abuse of discretion
n. a polite way of saying a trial judge has made such a bad mistake ("clearly against reason and evidence" or against established law) during a trial or on ruling on a motion that a person did not get a fair trial. A court of appeals will use a finding of this abuse as a reason to reverse the trial court judgment. Examples of "abuse of discretion" or judges' mistakes include not allowing an important witness to testify, making improper comments that might influence a jury, showing bias, or making rulings on evidence that deny a person a chance to tell his or her side of the matter. This does not mean a trial or the judge has to be perfect, but it does mean that the judge's actions were so far out of bounds that someone truly did not get a fair trial. Sometimes the appeals courts admit the judge was wrong, but not wrong enough to have influenced the outcome of the trial, often to the annoyance of the losing party. In criminal cases abuse of discretion can include sentences that are grossly too harsh. In a divorce action, it includes awarding alimony way beyond the established formula or the spouse's or life partner's realistic ability to pay.