Special appearance

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A special appearance is a term used in the American law of civil procedure to describe a civil defendant's appearance in the court of another state solely to dispute the personal jurisdiction of the court over that defendant. Prior to the advent of this procedure, defendants had to either appear in the other state's court to defend the case on the merits, or not show up in court at all, and then mount a collateral attack on any judgment rendered against them, when the plaintiff came to the defendant's state to collect on the judgment. In a legal catch-22, if the defendant appeared solely to contest jurisdiction, the court would then be permitted to assert jurisdiction based on the defendant's presence.

In response to the apparent inequity presented by this situation, most states have passed statutes permitting the defendant to make a special appearance in the courts of the state to contest jurisdiction, without further subjecting themselves to the jurisdiction of the court. The equivalent of such an appearance is possible in U.S. federal courts, for the defendant may make a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Where a special appearance is permitted, the term general appearance is used to denote the normal type of appearance in court. A "special appearance" is in contrast to a "general appearance".

Beginning in the late 1990's, adherents of the sovereign citizen's movement have attempted to use the special appearance to question the jurisdiction and competence of courts where the point is moot. The most prevalent use of the special appearance is in any criminal court, as special appearances are only recognized in the civil rules of procedure and the civil courts. Thus, the term special appearance has no meaning in the context of a criminal court, as anyone committing, or having been indicted for or charged with committing or otherwise alleged to have committed a criminal offense are de jure within the jurisdiction of the criminal courts, whatever their residence or national citizenship.

This type of special appearance is not to be confused with a first special appearance in which an attorney who has not had the opportunity to formally become a defendant's attorney of record appears on that person's behalf.

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