Certiorari: What is it?
There a number of legal terms that make people scratch their heads when they hear them, and ‘writ of certiorari’ is certainly one of them. Like so many legal phrases, certiorari is loaded with meaning and has its roots in Latin.
The term itself means “to be informed, or to be made certain in regard to.” When employed by lawyers, it is a way for an attorney to appeal to an appellate court to review the decision of a lower court and fix any clear legal errors. Typically you will hear the term connected with the U.S. Supreme Court because when they accept or reject a case it is styled as accepting or denying a writ of certiorari.
In Florida, the writ of certiorari has a lengthy and developed history that has nothing to do with the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, today the Florida Supreme Court no longer deals in writs of certiorari, but other Florida courts do.
Writs of Certiorari in Florida
Up until 1980, the final authority on writs of certiorari remained with the Florida Supreme Court. In 1980, Florida voters amended the Florida Constitution to strip the Florida Supreme Court of its certiorari authority and relegate its authority to a strictly defined set of issues. This was the natural evolution of Florida’s legal system that began this course of change in the 1950s.
In the 1950s Florida created what are known today as the Florida District Courts of Appeal. When created, these courts were designed andmeant to be courts of final, appellate jurisdiction. This means that when the District Courts of Appeal were created, it was not intended that they simply be a rest stop for litigants on their way to a final decision by the Florida Supreme Court. This new way of administering justice was created in an effort to streamline and organize the system of justice in Florida and limit the kinds of decisions that the Florida Supreme Court could hear.
In 1980 the voters made a final blow to the Florida Supreme Court's jurisdiction by taking away certiorari powers. This did not mean that the power of one court to review the decisions of another was taken away entirely, but since 1980 Florida’s District Courts of Appeal have followed a distinct set of factors before hearing a case based on certiorari. Thefactors an appellant must show are:
The lower court’s order causes a material injury to the party that a normal appeal could not fix.
The lower court’s order is a clear departure from established principles of law and more than a simple legal error.
By establishing these two factors, an appellant can get a circuit court or district court of appeal to hear their case, and with luck, grant their petition. In deciding whether to grant a writ of certiorari, Florida courts are supposed to look at the facts of each case separately and make each decision on a case by case basis. This means that a set of circumstances that are not given certiorari in one case may be successful in another.
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See related blog posts: July 4th’s Promise of Liberty Includes the Right to a Trial by Jury; Critical for Individual Liberty: First Amendment Freedom of the Press.