Precedent: Definition, Law & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Precedent
  • 1:32 Example
  • 2:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After you complete this lesson, you will understand what constitutes legal precedent. Moreover, you will examine the law and examples in order to gain a thorough understanding of precedent.

Definition of Precedent

Imagine that the law in the state where you live allows for passengers over nine years of age or children over 80 pounds to ride in the front seat of an automobile. You and your nine-year-old daughter are in the car, with both of you in the front seat, when you get pulled over by a police officer. The police officer issues you a ticket for violating the age limit on the state law on the basis that your child was in the front seat. You go to court to fight the ticket.

The judge reviews the law and determines that you are not guilty of any crime; your child was nine-years old and, therefore, you satisfied the requirements of the law. In reaching this determination, the judge looked to prior interpretations of the state law. The judge's reliance on the prior interpretations is called legal precedent.

Precedent constitutes cases and legal issues previously decided by a court. These cases are frequently utilized by other courts in order to resolve present, pending cases and legal issues. Precedent is beneficial because it results in consistency, reliability, and predictability in court decisions. These benefits help increase confidence of the judicial system and help further an ordered society.

The use of precedent in the courts is also known as stare decisis. Translated from Latin, stare decisis means to stand by things decided. The doctrine of stare decisis occurs in instances where a court relies upon a prior case ruling.

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