Category: Caselaw

Sources of Law in the United States: Part III Case Law

Case Law Click for a video on case law Case Law: Binding and Nonbinding Precedent One aspect of US law that is different from the civil law system of other countries is the importance of case law. When a judge renders a decision that decision has the force of law. We call this type of law case law. Because judges create case law, case law is also called judge-made law.  To understand the importance of case law we need to understand precedent or stare decisis.  The principle of precedent is that cases with similar facts should have similar results.  When a judge decides a case with a particular set of facts, precedent tells us that subsequent judges should reach a similar decision. In the United States there are two types of precedent: binding and non-binding precedent.  When an appellate level court reaches a decision, it is binding precedent on lower courts in the same jurisdiction – – that is lower courts must follow that decision.  But decisions from one jurisdiction are not binding on courts in other jurisdictions. For example, if New York’s Court of Appeals, the highest level court in New York, creates caselaw, that case law will be binding precedent on other courts in New York.  New York’s decisions, though, are not binding on other states.   Can case law change?  Of course. First, appellate level courts will...

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What is binding case law?

Case law (often spelled caselaw) is one source of law in the United States. The common law system on which the United States is based provides that judges should apply legal principles from prior cases  – – precedent – – to cases that present similar facts.  For example, if judges in prior cases held that a person cannot form a contract with someone he knows to be intoxicated, judges should apply that legal principle to circumstances where a person tries to form a contract with someone he knows is suffering from another type of condition that would prevent him from thinking clearly. In some situations, judges are required to follow the decisions of judges in prior cases.  Lower courts must follow precedent from superior courts in the same jurisdiction. In the federal court system, trial level courts are called United States District Courts.  The District Courts must follow precedent established by the intermediate appellate courts in their jurisdiction.  For example, New York is in the Second Circuit.  As a result, New York federal courts must follow precedent established by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The same principle applies in state court systems.  New York trial level courts must follow precedent established by appellate courts in the same jurisdiction....

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