the final ending of a marriage. Both parties are legally free to remarry.
AB INITIO: "from
ACTION: a lawsuit
or proceeding in a court of law.
ACQUITTAL: A finding
by a judge or jury that a person tried for committing a crime is not guilty.
AFFIDAVIT: a written
statement under oath.
AGREEMENT: a verbal
or written resolution of disputed issues.
ALIMONY: a payment
of support provided by one spouse to the other.
ANSWER: A formal
statement, generally written, stating the defense of a legal case. (See pleading).
ANNULMENT: a marriage
can be dissolved in a legal proceeding in which the marriage is declared void, as
though it never took place. In the eyes of the law, the parties were never married.
It is available only under certain limited circumstances. Certain religions also
offer annulments to members, the basis of an annulment from the church may
be different than the legal basis of divorce or annulment.
APPEAL: A request
to take a case to a higher court for review. No new evidence may be introduced during
the appellate process; the reviewing court considers only whether errors occurred
during prior proceedings.
A court having jurisdiction of appealsnot a trial court.
The power of a court to review a case that has already been tried by a lower court.
ARBITRATION: A form
of alternate dispute resolution where the disputants present their dispute to an
impartial third party for decision after a hearing where both sides have an opportunity
to be heard. Arbitration may be binding or nonbinding based on the agreement of
ATTORNEY: A lawyer;
one who is licensed to act as a representative for another in a legal matter or
proceeding; one who is licensed to practice law.
BAIL: To set free
a person arrested or imprisoned (pending trial or resolution of an appeal), in exchange
for security such as cash. Bail is forfeited if the person fails to appear in court
BOND: In criminal
law, a surety bond assures the appearance of the defendant or the payment of the
defendants bail if the defendant fails to appear.
BRIEF: A written
document presented to the court by a lawyer which sets forth both the facts of the
case and the law which supports the lawyers case.
BURDEN OF PROOF:
In the law of evidence, the necessity or duty of affirmatively proving a fact or
facts in a dispute. Examples include "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "by
a preponderance of the evidence."
CERTIORARI: An original
writ or court order commanding judges or officers of lower courts to certify or
return records of proceedings in a cause for judicial review.
CIVIL CASE: A matter
or case outside of the criminal practice pertaining to
the rights and duties of persons. Examples include contract cases and lawsuits
arising out of personal injury or property damage.
CHARGES: A formal accusation of having committed a
CODE: A collection of laws arranged into chapters,
table of contents, and index, and published by legislative authority.
CODICIL: A supplement to a will.
COMMON LAW: Law based upon previous decisions of courts.
COMMON LAW MARRIAGE: Common law marriage comes about when a man
and woman who are free to marry mutually agree to live together as husband and wife
without the formal ceremony. The parties must hold themselves out to the public
as being married. Common law marriages are invalid in many states.
NEGLIGENCE: A defense to negligence
where fault is measured in percentages and any damages shall be reduced by that
percentage. See also contributory negligence.
CONDONATION: the act of forgiving one's spouse who has
committed an act of wrongdoing that would constitute a ground for divorce. Condonation
generally is proven by living and cohabiting with the spouse after learning that
the wrongdoing was committed and may used as a defense to a divorce.
COURT: An act which shows disrespect
for the courts authority. Civil contempt usually means a person has failed
to obey a court order. Criminal contempt is when someone disobeys the court in the
presence of the court. Contempt can be punished by a fine or imprisonment. One side
can request that the court determine that the other side is in contempt and punish
him or her.
CONTRACT: A mutual agreement between two or more parties,
in which each party gives up something of value and gains another thing of value.
NEGLIGENCE: A complete defense
to negligence when the defendants behavior causes an omission or neglect of
reasonable precaution, care, or action, which is a proximate cause of his/her injury.
Some states use this standard but most rely on the defense of comparative negligence.
CONVICTION: Finding that a person is guilty beyond a reasonable
doubt of committing a crime.
CORPORATION: A legal entity created under state law most
commonly intended to be in business.
CRIMINAL CASE: A case concerning an act considered harmful
to the general public that is forbidden by law and punishable by fine, imprisonment,
or community service.
DAMAGES: An amount of money which may be recovered
in the courts by any person who has suffered loss, detriment, or injury through
the unlawful act or negligence of another.
DECREE: A decision or order of the court. A final
decree is one which fully and finally disposes of litigation; an interlocutory decree
is a preliminary decree which disposes of a particular issue within the litigation.
DEED: A written instrument transferring a piece
of real property.
DEFAULT: A "default" in an action at law
occurs when a defendant fails to appear at the trial or to plead within the time
allowed. Typically, when a defendant defaults, the court enters an order in favor
of the plaintiff.
DEFENDANT: A person sued in a civil suit or accused of
DEPOSITION: The testimony of a witness not taken in open
court, but given under oath as a part of the discovery process. Deposition testimony
may be introduced as evidence in a court proceeding.
DISCOVERY: The pretrial process in which one party gathers
facts and information from the other party in preparation for trial.
DISSENT: A term denoting the disagreement of one or
more judges of a court with the decision of the majority.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: A lawyer elected or appointed to serve as
a prosecutor for the state in criminal cases. Also known as the states attorney.
DOCKET: A list of cases on a court calendar maintained
by the clerk of court.
EN BANC: "On the bench;" all judges or justices
of a court sitting together to hear a case.
EVIDENCE: A fact presented before a court such as a
statement of a witness, an object, etc., that bears on or establishes a point in
FELONY: A crime considered to be of a graver nature
than a misdemeanor. Examples of felonies include murder, kidnapping, manslaughter,
burglary, robbery, and certain types of sexual abuse although different state legislatures
may define different crimes as felonies.
GRAND JURY: A group of citizens whose duty it is to inquire
into a crime to determine if an indictment against a suspected criminal is warranted.
GUARDIAN: A person vested with the power to take care
of a disabled person or minors property and person.
LITEM: A special guardian appointed
by the court to represent children or disabled persons during the course of litigation.
HABEAS CORPUS: "You have the body." A petition
to bring a person before a court or a judge. In most common usage, it is directed
to the official person detaining another, commanding that the person to produce
the body of the prisoner or person detained so the court may determine if such a
person had been denied his or her liberty without the process of law.
INDICTMENT: An accusation in writing found and issued
by a grand jury, charging that a person named has done some act, or is guilty of
some omission, which by law is a crime.
INDIGENT: One who is needy or poor without the financial
ability to retain an attorney.
INFORMATION: A formal accusation of crime, based on an
affidavit of a person allegedly having knowledge of the offense.
INTERLOCUTORY: Preliminary. An interlocutory appeal involves
an appeal of a matter within a case before the case is concluded or final.
INTERROGATORIES: Written questions propounded by one party
and served on an adversary, who must provide written answers under oath. A method
JURISDICTION: The right and power to interpret and apply
the law. The extent of authority or control of the court. Many types of jurisdiction
exists including subject matter, personal, territorial, concurrent and appellate.
JURY: A number of people, selected according to
law, and sworn to inquire of certain matters of fact and declare the truth upon
evidence laid before them.
JUVENILE CASES: Cases involving children (under eighteen years
of age), including children accused of delinquent acts or neglected or abused children.
LIEN: An encumbrance upon property, usually as security
for a debt or obligation.
MANDAMUS: The name of a writ, which is issued from a
court of superior jurisdiction, directed to a lower court or a public officer, commanding
the performance of a particular act.
LIEN: A claim created by the statute
which gives priority of payment for the price of work and materials for erecting
and repairing building and improvements on land.
MEDIATION: A form of alternate dispute resolution where
a neutral third party acts as an intermediary assisting disputants to settle their
MISDEMEANOR: Offenses considered less serious than felonies.
MOTION: An application to the court requesting action
in a pending case. Usually, a motion concerns an issue with the courts discretion.
NEGLIGENCE: The omission or neglect of reasonable precaution,
care, or action.
NOLO CONTENDERE: A statement
by a defendant to the effect that he or she will not challenge a criminal charge
made by the government.
NOTICE OF APPEAL: A filing made with an appellate court to appeal
a ruling made by a lower court.
OPINION: A formal statement by a judge or justice of
the law bearing on a case.
ORDINANCE: A law passed by a city, town or county legislative
ORIGINAL JURISDICTION: The power of a court to hear a case for the
first time instead of waiting for the case to be tried in a lower court.
PARENS PATRIAE: "Parents of the country." The doctrine
under which the court protects the interests of a juvenile or other persons under
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.
PARTY: A person, business, or government agency actively
involved in the prosecution or defense of a legal proceeding.
PATENT: Government permission given to an inventor
granting him/her the exclusive right to make or sell his/her invention for a term
PECUNIARY: Consisting of money.
PERJURY: The criminal offense of making a false statement
PER SE: "Taken by itself."
PERSON: In the legal context,
"person" includes individuals and corporate groups.
PERSONAL PROPERTY: Tangible physical property (such as cars,
clothing, furniture and jewelry) and intangible personal property (bank accounts,
stocks and bonds). This does not include real property such as land or rights in
PERSONAL RECOGNIZANCE: In criminal proceedings, the pretrial release
of a defendant without bail upon his/her promise to return to court.
PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE: The person who administers an estate, sometimes
also known as Executor.
PETITIONER: The person filing an action in a court of
original jurisdiction. Also called the Plaintiff or Complainant. The opposing party
is called the respondent.
PLAINTIFF: The person who files the complaint in a civil
lawsuit. Also called the Complainant or Petitioner.
PLEA: Defendant's answer to the charge - guilty,
not guilty or nolo contendere.
PLEA BARGAINING: The process through which an accused person
and a prosecutor negotiate a mutually satisfactory disposition of a case. Usually
it is a 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 NEGOTIATIONS: Negotiations arrived at by the state and the
defense for a fair disposition of the case and requiring approval by the court.
PLEADING: A formal statement of facts and law, generally
written, propounding the case of action or the defense of a legal case.
JURY: The act, after a jury verdict
has been announced, of asking jurors individually whether they agree with the verdict.
POUR-OVER WILL: A will that leaves some or all estate assets
to a trust established before the will-maker's death.
POWER OF ATTORNEY: Formal authorization of a person to act in
the interests of another person.
PRAECIPE: A writ commanding the Clerk of Court to issue
a subpoena or summons.
HEARING: Synonymous with preliminary
examinations; the hearing given before a magistrate or a judge to determine whether
a person charged with a crime should be held for trial.
INVESTIGATION REPORT: A report,
generally prepared by a probation officer, which presents pertinent information
needed by a judge to sentence a person convicted of a crime.
CHILD: A 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 estate property to go to such children.
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 trial, and make a final effort to settle the case without a trial.
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.
OF THE EVIDENCE: Greater weight
of the evidence; Often described as 50.1% of the evidence; the common standard of
proof in civil cases.
PRIMA FACIE: "On the face of it." So far as can
be judged from the disclosure; presumably; a fact presumed to be true unless disproved
by some evidence to the contrary.
PROBATE: The court-supervised process by which a will
is determined to be the will-maker's final statement regarding how the will maker
wants his/her property distributed. Probate also means the process by which assets
are gathered, the Personal Representative is appointed, applied to pay debts, taxes,
and the expenses of administration; and distribution to those designated as beneficiaries
in the will.
PROBATE ESTATE: Estate property that may be disposed of by
PRO BONO PUBLICO: "For the public good." Lawyers representing
clients without a fee are said to be working pro bono publico.
PRO SE: "In one's own behalf." A person
representing himself/herself in court without the benefit of a lawyer.
PROBABLE CAUSE: Reasonable belief that a crime was committed
and that the named person committed the crime.
PROBATION: A form of criminal sentence in which an offender
agrees to comply with certain conditions imposed by the court rather than being
PROSECUTE: To initiate legal or criminal court action
against an accused.
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.
Often referred to the District Attorney or States Attorney.
PROXIMATE CAUSE: The act that caused an event to occur. A person
generally is liable only if an injury was proximately caused by his/her action or
by his/her failure to act when he/she had a duty to act.
PUBLIC DEFENDER: An attorney hired by the government to defend
persons accused of crimes who are unable or unwilling to hire their own attorney.
Typically, a person must meet income requirements to be eligible for such representation.
PUNITIVE DAMAGES: Damages in excess of actual damages that are
assessed as a form of punishment. Typically, punitive damages apply when a defendants
behavior is found to have been willful or malicious.
QUASH: To vacate or void a summons, subpoena, etc.
REAL PROPERTY: Land, buildings, and other improvements affixed
to the land.
: An accused person is entitled
to acquittal if, in the minds of the jury, his/her guilt has not been proved beyond
a reasonable doubt; a doubt as would cause reasonable persons to hesitate.
REASONABLE PERSON: A phrase used to describe a hypothetical person
who exercises qualities of attention, knowledge, intelligence, and judgment that
society requires of its members for the protection of their own interest and the
interests of others.
REBUT: Evidence disproving other evidence previously
given or reestablishing the credibility of challenged evidence.
RECORD: All the documents and evidence plus transcripts
of oral proceedings in a case.
RECUSAL: A judge excusing himself/herself from a case.
REDRESS: To set right; to remedy; to compensate; to
remove the causes of a grievance.
RE-DIRECT EXAMINATION: Opportunity to present rebuttal evidence after
one's evidence has been subjected to cross-examination.
RELEASE ON OWN
RECOGNIZANCE (ROR): Release of
a prisoner by a judge with no bond requirement. See also Personal Recognizance.
REMAND: To send back. Usually it is an appellate court
that remands a case for proceedings in the trial court consistent with the appellate
REMEDY: Legal or judicial means by which a right or
privilege is enforced or the violation of a right or privilege is prevented, redressed,
REMITTITUR: The reduction by a judge of the damages awarded
by a jury.
REMOVAL: The transfer of a case from one court to another.
It may be the transfer of a state case to federal court for trial; in civil cases,
because the parties are from different states; or from one county to another in
cases where is a significant possibility that there could not be a fair trial in
the original court.
REPLEVIN: An action for the recovery of a possession
that has been wrongfully taken.
RESPONDENT: The person against whom an appeal is taken.
RETAINER: Act of the client in employing the attorney
or counsel, and also denotes the fee which the client pays when he/she retains the
attorney to act for him/her. This fee is deposited into a trust/escrow account until
the fee is earned.
RESTITUTION: The act of giving the equivalent for any loss,
damage, or injury. An amount of money which an offender is ordered to pay as a consequence
of a crime. Restitution can include compensation to the victim of a crime or the
REVERSE: An action of a higher court in setting aside
or revoking a lower court decision.
REVERSIBLE ERROR: A procedural error during a trial or hearing
sufficiently harmful to justify reversing the judgment of a lower court.
REVOCABLE TRUST: A trust that the grantor may change or revoke.
REVOKE: To cancel or nullify a legal document.
ROBBERY: Felonious taking of another's property, from
his or her person or immediate presence and against his or her will, by means of
force or fear.
RULES OF EVIDENCE: Standards governing whether evidence in civil
or criminal case is admissible.
SENTENCE: Judgment formally pronounced by a judge upon
defendant after the defendants conviction in the criminal prosecution.
SEQUESTER: To isolate. In high profile cases jurors are
sometimes isolated to prevent them from being influenced by outside information.
Witnesses may also be sequestered.
SERVICE OF PROCESS: The act of providing
an opposing party with notice of a pleading or action to assure that the opposing
party is aware of the action and is given an opportunity to appear.
STATUTE: A law adopted by the legislature.
STIPULATION: An agreement by attorneys/parties on opposite
sides of a case as to any manner pertaining to the proceedings or trial.
TESTIMONY: Spoken evidence given by a confident witness,
under oath, as distinguished by evidence derived by writings and other sources.
TORT: An injury or wrong committed against another
person or another persons property.
TRANSCRIPT: The official record of proceedings in a trial
TRIAL INFORMATION: A document filed by the prosecutor, which
states the charges and evidence against a defendant in a criminal case.
VERDICT: The formal decision or finding made by a jury
and accepted by the court.
WARRANT: A writ or order authorizing an officer to
make an arrest, conduct a search, or to perform some other designated act.
WILL: A written instrument directing the disposition of a persons
property after their death.
WITNESS: One who testifies to what he or she has seen,
heard, or otherwise observed or testifies to his or her opinion based on a hypothetical
WRIT: An order issued from a court requiring the
performance of a specified act, or giving authority and commission to having it
WRIT OF SUMMONS
: A form issued by the court requiring
a person to respond to a pleading, usually attached to a complaint, petition or