What is a Prima Facie Case?


The Latin term “prima facie” loosely translates to “at first sight.” It means that a case appears to have merit. Think of it as a car idling at a red light. Even if you didn’t step closer to look inside, you’d have reasonable cause to believe that a driver was behind the wheel and car’s engine was running. The facts logically lead to this conclusion and the same applies to a prima facie case.

Contradictory Evidence

  • A prima facie case isn’t necessarily a sure win. Although courts require that you have a prima facie case in order to initiate a lawsuit, the other party has a right to attempt to prove at trial that the apparent facts of your case aren’t accurate. If he’s successful, the court will rule in his favor.

Effect on Proceedings

  • Certain criminal matters are presented to a grand jury and these proceedings are decided based on whether the prosecutor has a prima facie case. A grand jury doesn’t decide if a defendant is guilty or innocent. It only makes a decision as to whether the prosecution has presented sufficient evidence to establish that a crime has occurred and defendant should stand trial for it. In civil matters, such as small claims or divorce actions, the court will assume the plaintiff’s prima facie case is an accurate reflection of the facts if the defendant doesn’t file an answer or otherwise make an effort to defend himself. In such a case, the judge will typically award the plaintiff whatever he asked for in his lawsuit.


  • Photo Credit junial/iStock/Getty Images
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