The Concept of Legal Precedent in Appellate Cases
Explore the intricate world of legal precedent in appellate cases with Strickland Webster, LLC. Understand how past decisions influence future cases and how we can guide you through the appellate process.
Legal precedent is a body of law developed from judicial decisions or opinions over time, and it dictates that courts look to past decisions when deciding on an ongoing case with similar facts and circumstances. The concept is founded on the English common law of the 18th century. It was justified because it helps to promote even-handedness, enhances the consistent development of legal principles, and preserves the integrity of the judicial process.
Legal precedent will ordinarily govern the decision-making in a subsequent similar case unless a party can show that the cases differ in significant ways or that the earlier case was wrongly decided.
Binding vs. Persuasive Precedent
The U.S. has 94 federal judicial districts, organized into 12 regional circuits, each with a U.S. Court of Appeals. These courts hear appeals from the district courts located within their circuits and appeals from the decisions of federal administrative agencies.
The effect of legal precedents in determining a case can be binding or persuasive, depending on certain factors, such as the hierarchy of courts. A legal precedent is considered to be binding in nature when a court must abide by it in its adjudication of the case before it.
For instance, decisions of the Georgia Supreme Court, being the apex court, create binding precedents for all lower courts in Georgia. So, where an appeal having similar facts to a case already decided by the Supreme Court is before the appeals court, the court, by the doctrine of stare decisis, has to take the decision of the Supreme Court in the earlier case into consideration.
This binding precedent is also known as vertical stare decisis, which makes the decisions of the higher court in a jurisdiction have a binding effect that lower courts must follow in that jurisdiction. It is also a vertical precedent when federal district courts abide by the decisions of a U.S. circuit court of a different jurisdiction.
Stare decisis is said to be horizontal when a court applies its own prior decisions to future cases with similar facts. Horizontal stare decisis happens when precedents transmit across courts on the same tier of judicial hierarchy.
For persuasive precedents, the court may, but is not mandated to, rely on it when deciding the case before it.
The Impact of Legal Precedents on Future Cases
Generally, the trial courts determine the relevant facts in dispute in a case. In contrast, the appellate courts review the trial court’s decisions to determine whether the law, including case law or legal precedents, was rightly applied.
Legal precedents have a significant impact on the legal system and how future cases are decided in the following ways:
Shaping legal principles: The concept of legal precedent promotes an unbiased, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles and fosters continuity in their applications.
Promotion of efficiency: Legal precedents promote efficiency by expediting the decision-making process for judges. Judicial decisions are reached faster and more effectively by applying this concept to cases appealed when they have similar facts to a case that a higher court in the jurisdiction has already decided.
Predicting outcomes based on precedent: Legal precedents help you envision your case’s outcomes. By relying on precedents in your appeal, your attorney will be able to determine your appeal’s potential and possible outcome.
Ensuring consistency: Legal precedent promotes legal stability in decisions made by different judges. This consistency increases the actual and perceived integrity of the judges’ decision-making process.
The integrity of the legal system: The concept of legal precedent removes personal biases and shows how judicial decisions are anchored in the law