De Novo

The Latin term de novo is used in the U.S. legal system to refer to something that is started over from the beginning, or from the new. For instance, an appellate court might review all of the facts of a trial, and order the court to hear the case again – without referring to any of the prior assumptions or conclusions. In other words, the trial must begin again, from the beginning. To explore this concept, consider the following de novo definition.

Definition of De Novo


de noh-voh


  1. Anew; from the beginning


1536    Latin

De Novo Standard of Review

In the U.S., a standard of review is the level of deference given by an appellate court to the conclusions or assumptions of a prior court or tribunal when reviewing a case. For instance, if the appellate court determines, from its review, that it would have decided the matter differently, but there is no error that would merit overturning the trial court’s decision, there is a high standard of review. Should the appellate court find the trial court erred in the procedure in some way, the verdict or ruling might be overturned – which is a low standard of review.

As an example, a de novo standard of review means the appeals court is considering the facts, and whether or not the lower court applied the law correctly, as though for the first time – ignoring conclusions made by the lower court. The de novo standard of review is sometimes referred to as a “legal error” standard, or a “plenary” review.

De Novo Appeal

A de novo appeal is a common practice in which the appellate court reviews all of the records of the trial court, but does not yield to the decisions and rulings of the trial court. Because appeals are based on a claim that the trial court erred (did something wrong), the appellate court must review all of the information available that has relevance to the issue on appeal.

Trial De Novo

A trial de novo is a new trial, usually ordered by an appellate court, to be heard by a different court or judge. In a trial de novo, all of the facts and issues are heard and reviewed as if for the very first time, with no consideration given to any issues decided or assumed in the previous trial. In reality, trials de novo are uncommon, simply due to the time and court resources needed to re-hear an entire case.

In 2003, the Supreme Court of Virginia said this about a trial de novo:

“This Court has repeatedly held that the effect of an appeal to circuit court is to ‘annul the judgment of the inferior tribunal as completely as if there had been no previous trial.”

De Novo Example in Appeal

In 1935, Glenn Burris was arrested for driving under the influence on a public highway. He pled guilty in the Justice Court, and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Burris, once in jail, notified the Justice of the Peace that had sentenced him that he was appealing the conviction. The Justice refused to accept the appeal, or to file it with the court, holding that, because Burris had pled guilty, he had waived any right of appeal.

The matter was taken to the Arizona Supreme Court, which was asked to determine only one thing: whether the defendant had a right to appeal after having pled guilty.

Burris, in his appeal, argued that, according to Section 24, Article 2, of the Arizona Constitution, he had a right to appeal. This section, at the time, stated:

“Section 24. In criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have . . . the right to appeal in all cases, …”

He also cited sections 5153, 5154 and 5156, Revised Code 1928, which read:

“… The defendant in any criminal action may appeal to the superior court from the final judgment of a justice, police, or recorder’s court. Such appeal must be taken within five days after the judgment is rendered, and is taken by filing a notice with the justice of the peace, police magistrate or recorder, stating that the defendant appeals from the judgment to the superior court of the county.”


Section 5156: “Trial de novo; judgment on appeal. Every such appeal shall be tried de novo in the superior court, and the superior court shall, upon conviction, impose such sentence as it may deem proper, within the limits which might have been imposed by the justice of the peace, police magistrate or recorder, and upon acquittal, shall discharge the defendant and exonerate his bail.”

The Court ruled – in this example of de novo appeal – that, according to the state’s law, an individual may appeal his conviction, even though he had entered a plea of guilty. The Court stressed that this provision of law could seriously impede the administration of justice, as defendants may take a plea bargain, hoping for a lighter sentence – then, if unsatisfied with their sentence, may appeal to have the case heard from the beginning.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Appellate Court – A court having jurisdiction to review decisions of a trial-level or other lower court.
  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Plea Bargain – An agreement between the prosecutor and defendant in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to some of the charges, or a lesser charge, in exchange for a reduced sentence, or some other concession by the prosecution.
  • Trial Court – A court of original jurisdiction, where testimony and evidence are first introduced and considered.