Legal Terms

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 ~

Acknowledgement: The signature of a clerk or attorney certifying that the person filing the document has sworn that the contents are true, and/or that the document is signed by his or her free act and deed.

Action: Also called a case or lawsuit. A civil judicial proceeding where one party sues another for a wrong done, or to protect a right or to prevent a wrong.

Adjudication: A decision or sentence imposed by a judge.

Adult Probation: A legal status, applied to people 16 years of age and older, who have been convicted of a crime and placed under the supervision of a probation officer for a period of time set by the court.

Affirmation: Declaring something to be true under the penalty of perjury by a person who will not take an oath for religious or other reasons.

Affidavit: A written statement made under oath.

Allegation: Saying that something is true. The assertion, declaration or statement of a party in a case, made in a pleading.

Alternative Dispute Resolution: Also called ADR. Any method used to resolve disputes other than traditional trial proceedings. For example, mediation. ADR programs speed up the disposition of civil cases.

Annulment: A court order declaring that a marriage is invalid.

Answer: A court document, or pleading, in a civil case, by which the defendant responds to the plaintiff's complaint.

Appeal: Asking a higher court to review the decision or sentence of a trial court because the lower court made an error.

Appearance: The official court form filed with the court clerk which tells the court that you are representing yourself in a lawsuit or criminal case or that an attorney is representing you. All court notices and calendars will be mailed to the address listed on the form. When a defendant in a civil case files an appearance, the person is submitting to the court's jurisdiction.

Appellant: The party appealing a decision or judgment to a higher court.

Appellee: The party against whom an appeal is taken.

Arbitration: Submitting a case or dispute to designated parties for a decision, instead of using a judge.

Arraignment: The first court appearance of a person accused of a crime. The person is advised of his or her rights by a judge and may respond to the criminal charges by entering a plea. Usually happens the morning after a person is arrested.

Arrearages: Money for alimony and/or child support, which is overdue and unpaid.

Attachment: A lien on property or assets to hold it to pay or satisfy any final judgment.

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


~ B ~

Bail: Also called Bond. Money or property given to the court for the temporary release of a defendant, to ensure that the defendant will return to court.

Best Interest of the Child: The standard a judge uses to decide custody and visitation issues.

Bench Warrant: Court papers issued by the judge, "from the bench," for the arrest of a person.

Bond: Also called bail. Money or property given to the court for the temporary release of a defendant, to ensure that the defendant will return to court. There are two kinds of bonds:

Brief: A written document prepared by a lawyer or party on each side of a dispute and filed with the court in support of their arguments.

Broken Down Irretrievably: The most common reason for granting a divorce. It means there is no hope of the husband and wife getting back together again. Also known as "no-fault" divorce.


~ C ~

Calendar: A list of court cases scheduled for a specific date and time; the civil and family court docket.

Case: A lawsuit or action in a court.

Case Conference: A meeting scheduled by the court to review the case.

Case File: The court file containing papers submitted in a case.

Certify: To testify in writing; to make known or establish as a fact.

Charge: Formal accusation of a crime.

Child Support: Money paid by a parent to help meet the financial needs of a child.

Civil Action: A lawsuit other than a criminal case usually filed in a Judicial District courthouse. Includes family actions (divorces, child support, etc) and small claims cases, although these are both separately designated.

Claim: In civil cases, the statement of relief desired.

Common Law: Laws that develop through case decisions by judges. Not enacted by legislative bodies.

Community Service: Also referred to as STS (Sentence to Service) work that convicted defendants are required to perform in order to repay the community for the harm caused to the community by the crime.

Complaint: A legal document that tells the court what you want, and is served with a summons on the defendant to begin the case.

Complex Litigation: A specialized docket designed for complex civil cases, where one judge hears the case from beginning to end. Criteria includes: multiple parties, large amounts of money, lengthy trial or complex legal issues.

Contempt of Court: A finding that someone disobeyed a court order. Can also mean disrupting court, for example, by being loud or disrespectful in court.

Continuance: The adjournment or postponement of a court case to another day.

Continuance Date: Date on which the case will next be heard in court.

Contract: A legally enforceable agreement between two or more persons or parties.

Conviction: To be found guilty of committing a crime.

Costs: Expenses in prosecuting or defending a case in court

Count: The different parts of a complaint, which could each be a basis or grounds for the lawsuit.

Counter Claim: A claim by the defendant in a civil action that the defendant is entitled to damages or other relief from the plaintiff.

Court Clerk: The person who maintains the official court record of your case. The court clerks' office receives all court papers and assigns hearing dates.

Court Interpreter: The person who translates court hearings from English to another language. Provided at state expense in all criminal cases and in cases enforcing child support orders, if requested. No interpreter is available for divorce or any other civil case.

Court Reporter: The person who records everything said during the court hearing on a stenograph machine and prepares a written record for a fee, if requested.

Court Trial: Trial by a judge, rather than by a jury.

Cross-Examination: Questioning by a party or the attorney of an adverse party or a witness.

Custody: A court order deciding where a child will live and how decisions about the child will be made. Parents may ask for any custody arrangement that they believe is in the best interest of their child.

Custody Affidavit: A sworn statement containing facts about a child involved in a case, including full name of the child, date of birth, current and past residences and other information as may be required by law.


~ D ~

Damages: Money a party receives as compensation for a legal wrong.

Declaration: An unsworn statement of facts made by a party to the transaction, or by one who has an interest in the facts recounted.

Default: To fail to respond or answer to the plaintiff's claims by filing the required court document; usually an Appearance or an Answer.

Defendant: In civil cases, the person who is given court papers, also called a respondent. In criminal cases, the person who is arrested and charged with a crime.

Deposition: Testimony of a witness taken, under oath, in response to another party's questions. Testimony given outside the courtroom, usually in a lawyer's office. A word for word account (transcript) is made of the testimony.

Discovery: A formal request by one party in a lawsuit to disclose information or facts known by other parties or witnesses.

Dismissal: A judge's decision to end the case.

Dismissal Without Prejudice: A judge's decision to end the case which permits the complainant or prosecutor to renew the case later. In contrast, dismissal "with prejudice" prevents the complainant or prosecutor to bring or maintain the same claim or action again.

Dispose: Ending a legal case or a judicial proceeding.

Disposition: The manner in which a case is settled or resolved.

Dissolution: The legal end of a marriage, also called a divorce.

Docket: A list of cases scheduled to be heard in court on a specific day or week.

Docket Number: A unique number the court clerk assigns to a case. It must be used on all future papers filed in the court case. Each docket number starts with two letters that tell the type of case. CI = criminal infraction; CR = criminal case; CV = civil case; FA = family case; MI = motor vehicle infraction; MV= motor vehicle case; SC = small claims.

Domicile: The permanent home of a person. A person may have several residences, but only one domicile.


~ E ~

Emancipation: The release of a youth from the legal authority and control of the youth's parents and the corresponding release of the youth's parents from their obligations to the youth.

Eminent Domain: The legal process by which private property is taken for public use without the consent of the owner.

Eviction: Legally forcing a tenant out of rented property.

Evidence: Testimony, documents or objects presented at a trial to prove a fact.

Ex Parte: Done for, or at the request of, one side in a case only, without prior notice to the other side.


~ F ~

Failure to Appear: In a civil case, failing to file an Appearance form. In a criminal case, failing to come to court for a scheduled hearing.

Family Support Magistrate: A person who decides cases involving child support and paternity. Can also enforce court orders involving paternity, child support and alimony.

Felony: Any criminal offense for which a person may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than of one year.

Filing: Giving the court clerk legal papers which become part of the case file.

Financial Affidavit: A sworn statement of income, expenses, property (called assets) and debts (called liabilities).

Finding: The court's or jury's decision on issues of fact.

Foreclosure: A court order ending the legal ownership of property.

Foreman: An elected member of a jury who delivers the verdict to the court.


~ G ~

Garnishment: A court order to collect money or property. For example, a garnishment may be issued to an employer to pay part of an employee's wages to someone else to pay a debt or judgment.

Grievance: A complaint filed against an attorney or judge, claiming an ethics violation.

Guardian: A person who has the power and duty to take care of another person and/or to manage the property and rights of another person who is considered incapable of taking care of his or her personal affairs.

Guardian Ad Litem: A person, usually a parent, appointed by the court to represent a child or unborn person in a court case. If a family member is not available, a judge may appoint an attorney.


~ H ~

Habeas Corpus: A court order used to bring a person physically before a court in order to test the legality of the person's detention. Usually, it is directed to the official or person detaining another, commanding him to bring the person to court for the judge to determine if that person has been denied liberty without due process of law.

Hearsay: Testimony given by a witness who tells second or third hand information.

Honor Court: A program of outpatient group therapy for alcohol abusers.

Housing Specialist: A person who provides pretrial mediation of landlord/tenant cases to reach settlement. Also provides information about community resources to litigants.

Hung Jury: A jury whose members cannot reconcile their differences of opinion and thus cannot reach a verdict.


~ I ~

Incarceration: Confinement to a state correctional institute or prison.

Income Withholding Order: A court order to deduct child support or alimony payments from someone's wages. All child support court orders must include an income withholding order unless both parents ask the judge not to.

Injunction: A court order to stop doing or to start doing a specific act.

Interrogatory: Formal, written questions used to get information from another party in a lawsuit.


~ J ~

Judgment: A court decision. Also called a decree or an order.

Jurisdiction: Power and authority of a court to hear and make a judgment in a case.


~ L ~

Legal Custody: Relationship with a child created by court order which gives a person legal responsibility for the physical possession of a minor and the duty to protect, care for and discipline the child.

Legal Separation: A court order describing the conditions under which two married people will live separately.

Lien: A charge, hold, or claim upon property of another as security for a debt.

Lis Pendens: A pending lawsuit. Jurisdiction or control that courts have over property in a case waiting for final disposition. A notice of lis pendens is filed on the land records.

Litigant: A party to a case.

Lockout: Illegally forcing a tenant out of rented property, usually by changing the locks on the doors.


~ M ~

Magistrate: A person who is not a judge but who is authorized to hear and decide certain types of cases. For example, family support magistrates hear cases involving child support.

Mandamus: An order directed to a private corporation, or any of its officers, or to an executive, administrative or judicial officer, or to a lower court, commanding the performance of a particular act.

Mediation: A dispute resolution process in which an impartial third party assists the parties to voluntarily reach a mutually acceptable settlement.

Minor: A person under age 18, the age of legal majority.

Modification: Request to change a prior order. Usually requires showing a change in circumstances since the date of the prior order.

Motion: Usually written request to the court in a case. Filed with the clerk's office.

Movant: The person who filed the motion, or request, to the court.

Moving Party: The person making the request to the court in a case.


~ N ~

No Contact Order: A court order that prohibits contact by a defendant with a victim; can be ordered by a judge, a bail commissioner, a probation officer or a parole officer.

Notarize: To formally complete a document by acknowledgement or oath.


~ O ~

Oath: To swear/affirm to the truth of a statement/document.

Order: A written direction of a court or judge to do or refrain from doing certain acts.


~ P ~

Parcel: A tract or a plot of land.

Parenting Education Program: A mandatory program for persons involved in a divorce with children or a custody or visitation case.

Parties: The people or legal entities that are named as plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) on legal papers.

Party: A person or legal entity that is named as a plaintiff or defendant on legal papers.

Paternity: Legal fatherhood.

Petition: A formal written request to a court, which starts a special proceeding.

Petitioner: Another word for plaintiff, the person starting the lawsuit.

Plaintiff: The person who sues or starts a civil case, also called the petitioner or the complainant.

Plea: An accused person's answer to a criminal charge. For example: not guilty; guilty; no contest.

Plea Bargain: The agreement a defendant makes with the prosecutor to avoid a trial. Usually involves pleading guilty to lesser charges in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Pleadings: The court documents filed with the court by the parties in a civil or criminal case. For example: motion to dismiss; motion for modification.

Pre-Sentence Investigation: Also called PSI. A background investigation conducted by a probation officer on a person who has been convicted of a criminal offense.

Pretrial: In a civil case, a conference with a judge or trial referee to discuss discovery and settlement. In a criminal case, a conference with the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge to discuss the case status and what will happen next.

Pretrial Hearing: Conference with attorneys to determine scope of possible trial with view toward resolving issues through agreement.

Probable Cause Hearing: A hearing held before a judge in criminal cases to determine if enough evidence exists to prosecute.

Probate/Probate Court: A court with limited authority to hear certain kinds of cases, such as adoption, guardianship, mental health commitments.

Pro Se: A Latin phrase meaning for "yourself"--representing yourself in any kind of case.

Pro se Divorce: Do it yourself divorce.

Prosecute: To carry on a case or judicial proceeding. To proceed against a person criminally.

Prosecutor: Represents the state in a criminal case against a defendant.

Protective Order: A criminal court order issued by a judge to protect a family or household member.

Public Defender: An attorney appointed and paid by the state who defends a person in a criminal case after the court finds that the person is indigent--financially unable to hire a private attorney.


~ R ~

Record: The pleadings, the exhibits and the transcript made by the court reporter of all proceedings in a trial.

Respondent: Another word for defendant; the person responding to a lawsuit.

Rest: To be done presenting the evidence in a case, as in "the plaintiff rests".

Restitution: Money ordered to be paid by the defendant to the victim to reimburse the victim for the costs of the crime. Generally making good, or giving the equivalent for any loss, damage or injury caused by a persons actions. Often a condition of probation.

Restraining Order: A civil court order to protect a family or household member from physical abuse.

Rule to Show Cause: Summons compelling a person to appear in court on a specific date to answer to a request that certain orders be modified or vacated.


~ S ~

Sentencing: When a criminal defendant is brought before a judge after conviction for ordering the terms of the punishment.

Service: The legal method for giving a copy of the court papers being filed to other parties in a case.

Statute: A law enacted by a legislative body.

Statute of Limitations: A certain time allowed by law for starting a case.

Stay: Temporarily stopping a judicial proceeding.

Stipulation: Also called a "stip." A written agreement by the parties or their attorneys.

Subpoena: A command to appear in court to testify as a witness.

Summons: A legal paper that is used to start a civil case and get jurisdiction over a party.


~ T ~

Testimony: Statements made by a witness or party under oath.

Time Served: A sentence of incarceration equal to the amount of time a defendant has already spent in state custody waiting for disposition of the case.

Title: Legal recognition of the ownership of property, usually proven by a document.

Tort: A civil injury or wrong to someone else, or their property.

Transcript: The official written record of everything that was said at a court proceeding, a hearing, or a deposition.


~ U ~

Unconditional Discharge: A sentence in a criminal case in which the defendant is released with without imprisonment, probation supervision or conditions.


~ V ~

Vacate: To cancel or rescind a court order.

Venue: The court location.

Victim Services Advocate: A person who assesses a victim's needs and helps the victim understand the court case, how to exercise their rights and how to access other resources.

Visitation or Parenting Time: A court order deciding the amount of time a non-custodial parent may spend with his or her child, also called parenting time or access.


~ W ~

Wage Withholding: A court order to deduct child support or alimony payments from someone's wages.

Witness: A person who testifies to what they saw, heard, observed or did.

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