Legal Dictionary

sua sponte

Legal Definition of sua sponte

Related terms

Definition of sua sponte


    Taken directly from the Latin


sua sponte

  1. (law) on its own initiative

Usage notes

  • Usually used when the court issues an order or otherwise acts without being petitioned to do so.

Further reading

In law, sua sponte (Latin: "of his, her, its or their own accord.") describes an act of authority taken without formal prompting from another party. The term is usually applied to actions by a judge taken without a prior motion or request from the parties. The form nostra sponte (of our own accord) is sometimes used by the court itself, when the action is taken by a multi-member court, such as an appellate court, rather than by a single judge (third parties describing such actions would still refer to them as 'sua sponte'). While usually applied to actions of a court, the term may reasonably be applied to actions by government agencies and individuals acting in official capacity.

One situation in which a party might encourage a judge to move sua sponte occurs when that party is preserving a special appearance (usually to challenge jurisdiction), and therefore cannot make motions on its own behalf without making a general appearance. Common reasons for an action taken sua sponte are when the judge determines that the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction or that the case should be moved to another judge because of a conflict of interest, even if all parties disagree.

Notable cases

  • Carlisle v. United States 517 U.S. 416 (1996) - The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a district court could not move sua sponte to grant a judgment of acquittal (notwithstanding the verdict) to remedy the late filing of the equivalent motion.
  • Trest v. Cain 522 U.S. 87 (1997), 94 F.3d 1005 - The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit moved sua sponte to reject a habeas corpus claim because of procedural default, citing an obligation to do so. The Supreme Court ruled that this was not obligatory, but declined to rule whether it was permitted.

Other uses

  • The 75th Ranger Regiment (United States Army Rangers) uses Sua Sponte as their regimental motto, referring to the Rangers' ability to accomplish tasks with little to no prompting and to recognize the fact that a Ranger volunteers three times; for the Army, for Airborne School, and for the Ranger Regiment.
  • The Fenn School in Concord, Massachusetts uses Sua Sponte as its school motto usually seen written in a furled banner beneath an engraving of the famous Daniel Chester French The Concord Minute Man of 1775 statue.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     landed property
2.     lex fori
3.     status quo
4.     ownership
5.     lex loci delicti commissi
6.     lex situs
7.     sodomy
8.     lex causae
9.     unjustified
10.     AORO