reversible error

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A reversible error is an error in trial proceedings that affects a party’s rights so significantly that it is grounds for reversal if the affected party properly objected at trial. Contrast with harmless error. For example, in the criminal context, the Supreme Court, in Arizona v. Fulminate, distinguished between “trial error” and “structural error,” finding that different standards for reversibility apply to both. “Trial errors”—i.e. an error which occurred during presentation of the case to the jury—will be reversible error if, in the context of other evidence presented, it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that it was harmless. On the other hand, “structural errors”—i.e. a defect affecting the framework within which the trial proceeds, rather than simply an error in the trial process itself—are simply reversible error.

[Last updated in December of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]