Error Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Error, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Error?

n. a mistake by a judge in procedure or in substantive law, during a hearing, upon petitions or motions, denial of rights, during the conduct of a trial (either granting or denying objections), on approving or denying jury instructions, on a judgment not supported by facts or applicable law or any other step in the judicial process. If a majority of an appeals court finds an error or errors which affect the result, or a denial of fundamental rights such as due process, the higher court will reverse the lower court’s error in whole or in part (the entire judgment or a part of it), and remand (send it back) with instructions to the lower court. Appeals courts often find errors which have no prejudicial effect on the rights of a party and are thus harmless error.

History and Meaning of Error

Error is a legal term that refers to a mistake made by a judge in either procedure or substantive law during a legal proceeding. Errors can occur during hearings, on motions, on judgments, or any other part of the judicial process. If a higher court finds an error that affects the outcome or denies fundamental rights such as due process, the lower court's decision will be reversed.

Examples of Error

  1. A judge grants a motion that should have been denied, violating the defendant's right to a fair trial.
  2. During a hearing, the judge fails to sustain an objection and allows inadmissible evidence to be presented.
  3. The jury is given faulty instructions, leading to an erroneous verdict.
  4. The judge issues a sentence that is not supported by applicable laws or facts.
  5. Prior to the trial, the judge fails to properly investigate potential jury bias or misconduct.

Legal Terms Similar to Error

  1. Harmless error - an error that has no prejudicial effect on the rights of a party and does not impact the outcome of the case.
  2. Reversible error - an error that affects the outcome of the case and requires a higher court to reverse the decision.
  3. Plain error - an error that is so obvious it affects the fairness of the trial, even if not objected to at the time.