[Latin, To be informed of.] At COMMON LAW, an original writ or order issued by the Chancery or King's Bench, commanding officers of inferior courts to submit the record of a cause pending before them to give the party more certain and speedy justice.
A writ that a superior appellate court issues in its discretion to an inferior court, ordering it to produce a certified record of a particular case it has tried, in order to determine whether any irregularities or errors occurred that justify review of the case.
A device by which the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES exercises its discretion in selecting the cases it will review.
Certiorari is an extraordinary prerogative writ granted in cases that otherwise would not be entitled to review. A petition for certiorari is made to a superior appellate court, which may exercise its discretion in accepting a case for review, while an appeal of a case from a lower court to an intermediate appellate court, or from an intermediate appellate court to a superior appellate court, is regulated by statute. Appellate review of a case that is granted by the issuance of certiorari is sometimes called an appeal, although such review is at the discretion of the appellate court.
A party, the petitioner, files a petition for certiorari with the appellate court after a judgment has been rendered against him in the inferior court. The petition must specifically state why the relief sought is unavailable in any other court or through any other appellate process, along with information clearly identifying the case and the questions to be reviewed, the relevant provisions of law to be applied, a concise statement of facts relating to the issues, and any other materials required by statute. The rules of practice of the appellate court to which the petitioner has applied for relief govern the procedure to be observed. For example, a petition for statutory certiorari made to the Supreme Court of the United States must be prefaced by a motion for leave, or permission, to file such a petition. If a common-law writ is sought, however, the petitioner need only file a petition for certiorari.
After evaluating the petition, the appellate court will decide whether to grant or deny certiorari. Certiorari is issued, designated as "cert. granted," when the case presents an issue that is appropriate for resolution by the court and it is in the public interest to do so, such as when the issue has been decided differently by a variety of lower courts, thereby creating confusion and necessitating a uniform interpretation of the law. Certiorari is denied when the appellate court decides that the case does not present an appropriate matter for its consideration. In the practice of the Supreme Court, if a petition has been granted certiorari as a result of a mistake, such as where the petitioner misrepresents the case or the case has become moot, the Court will dismiss the petition as "having been improvidently granted," which has the same effect as an initial denial of the petition. Practically speaking, this rarely occurs.
Some states have abolished writs of certiorari under their rules of appellate practice.