Abuse of discretion is a standard of review used by appellate courts to review decisions of lower courts. The appellate court will typically find that the decision was an abuse of discretion if the discretionary decision was made in plain error.
The abuse of discretion standard is used by appellate courts to review lower court decisions in both criminal law and civil law when a lower court makes a discretionary ruling. On appeal, if a party challenges the ruling, then the appellate court will use the abuse of discretion standard to review the ruling.
In General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136 (1997), the Supreme Court held that abuse of discretion standard is the proper standard to use when reviewing evidentiary rulings, including whether to admit or exclude expert testimony.
The abuse of discretion standard is also found in administrative law. 5 U.S. Code § 706(2)(a) states that when a court is reviewing an administrative agency's decision, the decision will be set aside when the decision was either “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” In McLane Co., Inc. v. E.E.O.C., 581 U.S. (2017), the Supreme Court held that the abuse of discretion review extends to an administrative court's decision to issue a subpoena.
[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]