Abuse of Discretion

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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A failure to take into proper consideration the facts and law relating to a particular matter; an ARBITRARY or unreasonable departure from precedent and settled judicial custom.

Where a trial court must exercise discretion in deciding a question, it must do so in a way that is not clearly against logic and the evidence. An improvident exercise of discretion is an error of law and grounds for reversing a decision on appeal. It does not, however, necessarily amount to bad faith, intentional wrong, or misconduct by the trial judge.

For example, the traditional standard of appellate review for evidence-related questions arising during trial is the "abuse of discretion" standard. Most judicial determinations are made based on evidence introduced at legal proceedings. Evidence may consist of oral testimony, written testimony, videotapes and sound

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recordings, documentary evidence such as exhibits and business records, and a host of other materials, including voice exemplars, handwriting samples, and blood tests.

Before such materials may be introduced into the record at a legal proceeding, the trial court must determine that they satisfy certain criteria governing the admissibility of evidence. At a minimum, the court must find that the evidence offered is relevant to the legal proceedings. Evidence that bears on a factual or legal issue at stake in a controversy is considered relevant evidence.

The relevancy of evidence is typically measured by its probative value. Evidence is generally deemed PROBATIVE if it has a tendency to make the existence of any material fact more or less probable. Evidence that a murder defendant ate spaghetti on the day of the murder might be relevant at trial if spaghetti sauce was found at the murder scene. Otherwise such evidence would probably be deemed irrelevant and could be excluded from trial if opposing counsel made the proper objection.

During many civil and criminal trials, judges rule on hundreds of evidentiary objections lodged by both parties. These rulings are normally snap judgments made in the heat of battle. Courts must make these decisions quickly to keep the proceedings moving on schedule. For this reason, judges are given wide latitude in making evidentiary rulings and will not be over-turned on appeal unless the appellate court finds that the trial judge abused his or her discretion.

For example, in a NEGLIGENCE case, a state appellate...

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