precedent

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Common-law doctrine under which past decisions of a court are cited as an authority to decide a substantially similar current case. Under the English legal maxim of stare decisis (Latin for, to stand by things decided) the previous decisions (precedents) of an appellate court are binding on the same and lower courts within its jurisdiction. Thus, if the facts and issue of a dispute before the court are similar to an already decided case then the current case will be decided in the same manner, unless a party can show that the previous case was wrongly decided or that it differs from the current one in significant ways.
Precedents are compiled and published in book form so that lawyers throughout the land (and wherever English legal system is practiced) may use them in preparing their arguments. Decisions of courts in other jurisdictions may be used in persuasion but are not binding. Rule of precedent may also apply to administrative decisions made by the government's executive branch, and a legal document may be used as a guide in drafting a similar document. Other legal systems (such as civil law practiced in the countries of continental Europe, their former colonies, Latin America, Isle of Man, Scotland, and the state of Louisiana in the US federation) do not follow this rule.

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Unfortunately, the company's first chief executive set a bad precedent for his successors by embezzling funds, abusing employees, and crashing his company car.
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The teacher set the precedent very high the first day of class, demanding the student's full attention through out the entire class and requiring all homework to be done.
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Standing at the highest level of the judicial system, it's easy to understand how a dangerous legal precedent could be set when the Supreme Court rules on their cases.
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