Stare Decisis stä’-rā dě-sī-sĭs legal doctrine when judicial opinions operate as law short for stare decisis et non quieta movere – is a Latin term meaning : “to stand by precedents and not disturb settled points.”
What’s a Precedent? A court’s past decision, recognized as authority
Mandatory or Binding Precedent Refers to authority the courts are required to follow To determine if precedent is mandatory you must determine: –whether the earlier case arose out of the same jurisdiction as the current court –whether the earlier case was by a higher court –whether the case is factually similar applying the same law
Persuasive or Non-Binding Precedent Refers to a case the court may consider, but is not required to follow. Usually considered if the issue of law was not previously litigated in the particular jurisdiction, so the court will look to other cases for guidance
Vertical System State courts must follow precedents from higher courts in the same jurisdiction Federal courts bound by higher courts in the same jurisdiction
Court of Last Resort Intermediate Appellate Court Trial Court
Primary Sources of Law Common law (judicial decisions) from Judges Enacted Law (statutes, constitutions, administrative regulations)
Secondary Sources of Law Sources that explain or give commentary on primary authorities Not considered very persuasive, but help locate primary authority Examples: treatises, hornbooks, law review articles, legal encyclopedias
Hierarchical Relationship of Primary Authority Constitutions –May place constraints on state statutes and case opinions that are contradictory Statutes –May constrain case law and administrative regulations or rulings –But a court may still interpret meaning of a statute or constitutional provision to determine if it applies Case law –May constrain administrative decisions Administrative decisions
Which Has Greatest Precedential Value A state statute or an opinion of that state’s highest court An agency regulation or a state statute A state constitutional provision or a state statute
An opinion of the state’s highest court or ruling by a state agency State constitutional provision or an opinion from state’s highest court Example adapted from Linda H. Edwards, Legal Writing & Analysis (2003).
Holding vs. Dicta Holding – statement in the court’s decision about the issues before it (the court’s answer) Courts bound by precedent are only bound by the holding of the prior cases Courts are not bound by dicta Holding is limited to the court’s statements resolving the question actually at issue (issues necessary to the result reached)
Holding vs. Dicta Dicta – remarks that are not essential to the holding Dicta – can be statements about principles of law Dicta – statements about how the law might apply in hypothetical facts A judge may choose to follow dicta, (persuasive) but is never bound to do so In some cases the dicta may be debatable
Example, State v. Haley Fn. 5 The state contends that we answered this question in the affirmative in State v. Peters, supra. The defendant in Peters alleged that his mother’s illness required him to drive her to the hospital. The severity of the defendant’s mother’s illness was not in issue, but we noted in passing that “the jury could have found [from the evidence] that the situation appeared to defendant to be life threatening.”... The issue in Peters involved the second element. Our brief discussion of the “injury” element was therefore dictum rather than a considered interpretation of the pertinent statutory language.
Holding vs. Dicta The holding in a case can be formulated narrowly or broadly When writing about judicial decisions, choose your words wisely –Example: for the holding try—the court held –Example: for dicta try—the court stated, explained, or hypothesized
Statutes Defined – written law enacted by a legislature Both federal and state statutes Local statutes from city or county government - ordinances
Locating Statutes Codes Statutes are usually divided into titles, topical areas Further divided into sections §
Annotated Code Some statutes, like cases published multiple places Annotated code has text of the statute and research references. –Historical notes, case summaries, cites to secondary sources Unannotated code only has the text of the statute.
Statutes & Legal Analysis Thinking or writing about legal analysis –Begin with the statute –Follow with cases interpreting the statute If a statute has been interpreted by the courts, discuss the relevant case law If there is binding precedent interpreting the statute, explain how the interpretation applies to the facts of your problem