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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X
- A -
- Abatement of Action - A suit that has been quashed and ended.
Incomplete or undetermined state of affairs.
- Abscond -
To run away or hide from the jurisdiction of the court in order to avoid
- Abstract of Record -
Abbreviated, but complete history of a case as found in the record.
- Abstract of Title -
Concise chronological history of all official records and recorded
documents affecting title to a parcel of land.
- Accessory -
Person who aids or contributes in commission of a crime, usually by
convincing someone to commit a crime or by helping the suspect escape or
hide evidence. Usually not present during the crime. Compare accomplice.
- Accomplice -
Person who knowingly and voluntarily participates with another in a
criminal act through aiding, abetting, advising or encouraging offender.
See aid and abet. Compare accessory.
- Accord and
Method of discharging a claim whereby parties agree to give and accept
something in settlement of claim. The new agreement is called the accord.
The satisfaction is the action performed to settle the claim.
- Acknowledgment -
Short declaration at end of a legal paper showing paper was duly
executed and acknowledged.
- Acquittal -
Verdict after a criminal trial that defendant is not guilty of charged
crime. Compare guilty.
- Action -
A judicial proceeding. An action in
personam is against a person. An action in
rem is against a thing, usually where property is involved.
Proof that a criminal act has occurred. See elements
of a crime.
- Ad Litem -
For the purposes of the lawsuit. E.g., a guardian
ad litem is appointed to prosecute or defend a suit on behalf of an
incapacitated person or a minor.
- Additur -
Increase by judge in amount of damages awarded by jury.
- Adjudication -
Pronouncing judgment or decree; the judgment given.
- Administrator -
One who administers estate of person who dies without a will. See personal
representative. Compare executor.
Evidence which can be legally and properly introduced in a trial.
- Adversary Proceeding -
Proceeding having opposing parties; contested. Differs from ex
- Adversary System -
Trial method used in U.S. and some other countries, based on belief that
truth can best be determined by giving opposing parties full opportunity
to present and establish evidence and to test by cross-examination
evidence presented by adversaries under established rules of procedure
before an impartial judge and/or jury.
- Affiant -
Person who makes and signs an affidavit.
- Affidavit -
Voluntary written statement of facts
given under oath. In criminal cases affidavits are often used by police
officers seeking to obtain search or arrest warrants. In civil cases
affidavits of witnesses are often used to support motions for summary
- Affirmative Defense -
Without denying the charge, defendant raises extenuating or mitigating
circumstances such as insanity, self-defense or entrapment to avoid
civil or criminal responsibility.
- Affirmed -
Decree or order at issue is declared valid by appellate court and will
stand as rendered in lower court.
- Aggravated Assault -
Circumstances occurring in commission of an offense which occur above
and beyond the offense itself and which serve to increase offense's guilt
or enormity or add to its consequences. May increase sentence of
individual convicted of offense. Compare mitigating
- Aid and Abet -
To actively, knowingly or intentionally assist another person in
commission or attempted commission of a crime. See accomplice.
- Alibi -
Proof offered by defendant that he/she
was at some other place at time of crime and thus could not have committed
- Allegation -
Statement of issues
in a pleading
that a party expects to prove. E.g., an indictment
contains allegations of a crime against a defendant.
- Allocatur -
"It is allowed." Petition to appeal.
Dispute Resolution (ADR) -
Settling a dispute without full, formal trial. Methods include mediation,
arbitration and settlement, among others.
Friend of the court. One not a party to a case who, having a strong
interest in the outcome, offers information on a point of law or some
other aspect of the case.
- Answer -
Defendant's response to plaintiff's allegations
as stated in a complaint.
Item-by-item, paragraph-by-paragraph response to points made in complaint.
Part of the pleadings.
- Appeal -
Request to have a decision made by a lower court reviewed by a higher
- Appearance -
Coming into court. Formal act by which a defendant submits to the
jurisdiction of a court. Compare arraignment.
- Appellant -
Party who initiates an appeal.
- Appellate Court -
Court having jurisdiction to review decisions of lower courts or
- Appellee -
Party against whom an appeal is taken. Sometimes called a respondent.
- Arbitration -
Form of alternative dispute resolution in which
parties bring dispute to a neutral third party and agree to abide by
decision reached. Decisions usually cannot be appealed.
- Arraignment -
Proceeding in which an accused person appears before a judge to hear the
criminal charges filed against him/her and to enter a plea of guilty or
not guilty. Compare preliminary
hearing and initial
appearance. See also appearance.
- Arrest -
To take into custody by legal authority.
- Arrest of Judgment -
Act of delaying the effect of a judgment
- Assault -
Threat to inflict injury with an apparent ability to do so. Also, any
intentional display of force which would give victim reason to fear or
expect immediate bodily harm. Aggravated assault must include another act
which is also criminal, e.g., an attempt to cause serious bodily injury or
commit another crime or use of a deadly weapon. Compare battery.
- At Issue -
Point in a lawsuit when complaining party has stated claim and other
side has responded with a denial. Contested points are said to be "at
- Attachment -
Legal seizure and holding of person's property pending outcome of a
lawsuit. Also, arrest of person guilty of contempt
- Attempt -
Effort to commit a crime, carried beyond preparation, but not executed.
- Attorney-at-Law -
Advocate, counsel or official agent employed in preparing, managing and
trying cases in the courts.
- Attorney-in-Fact -
Private person, not necessarily an attorney, authorized by another to
act in his place and stead, either for a particular purpose or for
transaction of business in general that is not of legal character.
Authority is conferred by an instrument in writing called a letter of
attorney or, more commonly, power
- Attorney of Record -
Principal attorney in a lawsuit who signs all formal documents relating
- B -
- Backlog -
Number of pending cases exceeding the capacity of a court which is
engaged in acting on other cases.
- Bail -
Money or other security (such as a bail bond)
given to a court to temporarily secure a person's release from custody and
assure his/her appearance in court. May be forfeited should individual
subsequently fail to appear before the court. Bail and bond are often used
Obligation, signed by accused, to secure his/her presence at trial and
which he/she may lose by not properly appearing for trial.
- Bailiff -
Court attendant who keeps order in the courtroom and has custody of the
- Bankruptcy -
Statutes and judicial proceedings involving persons or businesses who
cannot pay debts and seek assistance of court in getting a fresh start.
- Bar -
Historically, partition separating general public from space occupied by
judges, lawyers and other participants in a trial. More commonly, the
whole body of lawyers. A "case at bar" is a case currently being
- Bar Examination -
State examination taken by prospective lawyers in order to be admitted
to practice law.
- Battered Child Syndrome -
Medical and psychological condition of a child who has suffered
continuing injuries not inflicted accidentally and thus are presumed to
have been inflicted by someone close to the child.
- Battered Woman Syndrome -
Medical and psychological condition of a woman who has been physically,
sexually and/or emotionally abused by a spouse or lover. Also called
battered wife syndrome or battered spouse syndrome.
- Battery -
Physical contact intended to harm someone. Threat to use force is assault;
use of it is battery, which usually includes an assault. Aggravated
battery is unlawful use of force with unusual or serious consequences,
e.g., use of a dangerous weapon.
- Bench -
Seat occupied by the judge. More broadly, the court itself.
- Bench trial -
Trial with no jury, in which the judge decides the facts.
Arrest warrant issued directly by a judge.
- Beneficiary -
Someone named to receive benefits from a legal device such as a will,
trust or insurance policy.
- Bequeath -
To give someone a gift through a will.
- Bequests -
Gifts made in a will.
- Best Evidence -
Primary evidence; best evidence available. Evidence short of this is
"secondary." E.g., an original letter is the best evidence; a
photocopy is secondary evidence.
- Beyond a
Reasonable Doubt -
Standard in a criminal case requiring the jury to be satisfied "to
a moral certainty" that every element of the crime has been proven by
prosecution. Does not require state to establish absolute certainty by
eliminating all doubt, but does require that evidence be so conclusive
that all reasonable
doubts are removed from the mind of the ordinary person.
- Bifurcation -
Dividing the issues in a case so that one issue can be decided before
the others. E.g., a divorce will often be granted before custody,
support and marital property issues are resolved.
- Bill -
Formal written declaration, petition, complaint or statement. E.g., a
declaration of wrong a complainant has suffered is a bill of complaint.
Also, a draft of a new or amended law presented to a legislature for
- Bill of Evidence -
Transcript of testimony heard at trial.
- Bill of
Statement detailing charge/s made against defendant.
- Bind Over -
To hold a person for trial on bond (bail) or in
jail. If the judicial official conducting the preliminary hearing finds probable
cause to believe accused committed a crime, he/she will "bind
over" accused, normally by setting bail for accused's appearance at
- Binding Instruction -
Instruction in which jury is told that if it finds certain conditions to
be true, to find for the plaintiff or defendant, as the case may be.
- Black Letter Laws -
Informal term encompassing basic principles of law generally accepted by
courts or present in statutes of a particular jurisdiction.
- Blue Sky Laws -
State statutes regulating sale of securities.
- Bond -
See bail bond.
- Booking -
Process of photographing, fingerprinting and recording identifying data
of a suspect following arrest.
- Breach of Contract -
Legally inexcusable failure to perform contractual obligation.
- Brief -
Written statement prepared by one side in a lawsuit to explain to the
court its view of the facts of a case and applicable law.
- Burden of
Necessity or duty to prove a fact in a dispute. Not the same as standard
of proof. Burden of proof deals with which side must establish a point or
points; standard of proof indicates degree to which point must be proven.
- Burglary -
Breaking into and entering a building with intent to commit a felony.
- C -
- Calendar -
List of cases scheduled for hearing in court.
- Calling the Docket -
Public calling of the docket
or list of causes at commencement of a court term.
- Capital Crime -
Crime punishable by death.
- Caption -
Heading on legal document listing parties, court, case number and
- Caselaw -
Collection of reported cases that form the body of law within a
jurisdiction. Also known as jurisprudence.
- Caseload -
Total number of cases filed in a given court or before a given judicial
officer for a given period of time.
- Causa Mortis Gift -
Gift made in expectation of donor's death and upon condition that donor
die as anticipated.
- Cause -
Lawsuit, litigation or action. Any question, civil or criminal,
litigated or contested before a court of justice.
- Cause of Action -
Facts that give rise to a lawsuit.
- Caveat -
Warning; note of caution.
- Cease and Desist Order -
Order of an administrative agency or court prohibiting a person or
business from continuing a particular course of conduct.
- Certiorari -
Writ issued by appellate court directing lower court to deliver record
of case for review. Often referred to as "granting cert."
- Challenge -
Objection, such as when attorney objects at voir
dire hearing to seating of a particular person on a jury. May be challenge
for cause or peremptory
challenge. See also challenge to the array.
- Challenge to the
Questioning the qualifications of an entire jury panel, usually on
grounds of some legal fault in composition of the panel, e.g., racial
- Challenge for Cause -
Objection to seating of a particular juror for a stated reason, usually
bias or prejudice for or against one party in the lawsuit. Judge has
discretion to deny challenge. Also known as challenge to the poll. Compare
- Change of Venire -
Bringing in a jury from another county to hear a trial, usually because
of concerns that pretrial publicity has made empanelling an impartial jury
difficult. Compare change of venue.
- Change of
Moving a lawsuit to another place for trial, usually because pretrial
publicity has made empanelling an impartial jury difficult. Compare change
- Character Evidence -
Testimony of witnesses who know the general character and reputation of
a person in the community in which that person lives. May be considered by
jury as either substantive
evidence as to the likelihood of the defendant to commit crime or as corroborating
evidence of the credibility of a witness's testimony.
- Charge -
A formal complaint issued accusing an individual of a crime. Compare indictment
Also, the judge's instruction to the jury concerning law which applies to
the facts of a case. Also called instruction.
instruction and directed
- Circuit Court -
Court whose jurisdiction extends over several counties or districts and
which holds sessions in all of those areas.
Evidence which suggests something by implication, from which an
inference can be drawn, e.g., physical evidence, such as fingerprints.
Also called indirect evidence. Compare direct
- Citation -
Reference to source of legal authority. Also, writ issued by a court
commanding a person to appear at a specified place and time and do
something specified or to give just cause why he/she should not. Also,
direction to appear in court, as when a driver receives a citation for a
moving or parking violation.
- Civil Actions -
Noncriminal cases in which one private party sues another for redress of
private or civil rights.
- Civil Procedure -
Entire process by which a civil case is tried.
- Class Action -
Lawsuit brought by one or more persons on behalf of a larger group.
- Clear and
Convincing Evidence -
Evidence indicating that which is to be proven is highly probable or
reasonably certain. Greater than preponderance
of evidence, which is generally the standard applied in civil trials,
but less than the evidence beyond
a reasonable doubt required in criminal trials.
- Clemency -
Act of grace or mercy by president or governor to ease consequences of
criminal act, accusation or conviction. May take form of commutation
- Clerk of Court -
Officer appointed by court or elected to oversee administrative,
nonjudicial activities of the court.
- Closing Argument -
In a trial, closing statements by counsel to the judge or jury after
evidence has been presented.
- Code -
Complete, systematic collection of laws.
- Codicil -
Addition to a will.
- Cognovit Actionem -
"He has confessed the action." Written confession by defendant
of plaintiff's claim. Usually upon condition. Authorizes plaintiff's
attorney to sign judgment and issue execution.
- Cognovit Judgment -
See confession of judgment.
- Collateral -
Property pledged as security for satisfaction of a debt. See secured
- Commit -
To send a person to prison, asylum or reformatory pursuant to court
- Common Law -
Law arising from tradition and judicial decisions, rather than from laws
passed by the legislature. Originated in England and has been followed as
law in most American jurisdictions. Compare statute
- Community Service -
Sentencing option whereby offender performs volunteer work for
government, non-profit or community-based organizations.
- Commutation -
Form of clemency reducing one's sentence, as
from death to life imprisonment.
- Comparative negligence -
Legal doctrine by which negligence of plaintiff determines amount
plaintiff may recover from defendant. Compare contributory
- Complainant -
- Complaint -
Legal document that usually begins a civil lawsuit. States facts and
identifies action court is asked to take.
- Conciliation -
Form of alternative
dispute resolution in which parties bring their dispute to a neutral
third party, who helps reach a solution. Nonbinding. Similar to mediation,
but may be less formal.
- Concur -
To agree, act together or consent. Compare concurring opinion under opinion.
Two or more sentences served at same time rather than one after another.
Three five-year terms served concurrently add up to no more than five
years in prison. See also consecutive sentence.
- Condemnation -
Legal process by which government invokes its powers of eminent
domain and takes privately owned property for public use, paying
owners just compensation. Also, act of judicially pronouncing someone
guilty. Usually called conviction.
- Confession of
Act of a debtor in permitting judgment to be entered against him/her by
a creditor. Also known as cognovit judgment.
Successive sentences, one beginning at the expiration of another. Three
five-year terms served consecutively impose a 15-year sentence. Also
called cumulative sentence. See also concurrent
- Consent Decree -
Disposition in juvenile court in which proceedings are suspended and
child is continued under supervision in his/her own home under terms and
conditions negotiated with probation services and agreed to by all parties
concerned. Also, a court decree to which all parties agree.
- Consent Judgment -
- Conservatorship -
- Consideration -
Inducement for which a party enters into a contract.
- Conspiracy -
Two or more people joining together for the purpose of committing an
- Contempt of Court -
Willful disobedience of judge's command or official court order.
- Continuance -
Postponement of legal proceeding to a later date.
- Contract -
Legally enforceable agreement between two or more competent parties made
either orally or in writing.
Legal doctrine that says if plaintiff in a civil action for negligence
was also negligent, he/she cannot recover damages from defendant for
defendant's negligence. Most jurisdictions have abandoned this doctrine in
favor of comparative negligence.
- Conviction -
Act of judicially declaring a criminal defendant guilty. Also called
- Copyright -
Right to literary property, giving authors, composers and other creators
sole control over how that property is used.
- Corpus Delicti -
Material substance (body) upon which a crime has been committed, i.e.,
the physical evidence a crime has been committed, e.g., the body of a
homicide victim or broken windows in a vandalized building.
Supplementary evidence that strengthens or confirms initial evidence.
- Count -
Each offense listed in a complaint, information
- Counterclaim -
Claim made by defendant against plaintiff in a civil lawsuit, especially
in opposition to the plaintiff's claim.
- Court Administrator -
Officer appointed or elected to oversee administrative, nonjudicial
activities of the court.
- Court Costs -
Fees and charges charged legally by the court for expenses of the
litigation, e.g., filing fees, jury fees, reporter fees. Also, an amount
of money that may be awarded to the successful party, recoverable from the
losing party, as reimbursement for the cost of the litigation.
- Court of
Courts whose proceedings are permanently recorded and which have power
to fine or imprison for contempt.
Person who records and transcribes verbatim reports of all proceedings
in court. Also called a stenographer.
- Crime -
Type of behavior defined by law as deserving punishment, including
imprisonment or fine or both, upon conviction. Crimes are classified as
History Record Information -
Information collected by criminal justice agencies on individuals with
arrest records. Consists of descriptions and notations of arrests,
detentions, indictments or other formal criminal charges, dispositions,
sentencing, correctional supervision and release. Also referred to as a
prior record or rap sheet.
- Criminal Insanity -
Mental condition which renders a person unable to determine right from
wrong. Defendants criminally insane cannot be convicted as criminal
conduct involves conscious intent to do wrong.
- Criminal Summons -
Order commanding accused to appear in court. May be issued in lieu of
arrest warrant for misdemeanors when issuing official believes accused
will appear in court without being placed under bail.
- Cross-Claim -
Claim by codefendants or coplaintiffs against each other.
- Cross-Examination -
Questioning of witness by opponent in a trial.
See consecutive sentence.
- D -
- Damages -
Money awarded by court to a person for injury or loss suffered by the
unlawful act or negligence of another.
In fact. Exercising power as if legally constituted. Compare de
- De Jure -
By right; by the law. Exercising power in accordance with the law.
Compare de facto.
- De Novo -
Anew. A "trial de novo" is a new trial of a case.
- Decedent -
Person who has died.
- Decision -
Judgment reached or given by a court.
Judgment in a civil case that declares rights and responsibilities of
the parties or interpretation of the law without awarding damages or
requiring action. E.g., a court may be asked to issue a declaratory
judgment on constitutionality of a statute or whether an insurance policy
covers a given activity. Usually requested by plaintiffs in order to avoid
future legal difficulties.
- Decree -
Order of the court. A final decree fully and finally disposes of
litigation. An interlocutory decree settles preliminary or subordinate
points or pleas, but not entire case.
- Defamation -
Harming the reputation of another by making false statements to a third
party, thus exposing the individual to ridicule, hatred, contempt or
condemnation. May be criminal or civil. Includes libel
- Default -
Failure to fulfill a legal or contractual obligation.
Judgment entered against a defendant who does not respond to a claim or
does not appear at trial.
- Defendant -
In a civil case, the person being sued. In a criminal case, the person
charged with a crime.
- Demurrer -
Motion use to dismiss a civil case because the complaint
is legally insufficient. In most states this is now called a motion
- Deponent -
One whose deposition is being taken.
- Depose -
To testify, bear witness. Also, to examine a witness via deposition.
- Deposition -
Sworn testimony of a witness taken under oath outside of court. Also,
the session at which such testimony is recorded.
- Descent and
State laws that provide for distribution of estate property when a
person dies without a will. Same as intestacy laws.
Proof of facts by witnesses who saw acts done or heard words spoken, as
distinguished from circumstantial,
or indirect, evidence.
- Direct Examination -
First questioning of a witness by the party who called him/her.
Instruction by judge to jury to return a specific verdict, usually
because one of the parties failed to prove its case. Compare binding
- Disbarment -
Form of disciplining a lawyer whereby he/she loses, permanently or
temporarily, the right to practice law.
- Disclaim -
To renounce one's legal rights or claims.
- Discovery -
Pretrial process by which one party reveals, at other party's request,
relevant information about the litigation.
- Dismissal -
Termination of a lawsuit. A "dismissal without prejudice"
permits the suit to be filed again at a later time. A "dismissal with
prejudice" prevents the lawsuit from being refiled later.
- Dissent -
Disagreement by one or more appellate court judges with the decision the
- Diversion -
Process of removing certain minor criminal, traffic or juvenile cases
from full judicial process on condition that accused undergo some sort of
rehabilitation or training, e.g., job training. If defendant completes
probation successfully, the charges may be dropped.
- Docket -
List of cases to be heard by court. Also, log containing brief entries
of court proceedings.
- Domicile -
Place where a person has his/her permanent, legal home. A person may
have several residences, but only one domicile.
- Double Jeopardy -
Putting a person on trial more than once for the same crime. Forbidden
by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
- Due Process of Law -
Right of all persons to receive guarantees and safeguards of law and
judicial process. Includes such constitutional rights as adequate notice;
assistance of counsel; and rights to remain silent, to a speedy and public
trial, to an impartial jury, and to confront and secure witnesses.
- E -
- Electronic Monitoring -
Type of sentencing or arrest wherein an individual is required to wear
an electronic device which transmits the individual's whereabouts to a
receiver that is monitored for violations. Usually used in connection with
- Elements of a Crime -
Specific factors that define a crime, which the prosecution must prove beyond
reasonable doubt in order to obtain conviction. Elements that must be
proven are (1) that a crime actually occurred (actus
reus), (2) that the accused intended the crime to happen (mens
rea), (3) a timely relationship between the first two factors.
- Embezzlement -
Fraudulently taking property or money entrusted to one individual by
- Eminent Domain -
Power of the government to take private property for public use, after
paying the owner reasonable compensation. See condemnation.
- En Banc -
All judges of a court sitting together. Appellate courts often hear
cases in panels of three judges. If a case is heard or reheard by the full
court, it is heard en banc.
- Encumbrance -
A claim against property.
- Enjoin -
To require a person, via an injunction,
to perform or to abstain from performing some specific act.
- Entrapment -
Defense to criminal charges alleging that agents of the government
induced a person to commit a crime he/she otherwise would not have
- Equal Protection of the Law -
Guarantee in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that all
persons or classes of persons be treated equally by the law.
- Equitable Action -
Action which seeks just, fair, nonmonetary remedy, e.g., an injunction.
- Equity -
Generally, justice or fairness; body of principles that determine what
is just or fair. Historically, refers to a system of law developed in
England in reaction to the legal inability of common
law courts to consider or provide remedy for every injury. The king
established a court of chancery to do justice between parties in cases
where common law would give inadequate redress.
- Escheat -
Process by which the property of one who has died goes to the state if
no heir can be found.
- Escrow -
Money or documents, (e.g., a deed), which are held ("in
escrow") by a neutral third party until all conditions of an
agreement are met.
- Estate -
All properties owned by an individual when he/she dies.
- Estate Tax -
Tax paid on an estate as it passes to the heirs.
- Estoppel -
Principle that prevents someone from claiming or denying something in
court that contradicts what has already been established as fact.
- Et Al. -
- Evidence -
Information presented in court to prove or disprove alleged facts. See
also specific types, including admissible,
and convincing, corroborating,
and expert evidence.
- Ex Delicto -
Arising from a tort;
breach of duty.
- Ex Parte -
On behalf of only one party, without notice to any other party. E.g.,
request for a search warrant is an ex parte proceeding since person
subject to the search is not notified of proceeding.
- Ex Parte Proceeding -
One in which only one side is represented. Differs from adversary
system or proceeding.
- Ex Post Facto -
After the fact. E.g., ex post facto laws permit conviction and
punishment for a lawful act performed before law was changed and act was
made illegal. The U.S. Constitution prohibits these.
- Exception -
Formal objection to a court's ruling by either side in a civil or
criminal case in order to reserve right to appeal judge's ruling upon a
motion. Also, in regulatory cases, objections by one side to points made
by the other side or to rulings by an agency or one of its hearing
- Exclusionary Rule -
Rule preventing illegally obtained evidence to be used in any trial. See
- Exculpate -
To free from blame or accusation, particularly in matters of small
importance. Compare exonerate.
- Execute -
To put final judgment of court into effect.
- Executor -
Personal representative, named in a will, who administers an estate.
- Exempt Property -
Certain property protected by law from creditors.
- Exhibit -
Document or other article introduced as evidence in court.
- Exonerate -
Removal of a charge, duty or responsibility. Also, to clear
completely from accusation or blame and any attendant suspicion of guilt.
- Expert evidence -
Testimony relating to scientific, technical or professional matters
given by persons particularly qualified by reason of special training,
skill or familiarity with subject.
- Expungement -
Official and formal removal of conviction from a criminal record.
- Extortion -
Illegally obtaining money or property by force, threat, intimidation, or
undue or illegal power.
- Extradition -
Process by which one state or nation surrenders to another state or
nation a person accused or convicted of a crime in the requesting
- F -
- Fair Comment -
Term used in libel
law applying to statements relating to matters of public concern made by a
writer in honest belief that they are true, even though they are not.
- False Arrest -
Arresting an individual without proper legal authority.
- False Pretenses -
Purposely misrepresenting a fact or condition in order to obtain
another's money or goods.
- Family Allowance -
Money set aside from the estate of a deceased to provide for surviving
family members during administration of the estate.
- Family Court -
Court having jurisdiction over such family matters as child abuse and
neglect, support, paternity and custody.
- Felony -
Serious crime punishable by imprisonment for more than a year or death
and/or substantial fines. Compare misdemeanor.
- Fiduciary -
Person having a legal relationship of trust and confidence with another
and a duty to act primarily for other's benefit, e.g., guardian,
- File -
To place a paper in custody of the clerk of court/court administrator to
enter into the official files or records of a case.
- Finding -
Formal conclusion by judge, jury or regulatory agency on issues of fact.
- Fine -
Money penalty imposed in criminal or civil action.
- Forcible Entry and Detainer -
Summary proceeding for restoring possession of land to one who has been
wrongfully deprived of it.
- Forgery -
Falsely and fraudulently making or altering a document, e.g., a check.
- Fraud -
Intentional deception to deprive another person of property or to injure
that person in some other way.
- G -
- Garnishment -
Legal proceeding in which a debtor's money is applied to the debts of
the debtor, such as when one's wages are garnished.
Jurisdiction which covers a wide range of controversies brought before a
court. Compare limited
- Good Faith -
Honest belief; the absence of malice
and design to defraud.
- Good Time -
Reduction in time served in prison as reward for good behavior.
Group of citizens, usually numbering 23, assembled to determine whether
enough evidence exists to charge an individual with a felony. May issue indictment,
charging the suspect, or may have power to issue presentment.
- Granting Cert -
- Grantor -
Person who sets up a trust.
Also called settlor.
- Gravamen -
The significant point of a grievance or complaint.
- Guardian Ad Litem -
Person appointed by a court to look after interests of a minor or
incapacitated person involved in legal proceedings.
- Guardianship -
Legal right given to a person to care for an individual or his/her
property when that individual is deemed incapable of doing so for
him/herself. Also called conservatorship.
- Guilty -
Plea made by accused in confessing crime with which charged. Also,
verdict reached when jury convicts defendant of crime with which charged.
- H -
- Habeas Corpus -
Writ that orders a person to be brought before a judge, usually to
determine whether that individual is being legally detained or imprisoned.
Error committed during trial which was not serious enough to affect
outcome of trial and thus is not grounds for reversal. Compare reversible
- Hearsay -
Evidence not known to a witness personally, but which was relayed to
witness by a third party, i.e., secondhand information. Generally
inadmissible in court, although exceptions exist under which it can be
- Holographic Will -
Unwitnessed will written entirely by testator in his/her own
handwriting, usually unwitnessed.
- Homicide -
Killing of one human being by another.
Witness biased against the examining party or who does not want to
testify. May be asked leading
- House Arrest -
Sentence or type of arrest whereby an individual is confined to his/her
residence except for preapproved trips, such as medical appointments,
work, community service obligations, etc. Often used in connection with electronic
- Hung Jury -
Jury unable to reach a verdict.
- Hypothetical Question -
Imaginary situation, incorporating facts previously established, upon
which an expert witness is permitted to give an opinion. Most often asked
of medical experts in personal injury suits.
- I -
- Immediate Cause -
Last event in a series of events which causes another event,
particularly an injury, to occur. May or may not also be the proximate
cause. An event may have more than one proximate cause, but only one
- Immunity -
Agreement by court not to prosecute an individual in exchange for that
individual providing criminal evidence..
- Impeach -
To attack credibility of a witness. Also, to charge with a crime or
misconduct, in particular, to charge a public official with a violation of
the public trust. Also, to challenge the authenticity or accuracy of a
- In Camera -
In the judge's private chambers, or in private. A hearing in camera
takes place in the judge's office, outside of the presence of jury and
- In Forma Pauperis -
In the manner of a pauper. Permission given to an indigent or
poverty-stricken individual to sue without payment of court fees.
Motion requesting that court exclude certain evidence that might
- In Personam -
Procedural term used to designate proceedings or actions involving the
personal rights and interests of the parties. Compare in
- In Propria Persona -
- In Rem -
Procedural term used to designate proceedings or actions in determining
the status of a thing or the rights of persons with respect to that thing.
Compare in personam.
- Inadmissible -
That which under rules of evidence cannot be admitted as evidence.
- Incarcerate -
To confine in jail.
- Incompetent -
Person lacking the capacity, legal qualification or fitness to manage
personal affairs or to discharge required duty.
- Indemnity -
Liability or loss shifted from one person held legally responsible to
- Independent Executor -
Executor who administers an estate with little intervention by court.
Only a few states allow this.
- Indeterminate Sentence -
Sentence with specified minimum and maximum length, e.g., one to five
years in prison. Also, a maximum sentence which may be reduced by a parole
board, via statutory authorization, after minimum term has been served.
- Indictment -
Formal written accusation by a grand jury charging a person with a
crime. Compare charge,
information and presentment.
- Indigent -
Poor person. An individual who can demonstrate his/her indigence to the
court may be assigned a court-appointed attorney or may not have to pay
filing fees and court costs.
- inferior Court -
Court of special, limited or statutory jurisdiction. May also denote any
court subordinate to chief appellate court. See limited
- Information -
Formal accusation of a crime filed by a prosecutor without a grand jury
indictment. Compare charge
- Infraction -
Violation of law usually not punishable by imprisonment, e.g., minor
- Inheritance Tax -
State tax on property an heir or beneficiary receives from a deceased
- Initial Appearance -
First appearance in court of a person who has been arrested, to hear
charges read, be advised of rights and have bail determined. Person
generally comes before judge within hours of arrest. Also called first
appearance. Compare arraignment
- Injunction -
Court order preventing or requiring a specific action. See preliminary
injunction and permanent
- Instructions -
Judge's directions/guidelines to jury regarding law which applies to the
facts of a case. Also called charge.
instruction and directed
- Intake -
Court process whereby a decision is made on how to proceed in a juvenile
- Intangible Assets -
Nonphysical items such as patents, trademarks, copyrights and good will.
- Integrated Bar -
State bar association to which a lawyer must belong in order to practice
in that state.
- Inter Alia -
Among other things.
- Inter Vivos Gift -
Gift made during giver's life.
- Inter Vivos Trust -
- Interlocutory Appeal -
Appeal made before the trial court's final ruling on the entire case.
- Interlocutory Decree -
Any order given before the final order is issued. Usually cannot be
appealed until case is fully resolved.
- Intermediate Punishment -
Set of sentencing options more severe than probation, but not as severe
as incarceration. Includes, among other options, electronic
monitoring, intensive supervision, and residential drug and alcohol
treatment. May or may not involve housing of offender.
- Interpleader -
Suit filed by a party holding property who does not know to whom the
property should go, to determine who should receive the property.
- Interrogatories -
Written questions questions submitted to another party in a lawsuit for
which written answers must be provided. Party of discovery
- Intervention -
Action by which a third person who may be affected by a lawsuit is
permitted to become party to the suit. Compare third-party
- Intestacy Laws -
and distribution statutes.
- Intestate -
One who dies without leaving a will.
- Intestate Succession -
Process by which property of person who has died without a will or whose
will has been revoked is distributed to others. Compare descent
and distribution statutes.
- Irrelevant -
Evidence not related or applicable to an issue in a trial and thus not
- Irrevocable Trust -
Trust that, once set up, grantor may not revoke.
- Issue -
Disputed point between parties in a lawsuit.
- J -
- Joinder -
Joining parties or claims in a suit.
- Joint and Several Liability -
Legal doctrine which makes any number of members of a party responsible
for a liability, at adversary's discretion.
Form of legal co-ownership of property which gives the survivors, when
one of the owners dies, the rights to the decedent's shares of the
property. Tenancy by the entirety is a special form of joint tenancy
between husband and wife. Compare tenancy
- Judge -
Elected or appointed public official with authority to hear and decide
cases in a court of law. A judge pro tem is a temporary or visiting judge.
- Judgment -
Final disposition of a lawsuit. Default
judgment is judgment rendered because of defendant fails to answer or
judgment is judgment entered when there is no dispute as to the facts
of a case, and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Consent judgment occurs when a judge sanctions an agreement reached
between parties. See also declaratory
judgment and non
- Judicial Officer -
An officer of a court; someone charged with upholding the law,
administering the judicial system.
- Judicial Review -
Authority of court to review and declare unconstitutional actions of
other branches of government.
- Juridical -
Relating to law, judicial proceedings and administration of justice.
- Juridical Day -
Day on which a court is in session.
- Juris Doctorate -
Doctor of Law. Law degree bestowed on those who have successfully
graduated from law school.
- Jurisdiction -
Court's authority to hear and/or decide a case. Also, territory for
which a court is authorized to hear cases.
- Jurisprudence -
Study of law and legal system. See also caselaw.
- Jurist -
One who is skilled or versed in the law.
- Jury -
Group of people selected according to law and sworn to decide questions
of fact and render a decision about these matters. See grand
jury and petit
- Jury Commissioner -
Court officer responsible for choosing the panel of potential jurors for
a particular court term.
- Justiciable -
Of issues and claims which may be properly examined in court.
- Juvenile -
Person who has not yet reached age (usually 18) at which he/she can be
treated as adult for purposes of criminal law.
- Juvenile court -
Court having jurisdiction over cases involving children under a specific
age, usually 18.
- K -
- Kidnapping -
Unlawfully taking and carrying away a person by force and against
- Knowlingly -
Willfully or intentionally with respect to a material element of an
- L -
- Lack of Jurisdiction -
Court's lack of power to act in a particular manner or to give certain
kinds of relief.
- Lapsed Gift -
Gift made in a will to a person who died before will-maker.
- Larceny -
Unlawfully taking personal property with intent to deprive owner of it
permanently. Also called theft. Differs from robbery.
- Law -
Rules established by governing authorities to maintain order in a
- Law Clerks -
Law students who assist judges and attorneys with legal research,
- Leading Question -
Question which suggests the answer desired of witness. Generally may be
asked only of a hostile
witness and on cross-examination.
- Leave of Court -
Permission received from a court to take a nonroutine action.
- Legal Aid -
Professional legal services available for free or for reduced cost to
those unable to afford them.
- Leniency -
Recommendation by prosecutor to judge for a sentence less than maximum
- Letters of Administration -
Legal document appointing the administrator of an estate.
- Letters Testamentary -
Legal document authorizing executor to settle estate.
- Levy -
Seizing property of a debtor for satisfaction of a judgment against
him/her. Also, imposition of fine or tax.
- Liable -
Legally responsible for.
- Libel -
Published words or pictures that falsely and maliciously defame a
person. Compare slander
- Lien -
Legal claim against another person's property as security for a debt,
lasting until the debt has been paid.
- Limited Action -
Civil action in which recovery of less than a certain amount as
specified by statute is sought.
Courts limited in types of cases they may hear. Also called
minor courts. See inferior
court. Compare general
- Lis Pendens -
Pending suit. Also, legal notice that a dispute exists which may affect
title to a certain piece of land.
- Litigant -
Party to a lawsuit.
- Litigation -
Lawsuit or process of carrying through a lawsuit.
Trust set up and in effect during lifetime of grantor. Also called inter
vivos trust. Compare testamentary
- Locus Delicti -
Place where offense was committed.
- M -
- Magistrate -
Local judicial official having limited original jurisdiction, especially
in criminal cases. Also often used to refer to a judge.
In Se -
"Evil in itself." Behavior universally regarded as criminal,
e.g., murder. Also called malum in se. Compare mala
- Mala Prohibita -
Behavior that is criminal only because society defines it as such, e.g.,
gambling. Also called malum prohibita. Compare mala
- Malfeasance -
Committing an unlawful act. Often used to describe misconduct by public
officials. Compare misfeasance and nonfeasance.
- Malice -
Intent to commit a wrongful act without just cause or excuse.
Mental state required to prove murder.
- Malicious Prosecution -
Action instituted with intention of injuring defendant and without
- Mandamus -
Writ issued by a court ordering a public official , another court, a
corporation, public body or individual to perform an act.
- Mandate -
Judicial command or order directing an officer of the court to enforce
judgment, sentence or decree.
- Manslaughter -
Unlawful killing of another without intent to kill. May be voluntary,
i.e., upon sudden impulse, e.g., a quarrel erupts into a fistfight in
which a participant is killed; or involuntary, i.e., committed during
commission of an unlawful act not ordinarily expected to result in great
bodily harm, or during commission of a lawful act without proper caution,
e.g., driving an automobile at excessive speed, resulting in fatal
collision. Compare murder.
- Master -
Official appointed by a court to assist with its proceedings. Masters
may take testimony, rule on pre-trial issues, compute interest, handle
uncontested divorces, etc. Usually must present written report to court.
- Material Evidence -
Evidence that is relevant and goes to substantiate issues in a dispute.
- Mediation -
Form of alternative
dispute resolution in which parties bring their dispute to a neutral
third party, who helps them agree on settlement. Nonbinding. Similar to conciliation.
- Memorial -
Abstract of a legal record. Also, written statement of facts presented
to legislature or executive as a petition.
The state of mind of the defendant that the prosecution must prove in
order to establish criminal responsibility. See elements
of a crime.
- Miranda Rule -
Requirement that police advise a suspect in custody of constitutional
rights before questioning him/her. Named after U.S. Supreme Court ruling
in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), establishing
- Misdemeanor -
Criminal offenses generally punishable by fine or limited local jail
term, but not by imprisonment in penitentiary. Compare felony.
- Misfeasance -
Lawful act performed in wrongful manner. Compare malfeasance
- Mistrial -
Trial terminated before verdict is reached, either because of some
procedural error, serious misconduct during proceedings or because of a hung
- Mitigating Circumstances -
Circumstances which do not constitute justification for committing an
offense, but which may reduce degree of blame and help reduce sentence of
individual convicted. Also known as extenuating circumstances. Compare aggravating
- Mittimus -
Written court order directing a jailer to receive and safely keep a
person until ordered otherwise.
- Moot -
Having no practical significance. Usually refers to court's refusal to
consider a case because issue involved no longer exists.
- Moral Turpitude -
Immorality, depravity; conduct so wicked as to be shocking to the
community's moral sense.
- Motion -
Application to a court or judge for a ruling or order.
- Motion to
Request to dismiss a civil case because of settlement, withdrawal or a
procedural defect. Compare demurrer.
- Multiplicity of Actions -
Two or more separate litigations of the same issue against the same
- Municipal Court -
Court whose jurisdiction is confined to the city or community in which
it is erected. Usually has summary jurisdiction over minor offenses and a
limited number of misdemeanors. Occasionally also possesses limited civil
- Murder -
Unlawful killing of a human being with malice
aforethought. First degree murder is premeditated, i.e., planned.
Second degree murder is sudden, instantaneous intent to kill or to cause
injury without caring whether injury kills or not. Compare manslaughter.
- N -
- Negligence -
Failure to use that degree of care which a reasonable person would use
under the same circumstances. See also comparative
negligence and contributory
- Next Friend -
One acting without formal appointment as guardian for benefit of minor
or incompetent plaintiff and who is not party to the lawsuit.
Grand jury's notation on written indictment indicating insufficient
evidence was found to indict. Compare true
- No Contest -
See nolo contendere.
- No-Contest Clause -
Language in a will providing that a person who makes a legal challenge
to the will's validity will be disinherited.
- "No-Fault" Proceeding -
Civil case in which claim is adjudicated without finding of error or
- Nol Pros -
Abbreviation of nolle prosequi.
"I do not choose to prosecute." Decision by prosecutor or
plaintiff not to go forward with an action. Called "nol pros"
- Nolo Contendere -
Criminal defendant's plea, whereby he/she accepts punishment without
admission of guilt. Also called no contest.
- Nominal Party -
One joined as a party or defendant in a lawsuit because the technical
rules of pleading require his/her presence in the record.
- Non Compos Mentis -
Not of sound mind.
- Non Obstante Veredicto -
"Notwithstanding the verdict." Verdict entered by judge
contrary to jury's verdict.
- Non Prosequitur -
Judgment entered when plaintiff, at any stage of proceedings, fails to
prosecute his/her action. Called "non pros" for short.
- Non Pros -
Abbreviation of non prosequitur.
- Nonfeasance -
Failure to act when duty required. Compare malfeasance
- Notice -
Formal notification to a party that a civil lawsuit has been filed
against him/her. Also, any form of notification of legal proceeding.
- Nuisance -
Offensive, annoying, unpleasant or obnoxious thing or practice that
interferes with use or enjoyment of a property.
- Nunc Pro Tunc -
"Now for then." Action applied to acts which should have been
completed at an earlier date than actually were, with the earlier date
listed as the completion date.
- Nuncupative Will -
An oral will.
- O -
- Oath -
Solemn pledge to keep a promise or speak the truth.
- Objection -
Process during a court proceeding whereby one party takes exception to
something that has occurred or will occur and requesting immediate ruling
- "On His Own Recognizance" -
- One-Day, One-Trial Jury Service -
Method of jury selection in many jurisdictions which requires
prospective jurors to serve for only one day if they are not chosen for a
jury or for only the length of a trial if chosen.
- Opening Statement -
Statements made at the start of a trial by attorneys for each side,
outlining each's legal position and the facts each intends to establish
during the trial.
- Opinion -
Court's written decision of a case. A majority or plurality opinion
expresses court's decision. A concurring opinion generally agrees with
majority, but usually states different or additional reasons for reaching
same conclusion. Dissenting opinion states opinion of judges who disagree
with majority. Per curiam opinion is an unsigned opinion of an
- Opinion Evidence -
What a witness thinks, believes or infers regarding disputed facts.
Generally admissible only when given by an expert witness unless opinion
is based on matters common to lay persons.
- Oral Argument -
Summary by attorneys before court (particularly appellate court) of
positions regarding legal issue being litigated.
- Order -
Command, written or oral, from a court.
- Ordinance -
Law enacted by a municipality such as a county or city council.
- Overrule -
Judge's decision not to allow an objection.
Also, decision by higher court finding that lower court decision was in
- Overt Act -
Act done to carry out or in furtherance of intention to commit a crime.
- P -
- Pain and Suffering -
Physical and/or emotional distress compensable as an element of damage
- Pardon -
Form of clemency
releasing one from the penalties of a criminal conviction.
- Parens Patriae -
Doctrine under which the government protects the interests of a minor or
- Parole -
Supervised, conditional release of a prisoner before expiration of
- Party -
One who files a lawsuit or against whom a lawsuit is filed.
- Patent -
Government grant giving an inventor exclusive right to make or sell
his/her invention for a term of years.
- Penal -
Of, relating to or involving punishment or penalties.
Code of laws concerning crimes and offenses and their punishment.
- Pendente Lite -
During the progress of a lawsuit; contingent on the outcome of the suit.
Challenge which may be used to reject a certain number of prospective
jurors without giving reason. Compare challenge
- Perjury -
Deliberately making a false or misleading statement under oath.
Court order requiring or forbidding action, granted after final hearing
has been held on its merits. (Does not necessarily last forever.) Compare preliminary
- Personal Jurisdiction -
Adjudicative power of a court over an individual.
- Personal Property -
Any movable physical property or intangible property which may be owned.
Does not include real property such as land or rights in land.
Release of a defendant without bail upon promise to return to court as
required. Also known as releasing one "on his own recognizance."
Person who administers legal affairs of another because of incapacity or
- Petit Jury -
Jury composed of six to twelve persons who hear evidence presented at a
trial and determine the facts in dispute. Compare grand
- Petition -
Written request to a court asking for a particular action to be taken.
- Petitioner -
- Plaintiff -
Person, corporation, legal entity, etc., initiating a civil lawsuit.
Also called complainant or petitioner.
- Plea -
formal response to a criminal charge. Plea may be guilty,
not guilty or nolo
contendere (no contest).
- Plea Bargaining -
Mutually satisfactory disposition of a case negotiated between accused
and prosecutor. Usually defendant pleads guilty to lesser charge/s in
exchange for reduced sentence or dismissal of other charges.
- Pleadings -
Written statements by parties to a lawsuit, setting forth or responding
to allegations, claims, denials or defenses.
- Plenary Action -
Complete, formal hearing or trial on merits.
- Polling the Jury -
Asking jurors individually after verdict has been announced, whether
they agree with verdict.
- Pour-Over Will -
Will that leaves some or all estate assets to existing trust.
- Power of
Legal authorization for one person to act on behalf of another
individual. See attorney-in-fact.
- Praecipe -
Writ commanding a person to do something or to show cause why he/she
- Precedent -
Previously decided case which guides decisions of future cases. Compare stare
- Precept -
Writ issued by person of authority commanding a subordinate official to
perform an act.
- Prejudicial Error -
- Preliminary Hearing -
Hearing at which judge determines whether evidence is sufficient against
a person charged with a crime to warrant holding him/her for trial.
- Preliminary Injunction -
Court order requiring or forbidding an action until a decision can be
made whether to issue a permanent injunction.
Issued only after both parties have had opportunity to be heard. Compare temporary
- Premeditation -
Decision or plan to commit a crime.
- Preponderance of
Greater weight of evidence, a common standard of proof in civil cases.
Jury is instructed to find for the party which has the stronger evidence,
however slight that may be. Compare clear
and convincing evidence.
Report to sentencing judge containing background information about crime
and defendant to assist judge in making his/her sentencing decision.
Sometimes called sentencing report.
- Presentment -
Declaration or document issued by grand jury on its own initiative,
making accusation. Compare indictment.
- Presumption of Innocence -
Fundamental principle of American justice system that every individual
is innocent of a crime until proven guilty in a court of law.
- Presumption of Law -
Rule of law that courts and judges must draw a particular inference from
a particular fact or evidence.
- Pretermitted Child -
Child born after a will is executed, who is not provided for by the
will. Most states have laws that provide for a share of the estate to go
to such children.
- Pre-Trial Conference -
Informal meeting between judge and lawyers in a lawsuit to narrow
issues, agree on what will be presented at trial and make final effort to
settle case without trial.
- Prima Facie Case -
Case that has minimum amount of evidence necessary to allow it to
continue in the judicial process.
- Prima Facie Evidence -
Evidence sufficient to establish a fact or sustain a finding in favor of
the side it supports unless rebutted.
- Prior Restraint -
Restraint on speech or publication before it is spoken or published.
Prohibited by constitution unless defamatory or obscene or creates a clear
and present danger.
- Pro Bono Publico -
"For the public good." When lawyers represent clients without
a fee. Usually shortened to "pro bono."
An individual who represents himself/herself in court. Also called
"in propria persona."
Sufficient legal reasons for allowing search and seizure or arrest of a
- Probate -
Process of proving a will is valid and should be carried out. Also
refers more generally to law governing estates.
- Probate Court -
Court with authority to supervise estate administration.
- Probate Estate -
Estate property that may be disposed of by a will.
- Probation -
Alternative to imprisonment allowing person found guilty of offense to
stay in the community, usually under conditions and under supervision of a
- Procedural Law -
Law which prescribes the method of enforcing rights or obtaining redress
for invasion of rights. Compare substantive
- Proceeding -
A legal action. Conducting juridical business before a court or judicial
- Promulgate -
To put (a law) into action or effect. To make known or publicly.
- Prosecutor -
Attorney representing the government in a criminal case.
- Protective Order -
Court order to protect a party or witness from further harassment,
service of process or discovery by the opposing party.
- Proximate Cause -
Act legally sufficient to result in liability. Act without which an
action could not have occurred. Differs from immediate
- Public Defender -
Government lawyer who provides legal services for an individual accused
of a crime, who cannot afford to pay.
- Punitive -
Damages awarded to a plaintiff over and above the actual damages, meant
to punish the defendant and thus deter future behavior of like nature.
- Purge -
or cleanse from guilt.
- Q -
- Quash -
To vacate, void, nullify.
- Quid Pro Quo -
"Something for something." Fair return consideration; i.e.,
giving something of value in return for getting something of similar
- Quo Warranto -
Writ used to discover by what authority an individual holds or claims a
public office, franchise or liberty.
- R -
- Rap Sheet -
history record information.
- Ratio Decidendi -
Principle or rule of law on which a court decision is based.
- Real Evidence -
Physical evidence that plays a direct part in incident in question, as
opposed to oral testimony.
- Real Property -
Land, anything growing on the land and anything erected on or attached
to the land. Also called real estate.
State of mind in which jurors cannot say they feel confident that an
individual is guilty of crime charged. See beyond
a reasonable doubt.
- Reasonable Person -
Hypothetical person who sensibly exercises qualities of attention,
knowledge, intelligence and judgment. Used as legal standard to determine
- Rebuttal -
Evidence which disproves evidence introduced by the opposing party.
- Recidivism -
Relapse into former type of behavior, as when an individual relapses
into criminal behavior. A habitual criminal is a recidivist.
- Recognizance -
- Record -
Official documents, evidence, transcripts, etc., of proceedings in a
- Recusal -
Process by which a judge excuses him/herself from hearing a case.
- Recusation -
Plea by which defendant requests that judge hearing his/her trial excuse
him/herself from case.
Opportunity to question witness after cross-examination regarding issues
brought up during the cross-examination. Compare rehabilitation.
- Redress -
To set right; to remedy; to compensate.
- Referral -
Process by which a juvenile case is introduced to court, agency or
program where needed services can be obtained.
- Referee -
Person appointed by a court to assist with certain proceedings, such as
- Rehabilitation -
Reexamining a witness whose credibility has suffered during
cross-examination to restore that witness's credibility. Compare re-direct
- Rehearing -
Another hearing of case by same court in which suit was originally
- Rejoinder -
Defendant's answer to the plaintiff's reply.
- Relevant evidence -
Evidence that tends to prove or disprove a matter at issue.
- Relief -
- Remand -
To send a case back to court where originally heard for further action.
Also, to send an individual back into custody after a preliminary
- Remedy -
Means by which right or privilege is enforced or violation of right or
privilege is prevented, redressed or compensated. Also called relief.
- Remittitur -
Judge's reduction of damages awarded by jury.
- Removal -
Transfer of state case to federal court for trial.
- Replication -
Plaintiff's reply to defendant's plea,
- Replevin -
Action for recovery of a possession wrongfully taken.
- Reply -
Plaintiff's response to defendant's argument, counterclaim
Plaintiff's second pleading.
- Respondent -
- Rest -
When one side finishes presenting evidence in a trial.
- Restitution -
Return of something to its rightful owner. Also, giving the equivalent
for any loss, damage or injury.
- Restraining Order -
Order prohibiting someone from harassing, threatening, contacting or
even approaching another individual.
- Retainer -
Act of a client in hiring an attorney. Also denotes fee client pays when
- Return -
Report to judge of action taken in executing writ issued by judge,
usually written on the back of the writ. Also, the action of returning the
writ to court.
- Reverse -
Higher court setting aside lower court's decision.
Error sufficiently harmful to justify reversing judgment of lower court.
Also called prejudicial error. Compare harmless
- Revocable Trust -
Trust that grantor may change or revoke.
- Revoke -
To cancel or nullify a legal document.
- Robbery -
Felonious taking of another's property in that person's presence by
force or fear. Differs from larceny.
- Rule of Court -
Rules governing how a given court operates.
- Rules of Evidence -
Standards governing whether evidence is admissible.
- S -
- Sanction -
Penalty for failure to comply with rule, order or law.
- Satisfaction -
accord and satisfaction.
- Search Warrant -
Written order issued by a judge that permits a law enforcement officer
to search a specific area for specific items.
- Secondary Evidence -
- Secured Debt -
Debt in which debtor gives creditor a right to repossess property or
goods (called collateral)
if debtor defaults on the loan.
- Self-Defense -
Use of force to protect one's self, family or property from harm or
threatened harm by another.
- Self-Incrimination, Privilege Against -
Right of people to refuse to give testimony against themselves.
Guaranteed by Fifth Amendment to U.S. Constitution. Asserting right is
often referred to as "taking the Fifth."
- Self-Proving Will -
Will whose validity does not have to be testified to in court by
witnesses to it since the witnesses executed an affidavit
reflecting proper execution of will prior to maker's death.
- Sentence -
Punishment inflicted on a person convicted of crime.
- Sentencing Guidelines -
Set of guidelines introduced to ensure conformity in sentencing
throughout a state. Federal government and several also use guidelines.
- Sentencing Report -
- Separation of Witnesses -
See sequestration of witnesses.
- Sequestration -
Keeping all jurors together during a trial to prevent them from being
influenced by information received outside courtroom.
- Sequestration of
Keeping all witnesses (except plaintiff and defendant) out of courtroom
except for their time on the stand to prevent them from hearing testimony
of other witnesses. Also called separation of witnesses.
- Service -
Delivery of legal document, such as complaint,
summons or subpoena.
- Settlor -
- Sidebar -
Conference between judge and lawyers, usually in courtroom, out of
earshot of jury and spectators.
- Slander -
False and defamatory spoken words tending to harm another's reputation,
business or means of livelihood. Compare libel.
- Small Claims Court -
Court that handles civil claims for small amounts of money. People often
represent themselves rather than hire an attorney.
Doctrine that a government, either state or federal, is immune to
lawsuits unless it gives its consent.
- Specific Performance -
requiring person who has breached a contract to fulfill his/her part of
the contract, as opposed to simply paying damages. Ordered when paying
damages would be inadequate or inappropriate.
- Spendthrift Trust -
Trust set up for benefit of someone whom grantor
believes would be incapable of managing his/her own financial affairs, and
to keep money out of hands of creditors.
- Standard of Proof -
- Standing -
Legal right to bring a lawsuit.
Doctrine that courts will follow principles of law laid down in previous
cases. Compare precedent.
- State's Evidence -
Testimony given by accomplice or participant in a crime, given under
promise of immunity or reduced sentence, to convict others.
Youths who habitually engage in conduct not considered criminal if
committed by an adult, but which cause charges to be brought in juvenile
court and show minor is beyond parental control, e.g., being truant from
- Status Offense -
Act declared to be an offense when committed by a juvenile, e.g.,
habitual truancy, running away from home, violating curfew.
- Statute -
Law enacted by legislative branch of government. Also called statutory
law. Compare common
- Statute of Limitations -
Timeframe within which a lawsuit must be brought or an individual
charged with a crime. Differs for different types of cases/crimes or in
- Statutory Construction -
Process by which a court seeks to interpret legislation.
- Statutory Law -
- Stay -
Court order halting a judicial proceeding or the action of halting such
- Stenographer -
- Stipulation -
Agreement by attorneys on both sides of a case about some aspect of the
lawsuit, e.g., to extend time to answer, to adjourn trial date.
- Sua Sponte -
On one's own behalf. Voluntary, without prompting or suggestion.
- Sub Judice -
Before a court or judge; under judicial consideration.
- Sui Generis -
Of its own kind or class; the only one of its kind.
- Sui Juris -
Of his own right. Possessing full social and civil rights.
- Subpoena -
Court order compelling a witness to appear and testify.
- Subpoena Duces Tecum -
Court order commanding a witness to bring certain documents or records
- Subrogation -
Substituting one person in place of another in asserting a lawful claim,
demand or right.
- Substantive Evidence -
Evidence presented to prove a fact in issue.
Law which creates, defines and regulates rights. Compare procedural
- Summary -
- Summary Judgment -
Judgment made when there are no disputes of the facts of a case and one
party is entitled to prevail as matter of law.
- Summons -
Notice to a defendant that he/she has been sued and is required to
appear in court. Also, notice requiring person receiving it to report for
jury duty or as witness in a trial. As relates to potential jurors, also
- Sunshine Laws -
Laws forbidding or restricting closed meetings of government bodies and
providing for public access to records.
- Supersedeas -
Writ issued by appellate court to preserve the status quo pending review
of a judgment or pending other exercise of its jurisdiction.
- Support Trust -
Trust that instructs trustee to spend only as much as needed for
- Suppress -
To forbid use of evidence at trial because it is improper or was
improperly obtained. See exclusionary
- Survivorship -
Another name for joint
- Sustain -
Court order allowing an objection or motion to prevail.
- Suspended Sentence -
Sentence postponed by order of the court. Also, decision of court to
postpone pronouncement of sentence.
- Swindling -
Obtaining money or property by fraud or deceit.
- T -
- Temporary Restraining Order -
Judge's order forbidding certain actions until a full hearing can be
held to determine whether injunction should be issued. Often referred to
as TRO. Compare preliminary
- Tenancy by the Entirety -
- Tenancy in Common -
Form of legal co-ownership of property in which survivors, when one of
the owners dies, do not have rights to decedent's shares of the property.
- Testamentary Capacity -
Mental ability an individual must have to make a will.
Trust set up by a will. Compare living
- Testator -
Person who makes a will.
- Testimony -
Evidence given by witness under oath at trial or via affidavit or
- Theft -
- Third Party -
Person, business or government agency, etc., not actively involved in a
legal proceeding, agreement or transaction, but who is somehow involved.
Action by a defendant that brings a third party into a lawsuit.
- Title -
Legal ownership of property.
- Tort -
Injury or wrong committed on a person or property of another for which remedy
can be sought in civil court, except that which involves a contract.
- Tortfeasor -
One who commits a tort; a wrong doer.
- Transcript -
Official record of all testimony and events that occur during a trial or
- Transfer Hearing -
Hearing in juvenile court to determine whether jurisdiction over a
juvenile case should remain in juvenile court or be transferred to adult
- Trial De Novo -
A new trial.
- TRO -
Temporary Restraining Order
- True Bill -
by grand jury. Notation on indictment that charge
should go to court. Compare no
- Trust -
Legal device used to manage real or personal property, established by
one person (grantor
or settlor) for the benefit of another (beneficiary).
A third person (trustee) or the grantor manages the
- Trust Agreement or Declaration -
Legal document that sets up a trust.
- Trustee -
Person or institution that manages a trust.
- Turncoat Witness -
Witness whose testimony was expected to be favorable, but who later
becomes an adverse witness.
- U -
- Undue -
More than necessary; excessive.
- Unlawful Detainer -
Detention of real property without consent of owner or other person
entitled to its possession.
- Usury -
Charging higher interest rate or higher fees than law allows.
- V -
- Vacate -
To nullify, render void.
- Venire -
Writ summoning persons to court to act as jurors. Also, a group of
people summoned for jury duty.
- Venue -
Geographical area from which a jury is drawn, where a criminal trial is
held and where an action is brought. Also, the geographical location in
which the alleged actions that gave rise to the legal action occurred.
- Verdict -
Decision reached by a jury or judge on the facts presented at a trial.
Process of questioning potential jurors.
- W -
- Waiver -
Voluntarily giving up right.
- Waiver of Immunity -
Means by which witness relinquishes the right against
self-incrimination, thereby making it possible for his/her testimony to be
used against him/her in future proceedings.
- Warrant -
Writ directing or authorizing someone to do something; most commonly, a
court order authorizing law enforcement officers to make an arrest or
conduct a search.
- Weight of Evidence -
Persuasiveness of some evidence as compared to other.
- Will -
Legal document that sets forth how an individual wants his/her property
disposed of when he/she dies.
- Willfully -
Intentionally, as distinguished from accidentally, carelessly or
inadvertently, but not necessarily maliciously.
- With Prejudice -
Judge's decision in a case whereby any future action on the claim is
barred in any court.
- Without Prejudice -
Without loss of rights.
- Witness -
One who testifies to what he/she has seen, heard or otherwise
- Work Release -
Sentence under which defendant is imprisoned, but is released during day
to work at a job approved by Department of Corrections or the court.
- Writ -
Judicial order directing a person to do something.
- Writ of
- Writ of Execution -
Writ directing sheriff or other officer of the court to enforce a
judgment or decree of a court.
- X -
- Y -
- Z -