Trial De Novo (What It Means And Why It’s Important: Overview)

What is a Trial De Novo?

How does a de novo trial work?

What are the essential elements you should know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

What does trial de novo mean and why does it matter?

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Let’s get started!

What Is A Trial De Novo

The term “trial de novo” refers to an instance where the court of appeal decides to hold a trial by considering the evidence of the case by itself rather than appreciate the correctness of the judgment rendered by the trial court.

In other words, in law, a “de novo” trial, you are going to have a new trial before a different tribunal or court.

Quite often, a de novo hearing will be ordered by an appellate court where a party has filed an appeal against the decision rendered by the trial court.

For example, a new hearing is often called when a party is appealing a decision of an administrative body or when the judgment of a small claims court is appealed, to the extent permitted by law.

If the appellate court overturns the decision made by the lower court, it may choose to hear the matter on a de novo basis.

Now, to better understand this phrase, let’s break it down into its components “trial” and “de novo”.

Trial

In law, a trial refers to when parties to a lawsuit present their case, evidence, and legal arguments to a court, tribunal, or decision-making authority.

Typical, a trial is held in front of a judge, jury, or another type of trier of fact such as an arbitrator or an administrative judge.

De Novo

In Latin, “de novo” means “anew” or “afresh”.

In other words, when something has to begin one more time, we’ll say de novo in Latin.

De novo in law means a legal aspect that must be reperformed, or done again.

Now, by combining the meaning of trial and de novo, we can say that in legal terms, trial de novo refers to a case that will be heard again by another court afresh.

Trial De Novo Definition

According to the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, referring to Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary, trial de novo is defined as:

A trial held on appeal, in which the appeals court holds a trial as if no prior trial had been held, considering the evidence anew rather than reviewing the lower court’s decision for correctness.
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As you can see from this definition, trial de novo means:

  • A trial 
  • Held on appeal 
  • Where the court of appeal hears the case anew

In other words, when you have a “de novo” trial, it means that you are appealing a decision of a court that has already heard the case but where, at the appeal level, the court will consider the evidence presented and render a judgment of its own.

How Do De Novo Trials Work

Depending on your jurisdiction, the rules may vary in regard to the possibility to demand a trial de novo and the applicable procedures.

Let’s look at a few examples to see how it works in some states to illustrate the point.

In California, Section 40902 of the California Vehicle Code states:

If the defendant is dissatisfied with a decision of the court in a proceeding pursuant to this section, the defendant shall be granted a trial de novo.
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This means that a defendant can, by written declaration, request a new trial if he or she is not satisfied with the judge’s decision.

The California courts also have a form called TR-220 that parties can use to request a trial de novo:

Request for New Trial (Trial De Novo) - California - Form TR-220

In Indiana, according to the Indiana Rules of Court, a party may demand a trial de novo following a civil judgment in the following manner:

  • Within 15 days after the city court enters its judgment, the party seeking a trial de novo must file a written Request for Trial de Novo
  • The request must include the person’s name, attorney’s name, opposing party and attorney names, the name of the city court, the date that the judgment was rendered, request for a new trial, and indicate whether the party is demanding or waiving a new trial by jury 

The Indiana court rules also provide for what documents and exhibits must be attached to the request and so on.

Trial De Novo Examples

What are some examples of de novo trials authorized by the courts?

Although every jurisdiction may have its own rules relating to the ability of an appellate court to order a de novo trial, in the United States, you may find them in various ways.

De novo trials are generally seen in the review of administrative proceedings or when a small claims court judgment is appealed.

In this context, if the appellate court overturns the administrative decision or small claims judgment, it may also choose to review the evidence de novo.

You can also find in some states traffic offenses or certain types of criminal offenses bearing a penalty of imprisonment that may be appealed on general jurisdiction for a brand-new trial.

As such, trial de novo small claims, trial de novo traffic cases, and trial de novo criminal cases are some examples where a brand new trial may take place to review the evidence presented to the trial court.

Another example is in the state of New York where a party may ask for a new trial before a judge following a decision made by an arbitrator after a mandatory arbitration.

In such cases, the parties are required to:

  • Request a new trial within 30 days after the issuance of the arbitrator’s decision 
  • Fill out a Demand for a Trial de Novo
  • Have the demand notified to all parties
  • Complete an affidavit of service 
  • File the Demand and affidavit in court
  • Pay the court fees 

Once that is done, the court will provide the parties with a new trial date.

De Novo Trial vs Appeal

What is the difference between a de novo trial and an appeal?

The main difference between a de novo trial by an appellate court and an appeal before an appellate court is with regards to the level of scrutiny and standards of review adopted by the court of appeal.

In a conventional appeal, the appellate court reviews a lower court’s decision on an incorrect interpretation of law or on legal points.

The appealing parties generally argue that the trial judge erred in a point of law and demand that the appeals court revised the legal interpretation and conclusions of the trial judge.

In this context, the court of appeal will study the record and assess the original judge’s legal reasoning and interpretation without getting into the appreciation of factual elements presented before the original court.

However, with a de novo trial, the court of appeal or the higher court reviews the entire case as if the original hearing did not take place.

In essence, the appeal judge will not only appreciate the evidence presented before the original judge but also go through the legal reasoning to dispose of the case.

When a party requests a de novo trial, there may be convincing arguments presented to the appellate court that the original judge did not appreciate all the facts or take into consideration important evidence.

As a result, the key difference in a de novo trial is that the higher court hears the case from the beginning and becomes a new trier of fact instead.

De Novo Trial Takeaways 

There you have it folks!

What is trial de novo?

How do you define trial de novo?

De novo trials are those where the appellate courts review the original court’s decision from the beginning, assess the trial court’s legal reasoning, and appreciate the evidence based on the record.

This is different than a regular appeal of a decision where the parties are not authorized to present new evidence and where the appeal must be based on a point of law as opposed to a point of fact.

In some cases, if an appealing party provides reasonable evidence that the trial judge did not appreciate all the facts presented to it, the appellate court may order a trial “de novo” to review and assess the facts presented to the trial judge.

In the end, a “de novo trial” is when you have an opportunity to have your case heard one more time before a new tribunal in such a way that the new judgment overrides the original judgment that you were unhappy about.

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Trial De Novo Meaning

  • A “trial de novo” in law means when a higher court reviews all the legal and factual aspects of a case previously heard by a lower court as the original case was never heard before
  • A trial de novo is different than a conventional appeal as the appellate court will review factual aspects of the case and not merely focus on the points of law 
  • Some types of cases such as small claims matters in some states and some specific types of criminal cases in other states allow for the possibility for a party to ask for a de novo hearing 
  • In most cases, a trial de novo will result in the canceling of the decision rendered by the trial judge as if the decision was never made 
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