Legal Precedent

An act or instance that may be used as an example in dealing with subsequent similar instances.

Law. A judicial decision that may be used as a standard in subsequent similar cases: a landmark decision that set a legal precedent.

Should one individual court case influence all future decisions in similar cases? Does an awareness that a particular court case will set future precedent add an obscuring influence over that case?

These questions have particular significance with all of the media attention in the current legal battle over Terri Schiavo.

It looks like there is such a strong vested interest in the precedent created by this situation, from both sides that the individual woman is lost in the ensuing circus.

Ideally precedents can be overturned for the right reasons, and new precedents can be set for cases which are subtly not analagous to the precedent setting case. The legal system is flawed, but in theory it’s the best system I can think of. Corruption, politics and the media can interfere with this ideal, and I think it’s the case with Terri Schiavo. I suppose you could include those other forces as part of the definition of the United States legal system. I guess you just gotta question authority, watch your back, and be one step ahead. Any of us could get squashed by the machine any time.

i think yes and yes.

with the first question: otherwise the fate of the those in any one particular case are more vulnerable to the inclination of their specific judge.
this doesn’t mean changes can’t/shouldn’t take place. but a consistency in the judicial system can serve to protect. The “system” wields more power than the individual. (ethos of the state)
i think the second part is inevitable. but, i guess in justice not every ruling should pertain purely to the context of each case. justice, supposedly, has some sort of universality to it. its not all contextual. the outcome of the particular, i suppose, points towards a universal.

precedents seem to me like just one of the many stupid notions ruling our lives.

Would you like a judge in your case to decide a ruling for no other reason then it resembels another case, maybe hundreds of years ago?

As for fear your judge sucks, and having him follow precedent will protect you: the odds your judge sucks are about as good as the odds the judge that sets the precedent sucks.

I don’t think that legal precedence should’ve been set in this case. This is one example in a long string of examples of the majorities abuse of power.

btw, the autopsy report came out today. Seems the doctors did know what they were talking about. … yt&emc=rss

I’m curious if her parents will still stand by their decision to keep her alive, knowing hindsight that she was completely brain dead?

I’m also curious about the responses of those who bought into the whole “she’s not really in a PVS”.

How else are they supposed to rule on an obscure case they (and any other judges) have no experience with? It is the best organic self-correcting legal system I can think of; see Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board of Education, etc.

In both of those cases had they not set precident then there would have been scores of similar cases; the fact precident was set helped avoid clogging the system with thousands of abortion cases, etc.

The interesting comedy (to me) about the Schiavo case was that the hardline ‘save terri’ people were essentially eroding the bond between a man and a woman in wedlock; by allowing the parents of the wife to supercede the husband.

that, and the WWWA angle… (see )

in both those cases, the supreme court decided the law was wrong, and overturned it, or forced an interpertation of it to fit the constitution. this is our system of government, not the legal system, though they are realated. in my opinion, the supreme court does not set precedents, it changes the laws, which is diffrerent from a judge setting a precednet. in the first case, it is a council of wise(or supposed to be wise) men and women deciding whether or not it is lawful to do something in genral, in effect setting the law and stopping more cases being brought forward. in the second case, it is a judge that decided whether something was right to do in a single case, and if that case happens to have been an exception to a good rule, it seems stupid to set the excpetion as something so hard to overturn, even to fit the majority.

we should judge every case to the standards that fit it, not some standard imposed by a body with no familiarity with the case in point. i dont expect judges to rule on a case they have no familiarity with, any more then i want a blind man stabbing at a newspaper to pick what stocks he should invest my money in. its the same thing, someone making an important judgement with NO information.

Precedent, although binding, is not set in stone. Assuming you are talking about the Supreme Court, if the issue reaches the Court again it can be overturned, especially if it is stupid but merely resembles an ancient case. Although Borra brings up the point that a decision specific to a certain situation should not be binding on other desicions, I dont think it really works on that. Precedent is binding on similar cases…if the cirsumstances differ, the holding is not necessarily binding. In opinions, courts often make distinctions between cases presented by the parties (that are allegedly similar and thus binding or at least persuasive), and the case at hand. You’d be surprised at the little distinctions that are made. Also, in general, Supreme Court judges–who understand the impact of their holding on the system, the fact that it will be published, and the implications of a supreme court decision–are cautious of these factors when writing an opinon.

Plus, dissents to majority opinions are usually written and may be later used to defend the other side. Dissenting opinions are often used in subsequent majority opinions, many of which overturn the former opinion. I’m pretty sure that’s one of the main reasons dissents exist.

Without precedent, the system would be chaotic. Rulings would be arbitrary and many would lose faith in the integrity of the legal system (assuming they had it to begin with :laughing: )

I never knew I felt so strongly about precedent, lol…Thanks for the enlightenment.

ok, so im starting to feel better about precedents. however, i once attended a court case where the defendant was being tried for assult, or something like that, and they dug up a 154 year old case where an assult defendant was cleared because he convinced his judge he had to look after his kids. the current defendant presented this case to the judge and was cleared because he had children and the judge was to rigid to overturn the ancint precedent. ever since i saw this case, precedents have just bothered me.


Oh I absolutely understand where you are coming from, B. Old law is not always perfect and takes a lot of effort to overturn, especially when you have to go from a lower court all the way up to the Supreme Court. But in general, the benefits totally outweigh the costs. Unfortunatly in the legal system, there are always going to be really unfortunate costs to bear. Innocents are put behind bars, guilty people are let free, some people get away with a wimpy sentence for a terrible crime… it’s sad. We can’t have a perfect system, but we can be consistent, which is integral to justice.

Precedant is a valid and almost necessary part of our justice system. No small part of the Schiavo situation owe’s its’ resolution to the tradition of legal precedent. After all the fuss and furor, and the regrettable losing track of the ‘victim’ in this case, we have affirmation that our judicial system is still alive and well. That the President, Congress, and neo-cons couldn’t derail the system says a lot.

That said, precedent can, does, and will continue to evolve - always about 50 yrs after the fact. It will just about keep pace with the general social gap between what we say and what we do.