Reversible Error

Reversible Error in the United States

A mistake that substantially affects a person’s rights and requires the setting aside of a lower court judgment on appeal. Reversible error is of such consequence that a miscarriage of justice results from its remaining uncorrected. Reversible error is prejudicial error in that it adversely affects a person’s basic rights. A claimed error in a trial becomes the focus of an appeal. The appellate court must determine if an error did, indeed, occur, and whether the error was substantial enough to require the reversal of the judgment. Reversible error is the opposite of “harmless error,” where a mistake is inconsequential or immaterial to the outcome.

See Also

Appeal (Judicial Effects and Policies) Harmless Error (Judicial Effects and Policies), Reversal (Judicial Effects and Policies).

Analysis and Relevance

Reversible error renders a criminal conviction void. The task on appeal is to convince an appellate court that an error was actually made. A judge may rule that an item be admitted into evidence. The item may have been obtained by police in a manner that was suspect. The appellate court will determine whether the search that produced the evidence was reasonable. If the reviewing court concludes that the search was proper, there is no error and the conviction stands. If, on the other hand, the search is determined to be defective, the outcome must be reversed. Errors that affect basic constitutional rights are presumed to influence outcomes and, therefore, are reversible.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Reversible Error from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Practical Information

Note: Some of this information was last updated in 1982

Error in a lower court substantial enough to cause a miscarriage of justice and to justify a reversal by a higher court.

(Revised by Ann De Vries)

What is Reversible Error?

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Federal Primary Materials

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Federal primary materials about Reversible Error by content types:

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Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
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Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Reversible Error and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Reversible Error or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Reversible Error and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Reversible Error. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Reversible Error should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Reversible Error when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

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