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What Is a Void Judgment?

By Theresa Miles
Updated May 16, 2024
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A void judgment is a judicial decision that was invalid and had no legal force or effect at the moment it was issued. Judgments are considered void if the court lacked personal or subject matter jurisdiction over the case, the case itself violates the defendant's right to due process, or if fraud has been perpetrated upon the court. Void judgments can be attacked at any time the defect is realized, even in subsequent proceedings. All proceedings based on a void judgment are likewise void.

Judgments are orders of the court issued by judges in civil and criminal cases. Unless appealed, a judgment concludes a court case. For a judge's decision to be a valid adjudication of a matter, the court has to have the legal authority to hear a particular case. This authority is known as the court's jurisdiction, and it is granted to a court by statute.

A judgment is void if the court lacks either subject matter or personal jurisdiction over a case. Subject matter jurisdiction means that the court is authorized to hear the type of case in front of it. For example, a civil court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over criminal cases. The court and the cases are incompatible by law because the court's grant of authority to hear cases does not cover criminal cases. If a court hears a case and it is later determined that the case should have been heard in a different court, any judgment issued by the wrong court would be considered invalid.

Lack of personal jurisdiction over any party to a case will also result in a void judgment. A court can only exert authority over a person if it can be shown that he has some connection to the court. The person either has to live in the area over which the court has jurisdiction or has to have committed an act or offense in that area before the court can compel his attendance. Otherwise, the person has to voluntarily submit to the court's jurisdiction before the court can hear the case.

Any time a case is decided where the defendant never had the opportunity to be properly heard is a violation of due process and results in a void judgment. Likewise, if a fraud is perpetrated on the court, any judgment issued would be void and have no legal effect. In any instance where a judgment is void, it is legally invalid automatically at the moment issued, without needing a motion by a party or a further decision by a court. The underlying defect often needs to be brought to the court's attention, however, and this can be done at any time, even in a subsequent proceeding. Once the defect is revealed, the judgment is void as a matter of law and does not require judicial assent.

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