Legal Definitions

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.


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 And 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 court.


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.


One who has authority to act for another.

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.


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 decision.


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 suit 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 battery).

Bench Trial

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 trial.


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 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.


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 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.


See writ of certiorari.

Challenge For Cause

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 change 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 general, 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 Association.

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 courts.
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 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.

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.

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

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.

Court Reporter
A court official who records testimony and arguments, and transcribes it into a permanent record of all court proceedings.

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.

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.

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.

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
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 court.

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 municipalities.

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 person.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 goods.

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 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.

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

A remedial device used by a creditor to have property of the debtor or money owed to the debtor that is in the possession of a third party attached to pay the debt to the creditor.

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.

Hung Jury
A jury 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 impanelled. The jurors are sworn in and the trial is ready to proceed.

In Camera
In a judge’s chambers; in private.

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.

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.

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.

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 will.

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.

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, writin-, 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 actions.

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
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 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
Acts allowed to be done after the time when they should be done, with a retroactive effect.

The act of a party used to call the Court’s attention to improper evidence or procedure.

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

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

The formal allegation by the parties to a law suit with the intended purpose being to provide notice of what is to be expected at trial.

Pre-Sentence 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.

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.

Decision or plan to commit a crime before committing the crime.

Presentment (First Appearance)
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.

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

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; to abate; to vacate

Quid Pro Quo
What for what; something for something; giving one valuable thing for another.

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 -iven 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.

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 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 order of a specified duration issued after a hearing attended by all parties that is intended to protect one individual from violence, abuse, harassment, or stalking by another esp. by prohibiting or restricting access or proximity to the protected party.

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.

“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.

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).

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.