de novo | definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Courts

De novo is a Latin phrase meaning “anew.” A trial de novo is a completely new trial.

De novo is a Latin term that translates to “anew” or “from the beginning.” In the context of law, it’s used to describe a fresh start or a new consideration of a matter. This phrase carries significant weight in judicial proceedings, specifically when discussing a trial de novo.

What is a Trial De Novo?

A trial de novo is essentially a completely new trial. It is a form of appeal where the higher court does not simply review the decision of the lower court but instead conducts a new trial as if the original trial had never occurred. The term “de novo” is used to underscore the fact that this type of trial is starting from scratch.

When is a Trial De Novo Used?

A trial de novo typically happens when a party involved in a case is not satisfied with the outcome or decision of the lower court, such as a small claims court or a municipal court. In such instances, the dissatisfied party may request a trial de novo in a higher court. It’s important to note that this is not an automatic right in all jurisdictions or in all cases; the ability to request such a trial often depends on the specific rules of the legal system in which the case is being heard.

How Does a Trial De Novo Work?

In this type of trial, all evidence is reconsidered, witnesses may be called again to testify, and new evidence can be presented. The previous trial’s decision has no bearing on the proceedings of the trial; it’s as if the first trial never happened. The judge or jury in the trial makes their decision based solely on the evidence and testimonies presented in the new trial.


While both a trial “from new” and a regular appeal are legal methods used to challenge a court’s decision, they are not the same thing. In a regular appeal, the appellate court reviews the record of the lower court’s proceedings to determine if any legal errors were made that affected the outcome of the case. The appellate court does not reconsider the evidence or hear new testimony. The focus is on the application of the law, not the facts of the case.

In contrast, a trial de novo essentially starts the case over. It allows for a fresh examination of the facts, and it’s not just about whether the law was applied correctly.

The Value

The purpose of such a trial is to ensure fairness in the judicial process. It provides an opportunity for cases to be fully reconsidered, particularly when the parties believe that the original trial did not accurately or justly consider the facts. While it can be a lengthy and costly process, this type of trial plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the justice system by ensuring that every case has the opportunity to be heard and decided correctly and justly.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/16/2023

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