In version 7.0, setting a layer LABELITEM to a column name that doesn't exist generates a server error instead of an error message. In 6.4 and earlier versions you'd see something like "msDrawMap(): Image handling error. Failed to draw layer named 'x'. msDBFGetItemIndex(): DBASE file error. Item 'y' not found.".
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Also happens CLASSITEM or within an expression, at least for shapefiles. OGR driver seems to ignore the problem but doesn't crash. Looks like it could be an issue in mapdraw.c where the return value from msLayerWhichItems() is not checked in msDrawVectorLayer().