Abuse of Discretion Law and Legal Definition

The term abuse of discretion is comprehensively defined as follows:

"This authority may be said, in a general way, to be the power of the judge to rule and decide as his best judgment and sound discretion dictate; and the term 'judicial discretion' or 'discretion of the court' is usually employed as designating the power mentioned. There are different kinds of discretion that may be exercised by the trial court; there is a discretion in the right to decide as the court pleases, or in the decision of what is just and proper under the circumstances, or according to the judgment of the court; but in all cases courts must exercise a discretion in the sense of being discreet, circumspect, and prudent, and exercising cautious judgment. However incapable of exact definition, it is clearly recognized that discretion is not absolutely without elements, conditions, or limitations. The term implies the absence of a hard and fast rule, yet it should not be another word for 'arbitrary will,' 'inconsiderate action,' or 'unstable caprice.” State v. Ferranto, 112 Ohio St. 667, 676-677 (Ohio 1925)

Other definitions as made by the courts are as follows:

“Abuse of discretion does not necessarily imply a willful abuse, or intentional wrong. In a legal sense, discretion is abused whenever, in its exercise, a court exceeds the bounds of reason -- all the circumstances before it being considered." Sharon v. Sharon, 75 Cal. 1 (Cal. 1888)

"The term as used in the decisions of courts and in the books, implying, in common parlance, a bad motive or wrong purpose, is not the most appropriate. It is really a discretion exercised to an end or purpose not justified by, and clearly against, reason and evidence." Murray v. Buell, 74 Wis. 14 (Wis. 1889)

Abuse of discretion occurs when a court does not apply the correct law or if it bases its decision on a clearly erroneous finding of a material fact. A court may also abuse its discretion when the record contains no evidence to support its decision. Abuse of discretion is one of the reasons a court of appeals may use to reverse the trial court judgment.

A judge may be found to commit an abuse of discretion by 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. 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. A manifest abuse of discretion is an abuse of discretion that is obvious or clearly apparent.