th Amendment: it failed to apply the correct analysis and its decision was contrary to controlling Supreme Court precedent. In the middle of his California jury trial for failure to appear at a sentencing hearing, the trial court instructed the jury that Powell’s own testimony satisfied the specific intent element of the crime. Such an instruction is impermissible under the principles of Carella v. California (1989) 491 U.S. 263, and Sanstrom v. Montana (1979) 442 U.S. 510, and the reasoning of Sullivan v. Louisiana (1993) 508 U.S. 275, dictates that harmless error review is inapplicable. The instruction went beyond the mandatory presumption instructions; it also wasn’t just a comment on the evidence. An instruction that a particular element has been satisfied cannot be review for harmless error because the wrong entity – the judge rather than the jury – becomes involved in rendering the verdict.