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An agreement between attorneys that concerns business before a court and is designed to simplify or shorten litigation and save costs.
During the course of a civil lawsuit, criminal proceeding, or any other type of litigation, the opposing attorneys may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation. Courts look with favor on stipulations because they save time and simplify the matters that must be resolved. Stipulations are voluntary, however, and courts may not require litigants to stipulate with the other side. A valid stipulation is binding only on the parties who agree to it. Courts are usually bound by valid stipulations and are required to enforce them.
Parties may stipulate to any matter concerning the rights or obligations of the parties. The litigants cannot, however, stipulate as to the validity or constitutionality of a statute or as to what the law is, because such issues must be determined by the court.
Stipulations may cover a variety of matters. Parties are permitted to make stipulations to dismiss or discontinue an action, to prescribe the issues to be tried, or to admit, exclude, or withdraw evidence. During a court proceeding, attorneys often stipulate to allow copies of papers to be admitted into evidence in lieu of originals or to agree to the qualifications of a witness. The parties can also enter into agreements concerning the testimony an absent witness would give if he were present, and the stipulated facts can be used in evidence. Such evidentiary devices are used to simplify and expedite trials by dispensing with the need to prove uncontested factual issues.
Generally, parties to an action can stipulate as to an agreed statement of facts on which to submit their case to the court. Stipulations of this nature are encouraged by the courts. A number of other stipulations have been held to be valid, including those that relate to attorneys' fees and costs.
A stipulation does not need to be in a particular form, provided it is definite and certain. A number of statutes and court rules provide that stipulations reached out of court must be in writing to prevent fraudulent claims of oral stipulation, circumvent disputes concerning the terms of the stipulation, and relieve the court of the burden of resolving such disputes. Though an oral stipulation in open court is binding, a stipulation made in the judge's chamber must be in writing.