Legal Word of the Day
Entry: Dictum
Pronunciation: dick - tuhm
Definition: a statement in a judicial decision that does not have a binding effect on later court decisions
What does this mean? Well, a dictum or dicta does not really have legal influence on judges that make decisions. Dicta are kind of like fillers in a legal decision. It’s generally just language without legal implications. In other words, dictum refers to words and/or phrases in a judge's written decision that is not binding on subsequent legal decisions.

However, with that said, dicta can be persuasive. So, dictum can have some influence on a judge, especially in a very fact-specific case where the binding law does not really help the judge to make a decision. Let’s go over an example to clarify.

Dictum Example

Assume the law said that trespassers must pay a $250 fine if found guilty and/or go to jail for up to 30 days. Seems simple enough. Now assume John trespassed on Mary’s property, but did so to save a cat from a tree. How should the Judge rule?

Here, the Judge may look to other judges’ rulings in similar situations (if there are any rulings) and even read the dicta in prior decisions about such a situation for some guidance in making the decision. The dicta are not binding, but could be influential in that judge’s decision.

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