Entry: Stare Decisis
Pronunciation: stair - ee - de - sigh - sus
Definition: Latin for "let the decision stand."
Stare decisis is a very common legal term which is used by judges, lawyers, and other legal scholars to stand by a precedent and refrain from disturbing a settled point of law. (A precedent is rule that becomes established from judge-made law, i.e. judge’s decisions on particular cases.) In other words, stare decisis often means a rule or decision has binding authority (i.e. is mandatory) in a jurisdiction. Let’s go over a brief example to clarify how stare decisis works.
Assume that the State of Grafton (i.e. a made-up state) has no written laws on stealing (also known as conversion). Assume that Bill Parker is caught stealing the purse from a woman named Jenny. The case is assigned to Judge Kilbert and he must decide how to punish Bill Parker. Judge Kilbert hears all the facts and makes a ruling in his court that if someone is caught stealing a purse from another person the thief must pay back the victim all the money and valuables that were taken. In addition, the thief must refrain from stealing for 1 year or go to jail if caught again.
Now, assume another person is caught stealing in the State of Grafton and the case is assigned to Judge Kilbert, but this time the thief stole $10,000. How will Judge Kilbert rule on this particular situation? Well, under stare decisis he’ll at least likely rule that the thief must pay back the $10,000 and refrain from stealing for 1 year or go to jail. That’s because stare decisis attempts to apply similar rulings for similar crimes and legal issues. In other words, “let the decision stand” from the case of Billy Parker to apply to everyone else.