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Caldwell error refers to a constitutionally impermissible error of resting a death sentence on a determination made by a sentencer who has been led to believe that the responsibility for determining the appropriateness of the defendant's death sentence lies elsewhere. This error most often occurs when the prosecutor or the judge tells the jury that the death sentence, if inappropriate, may be overturned on appeal. Such remarks or arguments affects the fundamental fairness of the sentencing proceeding, as such a sentencing decision does not meet the heightened standard of reliability required under the Eighth Amendment.
The name originated in the case Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320 (U.S. 1985), where the Court held that the accused's capital sentence was invalid when the sentencing jury was led to believe that responsibility for determining the appropriateness of a death sentence rested not with the jury but with the appellate court that later reviewed the case.