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Court: convictions stand despite long-ago slips

A criminal must eventually accept his conviction as final even though there may have been minor errors at his trial, the Supreme Court said in a decision written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The 6-to-1 ruling said that a prisoner generally cannot appeal on grounds of trial error long after he was found guilty, unless he can prove ''actual and substantial disadvantage'' to his defense because of the legal mistake.

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In the majority opinion, her most significant since becoming a member of the high court, Mrs. O'Connor declared, ''The federal government, no less than the states, has an interest in the finality of its criminal judgments.''