In People v Flores, Justice Moore of the California Court of Appeal wrote:
"A stay is a temporary suspension of a procedure in a case until the happening of a defined contingency."
In R v Jewitt, Canada’s Supreme Court adopted these words:
"A stay of proceedings is a stopping or arresting of a judicial proceedings by the direction or order of a court...; (a) a kind of injunction with which a court freezes its proceeding at a particular point, stopping the prosecution of the action altogether, or holding up some phase of it.
"A stay may imply that the proceedings are suspended to await some action required to be taken by one of the parties as, for example, when a non-resident has been ordered to give security for costs. In certain circumstances, however, a stay may mean discontinuance or permanent suspension of the proceedings."
A stay to no fixed date is also called sine die and is taken by lawyers to mean a stay intended to be permanent.
But a stay does not have the same meaning as a dismissal of the action although in practical terms, it may have that very effect. For example, in criminal law, a stay of proceedings is often taken as having the same beneficial effect for the accused as an acquittal.
A stay of sentence or of execution defers or freezes the happening of that sentence until either further order of the Court or until any condition identified by the Court occurs. At common law, a pregnant woman sentenced to death would automatically have her sentence stayed until she had given birth.
If the Court finds a plaintiff at fault in some regard, the Court may stay his action until the plaintiff’s omission has been corrected.
In a bankruptcy matter, by statute or Court order, creditor collection proceedings might be stayed for a limited time to give a bankrupt a chance to present a reorganization or creditor repayment plan.