Trial De Novo: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Brittany McKenna

Brittany is a licensed attorney who specializes in criminal law, legal writing, and appellate practice and procedure.

Trial de novo describes a form of appeal where a new trial is conducted. This lesson discusses the basic elements of a trial de novo, as well as common examples of trial de novo matters.

What is Trial de Novo?

Think back to gym class in elementary school. With every new sport or game came a new set of rules to learn. You may be surprised to learn that the American trial system isn't that different from elementary school gym class -- there are many various rules that must be applied to ensure fairness and equality.

One of these rules states that, following a trial, the parties (also known as the litigants) have the opportunity to challenge the decision of the trial court if they feel the result was unfair. For example, the losing party in a civil trial may appeal the verdict because he believes that the judge didn't apply the rules of evidence correctly. This is known as an appeal.

The phrase trial de novo refers to a specific type of appeal where an entirely new trial is conducted. 'De novo' is a Latin expression that means 'anew' or 'afresh'. An appellate court (i.e. the court reviewing the litigants' appeal of a trial) may order a trial de novo in order to give the parties another opportunity to make their respective case.

A trial de novo is, in essence, a new trial conducted before a new tribunal. A kind of 'do-over,' if you will. The phrase 'tribunal' refers to the fact finder in a trial -- in other words, the judge or jury charged with hearing the evidence and handing down a verdict.

A trial de novo differs from a traditional appeal in that new evidence may be introduced at the new trial, whereas in a traditional appeal, the court reviewing the first trial is limited in considering only the evidence presented at the first trial.

Another primary difference between a traditional appeal and a trial de novo is the type of question presented in an appeal is typically based on a question of law. A question of law relates to legal standards and rules. In a trial de novo, the parties are permitted to present new facts in a new trial and are not limited to challenging only legal questions.

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