1

If a judge makes a factual error, and that error was an important part of his judgement, can the judgement be appealed?

Normally, an appellate court will only consider matters of law and assume the matters of fact as being settled at the full discretion of the trial judge.

What if the judgement makes a clear error of fact? For example, imagine that in the judgement it reads as follows:

Since luminol will only fluoresce in the presence of blood, we can assume that the blood of the victim was present.

This statement is simply factually incorrect. Luminol will fluoresce when in contact with a wide range of catalyst materials, not just blood.

So, in this case the judge has made a factual error. Can such a provable error be the basis for an appellate court to overturn or remand a lower court decision?

  • Would a judge typically include that level of reasoning in a judgement? When a jury is the finder of fact, they don't explain their reasoning at all. – Nate Eldredge Jun 11 '16 at 13:19
  • @NateEldredge I understand that. The question concerns situations where a judge makes a erroneous statement of fact in their decision. – Cicero Jun 11 '16 at 13:59
  • Could this question be expanded to include "the Court?" This could include the jury findings, or even material utterances of counsel or witnesses. E.g., "When is an error fact, that goes uncorrected in a trial that results in a conviction, grounds for appeal of that conviction?" – feetwet Jun 11 '16 at 15:01
  • I think I have read that the standard used in the US legal system is that a jury's finding of fact can only be overturned if their conclusion is one that "no rational finder of fact" could have reached. I can't find a citation and I don't know whether it applies to judges as finders of fact. – Nate Eldredge Jun 11 '16 at 15:29
4

When judges are finder of fact, the standard is one of deference to the trial court, but may be overcome if the trial court made a "clearly erroneous finding". See Concrete v. Const. Laborers, 508 U.S. 602 (1993).

0

Much depends on how and why the judge reached his finding. Whether or not this judge is an expert on luminol, he can only consider its properties if the matter was brought up as expert evidence, or if the point is agreed (there are other routes, such as asking the court to take judicial notice of facts, or citing a textbook that is not challenged by the other side, but they all boil down to one of the two). If the judge chose one expert's view rather than another, that is grounds for appeal though certainly not enough to overturn the decision; but if the factual point was unchallenged or agreed, then he has no choice but to treat it as true, and no appeal can stand. Indeed, it would probably be grounds to appeal if he were to rely on kwowledge not in evidence (such as last month's case that found luminol can fluoresce in other circumstances).

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Usually a factual finding of a trial court is reviewable on an appeal from a court of record, only if there is no evidence in the record from which a reasonable judge could have reached that conclusion.

The possibility that one could show beyond a reasonable doubt that the factual finding is actually false from evidence not in the record and from which the appellate court is not allowed to take "judicial notice" is irrelevant on appeal, although it may be the basis for a motion made in the trial court asking it to set aside its ruling base upon newly discovered evidence.

  • I remember that there was one case that got a lot of attention, because the court made a clerical error in entering the verdict of the jury. The jury had said 'guilty,' but 'not guilty' was entered. But it was never changed. – Zizouz212 Jan 22 '17 at 4:17
  • That would be different than a mistake of fact error related to double jeopardy and a whole body of doctrines related to the interaction of jury verdicts and the rest of the process. – ohwilleke Jan 22 '17 at 5:38

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