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What is a Stay of Proceedings?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 16, 2024
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Proceedings, in the legal sense, generally refer to the process of settling a case in court. When this process is stopped, either permanently or temporarily, it may be referred to as a stay of proceedings. Although one of the parties to a case may request a stay, only a judge can order it. Furthermore, a judge can make the order without a request from either of the parties. Such an injunction may be ordered in state, federal, and international courts, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC).

A stay of proceedings may stop a particular process in a court case or it may stop the case altogether. Proceedings may be interrupted in this manner in either a criminal procedure or a civil procedure. The verdict may be announced in a civil trial, for example, but the court may stay the award hearing. The court may do this if compensatory damages are to be awarded but the plaintiff has not presented adequate documentation to support her claims of the costs incurred.

In such an instance, it is likely that the court would order the stay and provide a date by which the plaintiff must submit the required documentation. In some instances, however, a judge may order a stay of proceedings without providing a date that the case will continue. When this happens, the stay often becomes permanent. If this is done in a criminal case before the verdict is pronounced, the accused remains innocent, no matter how far the trial has progressed, because his guilt has not been proven.

There are numerous reasons why a court may order a stay of proceedings. In some instances it is done because some requirement has not been met. Plaintiff misconduct can provide the court with a reason to determine it best to stop a case at a certain point. It is also possible that a state court received the order to halt the proceedings from a federal court.

A judge has the authority to order a stay of proceedings. This cannot be done by the plaintiff, defendant or the legal counsel of either party. One of the parties to a case may be able to file a motion for a stay. This is a document that will be presented to a judge asking for this action to be taken. Usually, it must contain the reason that this action is being requested and the length of time that the petitioner wishes to have the stay in effect.

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Discussion Comments

By Veruca10 — On Oct 17, 2011

Although you can definitely face sanctions for maliciously trying to file for a stay, there are lots of legitimate reasons to file one too.

I have a friend who works for the Innocence Project, which reviews the cases of prisoners on death row to make sure they have not been wrongly convicted. They often use DNA evidence and other technical evidence that can be very time consuming to get processed.

One of the most powerful tools they have is a stay of execution. If time is running out for their client, and new evidence is on the way but not yet ready, they can try to file for a stay to buy time until the evidence can be revealed. This does not always work, but sometimes it can be just what is needed to prevent a horrible injustice from happening.

By Nepal2016 — On Oct 17, 2011

@emtbasic - You are right about that. When I was in law school, we learned about Rule 11 in Civil Procedures class. That rule, at least in Federal court, covers all kinds of bad faith dealings and attempted "monkey business" that lawyers might try to delay or run up the cost of a case.

We studied one case where a lawyer was being very obstructive and not dealing in good faith with his opponent, and the judge stuck him with $150,000 worth of the other side's legal bills, along with dismissing his case. Ouch.

By emtbasic — On Oct 16, 2011

Delaying proceedings is an art in and of itself, and it has to be done very delicately to avoid coming back to bite the lawyer who tries it. You do see it a lot on TV, and no doubt it happens in the real world as well.

However, a lawyer has to be really careful filing tactical motions because if they are found to be deliberately delaying or trying to drive up the cost of the legal procedure, they can face serious ethical charges and also sanctions, including having to pay tens of thousands of dollars worth of the other party's legal fees.

Done blatantly and often enough, it could probably put your license in jeopardy.

Does this mean nobody does it? Of course not. But you have to be very careful and have a reason for everything you do. You can't just keep filing stays to slow things down.

By Mor — On Oct 16, 2011

@indigomoth - That's not quite true. While many lawyers are willing to bend the law in order to win, perhaps for their client, perhaps for their own bottom line, they aren't supposed to do it that way.

They aren't above the law themselves. If they manage to get a notice of Stay of Proceedings legally, and it happens that some information is leaked to the public about the trial that's one thing, but deliberately contaminating public or jury opinion is another.

Everyone is entitled to a fair trial, with someone who does their best to get them off. But, in order to be a truly fair trial, everyone needs to play by the rules.

By indigomoth — On Oct 15, 2011

@KoiwiGal - I'm not sure if that happens all that often outside of TV law shows. But I imagine there are good tactical reasons to try and motion for stay of proceedings.

Particularly in a high profile case. I think if you manage to delay the case itself, you might be able to influence public opinion in the long run. I know that's not supposed to happen and is a risky proposition at best, as the public could just as easily turn against the client as for them.

But lawyers are supposed to do whatever they can to try and get their client off, so if this can help them, it's one of the things they might try.

By KoiwiGal — On Oct 14, 2011

I think one of the tactics used occasionally by people who know they will most likely be found guilty, is to try to get as many Stay of Proceeding rulings as possible to put off the inevitable.

Often it will happen because the person will declare they don't want to work with the lawyer they have and insist on a new lawyer, which takes time to get.

Of course, it is up to the judge and I'm sure they can easily see through such tactics, at least after the first one or two times they are employed.

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