Case of First Impression

A case of first impression is a case in which an issue that has not previously been considered or decided by a higher court. This means that there is no legally binding authority by which the case must be decided. Cases of first impression are most commonly heard after some new legislation has been passed, and an issue requires interpretation by the court. To explore this concept, consider the following case of first impression definition.

Definition of Case of First Impression

Noun

  1. A case that presents the court with an issue of law that has not previously been decided.

What is a Case of First Impression

A case of first impression involves a legal issue, or question of law, that has not been ruled on by a court that has jurisdiction over the case. Because this type of case requires the court to make an interpretation of some point of law, these decisions often become binding precedent, at least in the jurisdiction in which the case is decided.

Precedent

When a court makes a ruling on a question of law – that is an interpretation of how a certain law affects or applies to a specific case – that ruling becomes a “precedent.” This means that other courts of the same jurisdiction must adhere to that ruling and application of law in future similar cases. This is especially true when a higher court – an appellate court, or a Supreme Court – makes the ruling.

Precedent finds its roots in the common law system, in which the judicial system attempts to create a uniform system of justice. To so this, all courts must strive to render similar rulings and similar cases. This is known by the Latin term stare decisis, which essentially means “to stand by things that have been settled.”

Types of Precedent

There are three types of precedent in the law, each covering a specific type of case.

  • Original Precedent – also known as case of first impression – refers to a ruling on a matter of law that has never been heard before by the court in a specific jurisdiction.
  • Binding Precedent – also known as a normal precedent – requires a court to follow a previously made in a similar case. Precedent is only binding on a court that is equal to, or lower than, the court making the decision in the case of first impression.
  • Persuasive Precedent – may be used by a court when considering the facts of a similar case, but that court is not required to adhere to the previously made ruling. This commonly applies to rulings made by courts of lower jurisdiction.

Decision on a Case of First Impression

In rendering a decision on a case of first impression, the court generally goes into detail about how it reached its decision. This involves its review of the facts of the case, the pertinent law, and rulings on other cases that helped in the court’s analysis and decision-making process. It is these details that will aid future judges and attorneys in applying the decision, or the interpretation of the law, to future cases.

DNA Privacy Brings Case of First Impression Example

In 2014, Glenn Raynor was accused of having raped a woman. He was asked to come to the police station to be interviewed, and asked to provide a DNA sample. Raynor refused to allow the technician to swab his cheek for the sample, but after he left the station, the technician swabbed the armrests of the chair in which he had been sitting to obtain “naturally shed DNA.”

Raynor’s attorney filed a motion to suppress the DNA evidence, but the trial court denied the motion, stating “if he was so concerned about it, he should have worn a long sleeve shirt.” In this example case of first impression, the DNA collected without Raynor’s consent or knowledge was used to convict him of rape, which gained him a sentence of 100 years in prison.

Raynor appealed the conviction, arguing that he had a right to privacy concerning his DNA profile, and that the underhandedly-collected sample should have been excluded as evidence. This appeal brings an example case of first impression in which the court was asked to determine whether collection of discarded or naturally-shed DNA samples violates a person’s Fourth Amendment right of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled, in a 4-3 split decision, that the collection of naturally-shed DNA was lawful, stating:

“We hold that DNA testing of the 13 identifying junk loci within genetic material, not obtained by means of a physical intrusion into the person’s body, is no more a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, than is the testing of fingerprints, or the observation of any other identifying feature revealed to the public—visage, apparent age, body type, skin color.”

Raynor sought certiorari, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to make a determination of the constitutionality of the issue.

The argument against collection of a person’s DNA without his consent or a warrant points out that such genetic material holds a immense amount of information that is deeply personal, and which should be protected by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A DNA profile provides information about a person’s race, health, and the identification of his relatives.

In this example case of first impression, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, which means it refused to hear the case. The Court receives approximately 8,000 petitions for certiorari each year, and hears only about 80 cases. While the Court does not give reasons for denying such petitions, refusal to hear this type of case gives law enforcement free reign to continue testing discarded and naturally-shed DNA as it has done for the past couple of decades or so.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Appellate Court – A court having jurisdiction to review decisions of a trial-level or other lower court.
  • Binding Precedent – A rule or principle established by a court, which other courts are obligated to follow.
  • Writ of Certiorari – An order issued by a higher court demanding a lower court forward all records of a specific case for review.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.

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