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The concept of harmless error and its mirror image, harmful error, generally are given short shrift in law school. Despite the pragmatic importance of the subject, most law school professors and casebooks devote to it little, if any, time, other than to briefly inform students that harmless error will not be grounds for appellate reversal and that harmful error is error that affects the "substantial rights" of the parties. The reasons for this intellectual silence are varied. First, the law school courses most likely to address the topic-civil procedure and evidence-are overflowing with numerous conceptually challenging topics, leaving little pedagogical time for meaningful discussion of something as seemingly arcane as harmless error. Second, the law of harmless error itself is much more complex than it initially appears, making accurate and thorough instruction on the subject difficult, even assuming the time was available. The resulting intellectual void is both pervasive and perverse. Very few lawyers-and hence, judges-know much about harmless error, and their ignorance fuels perversities such as poor legal argument, unfocused reasoning, and seemingly inconsistent judicial decisions. In an attempt to fill the current intellectual void, this article explicates a broad-ranging, coherent synthesis of the law of harmless error in Michigan.


Examines the harmless error rule as interpreted by Michigan case law.