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A mistake in a court proceeding concerning a Matter of Law or fact, which might provide a ground for a review of the judgment rendered in the proceeding.
The nature of the error dictates the availability of a legal remedy. Generally speaking, mistaken or erroneous application of law will void or reverse a judgment in the matter. Conversely, errors or mistakes in facts, upon which a judge or jury relied in rendering a judgment or verdict, may or may not warrant reversal, depending upon other factors involved in the error. However, appellate decisions make a distinction—not so much between fact and law, but rather, between harmless error and reversible error—in deciding whether to let stand or vitiate a judgment or verdict.
In litigation, a Harmless Error means that, despite its occurrence, the ultimate outcome of the case is not affected or changed, and the mistake is not prejudicial to the rights of the party who claimed that the error occurred. In other words, the party claiming error has failed to convince an appellate court that the outcome of the litigation would have been different if the error had not occurred. Most harmless errors are errors of fact, such as errors in dates, times, or inconsequential details to a factual scenario.
On the other hand, error that is deemed harmful in that it biased the ultimate decision of a jury or judge, constitutes reversible error, i.e., error that warrants reversal of a judgment (or modification, or retrial). A reversible error usually refers to the mistaken application of a law by a court, as where, for example, a court mistakenly assumes jurisdiction over a matter that another court has exclusive jurisdiction over. A court may erroneously apply laws and rules to admit (or deny the admission of) certain crucial evidence in a case, which may prove pivotal or dispositive to the outcome of the trial and warrant reversal of the judgment. Occasionally, a court may charge the jury with an instruction that applies the wrong law, or with an improper interpretation of the correct law. If the party claiming error can prove that the error was prejudicial to the outcome of the case or to the party's rights, the error will most likely be deemed reversible.
An example of potential harmful or reversible error of both law and fact might involve the age of a rape victim in a criminal trial for statutory rape, (where guilt is premised upon the actual age of the victim, and not on whether the sexual conduct was consensual).
In appellate practice, a party may not appeal an error that it induced a court to make (as by petitioning or moving the court to make a ruling which is actually erroneous). Appellate decisions refer to this as an invited error and will not permit a party to take advantage of the error by having the decision overruled or reversed.
The general use of the term error is often distinct from the use of the word mistake, especially in the law of contracts. In such cases, a Mistake of Law or fact (in the making of a contract, or performance thereupon) might result in a finding of harmless or reversible error, but the terms are not transitional.
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 affect on the rights of a party and are thus harmless error. (See: harmless error, remand)
ERROR. A mistake in judgment or deviation from the truth, in matters of fact
and from the law in matters of judgment.
2.-1 Error of fact. The law has wisely provide that a person shall be excused, if, intending to do a lawful act, and pursuing lawful means to accomplish his object, he commit an act which would be criminal or unlawful, if it were done with a criminal design or in an unlawful manner; for example, thieves break into my house, in the night time, to commit a burglary; I rise out of my bed, and seeing a person with a drawn sword running towards my wife, I take him for one of the burglars, and shoot him down, and afterwards find he was one of my friends, whom, owing to the dimness of the light, I could not recognize, who had lodged with me, rose on the first alarm, and was in fact running towards my wife, to rescue her from the hands of an assassin; still I am innocent, because I committed an error as to a fact, which I could not know, and had, no time to inquire about.
3. Again, a contract made under a clear error is not binding; as, if the seller and purchaser of a house situated in Now York, happen to be in Philadelphia, and, at the time of the sale, it was unknown to both parties that the house was burned down, there will be no valid contract; or if I sell you my horse Napoleon, which we both suppose to be in my stable, and at the time of the contract he is dead, the sale is void. 7 How. Miss. R. 371 3 Shepl. 45; 20 Wend. 174; 9 Shepl. 363 2 Brown, 27; 5 Conn. 71; 6 Mass. 84; 12 Mass. 36. See Sale.
4. Courts of equity will in general correct and rectify all errors in fact committed in making deeds and contracts founded on good considerations. See Mistake.
5.-2. Error in law. As the law is, or which is the same thing, is presumed to be certain and definite, every man is bound to understand it, and an error of law will not, in general, excuse a man, for its violation.
6. A contract made under an error in law, is in general binding, for were it not so, error would be urged in almost every case. 2 East, 469; see 6 John. Ch. R. 166 8 Cowen, 195; 2 Jac. & Walk. 249; 1 Story, Eq. Jur. 156; 1 Younge & Coll. 232; 6 B. & C. 671 Bowy. Com. 135; 3 Sav. Dr. Rom. App. viii. But a foreign law will for this purpose be considered as a fact. 3 Shepl. 45; 9 Pick. 112; 2 Ev. Pothier, 369, &c. See, also, Ignorance; Marriage; Mistake.
7. By error, is also understood a mistake made in the trial of a cause, to correct which a writ of error may be sued out of a superior court.
ERROR, WRIT OF. A writ of error is one issued for a superior to an inferior court, for the purpose of bringing up the record and correcting an alleged error committed in the trial in the court below. But it cannot deliver the body from prison. Bro. Abr. Acc. pl. 45. The judges to whom the writ is directed have no power to return the record nisi judicium inde redditum sit. Nor can it be brought except on the final judgment. See Metcalf's Case, 11 Co. Rep. 38, which is eminently instructive on this subject. Vide Writ of Error.