The Latin term sui juris, which can also be written as “sui iuris,” is translated to mean “of one’s own right.” It is used to describe a person who is not under any legal disability, or subject to the authority of another person. He is fully capable of managing his own affairs and can act on his own behalf. The term sui juris is used in both civil law, and in the canon law that is followed by the Catholic Church. To explore this concept, consider the following sui juris definition.
Definition of Sui Juris
- Capable of managing one’s own affairs, or of assuming legal responsibility for something.
1605-1615 Latin (“of one’s own right”)
What is Sui Juris
The phrase sui juris means that a person is legally competent to handle his own affairs. He does not need a guardian to help him make legal decisions because he is not disabled, nor is he a minor. He is also not under anyone else’s power due to a disability or otherwise. For example, sui juris means that an individual is fully capable of handling legal matters on his own without assistance. When referring to the Catholic Church, sui juris is used to confirm the church’s autonomy insofar as its right to make and follow its own laws.
Sui Juris Use in Churches
Sui juris use in churches involves the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, a set of laws that are independent of state and federal law, which are followed by the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and those in communion with it. The largest sui juris use in churches can be found in the Latin Church.
The Pope rules over the Latin Church, possessing the authority that would otherwise be held by patriarchs in other churches. Many of the other Eastern Catholic Churches are large enough to warrant having their own patriarchs or other chief hierarchs. These patriarchs hold authority over all of the bishops that belong to that particular church.
Sui juris use in churches also applies to those missions that do not have enough clergy on staff to be recognized as their own entities, but which are, for various reasons, given autonomy. These missions do not belong to any other diocese or apostolic district.
Types of Sui Juris Churches
There are several types of sui juris churches that exist. Patriarchal churches are headed by a Patriarch, and consist of legislative, judicial, and administrative powers. Major archiepiscopal churches are governed by major archbishops, who are assisted by bishops, and who preside over an entire Eastern Church that has not already been distinguished with a patriarchal title. Common law that concerns patriarchal Churches or patriarchs is understood to also be applicable to the major archiepiscopal churches and major archbishops, unless common law or the nature of the situation clearly declares otherwise.
Metropolitan churches are presided over by a Metropolitan who has been appointed by the Roman Pontiff, and who is assisted by an assembly of hierarchs. There are other sui juris churches that do not fall into any of these classifications, but which are entrusted to hierarchs who preside over them as directed by the Roman Pontiff and the accepted common law.
Sui Juris Use in Secular Law
Sui juris use in secular law concerns the ability to manage one’s own affairs in a civil matter. Sui juris is different from alieni juris, which means that someone is under another person’s control, such as a minor who is unable to make legal decisions for himself. Sui juris use in secular law also indicates that an individual is capable of suing – or being sued – in a legal proceeding without the need for an ad litem, or a court-appointed official that would do the work for him.
Sui Juris Use in Government
Congress is an example of Sui juris in government, in that its two sections – the Senate and the House of Representatives – assemble of their own right into its January 3 session every year. The President of the United States does not have to call Congress to assemble for these sessions, but he does have the option to call a special session if he deems one to be necessary. Sui juris in government illustrates how the legislative branch is independent of the executive branch, though the system of checks and balances remains important so that one branch does not make a decision that can have negative effects for the other branches or the American people.
Sui Juris Example in Child Liability
In April 2009, 4-year-old Juliette was happily riding her bicycle – with training wheels – on the sidewalk, when she ran right into an elderly woman. The accident caused serious injuries to 87-year-old Clair Menagh. Clair passed away about 3 months later, though not from injuries sustained in the sidewalk accident. The executor of her estate filed a civil lawsuit against young Juliette for negligence.
Juliette’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that, because of her age, the child was non sui juris, and could therefore be negligent as a matter of law. The court, however, ruled against the request for dismissal, ruling that the little girl – who was all of 4 years, 9 months of age at the time of the accident – was mature enough, and intelligent enough, to understand the danger posed by riding her bicycle into an elderly woman.
Interestingly, the courts had previously ruled that a child under the age of 4 is conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence. The judge’s ruling that Juliette – who was almost 5 years old – could be held responsible for her actions, which allowed the matter to proceed.
Sui Juris Example in a Criminal Case
An example of sui juris can be found in a case concerning a pro se litigant who was appealing his criminal convictions. Anthony Jimenez was convicted on charges of second degree murder, and being an accessory to a crime. In 2016, Jimenez appeared pro se – representing himself – before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, to appeal the district court’s dismissal of a civil action he had commenced against several Colorado officials.
Jimenez believed that his constitutional rights had been violated during the prosecution of his criminal charges. In his civil action, Jimenez asked both the state and federal courts to order these officials to provide discovery, or to reveal the absence of documents, that would allow him to challenge his convictions, and pursue civil damages. Among his allegations were the following:
- That the state court did not have the jurisdiction to convict him because his crimes had occurred in the Pike National Forest – an area outside of that court’s jurisdiction;
- That the judges who had presided over his state court action had failed to file their oaths of office, and therefore lacked the authority to hear the case; and
- That several officials had profited from transactions they engaged in that were based off of his criminal case.
The district court permitted Jimenez to proceed with his lawsuit, however his action was ultimately dismissed by the court as frivolous. Jimenez then appealed the matter, appearing sui juris before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision, agreeing that Jimenez’ lawsuit was frivolous.
For Jimenez’ first complaint, citing a lack of jurisdiction, the Court of Appeals held that he was incorrect. The Court maintained that the state court did indeed have jurisdiction to convict him, and cited this statute in support of its decision:
“The jurisdiction, both civil and criminal, over persons within national forests shall not be affected or changed by reason of their existence, except so far as the punishment of offenses against the United States therein is concerned; the intent and meaning of this provision being that the State wherein any such national forest is situated shall not, by reason of the establishment thereof, lose its jurisdiction, nor the inhabitants thereof their rights and privileges as citizens, or be absolved from their duties as citizens of the State.”
As for Jimenez’ second complaint, with regard to the judges lacking the authority to hear his case, the Court notes that the section of the Constitution that Jimenez references – Article VI – pertains to federal officials, not state officials, which renders his argument moot. Further, the Court held that judges who do, in fact, fail to file their oaths of office are not stripped of their authority as a result.
Lastly, Jimenez’ third complaint was thrown out as well, with Jimenez once again stating a claim that pertains to federal agencies, not state agencies. The Court once again stated its agreement with the district court:
“Further, we agree with the district court that Jimenez has failed “to allege specific facts that support an arguable claim that his federal rights have been violated.” …While he has put forth sufficient facts that a security does exist with the SEC identification number he has identified, he failed to allege any facts connecting that security to his case, other than stating broadly that he discovered it was ‘associated.’ The district court did not abuse its discretion to dismiss this claims as frivolous.”
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Apostolic – related to the apostles; related to the Pope.
- Checks and Balances – The regulatory system that manages the branches of government; specifically, a method of ensuring that political power is not concentrated in the hands of one particular individual or branch.
- Damages – A monetary award in compensation for a financial loss, loss of or damage to personal or real property, or an injury.
- Diocese – A district managed by a bishop of the Christian Church.
- Discovery – The pre-trial efforts of each party to obtain information and evidence.
- Executive Branch – The branch of government that includes the President, the Vice President, and all of the members of the President’s cabinet.
- Legislative Branch – The branch of government that is responsible for creating laws; includes Congress, which is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
- Pro Se Litigant – A party to a legal action acting without legal counsel, representing himself.