Stay of Execution – Why Have We Needed Them?
A legal restraint is a judicial declaration that prohibits a party from acting, which may be done in many different forms. Such actions include restraining a debtor from mailing or otherwise transferring the funds to a third party, restraining a person from doing business, preventing a public servant from performing his or her duties, or preventing clergy from exercising his or her right of cathedral worship. In some cases, a public official is prohibited from doing something. For example, an administrative law judge may quash a zoning ordinance or order a dentist not to perform a surgical procedure on a patient. A civil action can be brought against a public official for violating the law.
The legal restraint is not exclusive to criminal cases. A federal district judge in Texas recently ordered the state to paykins to be given to welfare mothers when they lose their jobs. The state was challenging this order, claiming that the mothers were entitled to a pay check long before they lost their jobs, and did not meet the requirements for receiving a federal welfare program. In a brief filed with the court, the state claimed that it was irrelevant whether the mothers had a prior financial relationship with the defendant; the court agreed with the state and affirmed the order. Similarly, a California Superior Court judge found that a law banning gay marriage was unenforceable because it discriminated against the members of a minority group.
There are a number of reasons, a court might issue a stay. Some of them are obvious: the plaintiff is attempting to remedy an impending event, such as the imminent seizure of a business or its assets; the plaintiff has suffered serious injury or death due to the violation of a law, or there is a question of the constitutionality of a law. Others are less obvious but no less worthy of attention: a court may temporarily stay a case if it is of extreme importance to the welfare of the people involved or the community at large. Also, a court can refuse to issue a stay if it finds that there is a likelihood that the case will become irrelevant in the near future. The case will most likely need to go back to the lower court, where it will be tried again. If all goes well, however, the stay will be extended and the case resolved.