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Criminal Justice Terminology Guide

Justice System Terms and Abbreviations 

A/O: Abbreviation, often used in case reporting, for “arresting officer.”

Abatement: A reduction in some amount that is owed, usually granted by the person to whom the debt is owed. For example, a landlord might grant an abatement in rent. In estate law, the word may refer more specifically to a situation where property identified in a will cannot be given to the beneficiary because it had to be sold to pay off the deceased debts. Debts are paid before gifts made in wills are distributed and where a specific gift has to be sold to pay off a debt, it is said to “abate” (compare with “ademption”).

Abduction: To take someone away from a place without that person’s consent or by fraud.

Abet: The act of encouraging or inciting another to do a certain thing, such as a crime. For example, many countries will equally punish a person who aids or abets another to commit a crime. See: Aid and Abet.

Absent Parent: A legal guardian who is absent from the home and is responsible for providing financial and or emotional support for a dependent child.

Absentia:  Absent; proceedings without the defendant present.

Abstract of Title:  A chronological summary of all official records and recorded documents affecting title to a parcel of real property.

Acceleration Clause: A clause in a contract that states that if a payment is missed, or some other default occurs (such as the debtor becoming insolvent), then the contract is fully due immediately. This is a typical clause in a loan contract; miss one payment and the agreement to pay at regular intervals is voided and the entire amount becomes due and payable immediately.

Acceptance: Act of voluntarily receiving something or of a voluntary agreement to certain terms or conditions; implies the right to reject.

Accomplice:  1. A partner in a crime. 2. A person who knowingly and voluntarily participates with another in a criminal activity.

Accretion: The imperceptible and gradual addition to land by the slow action of water. Heavy rain, river or ocean action would have this effect by either washing up sand or soil or by a permanent retreat of the high water mark. The washing up of soil is often called avulsion although the latter term is a variety of accretion.

Acknowledgment: 1. A statement of acceptance of responsibility. 2. The short declaration at the end of a legal paper showing that the paper was duly executed and acknowledged.

Acquiescence: Action or inaction that binds a person legally even though it was not intended as such. For example, action that is not intended as a direct acceptance of a contract will nevertheless stand as such as it implies recognition of the terms of the contract. For example, if I display a basket of fruit in a marketplace and you come by, inspect an apple and then bite into it, you have acquiesced to the contract of sale of that apple. Acquiescence also refers to allowing too much time to pass since you had knowledge of an event, which may have allowed you to have legal recourse against another, implying that you waive your rights to that legal recourse.

Acquit, Acquittal:  A finding of not guilty by a judge or jury.

Act: A bill that has passed through the various legislative steps required for it and which has become law, as in “an Act of the Commonwealth of Australia.” This is synonymous to statute, legislation or law.

Action:  Case, cause, suit, or controversy disputed or contested before a court of law.

Acts: A law passed by a legislative body.

Actual Malice: To win a defamation suit, public officials or prominent people, such as political candidates or movie stars, must prove that the offender made a false statement with actual malice.  This means the statement was made with knowledge that it was false or with serious doubts about its accuracy.

Ad Damnum (Latin): Refers to the parts or sections of a petition that speaks to the damages that were suffered and claimed by the plaintiff. The ad damnum part of a petition will usually suggest an amount in dollars that the plaintiff asks the court to award.

Ad Hoc (Latin): For this purpose; for a specific purpose. An ad hoc committee, for example, is created with a unique and specific purpose or task and once it has studied and reported on the matter, it stands disbanded (compare with a standing committee).

Ad Infinitum (Latin): Forever; without limit; indefinitely.

Ad Litem (Latin): For the purpose of the lawsuit; i.e.: a guardian “ad litem” is a person appointed by the court to protect the interests of a minor or legally incompetent person in a legal proceeding.

Addendum: An attachment to a written document. For example, affidavits may be addendums to a petition as a petition may be an addendum to a writ.

Additur:  An increase by a judge in the amount of damages awarded by a jury.

Ademption: When property identified in a will cannot be given to the beneficiary because it no longer belonged to the deceased at the time of death. For example, the particular gift may have been destroyed, sold or given away between the time of the will and the time of death. Compare this with “abatement”.

Adjective Law/Procedural Law: That body of law which governs the process of protecting the rights under substantive law.

Adjudication:  Judgment rendered by the court after a determination of legal and/or factual issues.

Administrative Agencies: Agencies created by the legislative branch of government to administer laws pertaining to specific areas such as taxes, transportation and labor.

Administrative Decision: When an administrative agency conducts a hearing, it sometimes publishes the decision of the hearing officer.

Administrator: A person who administers the estate of a person deceased. The administrator is appointed by a court and is the person who would then have power to deal with the debts and assets of a person who die intestate. An administrator may be a personal representative of the estate.

Admissible Evidence:  Relevant evidence that can be legally and properly introduced in a civil or criminal trial.

Admission: A person’s acknowledgement of his/her involvement in criminal and/or prejudicial behavior.

Admonish: To advise or caution.  For example the court may caution or admonish counsel for wrong practices.

Advance Sheet: Paperback publication of recent judicial opinions not yet printed in bound volumes.

Adversarial Proceeding:  A proceeding involving controversy contested by two opposing parties.

Adverse Possession: The possession of land, without legal title, for a period of time sufficient to become recognized as legal owner. The more common word for this is “squatters.” Each state has its own period of time after which a squatter can acquire legal title.

Affiant: The person who makes and subscribes a sworn affidavit.

Affidavit: A signed statement for which the person signing takes an oath that the contents are, to the best of his or her knowledge, true. It is also signed by a notary or some other judicial officer who can administer oaths, to the effect that the person signing the affidavit was under oath when signing. These documents may carry great weight in Courts to the extent that judges may accept an affidavit instead of the testimony of the witness.

Affidavit of Defense:  A pleading filed by a party in absentia in infraction and misdemeanor cases.  (You had deleted this term – not sure why.  Let me know if there is a reason.)

Affidavit of Insolvency:  A detailed form signed by a party (usually a defendant in a criminal proceeding), under oath, attesting to his/her inability to pay for private legal counsel and/or costs.

Affirmation: A solemn and formal declaration that an affidavit is true.  This is substituted for an oath in certain cases.

Affirmative defense: Without denying the charge, the defendant raises circumstances such as insanity, self-defense or entrapment to avoid civil or criminal responsibility.

Affirmed: In appellate practice, the word means that the decision of the trial or lower court is correct.

Age of Majority: The age when a person acquires all the legal rights and responsibilities of being an adult.  In most states, the age is 18.

Agent: A person who has received the power to act on behalf of another, binding that other person as if he or she were making the decisions. The person who is being represented by the agent is referred to as the “principal”.

Aggravated: (offense, such as an aggravated assault, aggravated battery): In criminal proceedings, a condition that makes an offense more serious, and subjects the offender to greater punishment.  Example: using a deadly weapon, or wearing clothing that conceals one’s identity, in the commission of an assault constitutes aggravated assault, as opposed to simple assault. Also, in civil cases, and act or thing that aggravates an already existing condition.

Agreement: Mutual consent.

Aid and Abet:  To actively, knowingly or intentionally assist another person in the commission or attempted commission of a crime. See also “accessory after the fact.”

a.k.a.: Abbreviation for “also known as”; synonym for “alias.”

Alimony: An amount of money given to one spouse to another, usually husband to wife,, while they are but still legally married.

Allegation:  A statement of the issues in a written document (a pleading) in which a person is prepared to prove in court; ie:  an indictment contains allegations of crimes against the defendant.

Allodial: A kind of land ownership that is unfettered, outright and absolute. It is the opposite of the feudal system and supposes no obligation to another (ie. a lord).

Alteration: Changing or making different.

Alternative Dispute Resolution: Also known as “ADR”; methods by which legal conflicts and disputes are resolved privately and other than through litigation in the public courts, usually through one of two forms: mediation or arbitration. It typically involves a process much less formal than the traditional court process and includes the appointment of a third-party to preside over a hearing between the parties. The advantages of ADR are speed and money: it costs less and is quicker than court litigation. ADR forums are also private. The disadvantage is that it often involves compromise.

Amend: To change for the better by removing deficits, damage or faults.

Amicus Curiae: Latin: friend of the court. Refers more specifically to persons asking for permission to intervene in a case in which they are neither plaintiff nor defendant, usually to present their point of view (or that of their organization) in a case which has the potential of setting a legal precedent in their area of activity. This is common, for example, in civil rights cases and, in some instances, can only be done with the permission of the parties or the court.

Ancillary: A proceeding which is auxiliary or subordinate to another proceeding.

Annotation: An annotation is a systematic commentary on the law.  Cases, statutes and regulations are often annotated.  An annotation may provide the researcher with historical data, case excerpts, cross references or cites to law journal articles.

Annulment: To make void; to cancel an event or judicial proceeding both retroactively and for the future. Where, for example, a marriage is annulled, it is struck from all records and stands as having never transpired in law. This differs from a divorce which merely cancels a valid marriage only from the date of the divorce. A marriage annulled stands, in law, as if never performed.

Answer: In a civil case, the defendant’s written response to the plaintiff’s complaint.  It must be filed within a specified period of time, and it either admits to or (more typically) denies the factual or legal basis for liability.

Answers to Interrogatories: A formal written statement by a party to a lawsuit that answers each question or interrogatory propounded by the other party.  These answers must be acknowledged before a notary public or other person authorized to take acknowledgements.

Antedate: To date back; retroactively. To date a document to a time before it was written.

Antenuptial: An event or document that pre-dates a marriage. For example, an “antenuptial agreement” is one that is signed before marriage. An antenuptial gift is a gift given by one spouse to the other before marriage.

Appeal: Legal process used to ask a superior court (see “appellate court”) to review a decision made by an inferior court in a legal matter. Legal process used to ask a higher court to review a decision made in a legal matter from the trial court. Legal process used to ask a higher court to review a decision made in a legal matter from the trial court.

Appeal Bond: A guaranty by the appealing party insuring that court costs will be paid.

Appearance: The act of coming into court as a party to a suit either in person or through an attorney.

Appellant: The party appealing to an appellate court from a decision of a trial court.

Appellate Court: A superior court having jurisdiction of appeal and review. It usually consists of three or more judges who have the authority to hear and decide “appeals” from courts under their jurisdiction, and to reverse, affirm or modify their decisions.

Appellee: Party in a lawsuit against whom an appeal is taken.

Arbitration: A alternative dispute resolution method by which an independent, neutral third person (“arbitrator”) is appointed to hear and consider the merits of the dispute and renders a final and binding decision called an award. The process is similar to the litigation process as it involves adjudication, except that the parties choose their arbitrator and the manner in which the arbitration will proceed. The decision of the arbitrator is known as an “award.” Compare with mediation.

Arbitrator: A private, disinterested person chosen by the parties in arbitration to hear evidence concerning the dispute and to make an award based on the evidence.

Area: A group of police districts that share detective or investigative units.

Arraignment:  Appearance of the accused in court to enter his/her plea to the criminal charges.

Arrearages (Arrears): Unpaid child support/spousal maintenance payments owed by a person who is obligated to pay support.

Arrest: To take a person into custody, by authority of law, for the purpose of charging him/her with a criminal offense.  An arrest is proper when an arresting officer has probable cause to believe the arrestee has engaged in criminal behavior; or upon an arrest warrant issued by a judge or magistrate. The judge or magistrate must find probable cause before issuance of the warrant.

Arson: Willfully and unlawfully damaging real or personal property by means of fire or explosives or while committing a “felony”.  This offense includes damaging one’s own property with the intent to defraud an insurer. This crime is divided into degrees determined by the type of structure or conveyance and whether it was occupied by a human being.

A.S.A.: Abbreviation for “assistant state attorney.”  An assistant state attorney, acting on behalf of the State Attorney, represents the state and prosecutes criminal violations of the law.

Assault: An intentional unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to another person, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, causing a well-founded fear in a such other person that the violence is imminent.

Assault and Battery: Two distinct offenses that can occur independently or together.  Assault is placing someone in reasonable apprehension of a battery, e.g. by making threatening statements of imminent physical harm and/or raising a fist to another person causing a well-founded fear that violence is imminent.  Battery is causing bodily harm to a person by any means, or making physical contact with a person of an insulting or proactive nature against that person’s consent.

Assignment: The transfer of legal rights, such as the time left on a lease, from one person to another.

Assessed Value: The value of something, the value of property upon which a tax rate will be imposed.

Assign: To give, to transfer responsibility, to another. The assignee (sometimes also called “assigns”) is the person who receives the right or property being given and the assignor is the person giving.

Assumption of Risk: A defense raised in personal injury lawsuits.  Asserts that the plaintiff knew that a particular activity was dangerous and thus bears the responsibility for any injury that resulted.

Asylum Seeker: A foreigner, already in the U.S. or at the boarder, who seeks refuge, claiming an inability or unwillingness to return to the home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution.

At Issue: The time in a lawsuit when the complaining party has stated their claim and the other side has responded with a denial and the matter is ready to be tried.

Attorney-at-Law:  An advocate, counsel, or official agent employed in preparing, managing, and trying cases in court.

Attorney-in-Fact:  A private person (who is not necessarily a lawyer) authorized by another to act in his/her place, either for some particular purpose, as to do a specified act, or for the transaction of business in general, not of legal character.  The authority is given in writing by means of a “letter of attorney” or more commonly a power of attorney.

Attorney of Record:  The attorney retained or assigned to represent a client whose name must appear somewhere in permanent records or files of the case or on pleadings.

Autrefois Acquit: French word now part of English criminal law terminology. Refers to an accused who cannot be tried for a crime because the record shows he has already been subjected to trial for the same conduct and was acquitted. If the accused maintains that the previous trial resulted in conviction, he or she pleads “autrefois convict.” “Autrefois attaint” is another similar term; “attainted” for a crime, aperson cannot be tried again for the same offense.

A Vinculo Matrimoni: Latin: of marriage. The term is now used to refer to a final and permanent divorce.

Avulsion: Land accretion that occurs by the erosion or addition of one’s land by the sudden and unexpected change in a river stream such as a flash flood.

Avunculus: Latin: a mother’s brother. “Avuncular” refers to an uncle.

Bad Faith: Intent to deceive. A person who intentionally tries to deceive or mislead another in order to gain some advantage. The conscious doing of a wrong because of dishonest purpose or moral obliquity.

Bail:  Cash or surety posted to procure the release of a defendant by insuring his/her future attendance court, and compelling him/her to remain in the jurisdiction of the court.

Bail Bond: An obligation signed by the accused to secure his/her presence at the trial. This obligation means that the accused may lose money or property by not properly appearing for the trial. Often referred to simply as bond.

Bail Schedule: The list that sets the amount of bail a defendant is required to pay based on what the charge is.  A judge may be able to reduce or raise the amount.

Bailiff:  A court attendant who keeps order in the courtroom and has custody of the jury.

Bailment: A legal relationship created when a person gives property to someone else for safekeeping.  To create a bailment the other party must knowingly have exclusive control over the property.  The receiver must use reasonable care to protect the property.

Bankruptcy: The formal condition of an insolvent person being declare bankrupt under law. The legal effect is to divert most of the debtor’s assets and debts to the administration of a third person, sometimes called a “trustee in bankruptcy”, from which outstanding debts are paid pro rata. Bankruptcy forces the debtor into a statutory period during which his or her commercial and financial affairs are administered under the strict supervision of the trustee. Bankruptcy usually involves the removal of several special legal rights such as the right to sit on a board of directors or, for some professions that form part of the justice systems, to practice, such as lawyers or judges.

Bar:  A term that means the whole body of lawyers.

Battery:  An actual or intentional touching or striking of another person against that person’s will. The actual threat to use violence is an assault; the use of it is a battery, which usually includes an assault. An aggravated battery is a battery causing permanent harm or which involves a deadly weapon.

Beat: A geographic area assigned to specific officers for patrol.

Beat Car: A police car assigned to patrol a specific beat.

Beat Community Meeting: A meeting for police and community members to jointly identify, prioritize and develop strategies to address local crime and disorder problems.

Beat Integrity: A strategy to keep beat officers on their own beat as much as possible.  This is often difficult because officers need to respond to emergencies on other beats.  Beat integrity allows officers to get to know both residents and problems on their beats.

Beat Plan: A plan of action developed by the beat team, with input from the community, on significant problems on the beat and how to address them.  It includes problem information about the victim, offender and location.

Beat Team: A group of officers from various watches assigned to the same beat, and the sergeant who serves as team leader.

Bench:  The seat occupied by a judge. More broadly, the court itself.

Bench Trial:  Trial without a jury in which the judge decides the facts.

Bench Warrant:  Process issued by the court for the attachment or arrest of a person.

Beneficiary:   One who benefits from the act of another. Someone named to receive property or benefits in a will.  In a trust, a person who is to receive benefits from the trust.

Bequeath:  To give a gift to someone through a will.

Best Evidence: Primary evidence; the best evidence available.  Evidence short of this is “secondary.”  For example, an original diary would be primary, whereas copies would be secondary.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt:  The standard in a criminal case requiring that the jury be satisfied to a moral certainty that every element of a crime has been proven by the prosecution in order to find a defendant guilty.

Bifurcation: Splitting a trial into two parts. In civil cases, a liability phase and a damages phase.  In criminal cases, the guilt phase and the penalty phase. In some cases, a new jury may be established to decide the penalty phase.

Bill: A proposed statue, i.e. one that has been introduced but not yet been enacted into law.

Bill of Particulars: A form of discovery in which the prosecution sets forth the time, place, manner and means of the commission of the crime as alleged. The purpose is to give notice to the accused so that he may prepare a defense.

Bill of Rights: The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Bind Over: The act by which a court or magistrate requires a person to enter into a recognizance or to furnish bail to appear for trail or to attend as a witness.  If the judicial official in a criminal proceeding finds probable cause to believe the accused committed a crime, the official will bind over the accused, normally by setting bail for the accused’s appearance at trial.

Bona Vacantia:  Property that belongs to no person, and which may be claimed by a finder. In some states, the government becomes owner of all bona vacantia property.

Bond (Supersedeas):  The bond set by the court required of one who petitions during the appeal procedure to set aside a judgment or execution posted with clerk of court.

Bond (Surety):  A certificate posted by a bonding company to the sheriff for release of the defendant.

Bond amounts: Cash or surety to be posted for release on bail.

Booking:  The process of photographing, fingerprinting and recording identifying data of a suspect.  This process follows arrest.

Breach: The breaking or violating of a law, right or duty, either by commission or omission.

Breach of Contract: The failure to do what one promised to do under a contract. Proving a breach of contract is a prerequisite of any suit for damages based on the contract.

Breach of Trust: Any act or omission on the part of the trustee that is inconsistent with the terms of the trust agreement or the law of trusts. A prime example is the redirecting of trust property from the trust to the trustee, personally.

Brief:  A written statement prepared by one side in a lawsuit to explain to the court its view of the facts of a case and the applicable law.

Burden of Proof: A rule of evidence that makes a person prove a certain thing, otherwise the contrary will be assumed by the court. For example, in criminal trials, the prosecution has the burden of proving the accused guilt because innocence is presumed.

Burglary: Illegally entering or remaining in a building, vehicle or water craft, with intent to commit any felony or theft therein.

Calendar: A list of cases scheduled for hearing in court.

Canons of Ethics: Standards of ethical conduct for attorneys.

Capacity: Having legal authority or mental ability.  Being of sound mind.

Capital Crime:  A crime that may be punishable by death or, in some cases, life imprisonment.

Capital Punishment: The death penalty.

Caption: The heading of the pleading, or other court papers showing the name of the court paper, showing the name of the court, the names of the parties, and sometimes the number of the case.

Case: A dispute that has been taken to court; a lawsuit.

Case Law: Law established by previous decisions of appellate courts, particularly the Supreme Court.

Case of First Impression: A novel legal question that comes before the court.

Cause:  A lawsuit, litigation or action.  Any question, civil or criminal litigated or contested before a court of justice.

Cause of Action: A point of controversy; basis for legal action.

Caveat: In general, a notice or warning emphasizing caution filed in a case.

Censure: An official reprimand or condemnation of an attorney.

Certification: Written attestation.

Ceteris Paribus: Latin: all things being equal or unchanged.

Certified Copy: A copy of a document or record, signed and certified as a true copy by an authorized person.

Certiorari: Latin term meaning “to be informed of.”  Refers to the order a court issues so that it can review the decision and proceedings in a lower court and determine whether there were any irregularities.  When such an order is made, it is said that the court has granted certiorari.

Challenge:  Term used in a jury trial when attempting to exclude a potential juror.

Challenge for Cause:  Objection to the seating of a particular juror for a stated reason.  The judge has the discretion to deny the challenge.

Chambers:  A judge’s private office.  A hearing in chambers takes place in the judge’s office outside the presence of the jury and the public.

Champerty: When a person agrees to finance someone else’s lawsuit in exchange for a portion of the judicial award.

Change of Venue: Moving a lawsuit or criminal trial to another place for trial.

Charge to the Jury:  The judge’s instructions to the jury concerning the law that applies to the facts of the case on trial.

Charges (multiple):  A case with more than one count or offense listed on the court file.

Charter: The fundamental law of a municipality or other local unit of government; similar to a constitution.

Chattel: An article of personal property.

Chief Judge: Presiding or administrative judge in a court.

Child Abuse: Defined by state statues, this usually occurs when a person (typically the parent) purposefully harms a child.

Child Neglect: Defined by state statutes, this charge is usually made when a parent displays passive indifference to a child’s well being.  Example: when a parent does not bathe a child regularly or feed them adequately.

Child Support: The legal obligation of a parent to pay money toward the care and maintenance of his/her child(ren).

Child Support Guidelines: A formula to determine the child support amount based upon gross income of both parents. This formula uses a child support worksheet that must be submitted to the court.

Chronological: Arranged in order in which events happened; according to date.

Circuit: Judicial divisions of a state or the United States; originally so called because judges traveled from place to place within the circuit, holding court in various locations.

Circumstantial Evidence: Evidence that may allow a judge or jury to deduce a certain fact from other facts that have been proven. In some cases, there can be some evidence that cannot be proven directly, such as with an eye witness. And yet that evidence may be essential to prove a case. In these cases, the lawyer will provide the judge or juror with evidence of the circumstances from which a juror or judge can logically deduct, or reasonably infer, the fact that cannot be proven directly; it is proven by the evidence of the circumstances; hence, “circumstantial” evidence. Fingerprint are an example of circumstantial evidence: while there may be no witness to a person’s presence in a certain place, or contact with a certain object, the scientific evidence of someone’s fingerprints is persuasive proof of a person’s presence or contact with an object.

Citation: An order of a court to either do a certain thing or to appear before it to answer charges. The citation is typically used for lesser offences (such as traffic violations) because it relies on the good faith of the defendant to appear as requested, as opposed to an arrest or bail. The penalty for failing to obey a citation is often a warrant for the arrest of the defendant.

Citator: Publication used to trace the history and validity of a legal case by a tabulation of some kind.

Civil: The branch of law that pertains to suits outside of criminal practice, pertaining to the rights and duties of persons in contract, tort, etc.; also refers to civil law as opposed to common law.

Civil Action: An action brought to enforce or protect private rights.

Civil Law: Law inspired by old Roman law, the primary feature of which was that laws were written into a collection; codified, and not determined, as is common law, by judges. The principle of civil law is to provide all citizens with an accessible and written collection of the laws which apply to them and which judges must follow.

Class Action: When different persons combine their lawsuits because the facts and the defendant are so similar. This is designed to save Court time and to allow one judge to hear all the cases at the same time and to make one decision binding on all parties. Class action lawsuits would typically occur after a plane or train accident where all the victims would sue the transportation company together in a class action suit.

Classification: Homestead, non-profit, agriculture, etc., see also exemptions.

Clear and Convincing Evidence: The level of proof sometimes required in a civil case for the plaintiff to prevail.  Is more than a preponderance of the evidence but less than beyond a reasonable doubt.

Clerk: In charge of recording court proceedings and keeping the court records.

Codicil: An amendment to an existing will. Does not mean that the will is totally changed; just to the extent of the codicil.

Cohabitation Agreement: Also called a living-together contract.  A document that defines the terms of a relationship and often addresses financial issues and how property will be divided if the relationship ends.

Collateral: Property that has been committed to guarantee a loan.

Collateral Descendant: A descendant that is not direct, such as a niece or a cousin.

Collusion: A secret agreement between two or more persons, who seem to have conflicting interests, to abuse the law or the legal system, deceive a court or to defraud a third party. For example, if the partners in a marriage agree to lie about the duration of their separation in order to secure a divorce.

Comity: A code of etiquette that governs the interactions of courts in different states, localities and foreign countries.  Courts generally agree to defer scheduling a trial if the same issues are being tried in a court in another jurisdiction.  In addition, courts in this country agree to recognize and enforce the valid legal contracts and court orders of other countries.

Commit:  To send a person to prison, asylum, or reformatory by a court order.

Common Law: Judge-made law. Law that exists and applies to a group on the basis of historical legal precedents developed over hundreds of years. Because it is not written by elected politicians but rather, by judges, it is also referred to as an “unwritten” law. Judges seek these principles out when trying a case and apply the precedents to the facts to come up with a judgment. Common law is often contrasted with civil law systems that require all laws to be written in a code or written collection. Common law has been referred to as the “common sense of the community, crystallized and formulated by our ancestors”. Equity law developed after the common law to offset the rigid interpretations that medieval English judges were giving the common law.

Community Adjustment: Disposition of a juvenile offense that involves releasing the offender to a parent or guardian, with follow-up assistance by either the police or a community agency.  A community adjustment is an alternative to juvenile court, made in the discretion of the police, for less serious offenses.  Also referred to as a “station adjustment.”  This is not applicable in every community; only in specific communities.

Companion Cases or Codefendants:  More than one person who is arrested on the same criminal incident.

Comparitive Negligence/Fault: A system that allows a party to recover some portion of the damages caused by another party’s negligence even if the original person was also partially negligent and responsible for causing the injury.  Not all states follow this system.

Compensatory Damages: Money awarded to reimburse actual costs, such as medical bills and lost wages.  Also awarded for things that are harder to measure, such as pain and suffering.

Complainant: The party who complains or sues; one who applies to the court for legal redress. Also called the plaintiff. The party that complains or sues; one who applies to the court for legal redress. Also called the plaintiff.

Complaint: The first pleading in a civil case filed by the plaintiff. It alleges the material facts and legal theories to support the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant.

Conciliation: A form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party, who helps lower tensions, improve communications and explore possible solutions.  Similar to mediation, but less formal.

Concurrent Sentences:  Sentences for more than one crime that are to be served at the same time, rather than one after the other.

Concurring Opinion: Concurrer agrees with the decision but not altogether with legal reasoning.

Condemnation: The legal process by which the government takes private land for a public use, paying the owners a fair price as determined by the court.

Condition Precedent: A contractual condition that suspends the coming into effect of a contract unless or until a certain event takes place. Many residential real estate contracts have a condition precedent that states that the contract is not binding until and unless the property is subjected to an professional inspection, the results of which are satisfactory to the purchaser. Compare with “condition subsequent”.

Condition Subsequent: A condition in a contract that causes the contract to become invalid if a certain event occurs. This is different from a condition precedent. The happening of a condition subsequent may invalidate a contract that is, until that moment, fully valid and binding. In the case of a condition precedent, no binding contract exists until the condition occurs.

Condonation: Divorces can be obtained by showing a fault of the other spouse, such as adultery or cruelty. But a court will refuse to grant a divorce based on these grounds if there has been “condonation”, which is the obvious or implied forgiveness of the fault.

Confession: A person’s admission of enough facts to establish his/her guilt of a particular crime.

Conflict Attorney:  One of a pool or attorneys appointed on rotation when a codefendant has the Public Defender.

Conflict of Interest: Refers to a situation when someone, such as a lawyer or public official, has competing professional or personal obligations or personal or financial interests that would make it difficult to fulfill his duties fairly.

Conformed Copy: An exact copy of a document on which has been written things that could not or were not copied, i.e. a written signature is replaced on the conformed copy with a notation that the document was signed by the parties.

Consecutive Sentences: Criminal sentences that must be served one after the other rather than at the same time.

Consent: Agreement.  A voluntary acceptance of the wish of another.

Consideration: Something of value that is given in exchange for getting something from another person.

Consign: To leave an item of property in the custody of another. A item can be consigned to a transportation company. The consignee is the person to receive the property and the consignor is the person who ships the property to the consignee.

Conspiracy: An agreement between two or more persons to commit a criminal act. Those forming the conspiracy are called conspirators.

Constitution: The fundamental law of a state or nation; creates the branches of government and identifies basic rights and obligations.

Contempt of Court: An act of defiance of court authority or dignity. Contempt of court can be direct (swearing at a judge or violence against a court officer) or constructive (disobeying a court order). The punishment for contempt is a fine or a brief stay in jail (i.e. overnight).

Contingency Fee: A method of payment of legal fees represented by a percentage of an award. Lawyers get paid in one of two ways: either you pay a straight hourly rate as you might pay a plumber (eg. $400 an hour) or the lawyer might “gamble” (i.e. “contingency” fee) and agree to only get paid if the claim is successful and by taking a portion (eg. one-third) of any award that comes after the filing of the claim.

Continuance: Deferring in a trial or hearing to a later date. A postponement.

Contract:  An agreement between persons that obliges each party to do or not to do a certain thing. Technically, a valid contract requires an offer and an acceptance of that offer, and, in common law countries, consideration.

Contributory Negligence: Prevents a party from recovering for damages if he or she contributed in any way to the injury.  Not all states follow this system.

Conveyance: A written document which transfers property from one person to another. In real-estate law, the conveyance usually refers to the actual document which transfers ownership, between persons living (i.e. other than by will), or which charges the land with another’s interest, such as a mortgage.

Conviction: A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.

Copyright: The exclusive right to produce or reproduce (copy), to perform in public or to publish an original literary or artistic work. Many countries have expanded the definition of a “literary work” to include computer programs or other electronically stored information.

Corpus Delicti:  Body of the crime.  The objective proof that a crime has been committed.

Corroborating Evidence: Supplementary evidence that tends to strengthen or confirm the initial evidence or proof.

Counsel: A legal advisor; a term used to refer to lawyers in a case.

Counterclaim:  A claim made by the defendant in a civil lawsuit against the plaintiff.  In essence, a counter lawsuit within a lawsuit.

Court: A body in government to which the administration of justice is delegated.

Court-Appointed Attorney: Attorney appointed by the court to represent a defendant, usually with respect to criminal charges and without the defendant having to pay for the representation.

Court of Appeals:  See Appellate Court

Court Costs:  The expenses of prosecuting or defending a lawsuit, other than the attorneys’ fees.

Court of Original Jurisdiction:  A court where a matter is initiated and heard in the first instance.  A trial court.

Court Recorder:  A deputy clerk who maintains the verbatim record of court proceedings on tape.

Court Rules: Regulations governing practice and procedure in the various courts.

Covenant: A written document in which signatories either commit themselves to do a certain thing, to not do a certain thing or in which they agree on a certain set of facts. They are very common in real property dealings and are used to restrict land use such as amongst shopping mall tenants or for the purpose of preserving heritage property.

Creditor: A person to whom money, goods or services are owed by the debtor.

Crime: An act in violation or the penal laws of a state or the United States.

Criminal Action: A lawsuit in which the state or the public, rather than a third party, is plaintiff, and the defendant faces punishment such as a fine or incarceration if convicted.

Criminal Justice System: The network of courts and tribunals which deal with criminal law and its enforcement.

Criminal Law: That body of the law that deals conduct considered so harmful to society as a whole that it is prohibited by statute, prosecuted and punished by the government.

Cross Claim:  A claim by co-defendants or co-plaintiffs against each other and not against persons on the opposite side of the lawsuit.

Cross Examination:  The questioning of a witness produced by the other side.

Cumulative Sentences: Sentences for two or more crimes to run consecutively, rather than concurrently.

Custodian: Under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, the person appointed to manage and dispense funds for a child without constricting court supervision and accounting requirements.

Custody:  Means the charge and control of a child including the right to make all major decisions such as education, religious upbringing, training, health and welfare. Custody, without qualification usually refers to a combination of physical custody and legal custody.

Custody Order: An order entered by the court which states which parent the child(ren) will live with.

  • • Joint Custody – Both parents share important decisions about their child(ren).
  • • Sole Custody – One parent is responsible for important decisions regarding the child(ren) living with  them.
  • • Custodial Parent – Person with legal custody and with whom the child lives.
  • • Non-Custodial Parent – Parent who does not have primary custody of a child but who is responsible for financial support.
  • • Primary Residential Parent – In a joint custody agreements a term which indicates the parent with whom the child(ren) reside the majority of the time.

Damages: Money awarded by a court to a person injured by the unlawful act or negligence of another person.

Debtor: A person who owes money, goods or services to another, the latter being referred to as the creditor.

Decision: The judgment rendered by a court after a consideration of the facts and legal issues before it.

Declaratory Judgment:  A judgment of the court that explains what the existing law is or expresses the opinion of the court without the need for enforcement.

Decree: Final order ending a marriage signed by the judge/commissioner and filed with the Clerk of the Court.

Deed: A written and signed document which sets out the things that have to be done or recognitions of the parties towards a certain object. Under older common law, a deed had to be sealed; that is, accompanied not only by a signature but with an impression on wax onto the document. The word deed is also most commonly used in the context of real estate because these transactions must usually be signed and in writing.

De facto: Latin: as a matter of fact; something which, while not necessarily lawful or legally sanctified, exists in fact.

Defamation:  That which tends to injure a person’s reputation.  Libel is published defamation, whereas slander is spoken.

Default:  A failure to respond to a lawsuit within the specified time.

Default Judgment: A ruling entered against a defendant who fails to answer a summons in a lawsuit.

Defendant:  In a civil case, the person being sued.  In a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

Defense of Property: Affirmative defense in criminal law or tort law where force was used to protect one’s property.

Deferred Fees: Court fees, which must be paid at a later date.

Deficient: Incomplete, defective or not sufficient in quantity or force.

Defunct: Having ceased to exist.

Demand letter: A letter from a lawyer, on behalf of a client, that demands payment or some other action, which is in default.

Demurrer: This is a motion put to a trial judge after the plaintiff has completed his or her case, in which the defendant, while not objecting to the facts presented, and rather than responding by a full defense, asks the court to reject the petition right then and there because of a lack of basis in law or insufficiency of the evidence.

Dependent: One who derives existence and support from another.

Deposition: The official statement by a witness taken in writing (as opposed to testimony which where a witness give their perception of the facts verbally). Affidavits are the most common kind of depositions.

Descendant: Those person who are born of, or from children of, another are called that person’s descendants. Grandchildren are descendants of their grandfather as children are descendants of their natural parents. The law also distinguishes between collateral descendants and lineal descendants.

Devise: The transfer or conveyance of real property by will.

Dictum (Obiter Dictum): Collateral statement or comment by judge not related or necessary for the formulation of the decision of a case.

Digest: Index to case law arranged by subjects, and case name including briefing paragraphs giving the holding of the court.

Direct Evidence: Evidence that stands on its own to prove an alleged fact, such as testimony of a witness who says he saw a defendant pointing a gun at the victim during a robbery.

Direct Examination: The initial questioning of a witness by the party that called the witness.

Directed Verdict: A judge’s order to a jury to return a specified verdict, usually because one of the parties failed to prove its case.

Disbursements: Legal expenses that a lawyer passes on to a client, such as photocopying, overnight mail and messenger services.

Discovery: Parto f the pre-trial litigation process during which each party requests relevant information and documents from the other side in an attempt to “discover” pertinent facts.

Dismissal: The termination of a lawsuit.

Dismissal with Prejudice: When a case is dismissed for good reason and the plaintiff is barred from bringing an action on the same claim.

Dismissal without Prejudice: When a case is dismissed but the plaintiff is allowed to bring a new suit on the same claim.

Disorderly Conduct: An act which unreasonably alarms or disturbs another and provokes as breach of the peace.

Disposition: The sentencing or other final settlement of a case.

Dissent to Disagree: An appellate court opinion setting for the minority view and outlining the disagreement of one or more judges with the decision of the majority.

Dissenting Opinion: Explicit disagreement of one or more judges of a court with the decision of the majority of the judges.

Dissolution: The act of ending, terminating or winding-up a company or state of affairs.

Distraint: The right of a landlord to seize the property of a tenant which is in the premises being rented, as collateral against a tenant that has not paid the rent or has otherwise defaulted on the lease, such as wanton disrepair or destruction of the premises.

Diversion: The process of removing some minor criminal, traffic or juvenile cases from the full judicial process, on the condition that the accused undergo some sort of rehabilitation or make restitution for damages.

Divorce: The final, legal ending of a marriage, by Court order.

D.O.A.: Abbreviation for “dead on arrival,” as applied to a person who expires before reaching a medical facility.

D.O.B.: Abbreviation for “date of birth.”

Docket: An official court record book which lists all the cases before the court and which may also note the status or action required for each case.

Docket Control: A system for keeping track of deadlines and court dates for both litigation and non-litigation matters.

Docket Number: Number designation assigned to each case filed in a particular court.

Docket Sounding:  The proceeding in which a judge assigns trial dates or takes pleas.

Domicile: The permanent residence of a person; a place to which, even if he or she were temporary absence, they intend to return. In law, it is said that a person may have many residences but only one domicile.

Double Jeopardy:  Putting a person on trial more than once for the same crime.  This is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Due Process: A term of US law which refers to fundamental procedural legal safeguards of which every citizen has an absolute right when a state or court purports to take a decision that could affect any right of that citizen.

Due Process of Law:  The right of all persons to receive the guarantees and safeguards of the law and the judicial process. It includes such constitutional requirements as adequate notices, assistance of counsel, and the rights to remain silent, to a speedy and public trial, to an impartial jury and to confront and secure witnesses.

Duplex: A house which has separate but complete facilities to accommodate two families as either adjacent units or one on top of the other.

Duress: Where a person is prevented from acting (or not acting) according to their free will, by threats or force of another, it is said to be “under duress”.

Duty to Warn: The legal obligation to warn people of danger.

Easement: A right of passage over a neighbor’s land or waterway.

Emancipation: Term used to describe the act of freeing a person who was under the legal authority of another (such as a child before the age of majority) from that control (such as child reaching the age of majority).

Embezzle: The illegal transfer of money or property that, although possessed legally by the embezzler, is diverted to the embezzler personally by his or her fraudulent action.

Eminent Domain:  The power of the government to take private property for public use through condemnation.

En Banc:  All the judges of a court sitting together.  Appellate courts can consist of a dozen or more judges, but often they hear cases in panels of three judges.  If a case is heard or reheard by the full court, it is heard en banc.

Enjoining:  An order by the court telling a person to stop performing a specific act.

Emphyteusis: Civil law: a long-term (many years or in perpetuity) rental of land or buildings including the exclusive enjoyment of all product of that land and the exercise of all property rights typically reserved for the property owner such as mortgaging the property for the term of the emphyteusis or permitting a right of way.

Endowment: The transfer of money or property (usually as a gift) to a public organization for a specific purpose, such as medical research or scholarship.

Entrapment:  The inducement, by law enforcement officers or their agents, of another person to commit a crime for the purposes of bringing charges for the commission of that artificially-provoked crime.

Equal Access Act: A law passed by Congress in 1984 that requires public schools to allow students who meet before and after classes for religious purposes, including prayer, if they want to do so.

Equal Protection Clause: Portion of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prohibits discrimination by state government institutions.  The clause grants all people “equal protection of the laws,” which means that the states must apply the law equally and cannot give preference to one person or class of persons over another.

Escheat:  The process by which a deceased person’s property goes to the state if no heir can be found.

Escrow:  Money or a written instrument such as a deed that, by agreement between two parties is held by a neutral third party (held in escrow) until all conditions of the agreement are met.

Estate: Interest, right, or ownership in land; technically, the degree, quantity, nature, and extent of a person’s interest or ownership of land.

Estate law: A term used by the law to describe that part of the law which regulates wills, probate and other subjects related to the distribution of a deceased person’s “estate”.

Estoppel:  A rule of law that when person A, by act or words, gives person B reason to believe a certain set of facts upon which person B takes action, person A cannot later, to his (or her) benefit, deny those facts or say that his (or her) earlier act was improper.

Estreature:  Civil aspect of a bond forfeiture.

Et al:  All others.

Euthanasia: The putting to death, by painless method, of a terminally-ill or severely debilitated person through the omission (intentionally withholding a life-saving medical procedure,  also known as “passive euthanasia”) or commission of and act (“active euthanasia”).

Evidence: Proof of fact(s) presented at a trial. Typically this includes oral statements, documents, sound and video recordings and objects admissible in court.  The evidence must be “material” (it must refer to a substantial issue of the case) and “relevant” (it must relate to the truth or falsity of a matter asserted).

Execute:  To complete the legal requirements (such as signing before witnesses) that make a will valid.  Also, to execute a judgment or decree means to put the final judgment of the court into effect.

Executor:  A personal representative, named in a will, who administers an estate.

Exemptions: Not subject to tax.

Exculpate: Something that excuses or justifies a wrong action.

Executor: A person specifically appointed by a testator to administer the will ensuring that final wishes are respected (i.e. that the will is properly “executed”). An executor is a personal representative.

Exhibit: A document or object shown to the court as evidence in a trial.

Exigent Circumstances: Emergency conditions.

Ex Parte:  On behalf of only one party, without notice to any other party; i.e.; a request for a search warrant is an ex parte proceeding, since the person being searched is not notified of the proceeding and is not present at the hearing.

Ex Parte Proceeding:  The legal procedure in which only one side is represented.

Expert Witness: A witness with a specialized knowledge of a subject who is allowed to discuss and event in court even though he or she was not present.  For example, an arson expert could testify about the probably cause of a suspicious fire.

Ex Post Facto:  After the fact.  The Constitution prohibits the enactment of ex post facto laws.  These are laws that permit conviction and punishment for a lawful act performed before the law was changed and the act made illegal.

Exhibit: An article of tangible evidence introduced at a trial. Photographs, letters, and other documents are common examples. Others are murder weapons, samples of earth or chemicals, parts of automobiles or machinery or other material that is of assistance on proving a relevant fact.

Exonerate:  Removal of a charge, responsibility or duty.

Expunge: To physically erase; to white or strike out. To “expunge” something from a court record means to remove every reference to it from the court file.

Expungement of Records: A procedure whereby a court orders the annulment and destruction of records of an arrest or other court proceedings.

Fault Auto Insurance System: Refers to a system in which the party that bears the blame (fault) for an accident is liable for any damages.

Federal Register (Fed. Reg.): Published daily, it contains new, adopted and proposed federal regulations.

Fee simple: The most extensive tenure allowed under the feudal system allowing the tenant to sell or convey by will or be transfer to a heir if the owner dies intestate. In modern law, almost all land is held in fee simple and this is a close as one can get to absolute ownership in common law.

Fees:  Monies the court is required to collect. Fees may be waived or deferred if the party is eligible

Felony: A serious crime for which the punishment is prison for more than a year or death.

Fiduciary:  A person having a legal relationship of trust and confidence to another and having a duty to act primarily for the other’s benefit:  i.e., a guardian, trustee or executor.

Fieri facias: A writ of fieri facias commands a sheriff to take and sell enough property from the person who lost the law suit, to pay the debt owed by the judgment.

File:  To place a paper in the official custody of the clerk of court to enter in to the files or records of a case.

Filing Fee: The fee required for filing various documents with the court.

Finding: Formal conclusion by a judge or regulatory agency on issues of fact.  Also, a conclusion by a jury regarding a fact.

First Appearance: The initial appearance of an arrested person before a judge to determine whether or not there is probable cause for his/her arrest.

Flash Message: An informal broadcast message transmitted via police radios, sent by an office at the scene of a crime/incident, to alert other officers in the vicinity. It is not a distress call.  Example: following one of the Washington, D.C. sniper assaults in the fall of 2002, a flash message was sent to other officers to mobilize road blocks and check points.

Force majeure: French for an act of God; an inevitable, unpredictable act of nature, not dependent on an act of man. Used in insurance contracts to refer to acts of nature such as earthquakes or lightning.

Forcible Felony: Treason and any felony that involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against a person.  If a felony is classified as forcible, it may have significance for other aspects of the criminal law.

Foreseeability: A key issue in determining a person’s liability.  If a defendant could not reasonably have foreseen that someone might be hurt by his or her actions, then there may be no liability.

Fraud:  Intentional deception to deprive another person of property or to injure that person in some way.

Freehold: A special right granting the full use of real estate for an indeterminate time. It differs from leasehold, which allows possession for a limited time. There are varieties of freehold such as fee simple and fee tail.

Furiosi nulla voluntas est: A Latin expression that mentally impaired persons cannot validly sign a will.

Garnishee: A person who receives notice to retain custody of assets in his control which are owed to or belong to another person until he receives further notice from the court; the garnishee merely holds the assets until legal proceedings determine who is entitled to the property.

Garnishment: Process in which money or goods in the hands of a third person which are due a defendant, are attached by the plaintiff; e.g., property controlled by a third person which is owed to or belongs to a debtor is used to repay a debt of the debtor.

General Counsel: The senior lawyer of a corporation.

General Jurisdiction: Refers to the courts that have no limit on the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear.

Gift Over: A device used in wills and trusts to provide for the gift of property to a second recipient if a certain event occurs, such as the death of the first recipient.

Good Faith: Honestly and without deception.  An agreement might be declared invalid if one of the parties entered with the intention of defrauding the other.

Good Time: A reduction in sentenced time in prison as rewarded for good behavior.  It is usually one third to one half of the maximum sentence.

Grand Jury:  A jury of inquiry of not more than 18 and not less than 15 persons, with at least 12 concurring before and indictment may be returned.  The use of the grand jury varies throughout the country.  In some states, it is mandatory for all felony charges.  In others, there is no grand jury system at all.

Green Card: An immigrant visa.  Allows and alien to become a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. and to work legally, travel abroad and return, bring in a spouse and children and become eligible for citizenship.

Gross negligence: (Culpa lata Latin) Any action or an omission in reckless disregard of the consequences to the safety or property of another.

Guarantor: A person who pledges collateral for the contract of another.

Guardian:  Legal right given to a person to be responsible for the food, housing, health care and other necessities of a person deemed incapable of providing these necessities for himself/herself.

Guardian Ad Litem: Latin meaning “guardian at law.”  A guardian appointed to assist an infant or other mentally incapable defendant or plaintiff, or any such incapacitated person that may be a party in a legal action.

Habeas Corpus:  A Latin term meaning “you have the body.”  A writ used as a means to bring a person before the court to determine whether he/she is being detained unlawfully.

Harmless Error: An error committed during a trial that was corrected or was not serious enough to affect the outcome of a trial and therefore was not sufficiently harmful to be reversed on appeal.

Headnote: Brief paragraph that summarizes the points of law discussed in a legal decision.

Health Care Proxy: Someone designated to make a broad range of decisions for a person who is not able to give informed consent.

Hearing: A formal proceeding with definite issues of law or of fact to be heard.

Hearsay:  Statements by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else.  Hearsay is usually not admissible as evidence in court.

Harassment: Unsolicited words or conduct that tend to annoy, alarm or abuse another person.

Homicide: The unlawful killing of a human being.  Includes both murder and manslaughter.

Homicide, Justifiable: A homicide based on the perpetrator’s reasonable belief that he had no alternative but to use deadly or substantial force to protect himself from immanent death or great bodily harm, or to prevent a forcible felony.

Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment: Where a person is subject to unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature to such an extent that it alters the conditions of the person’s employment and creates and abusive working environment.

Hostile Witness:  A witness whose testimony is not favorable to the party who calls him/her as a witness.  A hostile witness may be asked leading questions and may be cross-examined by the party who call him/her to the stand.

Hung Jury: A jury that is unable to reach a verdict.

Immunity:  Grant by the court, which assures someone will not face prosecution in return for providing criminal evidence.

Impairment: When a person’s faculties are diminished so that his or her ability to see, hear, walk, talk and judge distances is below the normal level as set by the state.  Typically, impairment is caused by drug or alcohol use, but can also be caused by mental illness.

Impeachment: A criminal proceeding against a public official.

Impeachment of a Witness:  An attack on the credibility (believability) of a witness, through evidence introduced for that purpose.

Implied Consent Laws (Express Consent): Laws adopted by all states that apply to testing for alcohol in the blood, breath or urine.  The principle underlying these laws is that any licensed driver who operates a vehicle has consented to submit to approved tests to show intoxication.

Inadmissible:  That which, under the rules of evidence, cannot be admitted or received as evidence.

In Camera:  In chambers, or in private.  A hearing in camera takes place in the judge’s office (chambers) outside of the presence of the jury and the public.

Incapacity: Lack of legal ability to act; disability; incompetence; lack of adequate power.

Incarceration: Imprisonment in a jail or penitentiary.

Incompetent: One who lacks the ability, legal qualification or fitness to manage his or her own affairs.

In-custody arraignments:  Arrests and filed cases going to court in which there has not been a release on bond or by other means. (In jail cases).

Indeterminate Sentence: A sentence of imprisonment to a specified minimum or maximum period of time, specifically authorized by statute, subject to termination by a parole board or other authorized agency after the prisoner has served the minimum term.

Indictment:  A formal charging document issued by a grand jury to the court, that the named person committed a specific offense.

Indigent: Lacking in funds; poor.

In Forma Pauperis:  This means “in the manner of a pauper.”  It refers to permission given to a person to sue without payment of court fees because of poverty.

Information: An accusatory document filed in the court by a prosecutor, without indictment, charging a named individual with a crime.  The term derives from the prosecutor’s statement that he makes his charges based on his “information and belief” rather than firsthand knowledge.

Informed Consent: Except in the case of an emergency, a doctor must obtain a patient’s agreement (informed consent) to any course of treatment.  Doctors are required to tell the patient anything that would substantially affect the patient’s decision including all risks and alternative treatments.

Infraction:  A violation of law not punishable by imprisonment.  Minor traffic offenses generally are considered infractions.

Infringement: Unauthorized use.

Initial Appearance: The defendant comes before a judge within our of the arrest to determine whether or not there is probably cause for his or her arrest.

Injunction: A judicial remedy awarded for the purpose of requiring a party to refrain from doing or continuing to do a particular act or activity.

In Re: Latin meaning “in the matter of.”

Instruction: Also known as the charge; a judge’s explanation to the jury before it begins deliberations of the questions it must answer and the applicable law governing the case.

Intangible Assets: Nonphysical items such as stocks, bonds, pension receipts, bank accounts whose value should be taken into account.

Intentional Tort: Wrong perpetrated by one who intends to break the law.

Interlocutory: Temporary, provisional or interim.  Not final.

Inter Vivos Gift:  A gift made during the giver’s life.

Inter Vivos Trust:  Another name for living trust.

Interlocutory Order: Temporary order issued during the course of litigation.  Typically cannot be appealed because it is not final.

Interrogatories: Part of the pre-trial discovery (fact-finding) process in which a witness provides written answers under oath.  The answers often can be used as evidence in the trial.

Intervention: An action by which a third party who may be affected by a lawsuit is permitted to become party to the suit.

Intestate:  Dying without having a will.

Intimidation: To threaten another in order to influence his behavior.  The threat may include physical harm, restraint, confinement or accusations of crime (even if true).

I.R. Number: Abbreviation for “individual record number.”  The number assigned to an individual upon his or her arrest.  This number is used in any subsequent arrests of the same individual.

Irrevocable Trust:  A trust that, once set up, the grantor may not revoke.

Issue: The disputed point in a disagreement between parties in a lawsuit; also an official order.

Joint Liability/Several Liability: A legal doctrine that makes each of the parties who are responsible for an injury, liable for all the damages awarded in a lawsuit if the other parties responsible cannot pay.

Judge: A presiding officer of the court.

Judgment: A decision by a court that establishes the rights of the parties in an action or proceeding.

Judgment Debtor: A person owing a debt, and against whom legal judgment for that debt has been entered.  The effect of becoming a judgment debtor is that property in the debtor’s possession may be subject to creditors’ claims.

Judgment Non Obstante Veredicto: Known also as a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.  A decision by a trial judge to rule in favor of the losing party even though the jury’s verdict was in favor of the other side.  Usually done when the facts or law do not support the jury’s verdict.

Judicial Notice: Act by which a court will recognize the existence of a certain fact without the production of substantiating evidence.

Judicial Review: The authority of a court to review the official actions of other branches of government.  Also, the authority to declare unconstitutional the actions of other branches.

Judiciary: The branch of government invested with judicial power to interpret and apply the law.  Judiciary also refers to the bench.

Jurat:  Certificate of officer or person whom writing was sworn before. In common term is employed to designate certificate of competent administering office that writing was sworn to by person who signed it.

Jurisdiction: The power to hear and determine a case.  A court’s authority to rule on the questions of law at issue in a dispute, typically determined by the geographic location and the type of case.

Jurisprudence: The study of law and structure of the legal system.

Jury:  Persons selected according to law and sworn to inquire into and declare a verdict on matters of fact.

Jury Administrator: The court officer responsible for choosing the panel of persons to serve as potential jurors for a particular court term.

Jury Polled:  Each individual juror is asked to affirm his or her verdict in open court at the conclusion of a trial.

Jury Charge: The judge’s instructions to the jurors on the law that applies in a case and definitions of the relevant legal concepts.  These instructions may be complex and are often pivotal in a jury’s discussions.

Just Cause: A legitimate reason.  Often used in the employment context to refer to the reasons why someone was fired.

Justiciable: Issues and claims capable of being properly examined by the court.

Juvenile: A person under the age of 18 (or 17 in some states); also referred to as youth or minor.

Knowingly and Willfully:  In reference to a statute, means consciously and intentionally.

Law: Any public order or decision that is binding upon those to whom it is addressed.  The law exists in many forms such as Constitutional law, statutory law, decisions, regulations, executive orders, local laws and ordinances.

Larceny: Obtaining property by fraud or deceit.

Legal Custody: In a divorce, one of two types of child custody.  A parent who has legal custody has the right to be involved in all the decision-making typically involved with being a parent, such as religious upbringing, education and medical decisions.  Legal custody can be either sole or joint.

Legal Maxim: A rule of thumb – not a law itself.

Legal Separation: A court order establishing the terms of: custody, support, etc. under which a married couple will live separately.

Lesser included offense: Any lesser offense included in the statute under the original charge.

Liable: Legally responsible.

Libel: Published words or pictures that falsely and maliciously defame a person. Libel is published defamation; slander is spoken.

Lien: a charge, hold, claim, or encumbrance upon the property of another as security for some debt or charge, not a title to property but rather a charge upon it; the term connotes the right which the law gives to have a debt satisfied out of the property.

Limine: A motion requesting that the court not allow certain evidence that might prejudice the jury.

Liquid Damages: The amount of money specified in a contract to be awarded in the event that the agreement is violated.

Lis Pendens: A pending suit. Jurisdiction, power, or control which courts acquire over property in a suit pending action and until final judgment. Notice of Lis Pendens: A notice filed on public records for the purpose of warning all persons that the title to certain property is in litigation, and that they are in danger of being bound by an adverse judgment. The notice is for the purpose of preserving rights pending litigation.

Litigant: A party to a lawsuit. Litigation refers to a case, controversy, or lawsuit.

Living Trust: A trust set up and in effect during the lifetime of the grantor. Also called inter vivos trust.

L.K.A.: Abbreviation for “last known address.”

Lockup: A temporary detention facility.  While in lockup, the prisoner is photographed and fingerprinted.

Magistrate: Judicial officer exercising some of the functions of a judge. It also refers in a general way to a judge.

Malfeasance: Evil doing, ill conduct; the commission of some act which is positively prohibited by law.

Malicious Prosecution: An action instituted with intention of injuring the defendant and without probabley cause; and which terminates in favor of the person prosecuted.

Malpractice: Improper or negligent behavior by a professional, such as a doctor or lawyer.  The failure of a professional to follow the accepted standards of practice of his or her profession.

Mandamus: A writ issued by a court ordering a public official to perform an act.

Mandate: The official decree by a court of appeal.

Mandatory Sentence: A criminal sentence set by a legislature that establishes the minimum length of prison time for specified crimes and thus limits the amount of discretion a judge has when sentencing a defendant.

Manslaughter: The unlawful killing of another without intent to kill; either voluntary (upon a sudden impulse); or involuntary (during the commission of an unlawful act not ordinarily expected to result in great bodily harm.)

Marshal: The executive officer of the federal court.

Mediation: A form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party, who helps them agree on a settlement.

Memorandum: An informal note or instrument embodying something the parties desire to have in written evidenceform.

Memorandum Opinion: Brief holding of the whole court with the opinion limited or omitted.

Memorialized: In writing.

Mens Rea: The “guilty mind”criminal intent necessary to establish criminal responsibility.            

Minor: A person under the age of 18.

Minute Entry: An official record of what takes place in court made available to the parties.

Minutes: Memorandum of a transaction or proceeding.

Miranda Warning: Requirement that police tell a suspect in their custody of his/her constitutional rights before they question him/her. It warns of their  right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.  So named as a result of the Miranda v. Arizona ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Misdemeanor: A class of criminal offenses which are less serious than felonies and carry less severe penalties.  It is generally distinguished from a felony by the duration or place of imprisonment and the severity of the possible or actual punishment.

Mistrial: An invalid trial, caused by fundamental error. When a mistrial is declared, the trial must start again from the selection of the jury.

Mitigating Circumstances/Factors: Those which do not constitute a justification or excuse for an offense but which may be considered as reasons for reducing the degree of blame.

Mittimus: The name of an order in writing, issuing from a court and directing the sheriff or other officer to convey a person to prison, asylum or reformatory, and directing the jailer or other appropriate official to receive and safely keep the person until her or her fate shall be determined by due course of law.

M.O.: Abbreviation for “modus operandi” which is Latin meaning method of operation.  The pattern of behavior that is typical of how a particular offender commits a specific type of crime.

Moot: A moot case or a moot point in one not subject to a judicial determination because it involves an abstract question or a pretended controversy that has not yet actually arisen or has already passed. Mootness usually refers to a court’s refusal to consider a case because the issue involved has been resolved prior to the court’s decision, leaving nothing that would be affected by the court’s decision.

Motion: A formal, written request to the Court asking that a specific action be taken.

Motion for a New Trial: Request in which a losing party asserts that a trial was unfair due to legal errors that prejudiced its case.

Motion for Directed Verdict: A request made by the defendant in a civil case.  Asserts that the plaintiff has raised no genuine issue to be tried and asked the judge to role in favor of the defense.  Typically made after the plaintiff is done presenting his or her case.

Motion for Summary Judgement: A request made by the defendant in a civil case.  Asserts that the plaintiff has raised no genuine issue to be tried and asks the judge to role in favor of the defense.  Typically made before the trial.

Motion In Limine: A pre-trial motion made by counsel requesting that information that might be prejudicial not be allowed to be heard in a case.

Motion to Dismiss: In a civil case, aA request to a judge by the defendant, asserting the even if all the allegations are true, the plaintiff or the prosecuting body is not entitled to any legal relief and thus the case should be dismissed.

Motion to Suppress Evidence: A request to a judge to keep out evidence at a trial or hearing, often made when a party believes the evidence was unlawfully obtained.

Murder, First Degree: The killing of another with intent to cause death or great bodily harm; or with knowledge that the conduct in question will cause the death of another person; or with knowledge that the conduct in question is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another person; or in the commission of a forcible felony.  Premeditation of a violent act to take someone’s life.

Murder, Second Degree: The killing of another such as would constitute first degree murder, with specified, mitigating circumstances; the offender was acting under sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation; or the offender believed there were circumstances which, if they had existed, would have been legally sufficient to justify the killing.

Mutual Assent: A meeting of the minds or agreement.

Named Plaintiffs: The originators of a class action suit.

Negligence: Failure to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person would exercise under the same circumstances.

Negotiation: The process of submission and consideration of offers until an acceptable office is made and accepted.

Next Friend: One acting without formal appointment as guardian for the benefit of an infant.

No Action: A circumstance in which the prosecutor declines prosecution.

No No True Bill: This phrase, endorsed by a grand jury on the written indictment submitted to it for its approval means that the evidence was found insufficient to indict.

No-Contest Clause: Language in a will that provides that a person who makes a legal challenge to the will’s validity will be disinherited.

No-Fault Proceedings: A civil case in which parties may resolve their dispute without a formal finding of error or fault.

No probable cause: Insufficient grounds to hold the person who was arrestedfor arrest.

Nolle prosequi: The State Attorney declines to prosecute but may still initiate prosecution within one yearprosecutor dismisses charges.

Nolo contendere: A person neither admits nor denies the charges, letting them stand as is.does not contest charges, thus allowing the case to close.

Nominative Report: Early official reports named for the individual reporter who recorded or edited them.

Nonfeasance: Nonperformance of an act that should be performed; omission to perform a required duty or total neglect of duty.

Nonimmigrant Visa: Visa granted to a foreigner who does not intend to stay in the U.S. permanently.

Nonjury Trial: Trial before the court but without a jury.

Notary Public: A person authorized to witness the signing of documents.

Notice of Appeal: The document a person must file with the trial court in order to pursue an appeal.

Nuncupative Will: An oral (unwritten) will.

Nunc pro tunc: An entry made now for an act done previously and to have the effect as if it were done on a prior date.

Oath: Sworn attestations required in court, usually administered by the in-court clerk.

Objection: The process by which one party takes exception to some statement or procedure.  An objection is wither sustained (allowed) or overruled by the judge.

Obligee: Person to whom support is owed. Person to whom support is owed. Person to whom support is owed.

Obligor: Person ordered to pay support.

Offense: A violation of the criminal law of a federal, state or local jurisdiction.

Official Reports: Collections of decisions published by or on behalf of the deciding jurisdiction.

Opening Statement: The initial statement made by attorneys for each side, outlining the facts each intends to establish during the trial.

Opinion: The official written statement of a case, the court’s decision and its reasons for reaching the decision it did.

Oral Argument: Presentation of a case before a court by spoken argument; usually with respect to a presentation of a case to an appellate court.

Order: A written or oral command from a court directing or forbidding an action.

Order of Assignment (Wage Assignment): An order from the court directing that deductions be taken from wages or other income to pay current or past-due child support or spousal maintenance.

Ordinance: The local legislation of a city, town, village or county written by the local legislative body.

Overrule: A judge’s decision not to allow an objection. Also, a decision by a higher court finding that a lower court decision was in error.

Own Recognizance: Sometimes called personal recognizance.  A person who promises to appear in court to answer criminal charges can sometimes be released from jail without having to pay bail.  This person is said to be released on his/her own recognizance.

Paralegal: Also know as legal assistant.  A person with legal skills who works under the supervision of a lawyer.

Parallel Citation: Citation to the same case in a different set of reports.

Pardon: An act of grace from governing power that mitigates punishment and restores rights and privileges forfeited on account of the offense.

Parens Patriae: Latin for “parent of his country.”  Used when the government acts on behalf of a child or mentally ill person.  Refers to the “state” as the guardian of minors and incompetent people.

Parole: The supervised conditional release of a prisoner before the expiration of his/her sentence. If the parolee observes the conditions, he/she need not serve the rest of his/her term.

Parole Evidence: Oral or verbal evidence; evidence given by word of mouth in court.

Party: Person or governmental agency named in a case.

Penalty Phase: The second part of a bifurcated trial, in which the jury hears evidence and then votes on what penalty or damages to impose.

Per Curiam Opinion: Opinion of the whole court as distinguished from an opinion written by a specific judgeAn affirmance of the higher court without issuance of an opinion.

Peremptory Challenge: Limited number of challenges each side in a trial can use to eliminate potential jurors without stating a reason.  May not be used to keep members of a particular race or sex off of a jury.

Perjury: The criminal offense of making a false statement under oath.

Permanent Injunction: A court order requiring that some action be taken, or that some party refrain from taking action. It differs from forms of temporary relief, such as a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction.  

Permanent Law: Enactment of a legislative body continuing for an indefinite period of time.

Per Se Doctrine: Under this doctrine and activity such as price fixing can be declared as a violation of the antitrust laws without necessity of a court inquiring into the reasonableness of the activity.

Personal Recognizance: Sometimes called own recognizance.  A person who promises to appear in court to answer criminal charges can sometimes be released from jail without having to pay bail.  This person is said to be released on his/her own recognizance.

Personal Representative: A person who manages the legal affairs of another, such as a power of attorney or executor.

Petit Jury:  An ordinary or trial jury composed of 6 to 12 persons, which hears either civil or criminal cases.

Petition: A request to the court to take action. A request to the court to take action.

Petition for Dissolution: The initial pleading that allows a party to ask the court to end or dissolve a marriage. The initial pleading that allows a party to ask the court to end or dissolve a marriage. The initial pleading that allows a party to ask the court to end or dissolve a marriage.

Petitioner: The party who files a petition with the court.

Petty Offense: An offense for which the only allowable penalty is a fine.

Physical Custody: In a divorce, one of two types of child custody.  A parent who has physical custody lives most of the time with the child.

Plaintiff: The person or body who initiates the lawsuit.

Plea: Defendant’s answer to the charge – guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere.

Plea Bargaining or Plea Negotiating: The process through which an accused person and a prosecutor negotiate a mutually satisfactory disposition of a case. Usually it is legal transaction in which a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for some form of leniency. It often involves a guilty plea to lesser charges or a guilty plea to some of the charges if other charges are dropped. Such bargains are not binding on the court.

Plea negotiation: Negotiations arrived at by the state and the defense for a fair disposition of the case and requiring approval by the court.

Pleadings: The written statements of fact and law filed by the parties to a lawsuit.

Polling the Jury: The act, after a jury verdict has been announced, of asking jurors individually whether they agree with the verdict.

Post-Trial: Refers to items happening after a trial such as post-trial discovery or motions.

Power of Attorney: Formal authorization of a person to act in the interests of another person.

P.P.O.: Abbreviation for “probationary police officer.”  A sworn member of the police department who has worked for less than one year.  Informally referred to as a “rookie.”

Pre-Trial Conference: A meeting between the judge and the lawyers involved in a lawsuit to narrow the issues in the suit, agree on what will be presented at the trail, and make a final effort to settle the case without a trial.

Pre-Trial intervention: A county program to aid certain qualifying defendants by diverting them from court proceedings upon successful completion of the program.

Pre-Trial release (PTR): Release by sheriff’s personnel after arrest and before any court appearance, setting a court appearance date.

Precedent: A previously decided case that guides the decision of future cases.

Preemptory challenge: A challenge that may be used to reject a certain number of prospective jurors without giving a reason.

Preinjunction:  Court order requiring action or forbidding action (different from restraining order) until a decision can be made whether to issue a permanent injunction.

Preliminary Hearing: Another term for arraignment.  Legal proceeding used in some states in which a prosecutor presents evidence to a judge in an attempt to show that there is probable cause and that a person committed a crime.  If the judge is convinced that probable cause exists to charge the person, then the prosecution proceeds to the next phase.  If not, the charges are dropped.

Preponderance of the Evidence/Proof: The level of proof required to prevail in most civil cases.  The judge or jury must be persuaded that the facts are more probably one way (the plaintiff’s way) than another (the defendant’s).

Pre-sentencing Report: A report prepared by a probation department for a judge to assist in sentencing.  Typically contains information about prior convictions and arrests, work history and family details.

Presentment: Declaration or document issued by a grand jury that makes a neutral report or notes misdeeds by officials charged with specified public duties. It ordinarily does not include a formal charge of crime Prime Facie – On the face of it – factually.  

Pre-Trial Conference: Conference among the opposing attorneys and the judge called at the discretion of the court to narrow the issues to be tried and to make a final effort to settle the case without a trial.

Prima Facie Case: A case that is sufficient and has the minimum amount of evidence necessary to allow it to continue in the judicial process.

Primary Authority: Constitutions, codes, statutes, ordinances and case law sources.

Privilege: A benefit or advantage to certain persons beyond the advantages of other persons (i.e. exemption or immunity).

Pro bono publico: For the public good. Lawyers representing clients without a fee are said to be working pro bono publico.

Pro Per (Pro Se): A person who does not hire a lawyer and appears for himself/herself in court.

Probable cause: Reasonable belief that a crime was committed and that the named person committed the crime.

Probate: The court-supervised process by which is determined to be the will-maker’s final statement regarding how the will maker wants his/her property distribute. It also confirms the appointment of the personal representative of the estate. Probate also means the process by which assets are gathered; applied to pay debts, taxes, and the expenses of administration; and distribution to those designated as beneficiaries in the will.

Probation: Suspension of sentence with or without adjudication and placing the defendant under supervision of the Department of Corrections for a specified period of time and possible conditions.

Promisee: An individual to whom a promise is made.

Promisor: An individual who makes a promise.

Promissory Estoppel: A promise which estops the promise from asserting or taking certain action.

Prosecutor: A trial lawyer representing the government in a criminal case and the interests of the state in civil matters. In criminal cases, the prosecutor has the responsibility of deciding who and when to prosecute.

Proximate Cause: The last negligent act which contributes to an injury when he or she had a duty to act.

Public Defender: A court-appointed attorney for those defendants who are declared indigent.

Public Law: The law such as traffic ordinances or zoning ordinances which applies to the public.

Punitive Damages: Money award given to punish the defendant or wrongdoer.

Putative: Alleged, supposed or reputed.

Quash: To nullify, void or declare invalid.

Quid Pro Quo: Latin phrase meaning “what for what or something for something.”  The concept of getting something of value in return for giving something of value. (Compare this with Sexual Harassment, Quid Pro Quo.)

Rank: Sworn ranks are typically as follows:

  • Superintendent of Police
  • First Deputy Superintendent
  • Deputy Superintendent
  • Chief
  • Assistant Deputy Superintendent
  • Deputy Chief
  • Commander
  • Captain
  • Lieutenant, Inspector
  • Sergeant
  • Police Officer Assigned as Detective, Police Technician, Patrol Specialist, Investigator, Gang Crimes Specialist, Police Agent and Traffic Specialist
  • Police Officer

Rape: Forced sexual relations without permission (usually involving both penetration and emission). Forced permission by violence, threats of violence or giving mind altering drugs is not considered permission. If a sexual act is performed on a child (in most states the age is at least 10 and under), the act is automatically considered rape regardless of whether the child gave verbal permission.

Rapid Response Car: A squad car assigned to patrol a sector within a district and respond to in-progress (emergency) calls.

Ratio Decidendi: The point in a case which determines the result; the basis of a decision.

Reasonable Care: The level of care a typical person would use if faced with the same circumstance.

Reasonable Doubt: The level of certainty a juror must have to find a defendant guilty of a crime.

Record Extract: On appeal, the record consists of a transcript of all or a portion of the proceedings in lower courts, including testimony, pleadings, opinions, etc.

Re-cross Examination: Questioning a witness about matters brought up during re-direct examination.

Recusal: A judge excusing himself/herself from a case.

Re-Direct Examination: Opportunity to present rebuttal evidence after one’s evidence has been subjected to cross-examination.

Regulation: Refers primarily to the rules promulgated by administrative agencies which implement/enforce legislative enactments.

Release on own recognizance (ROR): Release of a prisoner by a judge with no bond requirement.

Remand: When an appellate court sends a case back to a lower court for further proceedings.

Report: A printed statement of an opinion of the court which is in writing and is published.

Res Ipsa Loquitur: Latin meaning “thing that speaks for itself.”  Refers to situations when it is assumed that a person’s injury was caused by the negligent action of another party because the accident was the sort that wouldn’t occur unless someone was negligent.

Res Judicata: The thing has been decided.

Respondent:  The party who receives any document requesting action by the court.

Rest: A party is said to rest or rest its case when it has presented all the evidence it intends to offer.

Restitution: Act giving the equivalent for any loss, damage or injury.

Restraining Order: A court order for one individual to stay away from another.

Retainer: Refers to up from payment a client gives a lawyer to accept a case.  The client is paying to “retain” the lawyer’s services.

Reversible error: A procedural or substantive error during a trial or hearing sufficiently harmful to justify reversing the judgment of a lower court.

Right Against Self-Incrimination: Granted by the Fifth Amendment, allows a person to refuse to answer questions that would subject him or her to accusation of a criminal act.

R/O: Abbreviation for “responding officer,” a term used in police case reporting.

Robbery: Taking another person’s property away from him or her with violent force or by instilling fear. This is a felony.

Roll Call: The first half hour of a watch, reserved for attendance, inspection, briefings and trainings.

Rules of Evidence: Standards governing whether evidence in civil or criminal case is admissible.

Seal: To make a document with a seal; to authenticate or make binding by affixing a seal.

Search Warrant: A written order issued by a judge that directs a law enforcement officer to search a specific area for a specific piece of evidence.

Second Appearance: The County Court appearance after initial proceedings in which the state files an information or the defendant is discharged.

Secondary Authority: Sources which explain or describe the “law.”  Examples include encyclopedias and law journal articles.

Sector: A series of geographic divisions within a police district, comprising of various beats.

Secured Signature Bond: A signature bond secured by mortgage or real property.

Self Defense: Claim that an act otherwise criminal was legally justifiable because it was necessary to protect a person or property from the threat or action of another.

Self Incrimination: The Constitutional right of people to refuse to give testimony against themselves that could subject them to criminal prosecution.  The right is guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Asserting the right is often referred to as “taking the Fifth.”

Sentence: The punishment ordered by a court for a defendant convicted of a crime.

Sequester: To separate. Sometimes juries are separated from outside influences during their deliberations. For example, this may occur during a highly publicized trial.

Sequestration of Witnesses: Keeping all witnesses out of the courtroom except for their time on the stand, and cautioning them not to discuss their testimony with other witnesses.

Service of Process: The act of notifying the other parties that an action has begun and informing them of the steps they should take to respond.

Session Law: Chronological arrangement of legislative enactments in bound form in order by act/chapter number.

Settlement: An agreement between the parties disposing of a lawsuit.

Settlement Agreement: In a civil lawsuit, the document that spells out the terms of an out-of-court compromise. 

Sexual Harassment, Quid Pro Quo: Where an employee is threatened with a demotion (or promised a promotion) in exchange for “sexual favors.”  It usually comes from a supervisory or other person in a position of authority.

Shepardizing: Method for finding subsequent development of a legal theory by tracing status of a case as legal authority.

Sheriff: The executive officer of a local court in some areas.  In some jurisdictions, the sheriff is an elected official and serves as chief law enforcement in the county.

Show cause order: Court order requiring a person to appear and show why some action should not be taken.

Sidebar: A conference between the judge and lawyers, usually in the courtroom, out of earshot of the jury and spectators.        

Simplified Modification: A procedure in which a person paying or receiving child support attempts to show a change in circumstances.

Slander: False and defamatory spoken words tending to harm another’s reputation, business or means of livelihood. Slander is spoken defamation; libel is published.

Slip Opinion: The printed copy of a single judicial opinion.  Slip opinions are compiled into advance sheets.  Advance sheets are then bound into volumes.

Small Claims Court: A court that handles civil claims for small amounts of money. People often represent themselves rather than hire an attorney.

Sovereign Immunity: The doctrine that the government, state or federal, is immune to lawsuit unless it gives consent.

Specific Performance: A remedy requiring a person who has breached a contract to perform specifically what he or she has agreed to do.  Specific performance is ordered when damages would be inadequate compensation.

Speedy Trial: A rule of law wherein the defendant must be brought to trial within 180 days.

Spousal Maintenance: Court ordered monies paid to a spouse.

Standard of Care: The degree of care a reasonable person would take to prevent a injury to another.

Standard of Proof: Indicates the degree to which the point must be proven.

Standing: The legal right to initiate a lawsuit.  To do so, a person must be sufficiently affected by the matter at hand, and there must be a case or controversy that can be resolved by legal action.

Stare Decisis: Latin meaning “to stand by that which is decided.”  Refers to the principle of adhering to precedent when deciding a case.

Stationhouse Bail: Bail that some defendants accused of misdemeanors may be allowed to pay at the police station.  This allows them to be released prior to appearing before a judge.

Status Offenders: Youths charged with that status of being beyond the control of their legal guardian or are habitually disobedient, truant from school or having committed other acts that would not be a crime if committed by an adult (i.e. underage drinking).

Statute: Legislative enactment.

Statute of Limitations: The period of time within which a lawsuit must be brought, after which it is barred for lapse of time.  There is generally no limitation on when a prosecution can be brought for murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, treason, arson or forgery.

Statutory: Relating to a statute; created or defined by a law.

Statutory Law: Law enacted by the legislative branch of government, as distinguished from case law or common law.

Stay: A court order halting a judicial proceeding.

Stipulation: An agreement by attorneys on both sides of a civil or criminal case about some aspect of the case such as extending the time to answer, to adjourn the trial date, or to admit certain facts at the trial.

Strict Liability: Liability even when there is no proof of negligence.  Often applicable in product liability cases against manufacturers, who are legally responsible for injuries caused by defects in their products, even if they were not negligent.

Sua Sponte: A Latin phrase which means on one’s own behalf; voluntary, without prompting or suggestion.

Subpoena: An order compelling a person to appear to testify or produce documents.

Subpoena Duces Tecum: A court order commanding a witness to bring certain documents or records to court.

Subsequent Employer: Refers to any employer other than the first employer of an Obligor upon whom an Order of Assignment (Wage Assignment) has been served. A subsequent employer must honor the order of assignment as the first employer did.

Subpoena: Command to a person to appear and testify in a specific proceeding.

Substantive Criminal Law: Law with the purpose of preventing harm to society with prescribed punishment for specific offenses.  The basic law of rights and duties as opposed to “remedial law,” which provides methods of enforcement.

Substantive Law: That part of the law, which creates, defines and regulates rights.

Summary Judgment: A judgment given on the basis of pleadings, affidavits and exhibits presented for the record without any need for a trial.  It is used when there is no dispute as to the facts of the case and one party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

Summation: The closing argument at a trial.

Summons: A document signed by a deputy clerk ordering a person to appear before the court. Support Trust – A trust that instructs the trustee to spend only as much income and principal (the assets held in the trust) as needed for the beneficiary’s support.

Support Order: Any order entered by the court for the payment of support. Support may include payment for medical, dental, and other health care, childcare and education expenses as well as spousal maintenance.

Suppress: To forbid the use of evidence at a trial because it is improper or was improperly obtained.

Surety Bond: A bond purchased at the expense of the state to insure the executor’s proper performance. Often called a fidelity bond.

Sustain: A court ruling upholding an objection or a motion.

Sworn Member: A member of the police department who takes an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and their state of service.  A sworn member has the authority to make arrests and carry firearms.

Tactical Officer: A police officer who works in plain clothes and concentrates on vice and narcotics arrests.

Temporary Injunction: Usually used to prevent threatened injury, maintain the status quo, or preserve the subject matter of the litigation during trial.

Temporary Relief: Any form of action by a court granting one of the parties an order to protect its interest pending further action by the court.

Temporary Restraining Order: An emergency remedy of brief duration issued by a court only in exceptional circumstances, usually when immediate or irreparable damages or loss might result before the opposition could take action.

Tender Age Youth/Juvenile: A person under the age of 13 in most states.

Ten-One: An officer’s radio call for emergency assistance.  A ten-one call is a matter of the utmost urgency, and is responded to by any available police unit which is nearby.

Testator: Person who makes a will (female: testatrix).

Testimony: The evidence given by a witness under oath.  It does not include physical evidence or documents.

Third Party Complaint: A petition filed by a defendant against a third party which alleges that the third party is liable for all or part of the damages plaintiff may win from the defendant.

Tort: A wrong; a private or civil wrong or injury resulting from a breach of a legal duty that exists by virtue of society’s expectations regarding interpersonal conduct, rather than by contract or other private relationship.

Transcript: A written, word-for-word record of what was said, either in a proceeding such as a trial or during some other conversation, as in a transcript of a hearing or oral deposition.

Transfer Cases: Cases going from one court or one jurisdiction to another.

Transmittal Form:  Form required in certain courts for transmitting documents for filing.

Trial: A judicial examination of issues between parties to an action.  In a criminal case, the action would be between the state and the defendant.

True Copy: An exact copy of a written instrument.

Trust: A legal device used to manage real or personal property, established by one person (the grantor or settler) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary). A third person (the trustee) or the grantor manages the trust.

Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act: Law that allows an order of child support issued in one state to be enforced in another state.

Unsecured: In bankruptcy proceedings, for the purpose of filing a claim, a claim is unsecured if there is no collateral, or to the extent the value of collateral is less than the amount of the debt.

Valid Claim: A grievance that can be resolved by legal action.

Venire: A writ summoning persons to court to act as jurors, also refers to the people summoned for jury duty.

Venue: The proper geographical area (county, city, or district) in which a court with jurisdiction over the subject matter may hear a case.

Verdict: The findings of a judge or jury at the end of a trial.

Vested Right: An absolute right.  When a retirement plan is fully vested, the employee has an absolute right to the entire amount of money in the account.

Vicarious Liability: When one person is liable for the negligent actions of another person, even though the first person was not directly responsible for the injury.  For instance, a parent sometimes can be vicariously liable for the harmful acts of a child and an employer sometimes can be vicariously liable for the actions of a worker.

Victim: Someone who suffers harmed or loss, or is killed by another.

Victim Witness: Someone who has suffered loss or harm and then testifies in court to that account.

VIN: Abbreviation for “vehicle identification number.”

Visitation: The amount of time established by the court that the child(ren) spend with the non-custodial parent of grandparent.

Visitation Services: A unit of the Family Support Center’s Expedited Services program that helps the court in enforcing custody/visitation orders when parental cooperation is lacking.

Voir Dire: A French phrase, meaning “to speak the truth.”  The examination of a jury panel by the judge, defense counsel and the state attorney.

Wage Execution: Also known as garnishment.  A court order to withhold money from the defendant to be applied to a debt owed to the plaintiff or victim.

Waived Fees: Court fees, which are not required to be paid because of the financial condition of the party.

Warrant: Most commonly, a court order authorizing law enforcement officers to make an arrest or conduct a search. An affidavit seeking a warrant must establish probable cause by detailing the facts upon which the request is based.

Watch: A police shift (a day is generally split into three watches).

Watch Commander: A lieutenant or captain who directs all police activities within a district during a specific watch.  Examples of the watch commander’s duties include deploying patrol officers within the district, approving arrests and checking the status of lockup.

Will: A legal declaration that disposes of a person’s property when that person dies.

Withhold Adjudication: The judge withholds a judgment of guilt.

Witness: A person who testifies to what he/she has seen, heard, or otherwise experienced. Also, a person who observes the signing of a will and is competent to testify that it is the will-maker’s intended last will and testament.  

Writ: A judicial order directing a person to do something.

Writ of Execution: A routine court order by which the court attempts to enforce the judgment that has been granted a plaintiff by authorizing a sheriff to levy on the property belonging to the judgment debtor, which is located within the county.

Youth: A person under the age of 18, also referred to a juvenile or minor.

The above terms and definitions are provided for informational purposes only by Witness Justice, a former nonprofit organization. The guide is shared on this site for informational and resource purposes and it is not intended for legal use or direction. This guide is not to be used or duplicated without the express permission.

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