Dictum Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Dictum, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Dictum?

n. Latin meaning “remark.” Refers to a judge’s comment in a ruling or decision which is not required to reach the decision, but may state the judge’s interpretation of a related legal principle. The remark does not have the full force of a precedent since it was not part of the legal basis for judgment, but may be cited in legal argument. The standard counter argument is: “it’s only dictum (or dicta).”

History and Meaning of Dictum

Dictum is a Latin term commonly used in legal contexts to refer to a statement made by a judge in a court decision or opinion that is not a necessary part of the reasoning for the decision, but is rather an observation or commentary. In other words, dictum is a judge's opinion that does not have a direct impact on the outcome of the case, but may provide guidance for future rulings on similar issues. Despite having persuasive value since it is made by a judge, dictum does not have the same legal force as a holding or precedent.

Examples of Dictum

  1. In a recent Supreme Court decision on the 2nd Amendment, a justice made an offhand comment in the dictum about the potential for the right to bear arms to extend to rocket launchers.
  2. In a lower court decision on environmental regulation, the judge wrote in the dictum that the agency's interpretation of the Clean Air Act was reasonable, but hinted that it may not be the best policy outcome in his opinion.
  3. A judge in a family law case included a statement in the dictum expressing his personal beliefs on the importance of both parents being involved in their children's lives, despite ruling in favor of the mother's custody.

Legal Terms Similar to Dictum

  1. Holding: the essential legal principle or rule that the court applies to the facts of the case in order to reach a decision.
  2. Precedent: a decision made by a higher court that establishes a rule of law to be followed in future cases by lower courts in the same jurisdiction.
  3. Obiter dictum: a statement made in passing in a court decision that is not directly related to the reasoning or outcome of the case, but may still be cited as persuasive authority.