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)


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


A person who assists in the commission of a crime, either before or after
the fact.


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.


The name for the defendant in a criminal case.


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.


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.


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.


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


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

aggravated battery

The unlawful use of force against another with unusual or serious
consequences such as the use of a dangerous weapon.


One who has authority to act for another.


A defense claim that the accused was somewhere else at the time a
crime was committed.


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.


A pleading by which defendant responds to the plaintiff's complaint.


The bringing of a case to a higher court for review of a lower court's order
or judgment.


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


The party against whom an appeal is taken.


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.


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.


To deprive a person of his liberty by legal authority.

arrest of judgment

Postponing the effect of a judgment already entered.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


Actual physical violence, whether serious or minor, inflicted on a person
(A mere threat is called assault, whereas the completed act is called

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.


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


The breaking or violating of a law, right, obligation, or duty either by doing
an act or failing to do an act.


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

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.


The unlawful breaking into or entering of a building or dwelling with the
intent to commit a serious crime or theft.



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.


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.


"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

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


A supplement, addition, or postscript to a will.


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


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


The cause, price or impelling influence which induces a party to enter into
a contract.


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.


A court order postponing proceedings.


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.


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.


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.


An allowance for expenses in prosecuting or defending a suit. Ordinarily
this does not include attorney fees.


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.


In a civil proceeding, if there are two or more defendants, one defendant
can raise a claim against another defendant.


The questioning of a witness by the lawyer for the opposing side.


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.



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.


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.


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).


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.


The accused in a criminal case; the person from whom money or other
recover is sought in a civil case.


The jury's decision-making process after hearing the evidence and closing
arguments and being given the court's instructions.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.


A term commonly issued to denote the disagreement of one or more
judges of a court of appeals with the decision of the majority.


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.


A brief entry or the book containing such entries of any proceeding in


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.



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

en banc

A proceeding in which the entire membership of the court will participate
in the decision.


To order a person to perform, or to abstain and desist from performing a
specified act or course of conduct. See injunction.


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.


In American law, the right of the state to an estate left vacant, to which no
one makes a valid claim.


A writing, deed money, stock, or other property is given to a third person
to hold until all conditions in a contract are fulfilled.


A collective term meaning all real and personal property owned by a


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.


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.


A person assigned to carry out the provisions of a will.


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.


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.


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

fee simple absolute

The most complete, unlimited form of ownership of real property.


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.


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.


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.


A termination of all rights of the mortgagor or his grantee in the property
covered by the mortgage.


The false making or material altering, with intent to defraud, of any writing
which, if genuine, might be the foundation of a legal liability.


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

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.


An intentional perversion of truth; deceitful practice or device resorted to
with intent to deprive another of property or other right.



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

good faith

An hones belief, the absence of malice and the absence of design to

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.


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.


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

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.



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.


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.


The lack of power or the legal ability to act.


Imprisonment; confinement in a jail or penitentiary.


To make good or compensate or reimburse one of a loss already incurred
by him or her.


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


An accusation of a criminal offense made by a grand jury.


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.


The first paper filed in criminal prosecution which states the crime of
which the defendant is accused.


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.


A direction given by the judge to the jury concerning the law to be applied
in the case.

inter alia

Among other things.


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.


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.


Procedure in a suit or action by which the court permits a third person to
intervene and become a party.


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.


Evidence not sufficiently related to the matter in issue.



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.


The official decision of a court disposing of a case.


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.


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.


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.



The unlawful and carrying away of a human being by force and against his


With knowledge, willfully or intentionally with respect to a material
element of an offense.



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.


A seizure; the obtaining of money by legal process through seizure and
sale of property.


A legal responsibility, obligation, or debt.


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.


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

lis pendens

A pending suit.


A party to a lawsuit; one engaged in litigation.

locus delicti

The place of the offense.



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.


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.


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.


A writ by which a court commands the performance of a particular act.


A judicial command or order proceeding from a court or judicial officer,
directing the proper officer to enforce a judgment, sentence, or decree.


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.



A minor offense, lower than a felony, and punishable by a fine or
imprisonment other than in penitentiaries.


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.


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


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

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.


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

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

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.



An exception to some statement or procedure during the trial or other
proceeding. Used to call the court's attention to improper evidence or

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.


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.



Action by an official of an executive branch of government relieving a
criminal from a conviction.


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.


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.


Lying while under oath.


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.


A person who files a lawsuit.


The defendant's formal response to a criminal charge (guilty, not guilty,
nolo contendere, not guilty by reason of insanity, and guilty and mentally

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.


The formal allegations by the parties of their respective claims and

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.


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

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.


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.


Mutual or successive relationships to the same right of property, or the
same interest of one person with another which represents the same legal

probable cause

A judicial finding that there exists reasonable grounds for belief that a
person should be arrested or searched.


The process of proving the validity of a will.


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.


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.


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



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.


The continued, habitual or compulsive commission of law violations after
first having been convicted or prior offenses.


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.


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.


Evidence that helps to prove a point or issue in a case.


"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.


A written pleading containing the plaintiff's allegations in response to a

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.


1) the person who is the subject of a petition,
2) the prevailing party in a court case against whom an appeal is taken.


A party is said to "rest" or "rests a case" when he/she has presented all
the evidence he/she intends to offer.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


The judgment formally pronounced by the court upon the defendant after
conviction in a criminal prosecution, imposing the punishment to be

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.


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

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

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.


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


A stopping or arresting of a judicial proceeding by order of a court (e.g.. a
stay of enforcement of a judgment).


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


An interest in realty which passes to the tenant.


One who has dies leaving a will or one who has made a will.


The person who makes a will (female: testatrix).


Evidence given by a competent witness, under oath; as distinguished
from evidence derived from writings and other sources.


An injury or wrong committed, either with or without force, to the person
or property of another, for which civil liability may be imposed.


The official record of proceedings in a trial or hearing.


Actions are "transitory" when they might have taken place anywhere, and
are "local" when they could occur only in some particular place.


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

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.


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 ".


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.



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.


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.


The taking of more interest for the use of money than the law allows.



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.


The particular county, city or geographical area in which a court with
jurisdiction may hear and determine a case.


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



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.


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).


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.


One who testifies under oath to what he/she has seen, heard or otherwise


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.



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.