Harmless Error Definition and Legal Meaning

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

What is Harmless Error?

(n) Harmless error is the error entered in a legal proceeding which was not significant to influence the outcome or opinion from the opinion arrived if the mistake was not there. Harmless errors when detected may not influence a higher court to reverse the opinion of the lower court

History and Meaning of Harmless Error

Harmless error is a legal term used to describe an error made in a trial or proceeding that is determined to have had no effect on the outcome of the case. Historically, harmless error was not a part of the legal system, and most mistakes or errors made during trials or proceedings would lead to the reversal of the case. However, as the legal system has evolved, the concept of harmless error has become more widely used, allowing for minor mistakes to be overlooked, as they would not have had an effect on the outcome of the case.

Examples of Harmless Error

  1. During a criminal trial, the prosecution enters evidence that was not properly admitted. However, the evidence in question was not significant to the outcome, and therefore the error is deemed harmless.
  2. In a civil case, the judge makes an incorrect determination regarding the admissibility of a document. However, the document was not determinative of the outcome, and thus the error is considered harmless.
  3. The jury is given incorrect instructions by the judge regarding the law. However, this instruction was not relevant to the final verdict, and therefore the error is seen as harmless.

Legal Terms Similar to Harmless Error

  1. Prejudicial error: A prejudicial error is an error made during a trial or proceeding that is deemed to have affected the trial outcome or verdict.
  2. Reversible error: A reversible error is an error made during a trial or proceeding that is significant enough to require the case to be overturned or retried.
  3. Plain error: A plain error is an error made during a trial or proceeding that is so obvious that it can be seen on the face of the record.