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What Is De Novo?

When a trial is held de novo, the case is heard as though for the first time.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 28 July 2014
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The Latin phrase “de novo,” means “starting afresh,” and is used in a legal sense to refer to a situation in which a case is heard as though it is being heard for the first time. This term is also sometimes translated as “starting anew.” There are a number of reasons why a case might be heard de novo, but the most common is the result of an order from an upper court indicating that a lower court must try a case again due to errors which occurred in the first trial.

Once a trial is concluded and a judgment is entered, it is generally considered binding, but people have a number of options. They can appeal the judgment to a higher court if they believe that it is unfair, for example. The higher court can review the material and enter a new judgment, or it can order that the trial be repeated at the lower court level due to procedural problems, errors, or new evidence which might change the outcome.

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When a trial is held de novo, the previous legal proceedings are ignored as though they never happened, including the judgment entered in the first trial. The material is introduced all over again as though this is the first time the case has been heard and people must follow procedures just as they would in any other case. At the conclusion of the trial, a verdict and judgment can be entered. People may accept the outcome or appeal it again, depending on the situation.

De novo trials may be offered for both civil and criminal cases. In either case, people must demonstrate that the trial must be repeated due to problems with the original trial which might render its outcome invalid. People cannot repeatedly try a case de novo, as this could cause considerable entanglements in the legal system and could put people at risk of double jeopardy, in which they are tried for the same crime twice. Because repeating trials is expensive, once a de novo trial has been ordered, extra care is taken to ensure that it is carried out correctly to avoid problems.

This legal term is also sometimes used in reference to a bank. A de novo bank is a chartered institution which is brand new and less than five years old. This usage of the term differs slightly from that in law because de novo banks aren't starting all over again, they are starting fresh.

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Discuss this Article

KaBoom
Post 2

@starrynight - I do agree that people should get another trial if there were serious errors in the first one. However, trying a case de novo seems a little excessive.

What would be so wrong with just having an appeal? It seems a little crazy to go through and try the whole case again.

starrynight
Post 1

I am glad de novo exists in our legal system. If there were serious errors in trying a case, the verdict shouldn't hold. And it also shouldn't have any effect on the new trial!

I think there should be a one time limit on hearing a case de nove though. Twice should be enough to get it right!

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