Legal Terms

A determination after a trial that a defendant in a criminal case is not guilty of the crime charged.

An action against the person, found in a personal liability.

An action for a thing; an action for the recovery of a thing possessed by another.

Giving or pronouncing a judgment or decree; also the judgment given.

The system of trial practice in the U.S., and some other countries, in which each opposing party, or adversary, has full opportunity to present and establish its contentions before the court.

The assertion, declaration, or statement of a party to an action, made in a pleading, setting out what he expects to prove.

A pleading by which defendant endeavors to resist the plaintiff’s allegation of facts.

The formal proceeding by which a defendant submits himself to the jurisdiction of the court.

A court having jurisdiction of appeal and review; not a “trial court”.

The act of staying the effect of a judgment already entered.

Attorney whose name appears in the permanent records or files of a case.

When a person that is accused of committing a crime is taken to court, notified of the charges, and asked to plead either “guilty” or “not guilty”.

To set at liberty a person arrested or imprisoned, on security being taken, for his appearance on a specified day and place.

An obligation signed by the accused, with securities, to secure his/her presence in court.

A court attendant whose duties are to keep order in the courtroom and to have custody of the jury.

Bench; the place where a court permanently or regularly sits. A sitting en banc is a meeting of all the judges of a court, as distinguished from the sitting of a single judge.

Process issued by the court itself, or from the bench, for the attachment or arrest of a person.

One in which jury is told if they find certain conditions to be true they must find for the plaintiff, or the defendant, as the case may be.

To hold over for trial.

A written report or printed document prepared by counsel to file in court, usually setting forth both facts and law in support of his/her case.

In the law of evidence, the necessity or duty of affirmatively proving a fact or facts in dispute.

The caption of a pleading, or other papers connected with a case in court, is the heading or introductory clause which shows the names of the parties, name of the court, number of the cases, etc.

An original writ commanding judges or officers of lower courts to certify or to return records of proceedings in a cause for judicial review.

Private office or room of a judge.

The removal of a suit begun in one country or district to another for trial, or from one court to another in the same county or district.

All evidence of indirect nature; the process of decision by which court or jury may reason from circumstances known or proved to establish by inference the principal fact.

Law which derives its authority solely from usage and customs of immemorial authority, or from the judgments and decrees of courts. Also called “case law”.

The change from a greater to lesser punishment, as from death to life imprisonment.

The doctrine by which acts of the opposing parties are compared in the degrees of “slight”, “ordinary”, and “gross” negligence.

In the law of evidence, the presence of those characteristics which render a witness legally fit and qualified to give testimony.

Synonymous with “plaintiff”.

The first legal document filed in a civil lawsuit. A Complaint details the claim, the court of jurisdiction and the remedies requested.

Sentences for more than one crime in which the time of each is to be served concurrently, rather than successively.

The legal process by which real estate of a private owner is taken for public use without his/her consent, but upon the award and payment of just compensation.

A ruling by a judge that a person is intentionally obstructing a court order or failing to obey a judge’s order. It is punishable by fine or a jail sentence.

A legal doctrine stating that if the plaintiff in a civil action for negligence was also negligent, he cannot recover damages from the defendant for the defendant’s negligence.

The body (material substance) upon which a crime has been committed, e.g., the corpse of a murdered man, the charred remains of a burned house.

Evidence supplementary to that already given and tending to strengthen or confirm it.

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

A claim presented by a defendant in opposition to the claim of a plaintiff.

A person who transcribes by shorthand or stenographically takes down testimony during court proceedings.

Those whose proceedings are permanently recorded, and which have the power to fine or imprison for contempt. Courts not of record are those of lesser authority whose proceedings are not permanently recorded.

Lack of mental capacity to do or to abstain from doing a particular act; inability to distinguish right from wrong.

The questioning of a witness in a trial, or in the taking of a deposition, by the party opposed to the one who produced the witness.

Separate sentences (each additional to the other) imposed against a person convicted upon an indictment containing several counts, each charging a different offense. (Same as an accumulative sentence).

Money that would compensate a plaintiff for some injury, loss, or inconvenience caused by another and that is asked for in a civil lawsuit.

One which declares the rights of the parties or expresses the opinion of the court on a question of law, without ordering anything be done.

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 provisional or preliminary decree which is not final.

A “default” in an action of law occurs when a defendant omits to plead within the time allowed or fails to appear at the trial.

To file a pleading (called “demurrer”) admitting the truth of the facts in the complaint or answer but contending they are legally insufficient.

Anew, afresh. A trial de novo is the retrial of a case.

The testimony of a witness not taken in open court, but by authority given by statute or rule of court to take testimony elsewhere.

An instruction by the judge to the jury to return a specific verdict.

Proof of facts by witnesses who saw acts done or heard words spoken, as distinguished from circumstantial evidence, called indirect evidence.

The first interrogation of a witness by the party on whose behalf he is called.

The pretrial exchange of information between opposing sides.

Permits the complainant to sue again on the same cause of action, while dismissal “with prejudice” bars the right to bring or maintain an action on the same cause or claim.

That place where a person has her true and permanent home. A person may have several residences, but only one domicile.

Common law and constitutional prohibition against more than one prosecution for the same crime, transaction, or omission.

The principle that the government must act in a fair and reasonable manner when it threatens to deprive an individual of life, liberty or property.

The fraudulent appropriation by a person to his own use or benefit of property or money entrusted to him by another.

The power to take private property for the public use by condemnation.

To require a person, by writ of injunction from a court of equity, to perform, or to abstain or desist from, some act.

The act of officers or agents of a government in inducing a person to commit a crime not contemplated by him, for the purpose of instituting a criminal prosecution against him.

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. (Remedies not available at common law.)

A formal objection to an action of the court, during the trial of a case, in refusing a request or overruling an objection; implying that the party excepting does not acquiesce in the decision of the court and will seek to reverse it.

In both civil and common law, rights and causes are divided into two classes: those arising ex contractu (from a contract) and ex delicto (from a wrong or tort).

Rights and causes of action arising from a wrong or “tort”.

A paper, document or other article produced and exhibited to a court during a trial or hearing.

By or for one party; done for, on behalf of, or on the application of one party only.

A rule allowing warrantless searches and seizures in emergency situations. These circumstance generally occur when the police are in hot pursuit of someone who has just committed a crime.

Circumstances which render a crime less aggravated, heinous, or reprehensible than it would otherwise be.

The surrender by one state to another of an individual accused or convicted of an offense outside of its own territory, and within the territory jurisdiction of the other.

Any unlawful physical restraint of another’s liberty, whether in prison or elsewhere.

Designed misrepresentation of existing facts or conditions whereby a person obtains another’s money or goods.

A serious crime punishable by a prison sentence of a year or more.

A term derived from the Roman law, meaning a person holding the character of a trustee, in respect to the trust and confidence involved in it, and the scrupulous good faith and candor which it requires.

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

An intentional perversion of truth; deceitful practice or device resorted to with intent to deprive another of property or other right, or in some manner do him harm.

A demurrer raising the question whether the pleading against which it is directed lacks the definite allegations essential to a cause of action or defense.

A person appointed by a court to look after the interests of a minor whose property is involved in litigation.

“you have the body”. The name given to a variety of writs whose objective is to bring a person before a court or judge. In most common usage, it is directed to the official or person detaining another, commanding him to produce the body of the prisoner or person detained so the court may determine if such person has been denied his liberty without due process of law.

In appellate practice, an error committed by a lower court during a trial, but not prejudicial to the rights of the appellant and for which the court will not reverse the judgment.

A proceeding in which arguments, witnesses, or evidence are heard by a judge in order for the judge to make some decision relative to a case.

A repetition of another’s statement. Hearsay evidence is usually not admissible in an adult trial because it is not based on the personal knowledge of a witness and is considered unreliable.

A witness who is subject to cross-examination by the party who called him to testify, because of his evident antagonism toward that party during direct examination.

A combination of facts and circumstances, assumed or proved, stated to constitute a coherent state for an expert to give an opinion as evidence in a trial.

An attack on the credibility of a witness.

Negligence which is not directly attributable to the person herself, but which is the negligence of a person who is in privity with her, and which shows fault with which he is chargeable.

That which, under the established rules of evidence, cannot be admitted or received.

In chambers; in private.

Evidence which is not admissible under the established rules of evidence.

A formal accusation, usually of a felony, by a grand jury.

Any court subordinate to the chief appellate tribunal in a particular judicial system.

An accusation for some criminal offense, in the nature of an indictment, but which is presented by a public officer instead of a grand jury.

A court order to guard against future harms. It may stop or require an action.

A direction given by the judge to the jury concerning the law of the case.

Provisional; temporary; not final.  Refers to orders and decrees of a court.

A discovery technique wherein written questions are sent by one party’s attorney to the attorney for the other party. Interrogatories must be answered in writing and under oath.

A proceeding in a suit or action in which the court allows a third person to become a party.

Evidence not relating or applicable to the matter in issue.

The authority of a court to resolve a particular controversy. Jurisdiction may be determined by geographic location, subject matter, or persons involved in the case.

A certain number of persons, selected according to law and sworn to inquire of certain matters of fact and to declare the truth upon evidence laid before them.

A jury of inquiry who receives complaints and accusations in criminal cases, hears the evidence, and finds bills of indictment in cases where they are satisfied that there is probable cause that a crime was committed and that a trial ought to be held.

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.

One which instructs a witness how to answer or puts into his mouth words to be

echoed back; one which suggests to the witness the answer desired. Prohibited on direct examination.

When it is determined that the plaintiff in a civil case has proved his claim against the defendant, the defendant is “liable” (rather than “guilty” as in a criminal case).

Limitation – A certain time allowed by statute in which litigation must be brought.

A pending suit.

The place of the offense.

An action instituted without probable cause with the intention of injuring the defendant and which terminates in favor of the person prosecuted.

The unlawful killing of another without malice; may be either voluntary, upon a sudden impulse, or involuntary in the commission of some unlawful act.

Relevant evidence going to the substantial issues in dispute.


The process of solving a dispute through an impartial third party who guides disputing parties in working out a solution.
A crime less serious than a felony. A misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of one year or less in jail and/or a fine of $1,000.00 or less.

An erroneous or invalid trial; a trial which cannot stand in law because of lack of jurisdiction, wrong drawing of jurors, or disregard of some other fundamental requisite.

Circumstances surrounding the commission of a crime that may reduce the blameworthiness of the defendant and influence a judge to give a lenient sentence.

Not settled by judicial decisions. A justiciable controversy no longer presented because the issues involved have become academic or dead.

A request from an attorney to a judge to postpone a trial to allow for more time to prepare the case.
A request from an attorney to a judge to prevent the introduction of evidence that would damage that attorney’s side of the case.

Conduct contrary to honesty, modesty or good judicial morals.

In the judicial organization of some states, courts whose territorial authority is confined to the city or community.

The unlawful killing of a human being by another with malicious forethought, either expressed or implied.

The failure to do something which a reasonable person guided by ordinary considerations would do; the doing of something which a reasonable and prudent person would not do.

A method of resolving disputes in which the parties talk with each other to attempt to reach a compromise on the issues in dispute.

One acting for the benefit of a minor, or other person, without being regularly appointed as a guardian.

This phrase, endorsed by a grand jury on the indictment, is equivalent to “not found” or “not a true bill”. In the opinion of the jury, evidence was insufficient to warrant the return of a formal charge.

A formal entry upon the record by the plaintiff in a civil suit, or the prosecuting officer in a criminal case, by which he declares that he “will not further prosecute” the case.

A pleading, usually used by defendants in criminal cases, which literally means “I will not contest it”.

One who is joined as a party or a defendant merely because the technical rules of pleading require his presence on the record.

Not of sound mind; insane.

In practice, a notice in writing requiring the opposite party to produce a certain described paper or document at the trial.

The act of taking exception to some statement or procedure in trial. Used to call the courts attention to improper evidence or procedure.

An attorney employed to assist in the preparation or management of the case, or its presentation on appeal, but who is not the principal attorney of record.

Evidence of what the witness thinks, believes, or infers in regard to facts in dispute, as distinguished from his personal knowledge of the facts; not admissible except (with certain limitations) in the case of experts.

A list of jurors to serve in a particular court or for the trial of a particular action; denotes either the whole body of persons summoned as jurors for a particular term of court or those selected by the clerk by lot.

The conditional release from prison of a convict before the expiration of his sentence. If he observes the conditions, the parolee need not serve the remainder of his sentence.

The persons who are actively concerned in the prosecution or defense of a legal proceeding.

The challenge which the prosecution/plaintiff or defense may use to reject a Certain number of prospective jurors without assigning any cause.

A person who brings an action; the party who complains or sues in a personal action.

A practice whereby the jurors are asked individually whether they assented and still assent to the verdict.

An instrument authorizing another to act as one’s agent or attorney.

Synonymous with “reversible error”, an error which warrants the appellate court to reverse the judgment before it.

Synonymous with “preliminary examination”, the hearing given to a person charged with a crime by a magistrate or judge to determine whether she should be held for trial. Since the Constitution states that a person cannot be accused in secret, a preliminary hearing is open to the public unless the defendant requests that it be closed. The accused person must be present at this hearing and must be accompanied by her attorney.

Greater weight of evidence, or evidence which is more credible and convincing to the mind, not necessarily the greater number of witnesses.

An informal statement in writing by a grand jury, from their own knowledge or observation, to the court that a public offense has been committed, without any bill of indictment laid before them.

An inference as to the trust or falsity of any proposition of fact, drawn by a process of reasoning in the absence of actual certainty of its truth or falsity, or until such certainty can be ascertained.

A rule of law that courts and judges shall draw a particular inference from a particular fact, or from particular evidence.

In modern criminal administration, allowing a person convicted of some minor offense (particularly juvenile offenders) to go at large, under a suspended sentence, during good behavior, and generally under the supervision or guardianship of a probation officer.

One who initiates the prosecution upon which an accused is arrested or one who brings an accusation against the party whom he suspects to be guilty; also, one who takes charge of a case and performs the functions of a trial lawyer for the state.

A rule that the police, when acting without a search warrant, can seize only those items in sight of the officer(s).
The negotiation between a defense attorney and prosecutor in which a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for a lesser charge or sentence.
The documents that form the factual and legal issues to be determined in a civil trial.
A hearing that may be scheduled after a jury has found a defendant guilty before sentencing. This hearing allows time for a presentence investigation.
Research about a defendant who is found guilty. Compiled by a probation officer, this research might include aggravating or mitigating circumstances, criminal record, background, and community status of the defendant.
The reasonable grounds to make an accusation.

Authority or discretion vested in an officer, where he has a judicial character.

To overthrow, to vacate, to annul or to void a summons or indictment.

An accused person is entitled to acquittal if in the minds of the jury her guilt has not been proved beyond a “reasonable doubt”:  the state of the jurors’ minds in which they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction as to the truth of the charge.

The introduction of rebutting evidence; the showing that statements of witnesses as to what occurred is not true; the stage of a trial at which such evidence may be introduced.

Follows cross-examination and is exercised by the party who first examined the witness.

An order by a court directing the transfer of a cause to another court.

A pretrial discovery technique in which one attorney asks the opposing attorney to make certain documents available for inspection.

A court order obtained on motion by either party to show cause why the particular relief sought should not be granted.

An order made by a court having competent jurisdiction. Rules of court are either general or specific: the former are the regulations by which the practice of the court is governed; the latter are special orders made in particular cases.

In general, an examination without authority of law of ones premises or person with a view to discovering contraband, illicit property or some evidence of guilt to be used in prosecuting a crime.

An order in writing, issued by a justice or magistrate, in the name of the state, directing an officer to search a specific house or other premises for stolen property. Usually required as a condition precedent to a legal search and seizure.

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.