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What is a Motion to Set Aside?

By Toni Henthorn
Updated May 17, 2024
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In a US court, when either party to a civil or criminal proceeding is displeased with the outcome of a case, he has the option to appeal the court's ruling. One possible step to initiate the appeal process is a motion to set aside judgment. In order to file this motion, the unhappy party in a civil case must specify mistakes, legal errors, or other factors of the first trial that justify the redress, in accordance with Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A participant in a judicial proceeding may make the motion at any point after the entry of the verdict, judgment, or ruling, even years after the case is closed. If the motion is granted due to fraud, mistakes, neglect, or newly discovered evidence, it does not affect the judgment finality, only the ordered outcome.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure list circumstances under which a motion to set aside judgment is appropriate. This motion may only contain arguments that have not been previously used in other appeals or motions. Judicial oversights, excusable negligence, and accidents that fundamentally changed the case in an unjust manner are often cited reasons setting aside a judgment. Appellate courts may consider clerical errors in parts of the trial record, either deletions or blunders, particularly if the affected portions influenced the outcome. The lower court may amend such clerical errors before the higher court schedules the appeal.

When a party to a prior proceeding discovers new evidence, he can move for a new trial under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules. If he could not have discovered the new evidence in time to obtain a new trial under Rule 59, however, the new evidence provides a rationale for the motion to set aside judgment. Any misstatements, misrepresentations, misconduct or fraudulent behavior in the first trial also trigger the motion. Litigants should make such motions within one year of the original proceeding, according to Rule 60.

In criminal trials, these motions are unusual, and in the United States, convicted criminals use a writ of habeas corpus to apply for relief. Writs of habeas corpus most often pertain to criminals who have been detained by police but who have not yet been charged. They may also apply to criminals awaiting trial, death row inmates, and prisoners whose sentences have been completed. The writs compel anyone who is restraining the liberty of another to furnish legal reasons why the person is being held. If a convicted felon can show that he was unlawfully or unjustly convicted and imprisoned, then the writ of habeas corpus enforces his release.

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