precedent

(redirected from precedented)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Encyclopedia.
Related to precedented: precedential

Precedent

A court decision that is cited as an example or analogy to resolve similar questions of law in later cases.

The Anglo-American common-law tradition is built on the doctrine of Stare Decisis ("stand by decided matters"), which directs a court to look to past decisions for guidance on how to decide a case before it. This means that the legal rules applied to a prior case with facts similar to those of the case now before a court should be applied to resolve the legal dispute.

The use of precedent has been justified as providing predictability, stability, fairness, and efficiency in the law. Reliance upon precedent contributes predictability to the law because it provides notice of what a person's rights and obligations are in particular circumstances. A person contemplating an action has the ability to know beforehand the legal outcome. It also means that lawyers can give legal advice to clients based on settled rules of law.

The use of precedent also stabilizes the law. Society can expect the law, which organizes social relationships in terms of rights and obligations, to remain relatively stable and coherent through the use of precedent. The need is great in society to rely on legal rules, even if persons disagree with particular ones. Justice louis d. brandeis emphasized the importance of this when he wrote, "Stare decisis is usually the wise policy, because in most matters it is more important that the applicable rule of law be settled than that it be settled right" (Burnet v. Coronado Oil & Gas Co., 285 U.S. 393, 52 S. Ct. 443, 76 L. Ed. 815 [1932]).

Reliance upon precedent also promotes the expectation that the law is just. The idea that like cases should be treated alike is anchored in the assumption that one person is the legal equal of any other. Thus, persons in similar situations should not be treated differently except for legally relevant and clearly justifiable reasons. Precedent promotes judicial restraint and limits a judge's ability to determine the outcome of a case in a way that he or she might choose if there were no precedent. This function of precedent gives it its moral force.

Precedent also enhances efficiency. Reliance on the accumulation of legal rules helps guide judges in their resolution of legal disputes. If judges had to begin the law anew in each case, they would add more time to the adjudicative process and would duplicate their efforts.

The use of precedent has resulted in the publication of law reports that contain case decisions. Lawyers and judges conduct legal research in these reports seeking precedents. They try to determine whether the facts of the present case precisely match previous cases. If so, the application of legal precedent may be clear. If, however, the facts are not exact, prior cases may be distinguished and their precedents discounted.

Though the application of precedent may appear to be mechanical, a simple means of matching facts and rules, it is a more subjective process. Legal rules, embodied in precedents, are generalizations that accentuate the importance of certain facts and discount or ignore others. The application of precedent relies on reasoning by analogy. Analogies can be neither correct nor incorrect but only more or less persuasive. Reasonable persons may come to different yet defensible conclusions about what rule should prevail.

The judicial system maintains great fidelity to the application of precedents. There are times, however, when a court has no precedents to rely on. In these "cases of first impression," a court may have to draw analogies to other areas of the law to justify its decision. Once decided, this decision becomes precedential.

Appellate courts typically create precedent. The U.S. Supreme Court's main function is to settle conflicts over legal rules and to issue decisions that either reaffirm or create precedent. Despite the Supreme Court's reliance on precedent, it will depart from its prior decisions when either historical conditions change or the philosophy of the court undergoes a major shift. The most famous reversal of precedent is brown v. board of education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954), in which the Supreme Court repudiated the "separate but equal" doctrine of plessy v. ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S. Ct. 1138, 41 L. Ed. 256 (1896). This doctrine had legitimated racial Segregation for almost sixty years but finally gave way in Brown, when a unanimous court ruled that separate but equal was a denial of Equal Protection of the laws.

Cross-references

Case Law; Court Opinion.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

precedent

1) n. a prior reported opinion of an appeals court which establishes the legal rule (authority) in the future on the same legal question decided in the prior judgment. Thus, "the rule in Fishbeck v. Gladfelter is precedent for the issue before the court in this case." The doctrine that a lower court must follow a precedent is called stare decisis (star-ay dee-sigh-sis). 2) adj. before, as in the term "condition precedent," which is a situation which must exist before a party to a contract has to perform. (See: stare decisis)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

precedent

previously decided case. One practical aspect of justice is that like cases be treated alike; lawyers consult the reports of previously decided court cases. How a particular system uses precedent is another matter. Continental systems such as the French and German allow that a series of cases interpreting the code will carry great weight. In the Anglo-American system the rules are far stricter, with courts being bound to follow previous decisions. These rules are often considered under the doctrine of STARE DECISIS.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006
References in periodicals archive ?
West European integration with the Federal Republic at its heart, ideologically cemented by the Cold War, and materially by the precedented prosperity that took off in the 1950s, allowed democratic roots to take hold in West Germany, and provided for new levels of international economic and political cooperation in western Europe.
Hammer now heads his own firm, which promises, "By redesigning their processes, by measuring and managing them and by organizing around them, companies are able to achieve un precedented and sustainable improvements in operating performance."
A single indentation is, however, precedented. As Meiggs notes, this was the format of the mason who inscribed district totals in the 425 assessment decree, and he regards this as most likely to have been the case in the 422/1 decree, thus making the total 196 talents; extrapolating from that figure, the annual income from tribute would have reached ca.
Most of Garr's separate points, as he meticulously notes, are precedented in the literature.
(18) And yet, while it is connected to a specific tradition, Celan's revaluation is deceptively non-prescriptive in that it breaks from precedented forms of argument and belief.
Due to the fact that all precedented Fifth Circuit case law failed to address the issue of "whether the Harter Act is compulsorily applicable to the inland portion of carriage pursuant to a through bill of lading," (75) this was an issue of first impression for the Mannesman court.
(See "A Sampler of Contemporary Philly Writers," at right.) This outpouring of talent by black writers from Philadelphia is not precedented. The black church, the abolitionist movement, the area's many colleges and universities, the nation's oldest black press and a very literate black population dating from the colonial era have created a three-hundred-year-old tradition of black writing in Philadelphia.
The decade marked an un precedented outpouring of books and essays devoted to the subject of American literary history and criticism, including the landmark completion of the four-volume Cambridge History of American Literature in 1921.
Multiple credentials are long precedented. There are attorneys, for example, who are also CPAs and CPAS who are also attorneys.
During last week's press conference, Conyers also disputed criticism of the legislation, stating, "Claims that this legislation will not meet constitutional muster are nonsensical: the federal government dearly has power to prohibit this type of discrimination -- it's amply precedented in the body of federal civil rights law.
What with the danger being evident and precedented in sociohistorical context, why does Bathsheba accede to his request, even iterating it in her own name?