Legal Glossary    (a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z)

abandonment
A parent's or custodian's act of leaving a child without adequate care, supervision, support or parental contact for an excessive period of time. Also, the desertion of one spouse by the other with the intent to terminate the marriage relationship.
abatement of action
A suit which has been quashed and ended.
abstract of record
A short, abbreviated form of the case as found in the record.
abstract of title
A chronological history, in abbreviated form of the ownership of a parcel of land.
accessory
A person who assists in the commission of a crime, either before or after the fact.
accord
A satisfaction agreed upon between the parties in a lawsuit which bars subsequent actions on the claim.
accord of satisfaction
A method of discharging a claim upon agreement by the parties to give and accept something in settlement of the claim.
accused
The name for the defendant in a criminal case.
acquittal
The legal certification of the innocence of a person who has been charged with a crime, setting the person free from a charge of guilty by a finding of not guilty.
action in personam
An action against the person, founded on a personal liability. In contrast to action in rem, an action for the recovery of a specific object, usually an item of personal property such as an automobile.
action in rem
Proceeding "against the thing" as compared to personal actions (in personam). Usually a proceeding where property is involved.
additur
The power of the trial court to increase the assessment of an inadequate damage award made by a jury. There is no additur in federal courts.
adjudication
Giving or pronouncing a judgment or decree, or the rendering of a decision on a matter before a court.
admissible evidence
Evidence which can legally and properly be used in court.
admission
A statement tending to establish the guilt or liability of the person making the statement.
adversary system
The system of trial practice in the United States and some other countries in which each of the opposing, or adversary, parties has the opportunity to present and establish opposing contentions before the court.
affidavit
A written and sworn statement witnessed by a notary public or another official possessing the authority to administer oaths. Affidavits may be admitted into evidence.
affirmative defense
A defense which does not necessarily refute an allegation but offers new matter which may defeat the right to recovery.
aggravated assault
An attempt to cause serious bodily injury to another or purposely, knowingly or recklessly causing such injury, or an attempt to cause or purposely or knowingly cause bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.
aggravated battery
The unlawful use of force against another with unusual or serious consequences such as the use of a dangerous weapon.
agent
One who has authority to act for another.
alibi
A defense claim that the accused was somewhere else at the time a crime was committed.
allegation
The assertion, declaration, or statement of a party to an action, made in a pleading, establishing what the party expects to prove.
amicus curiae
A friend of the court; a nonparty who interposes, with the permission of the court, and volunteers information upon some matter before the court.
annual review
Yearly judicial review, usually in juvenile dependency cases, to determine, whether the child requires continued court supervision or placement.
answer
A pleading by which defendant responds to the plaintiff's complaint.
appeal
The bringing of a case to a higher court for review of a lower court's order or judgment.
appellant
The party appealing a final decision or judgment.
appellate court
A court which hears appeals from a lower court.
appellate jurisdiction
The appellate court has the right to review and revise the lower court decision.
appellee
The party against whom an appeal is taken.
arbitration
The referral of a dispute to an impartial third person chosen by the parties to the dispute. The parties agree in advance to abide by the arbitrator's decision following a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.
arraignment
In a misdemeanor case, the initial appearance before a judge at which the criminal defendant enters a plea; in a felony case, the proceeding after the indictment or bindover at which the defendant comes before a judge in district court, is informed of the charges, enters a plea, and has a date set for trial or disposition.
arrest
To deprive a person of his liberty by legal authority.
arrest of judgment
Postponing the effect of a judgment already entered.
assault
A willful attempt to illegally inflict injury on or threaten a person.
assumption of risk
In tort law, a defense to a personal injury suit. The essence of the defense is that the plaintiff assumed the known risk of whatever dangerous condition caused the injury.
at issue
Whenever the parties to a suite come to a point in the pleadings which is affirmed on one side and denied on the other, they are said to be "at issue" and ready for trial.
attachment
An ancillary or auxiliary remedy by which the plaintiff acquires a lien upon property of the defendant to insure the satisfaction of a civil judgment.
attempt
An endeavor or effort to do an act or accomplish a crime, carries beyond preparation, but lacking execution.
attorney of record
Attorney who name appears in the permanent records or files of a case.

 

bail
In criminal cases, a sum of money posted by or on behalf of a defendant to guarantee his appearance in court after being released from jail.
bail bond
An obligation signed by the defendant, with sureties, to secure his/her presence in court.
bail bondsman
A person who posts bail in exchange for a fee, usually 10 percent of the total bail.
bailiff
A court officer whose duties are to keep order in the courtroom and to have custody of the jury.
battered child syndrome(B.C.S.)
Physical condition of a child indicating that external or internal injuries result from acts committed by a parent or custodian.
battery
Actual physical violence, whether serious or minor, inflicted on a person (A mere threat is called assault, whereas the completed act is called battery).
bench trail
Trial without a jury in which the judge decides the case.
bench warrant
An order issued by the court for the arrest of a person.
bequest
A gift by will of personal property.
best evidence
In proving the content of a writing, the best evidence is the writing itself, and subject to exceptions of unavailability of the writing, no other evidence is admissible to prove it.
beyond a reasonable doubt
Entirely convinced; in a criminal case the defendant's guilt must be proven to the jury to this extent. This is the highest burden of proof any party has in any proceedings.
bill of particulars
A written statement specifying the detail of the demand set forth in the petition in a civil action or of the charge set out in a criminal action. The purpose of the bill of particulars is to give the defendants more information to enable them to prepare an answer or defense better.
bind over
A magistrate's decision in circuit court to hold a criminal defendant for trial.
breach
The breaking or violating of a law, right, obligation, or duty either by doing an act or failing to do an act.
brief
A lawyer's written statement of a client's case filed in court. It usually contains a summary of the facts in the case, the pertinent laws, and an argument of how the law applies to the facts supporting the client's position.
burden of proof
The duty to establish a claim or allegation by admissible evidence. This is usually the duty of the plaintiff in a civil case and always is the duty of the state in a criminal case.
burglary
The unlawful breaking into or entering of a building or dwelling with the intent to commit a serious crime or theft.

 

calendar
A court's list of cases for arraignment, hearing, trial or arguments.
calling the docket
The public calling of the docket or list of causes at commencement of term of court, for setting a time for trial or entering orders.
caption
The heading or introductory clause of papers connected with a case in court, which shows the names of the parties, name of the court, docket number of the case, etc.
case law
The law made by courts interpreting cases and laws instead of law made by legislatures. In the American system, the primary sources of law are: 1)constitutions, 2) statutes/regulations. and 3) case law.
cause of action
A claim in law in fact sufficient to justify a legal right to sue.
caveat
"Let him beware". A formal notice or warning given by a party to a court or judge against the performance of certain acts within his or her power and jurisdiction.
caveat emptor
"Let the buyer beware" encourages a purchaser to examine, judge and test for himself.
cease and desist order
An order of an administrative agency or court prohibiting a person or business from continuing a particular course of conduct.
certification of need
A judicial certification process used for determining the need for additional judgeships.
certiorari
See writ of certiorari.
challenge for cause
An objection to a prospective juror based on bias or prejudice which may prevent him or her from being fair and impartial in a particular case. If the judge agrees that there is reason to believe the person challenged for cause will not be a satisfactory juror, he or she will remove that person from consideration. Each side has an unlimited number of challenges for cause. See preemptory challenge,
challenge to the array
Questioning the qualifications of an entire jury panel, usually on the ground of partiality or some fault in the process of summoning the panel.
chambers
A judge's private office in the courthouse.
change of venue
The removal of a suit begun in one county or district to another for trial, or from one court to another in the same county or district. In criminal cases, for example, a chance of venue will be permitted if the court feels the defendant cannot receive a fair trial where the court is located.
character evidence
The testimony of witnesses who know the general character and reputation of a person in the community in which he or she lives. It may be considered by the jury in a dual respect: (1) as substantive evidence upon the theory that a person of good character and reputation is less likely to commit a crime than one who does not have a good character and reputation, and (2) as corroborative evidence in support of a witness's testimony as bearing upon credibility.
charge
The statement accusing a person of committing a particular crime. Also the judge's instructions to jury on it duties, on the law involved in the case and on how the law in the case must be applied. The charge is always given just before jury deliberations.
child abuse
Any form of cruelty to a child's physical, moral or mental well-being.
circumstantial evidence
All evidence of an indirect nature. Testimony not based on actual personal knowledge or observation of the facts in controversy.
citation
An order of the court requiring the appearance of a defendant on a particular day to answer to a particular charge.
civil case
A lawsuit brought to enforce, redress, or protect private rights or to gain payment for a wrong done to a person or party by another person or party. In genera, all types of actions other than criminal proceedings.
class action
An action where a large group of persons are interested in a matter. One or more may sue or be sued as representatives of the class without the need to join every member of the group.
Clerk of the Court
Court official who keeps court record, files pleadings, motions, and judgment, and administers the oath to juror and witnesses.
closing arguments
The final statements by the attorney to the jury or the court arguing the evidence that they have attempted to establish and the evidence that they feel the other side has failed to establish.
code
A collection, compendium or revision of laws, rules and regulations enacted by legislative authority.
code of criminal procedure
Body of federal or state law dealing with procedural aspects of trial for criminal cases.
Code of Federal Regulations
The CFR is the annual listing of executive agency regulations published in the daily Federal Register, and the regulations issued previously which are still in effect. The CFR contains regulatory laws governing practice and procedure before federal administrative agencies.
Code of Professional Responsibility
The rules of conduct that govern the legal profession. The Code contains general ethical Guidelines and specific rules written by the American Bar Association.
codicil
A supplement, addition, or postscript to a will.
commit
To send a person to prison or jail in criminal proceedings or to another institution in civil cases by authority of a court.
common law
General provisions of law existing before codification or interpretation by courts.
commutation
The change of punishment for a greater degree to a lesser degree, as from death to life imprisonment.
comparative negligence
The degree to which a person contributed to his/her own injury, damage or death. Usually measured in terms of percentage.
competency
A witness's ability to observe, recall and recount under other what happened. Criminal defendants must also be competent to stand trial; they must understand the nature of the proceedings and have the ability to assist their lawyers.
complaint
The first pleading on the part of the plaintiff in a civil action.
concurrent jurisdiction
The jurisdiction of two or more courts, each authorized to deal with the same subject matter.
concurrent sentences
Sentences for two or more crimes ordered by the judge to be served simultaneously rather than successively.
condemnation
The legal process by which real estate of a private owner is taken for public use without the owner's consent, but the owner receives "just compensation".
conditional release
A release from custody which imposes regulations on the activities and associations of the defendant. If a defendant fails to meet the conditions, the release is revoked.
consecutive sentences
Successive sentences imposed against a person convicted or two or more crimes. One sentence begins at the expiration of another.
consideration
The cause, price or impelling influence which induces a party to enter into a contract.
conspiracy
A combination of two or more persons formed for the purpose of committing by joint collaboration some unlawful act.
contempt of court
Any act involving disrespect to the court or failure to obey its rules or orders. Carries a maximum of 30 days in jail.
continuance
A court order postponing proceedings.
contract
An oral or written agreement between two or more parties which is enforceable by law.
contributory negligence
The failure to exercise care by a plaintiff, which contributed to the plaintiff's injury.
conviction
In a criminal case, a finding that the defendant is guilty .
corpus delicti
The body (material substance) upon which a crime has been committee, e.g., the corpse of a murdered man or the charred remains of a house burned by an arsonist.
corroboration
Confirmation or support of a witness' statement or other fact.
corroborating evidence
Evidence supplementary to that already given and tending to strengthen or confirm it.
court reporter
A court official who records testimony and arguments, and transcribes it into a permanent record of all court proceedings.
costs
An allowance for expenses in prosecuting or defending a suit. Ordinarily this does not include attorney fees.
counterclaim
A claim presented by a defendant in a civil proceeding in opposition to the claim of a plaintiff.
Court of record
A court in which the proceedings are recorded, transcribed, and maintained as permanent records.
criminal case
A case brought by the government against a person accused of committing a crime.
criminal insanity
Lack of mental capacity to do or abstain from doing a particular act; inability to distinguish right from wrong.
criminal summons
An order commanding an accused to appear in court.
cross-claim
In a civil proceeding, if there are two or more defendants, one defendant can raise a claim against another defendant.
cross-examination
The questioning of a witness by the lawyer for the opposing side.
custody
The right to or responsibility for a child's care and control, carrying with it the duty of providing food, shelter, medical care, education and discipline.

 

damages
Pecuniary (money) compensation which may be recovered by a party for personal injury, or loss or damage to one's property or rights as a result of another party's unlawful act or negligence.
decree
A decision or order of the court. A final decree is one which fully and finally disposes of the litigation. An interlocutory decree is a preliminary decree which is not final.
declaratory judgment
One which declares the rights of the parties or expresses the opinion of the courts on a question of law, without ordering anything to be done.
defamation
The making of false, derogatory statements about a person's character, morals, abilities, business practices or financial status (Includes libel, which is written, and slander, which is spoken).
default
Occurs when a defendant fails to respond to the plaintiff's complaint within the time allowed, or fails to appear at the trail. The court may then enter a default judgment.
defendant
The accused in a criminal case; the person from whom money or other recover is sought in a civil case.
deliberation
The jury's decision-making process after hearing the evidence and closing arguments and being given the court's instructions.
delinquency
The commission of an illegal act by a juvenile.
dependent child
A child who is homeless or without proper care through no fault of the parent, guardian, or custodian.
deposition
The taking of testimony of a witness under oath outside of court, usually transcribed in writing by a court reporter, or less frequently, recorded on video tape.
deprivation of custody
The court transfer legal custody of a person from parents or legal guardian to another person, agency or institution. It may be temporary or permanent.
detention hearing
In juvenile court, a judicial hearing, usually held after the filing of a petition, to determine interim custody of a minor pending a judgment.
direct evidence
Evidence that tends directly to prove or disprove a disputed fact, as distinguished from circumstantial evidence from which an inference can be drawn. See circumstantial evidence.
direct examination
The first questioning of a witness by the attorney for the party on whose behalf the witness is called. Usually proceeds with open ended, non leading questions.
directed verdict
In civil cases in which there is insufficient basis for any other conclusion, the judge may direct the jury to render a specific verdict. Criminal defendants may also ask the court to rule in their favor rather than submitting the case to the jury.
discovery
The process through which parties to an action are allowed to obtain relevant information known to other parties or nonparties before trial.
dismissal without prejudice
A dismissal which permits the plaintiff to sue again on the same cause of action or the state to proceed again. Dismissal with prejudice bars the right to subsequently bring an action on the same cause.
disposition
The order of a juvenile court determining what is to be done with a minor already adjudged to be within the court's jurisdiction. In criminal cases, the settlement of a case.
dissent
A term commonly issued to denote the disagreement of one or more judges of a court of appeals with the decision of the majority.
diversion
A procedure used in some criminal prosecutions against persons who are arrested and have no previous criminal background. Diversion creates a written contract between the prosecutor and accused in that if the accused completes the requirements in the contract. at a time in the future, the prosecutor will dismiss all charges.
docket
A brief entry or the book containing such entries of any proceeding in court.
domicile
That place where a person has his true and permanent home. A person may have several residences, but only one domicile.
double jeopardy
Common law and constitutional prohibition (5th Amendment) against more than one prosecution for the same crime.
due process
The guarantee of due process requires that no person be deprived of life, liberty, or property without a fair and adequate process. In criminal proceedings this guarantee includes the fundamental aspects of a fair trial, including the right to adequate notice in advance of the trial, the right to counsel, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, the right to refuse self-incriminating testimony, and the right to have all elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

embezzlement
The fraudulent appropriation by a person to his own use or benefit or property or money entrusted to him by another.
Eminent domain
The power to take private property for public use by the state and municipalities.
en banc
A proceeding in which the entire membership of the court will participate in the decision.
enjoin
To order a person to perform, or to abstain and desist from performing a specified act or course of conduct. See injunction.
entrapment
The act of officers or agents of a government in inducing a person to commit a crime otherwise not contemplated for the purpose of instituting a criminal prosecution against that person.
equitable action
An action which may be brought for the purpose of restraining the threatened infliction of wrongs or injuries, and the prevention of threatened illegal action.
equity, courts of
Courts which administer a legal remedy according to the system of equity, as distinguished from courts of common law.
escheat
In American law, the right of the state to an estate left vacant, to which no one makes a valid claim.
escrow
A writing, deed money, stock, or other property is given to a third person to hold until all conditions in a contract are fulfilled.
estate
A collective term meaning all real and personal property owned by a person.
estoppel
A person's own act. or acceptance of facts. which preclude later claims to the contrary.
et al
An abbreviation of et alii, meaning "and others," ordinarily used in lieu of listing all names of persons involved in a proceeding.
et seq
An abbreviation for et sequentes, or et sequential "and the following," ordinarily used in referring to a section of statutes.
evidence
Testimony, records, documents, material objects, or other things presented at a trial to prove the existence or nonexistence of a fact.
exclusionary rule
A rule by which evidence that was obtained illegally cannot be used in a criminal trial against a defendant. Also, in criminal cases, a rule which prevents witnesses from observing each other testify or from discussing testimony during the course of the proceeding.
exclusion of witnesses
An order of the court requiring all witnesses to remain outside the courtroom until each is called to testify, except the plaintiff or defendant. The witnesses are ordered not to discuss their testimony with each other and may be held in contempt if they violate the order.
exclusive jurisdiction
The matter can only be filed in one court.
executor
A person assigned to carry out the provisions of a will.
exhibit
A paper, document or other article presented and offered into evidence in court during a trial or hearing or prove the facts of a case.
ex contractu
Arising from a contract.
ex delicto
Arising from a wrong, breach of duty. See tort.
ex parte
By or for a single party; done for, in behalf of or on the application of one party only as distinguished from an adversary (contested).
expert testimony
Testimony given in relation to some scientific, technical or professional matter by experts, i.e., person qualified to speak authoritatively by reason of their special training, skill or familiarity with the subject.
ex post facto
After the fact, ordinarily used in reference to constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws. For example, a person cannot be punished for conduct committed before a criminal law was enacted.
expungement
A court order allowing the destruction or sealing of records of minors or adults, after the passage of a specified period of time or when the person reaches a specified age and has not committed another offense.
extradition
The surrender by one state to another of an individual accused or convicted of an offense outside it own territory, and within the territorial jurisdiction of the other.
extraordinary writ
A writ, often issued by an appellate court, making available remedies not regularly within the powers of lower courts. They include writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition and quo warranto.

 

false arrest
Any unlawful physical restraint of another's personal liberty, whether or not carried out by a peace officer.
false pretenses
Representation of some fact or circumstance which is not true and is calculated to mislead, whereby a person obtains another's money or goods.
fee simple absolute
The most complete, unlimited form of ownership of real property.
felony
A crime punishable by death or imprisonment for a term of not less than one year, and the crime is of a more serious nature than a misdemeanor.
fiduciary
A person who has assumed a special relationship to another person or another person's property, such as a trustee, administrator, executor, lawyer, or guardian. The fiduciary must exercise the highest degree or care to maintain and preserve the person's rights and/or property which are within his/her charge.
Fifth Amendment
Among other right, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that a person cannot be compelled to present self-incriminating testimony in a criminal proceeding.
fine
A sum of money paid as part of a penalty of conviction for a particular criminal offense.
First appearance
A proceeding in a felony case in which the defendants come before the magistrate and are informed of the charges against them and of their rights to a preliminary hearing, to counsel and to bail. No plea is asked for at this state.
forcible entry and detainee
Ordinarily refers to a summary proceeding for restoring possession of land to one who has been wrongfully deprived of possession.
foreclosure
A termination of all rights of the mortgagor or his grantee in the property covered by the mortgage.
forgery
The false making or material altering, with intent to defraud, of any writing which, if genuine, might be the foundation of a legal liability.
foundation
In a trial, a foundation must be laid to establish the basis for the admissibility of certain types of evidence. For example, an expert witnesses' qualifications must be shown before expert testimony will be admissible.
Fourteenth Amendment
Among other matters, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without adequate due process.
fraud
An intentional perversion of truth; deceitful practice or device resorted to with intent to deprive another of property or other right.

 

garnishment
A court order to take part of a person's wages, before he gets them, and apply the amount taken to pay a debt owed to a creditor.
general assignment
The voluntary transfer, by a debtor, of all property to a trustee for the benefit of all of his or her creditors.
general jurisdiction
Jurisdiction which extends to all controversies brought before a court. In contrast, special or limited jurisdiction covers only a particular class of cases.
good faith
An hones belief, the absence of malice and the absence of design to defraud.
grand jury
A group of citizens impaneled to hear evidence and decide whether a defendant should be charged with a crime.
guardian ad litem
A person appointed by a court to look after the interests of an infant. child or incompetent during court proceedings.
guilty
The accused pleads " guilty " when he confesses the crime of which he is charged and the jury convicts when the accused is guilty.

 

habeas corpus
Latin phrase meaning "you have the body"; A civil proceeding used to review the legality of a prisoner's confinement in criminal cases. Habeas corpus actions are commonly used as a means of reviewing state or federal convictions.
harmless error
An error committed by a lower court during a trial, but determined by an appellate court not to be prejudicial to the rights of the party affected, and therefore furnishing no basis for reversal of the lower court's judgment.
hearing de novo
A full new hearing.
hearsay
Second-hand evidence, generally consisting of a witness's testimony that he/she heard someone else say something.
holographic will
A will entirely written, dated and signed by the testator in his/her own handwriting.
hostile witness
A witness who displays antagonism toward the party who called him to testify, or who is a witness for the opposing party. The examining party is allowed to conduct direct examination as if it were cross-examination.
hung jury
A just which cannot agree on a final verdict. If a jury is hung, the court declares a mistrial and the case may be re-tried.
hypothetical question
An imaginary situation, incorporating facts previously admitted into evidence, upon which an expert witness is permitted to give an opinion as to a condition resulting from the situation.

 

immunity
Legal protection from liability. There are many categories of immunity in civil and criminal law. For example, sovereign immunity protects government agencies from civil liability and judicial immunity protects judges acting in their official capacities.
impanel
To seat a jury. When voir dire is finished and both sides have exercised their challenges, the jury is impaneled. The jurors are sworn in and the trial is ready to proceed.
impeachment of witness
An attack on the credibility of a witness.
implied contract
A contract in which the promise made by the obligor is not expressed, but inferred by one's conduct or implied in law.
in rem
A procedural term used to designate proceedings or actions instituted against the thing, in contrast to actions instituted in personam or against the person.
inadmissible/incompetent evidence
Information which is so unreliable it cannot be admitted under the established rules of evidence.
in camera
In a judge's chambers; in private.
incapacity
The lack of power or the legal ability to act.
incarceration
Imprisonment; confinement in a jail or penitentiary.
indemnify
To make good or compensate or reimburse one of a loss already incurred by him or her.
indemnity
The term pertains to liability for loss shifted from one person held legally responsible to another.
indeterminate sentence
An indefinite sentence of imprisonment, within a specified range (e.g. "5 to life") with the Board of Pardons later determining the exact term to be served.
indictment
An accusation of a criminal offense made by a grand jury.
indigent
Those who are needy and poor, or those who have not sufficient property to furnish a living nor anyone able to support them to whom they are entitled to look for support.
information
The first paper filed in criminal prosecution which states the crime of which the defendant is accused.
injunction
A court order forbidding or requiring a certain action.
in loco parentis
"In the place of the parent"; refers to actions of a custodian, guardian or other person acting in the parent's place.
instruction
A direction given by the judge to the jury concerning the law to be applied in the case.
inter alia
Among other things.
interlocutory
Provisional; temporary. Often used in reference to a court order that is not a final disposition of the case but decides some point or matter.
interrogatories
In the discovery phase of civil litigation these written questions are submitted by one party to another party and must be answered in writing under oath.
intervention
Procedure in a suit or action by which the court permits a third person to intervene and become a party.
intestate
The status of a person who dies without leaving a will.
intestate succession
A succession of property when the deceased has left no will, or when the will has been revoked.
irrelevant
Evidence not sufficiently related to the matter in issue.

 

jeopardy
The peril in which an accused is placed when he is properly charged with a crime before a court. Jeopardy normally attaches when the petit jury is impaneled. After such time, the accused may not be released and tried at a later date for the same offense. Subject to exception. See double jeopardy.
joint venture
An association of persons jointly undertaking some commercial enterprise. Unlike a partnership, a joint venture does not entail a continuing relationship among the parties.
judgment
The official decision of a court disposing of a case.
jurisdiction
The legal authority of a court to hear a case or conduct other proceedings; power of the court over persons involved in a case and the subject matter of the case.
jurisprudence
Formal study of the principles on which legal rules are based and the means by which judges guide their decision making.
jury commissioner
An officer charged with the duty of selecting the names to be put into a jury wheel, or of drawing the panel of jurors for a particular term of court.
juvenile
A young person who has not yet attained the age at which he or she should be treated as an adult for purposed of criminal law.

 

kidnapping
The unlawful and carrying away of a human being by force and against his will.
knowingly
With knowledge, willfully or intentionally with respect to a material element of an offense.

 

larceny
An actual or constructive taking away of the goods or property of another without the consent and against the will of the owner with a felonious intent t deprive the owner thereof.
law and motion
A setting before a judge at which time a variety of motions, pleas, sentencing, orders to show cause or procedural requests may be presented. Normally, evidence is not taken. Defendants must be present.
lay person
One not trained in the law.
leading question
One which virtually instructs a witness how to answer or puts into his mouth word to be echoed back; one which suggest to the witness the answer desired. Ordinarily prohibited on direct examination, although allowed on cross-examination.
levy
A seizure; the obtaining of money by legal process through seizure and sale of property.
liability
A legal responsibility, obligation, or debt.
libel
A method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures or signs. In its most general sense any publication that is injurious to the reputation of another.
lien
A claim which a person has upon the property of another as security for a debt owned to the lienholder.
limited action
A civil action in which recovery of less than a certain amount (as specific by statue) is sought. Simplified rules of procedure are used in such actions.
lis pendens
A pending suit.
litigant
A party to a lawsuit; one engaged in litigation.
locus delicti
The place of the offense.

 

magistrate
An officer having power to issue a warrant for the arrest of a person charges with a crime; includes any justice or judge of the appellate courts. and judges of the district court.
malfeasance
Unlawful conduct.
malicious prosecution
An action instituted with intention of injuring defendant and without probably cause and which terminates in favor of the person prosecuted.
malpractice
A lawsuit brought against a professional person, such as a doctor, lawyer or engineer, for injury or loss caused by the defendant's negligence in providing professional services.
mandamus
A writ by which a court commands the performance of a particular act.
mandate
A judicial command or order proceeding from a court or judicial officer, directing the proper officer to enforce a judgment, sentence, or decree.
manslaughter
The unlawful killing of another without malice; may be either voluntary, upon a sudden impulse, or involuntary, in the commission of some unlawful act.
material evidence
Evidence which is relevant to the issues in a case.
mens rea
Literally, "guilty mind." The intent required to commit the crime. It is a prerequisite to conviction for a crime involving a moral wrong, but it is not a prerequisite to conviction for an act that is a crime only because a statute designates it to be a crime, e.g., overtime parking.
merit retention
A process through which Florida's judges and Supreme Court justices are retained on merit by vote of the electors in Florida.
Miranda Rule
The rule, pronounced in Miranda v Arizona, that confessions are inadmissible in a criminal prosecution if the police do not advise the suspect in custody of certain rights before questioning. The rights include:
  • The right to remain silent and to refuse to answer any questions.
  • The right to know that anything the suspect says can and will be used against the suspect in a court of law.
  • The right to consult with an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning.
  • The right to have counsel appointed at public expense, prior to any questioning if the suspect cannot afford counsel.
  • misdemeanor
    A minor offense, lower than a felony, and punishable by a fine or imprisonment other than in penitentiaries.
    mistrial
    A trial which is void because of some error.
    mitigating circumstance
    A circumstance which may be considered to reduce the degree of moral culpability, although it does not entirely justify or excuse an offense.
    moot
    A case is moot when a determination sought on a matter cannot have any practical effect on the existing controversy.
    moral turpitude
    Immorality. An element of crimes inherently bad (malum in se), as opposed to crimes bad merely because forbidden by statute (malum prohibitum).
    motion
    A formal request presented to a court.
    motion in limine
    A written motion which is usually made before or after the beginning of a jury trial for a protective order against prejudicial questions and statements.
    multiplicity of actions
    Numerous and unnecessary attempts to litigate the same issue.

     

    ne exact
    A write which forbids the person to whom it is addressed to leave the country, the state or the jurisdiction of the court.
    negligence
    Failure to exercise the care that an ordinarily prudent person would exercise in the same circumstances.
    no bill
    This phrase, endorsed by a grand jury on an indictment, means that, in the opinion of the jury, evidence was insufficient to warrant the return of a formal charge.
    nolle prosequi
    A formal entry upon the record by the plaintiff in a civil suit, or the prosecuting officer in a criminal case, declaring the case will not be prosecuted.
    nolo contenders
    A Latin phrase meaning :1 will not contest it. " A plea in a criminal case which does not require the defendant to admit guilt, but the defendant does not contest the facts on which the charge is based.
    nominal party
    One who is joined as a party or defendant merely because the technical rules of pleading require his presence in the record.
    non compos mentis
    Not of sound mind; insane.
    non obstante verdicto
    Notwithstanding the verdict. A verdict entered by the judge contrary to a jury's verdict.
    not guilty plea
    Complete denial of guilt. In criminal cases, a necessary stage of the proceedings required to preserve all le-al issues.
    not guilty by reason of insanity
    The jury or the judge must determine that the defendant, because of mental disease or defect, could not form the intent required to commit the offense.
    notice to produce
    In practice, a notice in writing requiring the opposite party to produce a certain described paper or document at the trial, or in the course of pre-trial discovery.
    nunc pro tunc
    Acts allowed to be done after the time when they should be done, with a retroactive effect.

     

    objection
    An exception to some statement or procedure during the trial or other proceeding. Used to call the court's attention to improper evidence or procedure.
    of counsel
    A phrase commonly applied to counsel employed to assist in the preparation or management of the case, or its presentation on appeal, but who is not the principal attorney for the party.
    opinion evidence
    Witnesses are normally required to confine their testimony to statements of fact and are not allowed to give their opinions in court. However, if a witness is qualified as an expert in a particular field, he or she may be allowed to state an opinion as an expert based on certain facts.
    order to show cause
    Court order requiring to appear and show cause why the court should not take a particular course of action. If the party fails to appear or to give sufficient reasons why the court should take no action, the court will take the action. In criminal cases, the defendant must who why probation should not be revoked.
    ordinance
    A written law enacted by the legislative body of a county, city or town.
    original jurisdiction
    The court in which a matter must first be filed.
    overt act
    An act essential to the establishment of an intent to commit a crime and done to carry out, or in furtherance of, the intention. In a conspiracy case the act may be a lawful one and still be admissible.

     

    pardon
    Action by an official of an executive branch of government relieving a criminal from a conviction.
    parole
    A procedure in which a parole board releases a convict on good behavior before the maximum sentence expires.
    parol evidence
    Oral or verbal evidence rather than written. The parol evidence rule limits the admissibility of parol evidence which would directly contradict the clear meaning of terms of a written contract.
    parties
    The persons who are actively involved in the prosecution or defense of a legal proceeding, including the plaintiff or prosecution, the defendant and any "third party defendant. ".
    peremptory challenge
    Each party to a suit tried to a jury has the right to peremptorily "challenge" (reject) a certain number of prospective jurors without giving a reason. The number of peremptory challenges is fixed by law, according to the nature of the case.
    perjury
    Lying while under oath.
    petition
    The pleading which filed commences the litigation in a civil case. It contains the allegations and request for relief and/or for recovery of money by the plaintiff.
    petit jury
    The ordinary jury of twelve (or fewer) persons for the trial of a civil or criminal case. So called to distinguish it from the grand jury.
    plaintiff
    A person who files a lawsuit.
    plea
    The defendant's formal response to a criminal charge (guilty, not guilty, nolo contendere, not guilty by reason of insanity, and guilty and mentally ill).
    plea bargaining
    A process whereby the prosecutor and defense attorney negotiate a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case. The court and the defendant must approve of any settlements.
    pleading
    The formal allegations by the parties of their respective claims and defenses.
    polling the jury
    A practice whereby the jurors are asked individually on the record whether they agreed, and still agree, to the verdict.
    power of attorney
    A written instrument authorizing another (not necessarily a lawyer) to act as one's agent or attorney.
    precedent
    A rule of law that is established by an appellate court in an earlier case serves a s binding precedent in all subsequent similar cases.
    prejudicial evidence
    Evidence which might unfairly sway the judge or jury to one side or the other.
    prejudicial error
    Synonymous with "reversible error"; an error which warrants the appellate court in reversing the judgment before it.
    preliminary examination
    The hearing available to a person charged with a felony to determine if there is enough evidence (probable cause) to hold him for trial.
    preliminary hearing
    A probable cause hearing in Circuit Court which screens felony criminal cases by deciding whether there is enough evidence to warrant a trial in the District Court. If the judge determines there is sufficient evidence, the defendant is "bound over" for trial. The defendant may waive this hearing.
    preliminary injunction
    In civil cases when it is necessary to preserve the status quo prior to trial, the court may issue a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order ordering, a party to carry out a specified activity.
    premeditation
    The planning of a crime preceding the commission of the act, rather than committing the crime on the spur of the moment.
    preponderance of evidence
    Evidence which is (even minimally) of greater weight or more convincing than the evidence which if offered in opposition to it. This is the standard by which a plaintiff must prove his/her case in a civil suit.
    presentence report
    An investigation conducted at the request of the court after a person has been found guilty of a crime. The purpose is to provide the court with extensive background information to determine the appropriate sentence.
    presentment (First appearance)
    In felony cases, the first appearance before a judge at which the defendant is formally notified of the charges and a date is set for a preliminary hearing. No plea is entered at this stage.
    presumption of innocence
    Every defendant enters a trial presumed to be innocent. This presumption remains until and unless the state overcomes the presumption by competent evidence of guilt.
    presumption of law
    A rule of law that courts and judges shall draw a particular inference from a particular fact, or from particular evidence.
    prima facie
    Literally, "on its face. " A fact presumed to be true unless disproved by some other evidence. In a criminal case, when the prosecution rest, the state's case is said to be prima facie, if the evidence so far introduced is sufficient to convict.
    privileged communications
    Confidential communications to certain persons that are protected by law against any disclosure, including forced disclosure in legal proceedings. Communications between lawyer and client, physician and patient, psychotherapist and patient, priest, minister or rabbi and penitent are typically privileged.
    privity
    Mutual or successive relationships to the same right of property, or the same interest of one person with another which represents the same legal right.
    probable cause
    A judicial finding that there exists reasonable grounds for belief that a person should be arrested or searched.
    probate
    The process of proving the validity of a will.
    probation
    A sentence releasing a convicted criminal into the community or a treatment facility under the supervision of a probation officer, requiring compliance with certain conditions.
    pro se
    For himself; in his own behalf. One who does not retain a lawyer and appears for himself in court.
    prosecutor
    The name of the public officer who is appointed in each county to conduct criminal prosecutions on behalf of the state or people.
    protective order
    A court order to protect a person from further harassment, service of process or discovery.
    proximate cause
    In a civil tort action such as a medical malpractice suit, the plaintiff must show that an act or omission of the defendant was a proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury or loss. Similarly, in a criminal action, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's action was the direct cause of the crime.
    public defender
    lawyers regularly employed by the government to represent people accused of crimes who cannot afford to hire their own.
    punitive damages
    Money awarded to an injured person, over and above the measurable value of the injury, in order to punish the person who hurt him.

     

    quantum meruit
    Expression means "as much as he deserves," and describes the extent of liability on a contract implied by law.
    quash
    To overthrow; vacate; to annul or void a summons, indictment, bindover order or subpoena. quasi judicial -- Authority or discretion vested in an officer whose acts partake of a judicial character.
    quid pro quo
    What for what; something for something; giving one valuable thin- for another.

     

    ratification
    The confirmation or adoption of a previous act done either by the party himself or by another.
    ratio decidendi
    The ground or reason of the decision in a case.
    real evidence
    Evidence given to explain, repel, counteract, or disprove facts given in evidence by the adverse party.
    reasonable doubt
    A person accused of a crime is entitled to acquittal if, in the minds of the jury or judge, his or her guilt has not been proved beyond a "reasonable doubt"; the jurors are not entirely convinced of the person's guilt.
    rebuttal evidence
    Evidence given to explain, repel, contradict, or disprove facts given in evidence by the adverse party.
    recidivism
    The continued, habitual or compulsive commission of law violations after first having been convicted or prior offenses.
    recognizance
    The practice which enables an accused awaiting trial to be released without posting any security other than a promise to appear before the court at the proper time. Failure to appear in court at the proper time is a separate crime.
    redirect examination
    Follow cross-examination, and is conducted by the party who first examined the witness.
    referee
    A person to whom a case pending in a court is referred by the court to take testimony, hear the parties and report thereon to the court. An officer exercising judicial powers and an arm of the court for a specific purpose.
    relevant
    Evidence that helps to prove a point or issue in a case.
    remand
    "To send back"; For example, an appellate court may remand a case to a lower court for retrial or for some change in disposition.
    removal, order of
    An order by a court directing the transfer of a case to another court.
    reply
    A written pleading containing the plaintiff's allegations in response to a counterclaim.
    res ipsa loquitur
    Literally, "a thing that speaks for itself. " In tort law, the doctrine which holds a defendant guilty of negligence without an actual showing that he or she was negligent.
    res judicata
    A rule of civil law that once a matter has been litigated and final judgment has been rendered by the trial court, the matter cannot be relitigated by the parties in the same court, or any other trial court.
    respondeat superior
    "Let the master answer." The doctrine which holds that employers are responsible for the acts and omissions of their employees and agent, when done within the scope of the employees' duties.
    respondent
    1) the person who is the subject of a petition, 2) the prevailing party in a court case against whom an appeal is taken.
    rest
    A party is said to "rest" or "rests a case" when he/she has presented all the evidence he/she intends to offer.
    restitution
    Court-ordered payment to restore goods or money to the victim of a crime by the offender.
    restraining order
    Similar to an injunction, commanding the party to leave the other party alone, usually in a divorce proceeding.
    retainer
    The fee which the client pays when he/she retains an attorney.
    Rule of court
    An order made by a court having competent jurisdiction. Rules of court are either general or special; the former are the regulations by which the practice of the court is governed, the latter are special orders made in particular cases.

     

    sanction
    A punitive act designed to secure enforcement by imposing a penalty for its violation. For example, a sanction may be imposed for failure to comply with discovery orders.
    sealing
    The closure of courts records to inspection, except to the parties.
    search and seizure, unreasonable
    In general, an examination, without authority of law, of one's premises or person to find stolen property or contraband.
    search warrant
    An order issued by a judge or magistrate commanding a sheriff, constable, or other officer to search a specified location.
    self-defense
    The protection of one's person or property against some injury attempted by another. The law of "self defense" justifies an act done in the reasonable belief of immediate danger. When acting in justifiable self-defense, a person may not be punished criminally nor held responsible for civil damages.
    sentence
    The judgment formally pronounced by the court upon the defendant after conviction in a criminal prosecution, imposing the punishment to be inflicted.
    separate maintenance
    Allowance ordered to be paid by one spouse to the other for support while the spouses are living, apart but not divorced.
    service of process
    Notifying a person that he or she has been named as a party to a lawsuit or has been accused of some offense. Process consists of a summons, citation or warrant, to which a copy of the complaint is attached.
    slander
    base and defamatory spoken words tending to prejudice another in reputation, business or means of livelihood. "Libel" and "slander" both are methods of defamation, the former being expressed by print, writings, pictures or signs; the latter orally.
    small claims
    A civil dispute in which the amounts of money involved is less than $2,000. Persons usually are not represented by lawyers in small claims proceedings.
    sovereign immunity
    The doctrine that a government or governmental agency cannot be sued without consent.
    specific performance
    A mandatory order in equity. Where monetary damaces would be inadequate compensation for the breach of a contract, the contractor will be compelled to perform specifically what the contract called for.
    standard of proof
    There are essentially three standards of proof applicable in most court proceedings. In criminal cases , the offense must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest standard. In civil, cases and neglect and dependency proceedings, the lowest standard applies by a mere preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). In some civil cases, and in juvenile proceedings such as a permanent termination of parental rights, an intermediate standard applies : proof by clear and convincing evidence.
    stare decisis
    The doctrine that once a principal of law has been determined to be applicable to certain facts, that principle will be followed in future cases involving substantially identical facts.
    statute
    A law enacted by the legislative branch of the government as distinguished from case law (law made by courts).
    statue of limitations
    A certain time allowed by statue in which litigation must be brought. In criminal cases, prosecution is barred if not brought within the statute of limitations.
    stay
    A stopping or arresting of a judicial proceeding by order of a court (e.g.. a stay of enforcement of a judgment).
    stipulation
    An agreement by attorneys on opposite sides of a case as to any matter pertaining to the proceedings or trial. It is not binding unless agreed to by both parties, and most stipulations must be in writing.
    strict liability
    A concept applied by courts in product liability cases in which a seller is liable for any and all defective or hazardous products which unduly threaten a consumer's personal safety.
    subpoena
    An official order to appear in court (or at a deposition) at a specific time. Failure to obey a subpoena to appear in court is punishable as a contempt of court.
    subpoena duces tecum
    A special form of subpoena which commands a witness to produce certain documents or records in a trial or at a deposition.
    substantive law
    The law dealing with rights, duties and liabilities, as contrasted with procedural law, which governs the technical aspects of enforcing civil or criminal laws.
    summary judgment
    Final decision or judgment by the court prior to the trial. This occurs when the judge determines that the prevailing party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law either on the pleadings alone or after review in the pleadings and other evidence.
    summons
    A notice to the named person that an action has been commenced against him in court and that he is required to appear, on the day named, and answer the complaint.
    supersedeas
    A writ issued by an appellate court to preserve the status quo pending review of a judgment, or pending other exercise of its jurisdiction.
    suppression evidence
    The ruling of a trial judge that evidence sought to be admitted should be excluded because it was illegally acquired.
    suppression hearing
    A hearing on a criminal defendant's motion to prohibit the prosecutor's use of evidence alleged to have been obtained in violation of the defendant's rights. This hearing is held outside of the presence of the jury, either prior to or at trial. The judge must rule as a matter of law on the motion.

     

    temporary restraining order
    An emergency remedy of brief duration which may be issued only in exceptional circumstances and only until the trial court can hear arguments or evidence and determine what relief is appropriate.
    tenancy
    An interest in realty which passes to the tenant.
    testate
    One who has dies leaving a will or one who has made a will.
    testator
    The person who makes a will (female: testatrix).
    testimony
    Evidence given by a competent witness, under oath; as distinguished from evidence derived from writings and other sources.
    tort
    An injury or wrong committed, either with or without force, to the person or property of another, for which civil liability may be imposed.
    transcript
    The official record of proceedings in a trial or hearing.
    transitory
    Actions are "transitory" when they might have taken place anywhere, and are "local" when they could occur only in some particular place.
    trespass
    An unlawful interference with ones' person, property, or rights.
    trial de novo
    A new trial or retrial held in an appellate court in which the whole case is heard as if no trial had been heard in the lower court or administrative agency.
    trier of fact
    Term includes the jury or the judge in a jury-waived trial, who have the obligation to make finding of fact rather than rulings of law.
    true bill
    The endorsement made by a grand jury on a bill of indictment when it finds sufficient evidence for trial on the charge alleged.
    trust
    A transaction in which the owner of real property or personal property (the trustor or settlor) gives ownership to a trustee, to hold and to manage it for the benefit of a third party, called the "beneficiary ".
    trustee
    One who holds the le-al title to property for the benefit of another.
    turncoat witness
    A witness whose testimony was expected to be favorable but who later becomes an adverse witness.

     

    unconscionability
    An absence of meaningful choice on the part of one of the parties to a contract, and contract terms which are unreasonably favorable to the other party.
    undue influence
    Whatever destroys free will and causes a person to do something he would not do if left to himself.
    unilateral
    One-sided, ex parte or having a relation to only one of two or more persons or things.
    unjust enrichment, doctrine of
    The principle that one person should not be permitted to unjustly enrich himself at the expense of another, but should be required to make restitution for the property or benefit received.
    unlawful detainer
    A detention of real estate without the consent of the owner or other person entitled to its possession.
    usury
    The taking of more interest for the use of money than the law allows.

     

    venire
    Technically, a writ summoning persons to court to act as jurors; popularly used as meaning the body of names of jurors summoned to serve for a particular case.
    venue
    The particular county, city or geographical area in which a court with jurisdiction may hear and determine a case.
    verdict
    The formal and unanimous decision or finding made by a jury.
    voir dire
    "To speak the truth. " The questioning of potential jurors by the judge and the lawyers to determine any biases, prejudices or other reasons for disqualification.

     

    waive
    To give up a right or claim voluntarily.
    waiver of immunity
    A means authorized by statutes by which a witness, in advance of giving testimony or producing evidence, may renounce the fundamental constitutional right that no person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself/herself.
    warrant
    A written order issued and signed by a judge or magistrate which allows the police to search a place and seize specified items found there (search warrant), or to arrest or detain a specified person (arrest warrant).
    willful
    A "willful" act is one done intentionally, as distinguished from an act done carelessly or inadvertently.
    with prejudice
    A dismissal "with prejudice" bars the right to bring or maintain another action on the same claim or cause.
    without prejudice
    A dismissal "without prejudice" allows a new suit to be brought on the same cause of action.
    witness
    One who testifies under oath to what he/she has seen, heard or otherwise observed.
    writ
    A court order requiring the performance of a specified act or giving authority to have the act done.
    writ of certiorari
    A procedure requesting appellate review. It is discretionary. If the writ is denied, the higher court refuses to hear the appeal and the judgment in the lower court stands unchanged. If the writ is granted, the higher court hears the appeal.
    writ of execution
    A writ to put in force the judgment or decree of a court.

     

    zoning
    The division of a city by legislative regulation into districts, and the design of regulations having to do with structural and architectural design and use of buildings.