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A memorandum decision is a legal judgment that provides a ruling on a matter presented in the court without offering an opinion. Such documents are usually short and to the point, as the only thing that the judge must do is issue a clear and unequivocal ruling. The memorandum decision is filed and becomes a matter of public record, available to anyone who wants to look it up, and the results are also made available to the people involved in the case.
Such legal decisions are seen in cases where a judge is not establishing any precedent. The matter takes place within the realm of well established case law and there are no disputes about the interpretation of that law or variances in opinion about how the law can and should be applied. A memorandum decision can choose to reference the laws used in making the decision so that people can look them up, but it does not include an opinion.
In an opinion, a judge explains how a judgment was arrived at, providing interpretation of the law and a discussion of its implications. Opinions must be included when a case sets a precedent because the judge must explain how interpretation of the law was applied to the case. When opinions are written, judges are also aware that the documents can be used and referenced in future cases. When a judge sets a precedent, the written opinion in the case becomes an element of case law and will be utilized by judges, attorneys, and law enforcement to interpret legal matters.
When writing a memorandum decision, a judge must confirm that the case and the judgment do not set a precedent. Judges can consult established case law, as well as legislation to determine that the issues at hand have been clearly discussed and settled in prior legal cases and that there are no elements that require justification or a lengthier written opinion. The memorandum decision amounts to a brief written announcement informing people about the judgment reached in the court.
In some regions, memorandum decisions are not subject to appeal, under the argument that an appeals court would arrive at the same judgment after reviewing the matters at hand in the case. An appellant can, however, argue that there was a fundamental flaw in the case, such as concealed evidence, problems with the way the case was presented, a conflict of interest, or other matters that would necessitate holding a new trial in the interests of fairness.