Legal

Glossary Law

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A priori assumption
An assumption that is true without further proof or need to prove it. However, it has a negative side: a priori assumption made without question on the basis that no analysis or study is necessary.

Abandon
To intentionally and permanently give up, surrender, leave, desert or relinquish all interest or ownership in property, a home or other premises, a right of way, and even a spouse, family, or children. The word is often used in situations to determine whether a tenant has left his/her apartment and the property inside and does not intend to come back.

Abet
To help someone commit a crime, including helping them escape from police or plan the crime.

Abrogate
To annul or repeal a law or pass legislation that contradicts the prior law. Abrogate also applies to revoking or withdrawing conditions of a contract.

Abscond
Traditionally to leave a jurisdiction (where the court, a process server or law enforcement can find one) to avoid being served with legal papers or being arrested.

Abstention doctrine
When the supreme court refuses to exercise its federal constitutional jurisdiction or declines to consider a question of state law arising from a case being appealed from a state court.

Abuse of process
The use of legal process by illegal, malicious, or perverted means.

Acceleration clause
Provision in a contract or promissory note that if some specified event (like not making payments on time) occurs then the entire amount or other requirements are due.

Acceptance of service
Agreement by a defendant (or his/her attorney) in a legal action to accept a complaint or other petition (like divorce papers) without having the sheriff or process server show up at the door. The agreement of “acceptance of service” must be in writing or there is no proof that it happened. In most jurisdictions there is a form entitled “receipt and acknowledgment of acceptance of service” or similar language which must be signed, dated and sent back to the attorney who sent the complaint or petition. Attorneys must be careful that they have legal authority from a client to act on his/her behalf, because a client may deny later that he/she gave authority to accept service.

Accessory
A second-string player who helps in the commission of a crime by driving the getaway car, providing the weapons, assisting in the planning, providing an alibi, or hiding the principal offender after the crime. Usually the accessory is not immediately present during the crime, but must be aware that the crime is going to be committed or has been committed. Usually an accessory’s punishment is less than that of the main perpetrator, but a tough jury or judge may find the accessory just as responsible.

Accused
A person charged with a crime.

Acknowledge
1) generally to admit something, whether bad, good or indifferent. 2) to verify to a notary public or other officer (such as a county clerk) that the signer executed (wrote, signed) the document like a deed, lease, or power of attorney, to make it certified as legal and suitable for recording.

Action
A lawsuit in which one party (or parties) sues another.

Ad hoc
Latin shorthand meaning “for this purpose only” thus, an ad hoc committee is formed for a specific purpose, usually appointed to solve a particular problem. An ad hoc attorney is hired to handle one problem only and often is a specialist in a particular area or considered especially able to argue a key point.

Ad valorem
Latin for “based on value,” which applies to property taxes based on a percentage of the county’s assessment of the property’s value.

Adhesion contract
A contract (often a signed form) so imbalanced in favor of one party over the other that there is a strong implication it was not freely bargained. Example: a rich landlord dealing with a poor tenant who has no choice and must accept all terms of a lease, no matter how restrictive or burdensome, since the tenant cannot afford to move.

Adjourn
The final closing of a meeting, such as a convention, a meeting of the board of directors, or any official gathering.

Administrative hearing
A hearing before any governmental agency or before an administrative law judge. Such hearings can range from simple arguments to what amounts to a trial. There is no jury, but the agency or the administrative law judge will make a ruling.

Administrative law
The procedures created by administrative agencies (governmental bodies of the city, county, state or federal government) involving rules, regulations, applications, licenses, permits, available information, hearings, appeals and decision-making.

Admission
A statement made by a party to a lawsuit or a criminal defendant, usually prior to trial, that certain facts are true. An admission is not to be confused with a confession of blame or guilt, but admits only some facts. In civil cases, each party is permitted to submit a written list of alleged facts and request the other party to admit or deny whether each is true or correct. Failure to respond in writing is an admission of the alleged facts and may be used in trial.

Admission of guilt
A statement by someone accused of a crime that he/she committed the offense.

Admission to bail
An order of a court in a criminal case allowing an accused defendant to be freed on a pending trial if he/she posts bail (deposits either cash or a bond) in an amount set by the court. Theoretically, the posting of bail is intended to guarantee the appearance of the defendant in court when required. In minor routine cases (e.g. Petty theft or drunk driving) a judge automatically sets bail based on a rate schedule which can be obtained and put up quickly. Otherwise bail is set at the first court appearance.

Advance
A payment which is made before it is legally due, such as before shipment is made, a sale is completed, a book is completed by the author, or a note is due to be paid.

Affirmative action
The process of a business or governmental agency in which it gives special rights of hiring or advancement to ethnic minorities to make up for past discrimination against that minority.

Agent
A person who is authorized to act for another (the agent’s principal) through employment, by contract or apparent authority.

Alias
A name used other than the given name of a person or reference to that other name, which may not be an attempt to hide his/her identity.

Alien
A person who is not a citizen of the country.

Appeal
To ask a higher court to reverse the decision of a trial court after final judgment or other legal ruling.

Appraiser
A professional who makes appraisals of the value of property. Some specialize in real property, and others in other types of assets from rugs to rings.

Arrears
Money not paid when due, usually the sum of a series of unpaid amounts, such as rent, installments on an account or promissory note, or monthly child support. Sometimes these are called “arrearages.”

Arrest
To take or hold a suspected criminal with legal authority, as by a law enforcement officer.

Assault
The threat or attempt to strike another, whether successful or not, provided the target is aware of the danger.

At will employment
A provision found in many employment contracts which suggest the employee works at the will of the employer, and which the employers insert in order to avoid claims of termination in breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, or discrimination.

Attorney
1) an agent or someone authorized to act for another. 2) a person who has been qualified by a state or federal court to provide legal services, including appearing in court.

Authorize
To officially empower someone to act.

Bachelor of laws
The degree in law from a law school, abbreviated to llb, which means that the recipient has successfully completed three years of law studies in addition to at least three undergraduate years on any subject.

Back-to-back life sentences
Slang for consecutive life terms imposed by a judge when there were two crimes committed by the defendant, both of which can result in punishment of a life term, such as two murders, or a murder and a rape involving aggravated assault.

Bail
The money or bond put up to secure the release of a person who has been charged with a crime.

Bankruptcy
A federal system of statutes and courts which permits persons and businesses which are insolvent (debtors) or (in some cases) face potential insolvency, to place his/her/its financial affairs under the control of the bankruptcy court.

Bar
Collectively all attorneys, as “the bar,” which comes from the bar or railing which separates the general spectator area of the courtroom from the area reserved for judges, attorneys, parties and court officials. A party to a case or criminal defendant is “before the bar” when he/she is inside the railing. 2) to prevent some legal maneuver, as in “barring” a lawsuit due to the running out of the time to file. 3) to prohibit and keep someone from entering a room, building, or real property.

Bench
1) general term for all judges, as in “the bench,” or for the particular judge or panel of judges, as in an order coming from the “bench.” 2) the large, usually long and wide desk raised above the level of the rest of the courtroom, at which the judge or panel of judges sit.

Bfp
Slang for bona fide purchaser, which means someone who purchased something (e.g. A bond, a promissory note, or jewelry) with no reason to be suspicious that it was stolen, belonged to someone else, or was subject to another party’s claim.

Bias
The predisposition of a judge, arbitrator, prospective juror, or anyone making a judicial decision, against or in favor of one of the parties or a class of persons. This can be shown by remarks, decisions contrary to fact, reason or law, or other unfair conduct.

Bill
1) What is commonly called a “check” by which the signer requires the bank to pay a third party a sum of money. This is a holdover from the days when a person would draw up a “bill of exchange.” 2) a statement of what is owed. 3) any paper money. 4) a legislative proposal for enactment of a law. It is called a bill until it is passed and signed, at which time it is a law (statute) and is no longer referred to as a bill.

Blackmail
The crime of threatening to reveal embarrassing, disgraceful or damaging facts (or rumors) about a person to the public, family, spouse or associates unless paid off to not carry out the threat.

Boiler room
A telephone bank operation in which fast-talking telemarketers or campaigners attempt to sell stock, services, goods, or candidates and act as if they are calling from an established company or brokerage. Often the telemarketers are totally fraudulent and in violation of security laws.

Bona fide
Latin for “good faith,” it signifies honesty, the “real thing” and, in the case of a party claiming title as bona fide purchaser or holder, it indicates innocence or lack of knowledge of any fact that would cast doubt on the right to hold title.

Boycott
Organized refusal to purchase products or patronize a store to damage the producer or merchant monetarily, to influence its policy, and/or to attract attention to a social cause.

Breaking and entering
1) The criminal act of entering a residence or other enclosed property through the slightest amount of force (even pushing open a door), without authorization. If there is intent to commit a crime, this is burglary. If there is no such intent, the breaking and entering alone is probably at least illegal trespass, which is a misdemeanor crime. 2) the criminal charge for the above.

Bribery
The crime of giving or taking money or some other valuable item in order to influence a public official (any governmental employee) in the performance of his/her duties.

Burglary
The crime of breaking and entering into a structure for the purpose of committing a crime.

Bylaws
The written rules for conduct of a corporation, association, partnership or any organization.

C.i.f.
The total of cost, insurance and freight charges to be paid on goods purchased and shipped.

Capital assets
Equipment, property, and funds owned by a business.

Capital punishment
Execution (death) for a capital offense.

Case
Short for a cause of action, lawsuit, or the right to sue.

Case law
Reported decisions of appeals courts and other courts which make new interpretations of the law and, therefore, can be cited as precedents.

Case of first impression
A case in which a question of interpretation of law is presented which has never arisen before in any reported case.

Cause
From latin causa 1) to make something happen. 2) the reason something happens. A cause implies what is called a “causal connection” as distinguished from events which may occur but do not have any effect on later events.

Cause of action
The basis of a lawsuit founded on legal grounds and alleged facts which, if proved, would constitute all the “elements” required by statute.

Certiorari
A writ (order) of a higher court to a lower court to send all the documents in a case to it so the higher court can review the lower court’s decision.

Chambers
The private office of a judge, usually close to the courtroom so that the judge can enter the court from behind the bench and not encounter people on the way.

Chancellor
From the old english legal system, a chancellor is a judge who sits in what is called a chancery (equity) court with the power to order something to be done (as distinguished from just paying damages).

Charge
1) In a criminal case, the specific statement of what crime the party is accused (charged with) contained in the indictment or criminal complaint. 2) In jury trials, the oral instructions by the judge to the jurors just before the jury begins deliberations.

Civil
That part of the law that encompasses business, contracts, estates, domestic (family) relations, accidents, negligence and everything related to legal issues, statutes and lawsuits, that is not criminal law.

Civil action
Any lawsuit relating to civil matters and not criminal prosecution.

Civil code
In many states, the name for the collection of statutes and laws which deal with business and negligence lawsuits and practices.

Civil law
A body of laws and legal concepts.

Civil liability
Potential responsibility for payment of damages or other court-enforcement in a lawsuit, as distinguished from criminal liability, which means open to punishment for a crime.

Civil penalties
Fines or surcharges imposed by a governmental agency to enforce regulations such as late payment of taxes, failure to obtain a permit, etc.

Claim
1) To make a demand for money, for property, or for enforcement of a right provided by law. 2) The making of a demand (asserting a claim) for money due, for property, from damages or for enforcement of a right. If such a demand is not honored, it may result in a lawsuit.

Commencement of action
An action (a lawsuit) commences (begins officially) when the party suing files a written complaint or petition with the clerk of the court.

Commercial law
All the law which applies to the rights, relations and conduct of persons and businesses engaged in commerce, merchandising, trade and sales.

Common law
The traditional unwritten law of England, based on custom and usage, which began to develop over a thousand years before the founding of the united States.

Commutation
The act of reducing a criminal sentence resulting from a criminal conviction.

Complaint
The first document filed with the court by a person or entity claiming legal rights against another. The party filing the complaint is usually called the plaintiff and the party against whom the complaint is filed is called the defendant or defendants.

Compromise
An agreement between opposing parties to settle a dispute or reach a settlement in which each gives some ground, rather than continue the dispute or go to trial.

Concealment
Fraudulent failure to reveal information which someone knows and is aware that in good faith he/she should communicate to another.

Conclusion of law
A judge’s final decision on a question of law which has been raised in a trial or a court hearing, particularly those issues which are vital to reaching a statement.

Concurrent sentences
Sentences for more than one crime which are to be served at one time.

Condemnation
The legal process by which a governmental body exercises its right of “eminent domain” to acquire private property for public uses (highways, schools, redevelopment, etc.).

Condition
A term or requirement stated in a contract, which must be met for the other party to have the duty to fulfill his/her obligations.

Confess
In criminal law, to voluntarily state that one is guilty of a criminal offense. This admission may be made to a law enforcement officer or in court either prior to or upon arrest, or after the person is charged with a specific crime.

Confiscate
To take one’s goods or property without legal right, although there may appear to be some lawful basis.

Consortium
A group of separate businesses or business people joining together and cooperating to complete a project, work together to perform a contract or conduct an on-going business.

Conspiracy
When people work together by agreement to commit an illegal act.

Contingent beneficiary
A person or entity named to receive a gift under the terms of a will, trust or insurance policy, who will only receive that gift if a certain event occurs or a certain set of circumstances happen.

Convict
1) To find guilty of a crime after a trial. 2) A person who has been convicted of a felony and sent to prison.

Corpus juris
The body of the law, meaning a compendium of all laws, cases and the varied interpretations of them.

Counter offer
An offer made in response to a previous offer by the other party during negotiations for a final contract.

Court
1) The judge 2) Any official tribunal (court) presided over by a judge or judges in which legal issues and claims are heard and determined.

Court of law
Any tribunal within a judicial system.

Courtesy
In old common law, the right of a surviving husband to a life estate in the lands of his deceased wife, if they had a surviving child or children who would inherit the land.

Crime
A violation of a law in which there is injury to the public or a member of the public and a term in jail or prison, and/or a fine as possible penalties.

Criminal justice
A generic term for the procedure by which criminal conduct is investigated, evidence gathered, arrests made, charges brought, defenses raised, trials conducted, sentences rendered and punishment carried out.

Criminal law
Those statutes dealing with crimes against the public and members of the public, with penalties and all the procedures connected with charging, trying, sentencing and imprisoning defendants convicted of crimes.

Culpable
Sufficiently responsible for criminal acts or negligence to be at fault and liable for the conduct.

Custody
1) Holding property under one’s control. 2) Law enforcement officials’ act of holding an accused or convicted person in criminal proceedings, beginning with the arrest of that person. 3) In domestic relations (divorce, dissolution) a court’s determination of which parent (or other appropriate party) should have physical and/or legal control and responsibility for a minor child.

De facto corporation
A company which operates as if it were a corporation although it has not completed the legal steps to become incorporated (has not filed its articles, for example) or has been dissolved or suspended but continues to function.

Death penalty
The sentence of execution for murder and some other capital crimes.

Death row
Nickname for that portion of a prison in which prisoners are housed who are under death sentences and are awaiting appeals and/or potential execution.

Deception
The act of misleading another through intentionally false statements or fraudulent actions.

Deed
The written document which transfers title (ownership) or an interest in real property to another person.

Defective
Not being capable of fulfilling its function, ranging from a deed of land to a piece of equipment.

Delegate
1) To assign authority to another. 2) A person chosen to attend a convention, conference or meeting on behalf of an organization, constituency, interest group or business.

Demand
1) To claim as a need, requirement or entitlement, as in to demand payment or performance under a contract. In a lawsuit for payment of a debt or performance of an act, the party suing (plaintiff) should allege that he/she/it demanded payment or performance. 2) A claim, such as an unqualified request for payment or other action. 3) The amount requested by a plaintiff (usually in writing) during negotiations to settle a lawsuit.

Dependent
1) A person receiving support from another person (such as a parent), which may qualify the party supporting the dependent for an exemption to reduce his/her income taxes. 2) Requiring an event to occur, as the fulfillment of a contract is dependent on the expert being available.

Disclaimer
1) Denial or renunciation by someone of his/her title to property. 2) Denial of responsibility for another’s claim, such as an insurance company’s refusal to admit coverage under an insurance policy. 3) Statement of non-responsibility, as is made when dissolving a partnership or business.

Docket
The cases on a court calendar.

Dower
An old English common law right of a widow to one-third of her late husband’s estate, which is still the law in a few states in the US.

Due process of law
A fundamental principle of fairness in all legal matters, both civil and criminal, especially in the courts.

Earnest payment
A deposit paid to demonstrate commitment and to bind a contract, with the remainder due at a particular time.

Ejectment
A lawsuit brought to remove a party who is occupying real property.

En banc
French for “in the bench,” it signifies a decision by the full court of all the appeals judges in jurisdictions where there is more than one three- or four-judge panel.

Endorse (indorse)
1) To sign one’s name to the back of a check, bill of exchange or other negotiable instrument with the intention of making it cashable or transferable. 2) To pledge support to a program, proposal or candidate.

Enjoin
For a court to order that someone either do a specific act, cease a course of conduct or be prohibited from committing a certain act. To obtain such an order, called an injunction, a private party or public agency has to file a petition for a writ of injunction, serve it on the party he/she/it hopes to be enjoined, allowing time for a written response.

Enter a judgment
To officially record a judgment on the “judgment roll,” which entry is normally performed by the court clerk once the exact wording of the judgment has been prepared or approved and signed by the trial judge.

Entrapment
In criminal law, the act of law enforcement officers or government agents inducing or encouraging a person to commit a crime when the potential criminal expresses a desire not to go ahead.

Escape clause
A provision in a contract which allows one of the parties to be relieved from (get out of) any obligation if a certain event occurs.

Escrow
A form of account held by an “escrow agent” (an individual, escrow company or title company) into which is deposited the documents and funds in a transfer of real property, including the money, a mortgage or deed of trust, an existing promissory note secured by the real property, escrow “instructions” from both parties, an accounting of the funds and other documents necessary to complete the transaction by a date (“closing”) agreed to by the buyer and seller.

Esquire
A form of address showing that someone is an attorney, usually written, for instance,Albert Pettifog, esquire, or simply esq.

Et al.
Abbreviation for the latin phrase et alii meaning “and others.”

Et ux.
Abbreviation for the latin words et uxor meaning “and wife.”

Evidence
Every type of proof legally presented at trial (allowed by the judge) which is intended to convince the judge and/or jury of alleged facts material to the case.

Exculpatory
Applied to evidence which may justify or excuse an accused defendant’s actions and which will tend to show the defendant is not guilty or has no criminal intent.

Exhibit
A document or object (including a photograph) introduced as evidence during a trial. These are subject to objections by opposing attorneys just like any evidence.

Expert testimony
Opinions stated during trial or deposition (testimony under oath before trial) by a specialist qualified as an expert on a subject relevant to a lawsuit or a criminal case.

Expert witness
A person who is a specialist in a subject, often technical, who may present his/her expert opinion without having been a witness to any occurrence relating to the lawsuit or criminal case.

Extrajudicial
Referring to actions outside the judicial (court) system, such as an extralegal confession, which, if brought in as evidence, may be recognized by the judge during a trial.

Eyewitness
A person who has actually seen an event and can so testify in court.

Fact
An actual thing or happening, which must be proved at trial by presentation of evidence and which is evaluated by the finder of fact (a jury in a jury trial, or by the judge if he/she sits without a jury).

Fact finder (finder of fact)
In a trial of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, the jury or judge (if there is no jury) who decides if facts have been proven. Occasionally a judge may appoint a “special master” to investigate and report on the existence of certain facts.

False arrest
Physically detaining someone without the legal right to do so.

False imprisonment
Depriving someone of freedom of movement by holding a person in a confined space or by physical restraint including being locked in a car, driven about without opportunity to get out, being tied to a chair or locked in a closet.

Felon
A person who has been convicted of a felony, which is a crime punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison.

Final judgment
The written determination of a lawsuit by the judge who presided at trial (or heard a successful motion to dismiss or a stipulation for judgment), which renders (makes) rulings on all issues and completes the case unless it is appealed to a higher court. It is also called a final decree or final decision.

Final settlement
An agreement reached by the parties to a lawsuit, usually in writing and/or read into the record in court, settling all issues.

Firm offer
In contract law, an offer (usually in writing) which states it may not be withdrawn, revoked or amended for a specific period of time.

First degree murder
It is generally a killing which is deliberate and premeditated (planned, after lying in wait, by poison or as part of a scheme), in conjunction with felonies such as rape, burglary, arson, or involving multiple deaths, the killing of certain types of people (such as a child, a police officer, a prison guard, a fellow prisoner), or certain weapons, particularly a gun.

For value received
A phrase used in a promissory note, a bill of exchange or a deed to show that some consideration (value) has been given without stating what that payment was.

Forensic testimony
Any testimony of expert scientific, engineering, economic or other specialized nature used to assist the court and the lawyers in a lawsuit or prosecution.

Forfeiture
Loss of property due to a violation of law.

Forgery
The crime of creating a false document, altering a document, or writing a false signature for the illegal benefit of the person making the forgery.

Franchise
1) A right granted by the government to a person or corporation, such as a taxi permit, bus route, an airline’s use of a public airport, business license or corporate existence. 2) The right to vote in a public election. 3) To grant (for a periodic fee or share of profits) the right to operate a business or sell goods or services under a brand or chain name.

Fraud
The intentional use of deceit, a trick or some dishonest means to deprive another of his/her/its money, property or a legal right.

Fresh pursuit
Immediate chase of a suspected criminal by a law enforcement officer, in which situation the officer may arrest the suspect without a warrant.

Fugitive from justice
A person convicted or accused of a crime who hides from law.

Garnish
To obtain a court order directing a party holding funds (such as a bank) or about to pay wages (such as an employer) to an alleged debtor to set that money aside until the court determines (decides) how much the debtor owes to the creditor.

General counsel
The chief attorney for a corporation, who is paid usually full time for legal services.

Go bail
Slang for putting up the bail money to get an accused defendant out of jail after an arrest or pending trial or appeal.

Good faith
Honest intent to act without taking an unfair advantage over another person or to fulfill a promise to act, even when some legal technicality is not fulfilled.

Guarantee
To pledge or agree to be responsible for another’s debt or contractual performance if that other person does not pay or perform.

Guilty
Having been convicted of a crime or having admitted the commission of a crime by pleading “guilty” (saying you did it).

Habeas corpus
Latin for “you have the body,” it is a writ (court order) which directs the law enforcement officials (prison administrators, police or sheriff) who have custody of a prisoner to appear in court with the prisoner to help the judge determine whether the prisoner is lawfully in prison or jail.

Harassment
The act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands.

Hearing
Any proceeding before a judge or other magistrate (such as a hearing officer or court commissioner) without a jury in which evidence and/or argument is presented to determine some issue of fact or both issues of fact and law.

Hidden asset
An item of value which does not show on the books of a business, often excluded for some improper purpose such as escaping taxation or hiding it from a bankruptcy trustee.

Holding
1) Any ruling or decision of a court. 2) Any real property to which one has title. 3) Investment in a business. 4) Keeping in one’s possession.

Hung jury
Slang for a hopelessly deadlocked jury in a criminal case, in which neither side is able to prevail.

Illegal
In violation of statute, regulation or ordinance, which may be criminal or merely not in conformity.

Immunity
Exemption from penalties, payments or legal requirements, granted by authorities or statutes.

Impanel
To select and install a jury.

Impeach
To discredit the testimony of a witness by proving that he/she has not told the truth or has been inconsistent, by introducing contrary evidence, including statements made outside of the courtroom in depositions or in statements of the witness heard by another.

Implied warranty
An assumption at law that products are “merchantable,” meaning they work and are useable as normally expected by consumers, unless there is a warning that they are sold “as is” or second-hand without any warranty.

In chambers
Referring to discussions or hearings held in the judge’s office, called his chambers. It is also called “in camera.”

In pro per
Short for in propria persona.

In rem
From latin “against or about a thing,” referring to a lawsuit or other legal action directed toward property, rather than toward a particular person.

In toto
Latin for “completely” or “in total,” referring to the entire thing, as in “the goods were destroyed in toto,” or “the case was dismissed in toto.”

Inference
A rule of logic applied to evidence in a trial, in which a fact is “proved” by presenting other “facts” which lead to only one reasonable conclusion-that if a and b are true, then c is.

Infra
Latin for “below,” this is legal shorthand to indicate that the details or citation of a case will come later on in the brief.

Inquest
An investigation and/or a hearing held by the coroner (a county official) when there is a violent death either by accident or homicide, the cause of death is not immediately clear, there are mysterious circumstances surrounding the death, or the deceased was a prisoner.

Inter alia
Latin for “among other things.” this phrase is often found in legal pleadings and writings to specify one example out of many possibilities.

International law
Treaties between countries; multi-lateral agreements; some commissions covering particular subjects, such as whaling or copyrights.

Interpleader
The procedure when two parties are involved in a lawsuit over the right to collect a debt from a third party, who admits the money is owed but does not know which person to pay.

Interrogation
Questioning of a suspect or witness by law enforcement authorities. Once a person being questioned is arrested (is a “prime” suspect), he/she is entitled to be informed of his/her legal rights, and in no case may the interrogation violate rules of due process.

Intrinsic fraud
An intentionally false representation (lie) which is part of the fraud and can be considered in determining general and punitive damages.

Irreparable damage or injury
The type of harm which no monetary compensation can cure or put conditions back the way they were, such as cutting down shade trees, polluting a stream, not giving a child needed medication, not supporting an excavation which may cause collapse of a building, tearing down a structure, or a host of other actions or omissions.

Jeopardy
Peril, particularly danger of being charged with or convicted of a particular crime.

Joinder
The joining together of several lawsuits or several parties all in one lawsuit, provided that the legal issues and the factual situation are the same for all plaintiffs and defendants.

Joinder of issue
That point in a lawsuit when the defendant has challenged (denied) some or all of plaintiff’s allegations of facts, and/or when it is known which legal questions are in dispute.

Joint custody
In divorce actions, a decision by the court (often upon agreement of the parents) that the parents will share custody of a child.

Judge
An official with the authority and responsibility to preside in a court, try lawsuits and make legal rulings.

Judgment
The final decision by a court in a lawsuit.

Judgment notwithstanding the verdict
Reversal of a jury’s verdict by the trial judge when the judge believes there was no factual basis for the verdict or it was contrary to law. The judge will then enter a different verdict as “a matter of law.”

Judicial
Referring to a judge, court or the court system.

Judicial notice
The authority of a judge to accept as facts certain matters which are of common knowledge from sources which guarantee accuracy or are a matter of official record, without the need for evidence establishing the fact.

Jump bail
To fail to appear for a court appearance after depositing (posting) bail with the intention of avoiding prosecution, sentencing or going to jail.

Jurisdiction
The authority given by law to a court to try cases and rule on legal matters within a particular geographic area and/or over certain types of legal cases.

Jurist
Although it means any attorney or legal scholar, jurist popularly refers to a judge.

Justice
1) Fairness. 2) Moral rightness. 3) A scheme or system of law in which every person receives his/ her/its due from the system, including all rights, both natural and legal.

Juvenile court
A special court or department of a trial court which deals with under-age defendants charged with crimes or who are neglected or out of the control of their parents.

K
The shorthand symbol for “contract” used almost universally by lawyers and law students.

Kangaroo court
1) A mock court set up without legal basis, such as a fraternity, sports team or army squad might set up to punish minor violations of organizational decorum. 2) Slang for a court of law in which the violations of procedure, precedents, and due process are so gross that fundamental justice is denied. It usually means that the judge is incompetent or obviously biased.

Kidnapping
The taking of a person against his/her will (or from the control of a parent or guardian) from one place to another under circumstances in which the person so taken does not have freedom of movement, will, or decision through violence, force, threat or intimidation.

Laches
The legal doctrine that a legal right or claim will not be enforced or allowed if a long delay in asserting the right or claim has prejudiced the adverse party (hurt the opponent) as a sort of “legal ambush.”

Larceny
The crime of taking the goods of another person without permission (usually secretly), with the intent of keeping them. It is one form of theft.

Last clear chance
A rule of law in determining responsibility for damages caused by negligence, which provides that if the plaintiff (the party suing for damages) is negligent, that will not matter if the defendant (the party being sued for damages caused by his/her negligence) could have still avoided the accident by reasonable care in the final moments (no matter how slight) before the accident.

Law
Any system of regulations to govern the conduct of the people of a community, society or nation, in response to the need for regularity, consistency and justice based upon collective human experience.

Law book
Any of numerous volumes dealing with law, including statutes, reports of cases, digests of cases, commentaries on particular topics, encyclopedias, textbooks, summaries of the law, dictionaries, legal forms and various combinations of these such as case reports with commentaries.

Law of the case
Once a judge has decided a legal question during the conduct of a lawsuit, he/she is unlikely to change his/her views and will respond that the ruling is the “law of the case.”

Law of the land
A slang term for existing laws.

Lawsuit
A common term for a legal action by one person or entity against another person or entity, to be decided in a court of law, sometimes just called a “suit.” the legal claims within a lawsuit are called “causes of action.”

Leading
Short for “leading the witness,” in which the attorney during a trial or deposition asks questions in a form in which he/she puts words in the mouth of the witness or suggests the answer.

Legal
According to law, not in violation of law or anything related to the law.

Legal duty
The responsibility to others to act according to the law.

Legitimate
1) Legal, proper, real. 2) Referring to a child born to parents who are married. A baby born to parents who are not married is illegitimate, but can be made legitimate (legitimatized) by the subsequent marriage of the parents. 3) To make proper and/or legal.

Libel per se
Broadcast or written publication of a false statement about another which accuses him/her of a crime, immoral acts, inability to perform his/her profession, having a loathsome disease (like syphilis) or dishonesty in business.

Liberty
Freedom from restraint and the power to follow one’s own will to choose a course of conduct.

Long cause
A lawsuit in which it is estimated that a trial will take more than one day.

Magistrate
A generic term for any judge of a court, or anyone officially performing a judge’s functions.

Magna carta
Latin for “great charter,” it was a document delineating a series of laws establishing the rights of english barons and major landowners and limiting the absolute authority of the king of england. It became the basis for the rights of english citizens.

Malice
A conscious, intentional wrongdoing either of a civil wrong like libel (false written statement about another) or a criminal act like assault or murder, with the intention of doing harm to the victim.

Malum in se
Latin referring to an act that is “wrong in itself,” in its very nature being illegal because it violates the natural, moral or public principles of a civilized society. In criminal law it is one of the collection of crimes which are traditional and not just created by statute, which are “malum prohibitum.”

Malum prohibitum
Latin meaning “wrong due to being prohibited,” which refers to crimes made so by statute, compared to crimes based on english common law and obvious violations of society’s standards which are defined as malum in se.

Mandate
Any mandatory order or requirement under statute, regulation, or by a public agency.

Memorandum
1) A brief writing, note, summary or outline. 2) A “memorandum of decision,” or “memorandum opinion,” is a brief statement by a judge announcing his/her ruling without detail or giving extensive reasons, which may or may not be followed by a more comprehensive written decision.

Misprision of a felony
The crime of concealing another’s felony (serious crime) from law enforcement officers.

Mitigating circumstances
In criminal law, conditions or happenings which do not excuse or justify criminal conduct, but are considered out of mercy or fairness in deciding the degree of the offense the prosecutor charges or influencing reduction of the penalty upon conviction.

Moratorium
1) Any suspension of activity, particularly voluntary suspension of collections of debts by a private enterprise or by government or pursuant to court order. 2) In bankruptcy, a halt to the right to collect a debt.

Motive
In criminal investigation the probable reason a person committed a crime, such as jealousy, greed, revenge or part of a theft. While evidence of a motive may be admissible at trial, proof of motive is not necessary to prove a crime.

Municipal court
A lower court which usually tries criminal misdemeanors and civil lawsuits involving lesser amounts of money than superior, district or county courts.

Murder
The killing of a human being by a sane person, with intent, malice aforethought (prior intention to kill the particular victim or anyone who gets in the way) and with no legal excuse or authority.

N.o.v.
Shorthand acronym of latin for non obstante veredicto meaning “notwithstanding the verdict,” referring to a decision of a judge to set aside (reverse) a jury’s decision in favor of one party in a lawsuit or a guilty verdict when the judge is convinced the judgment is not reasonably supported by the facts and/or the law.

Natural law
Standards of conduct derived from traditional moral principles

Natural person
A real human being, as distinguished from a corporation, which is often treated at law as a fictitious person.

No contest
In criminal law, a defendant’s plea in court that he/she will not contest the charge of a particular crime, also called nolo contendere.

Nolle prosequi
Latin for “we shall no longer prosecute,” which is a declaration made to the judge by a prosecutor in a criminal case (or by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit) either before or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped. The statement is an admission that the charges cannot be proved, that evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution’s claim or the district attorney has become convinced the accused is innocent.

Nominal damages
A small amount of money awarded to a plaintiff in a lawsuit to show he/she was right but suffered no substantial harm

Non-suit
A ruling by the judge in a lawsuit either when the plaintiff (the party who filed the suit) does not proceed to trial at the appointed time or has presented all his/her/its evidence and, in the judge’s opinion, there is no evidence which could prove the plaintiff’s case.

Not guilty
Plea of a person who claims not to have committed the crime of which he/she is accused, made in court when arraigned (first brought before a judge) or at a later time set by the court.

Not guilty by reason of insanity
Plea in court of a person charged with a crime who admits the criminal act, but whose attorney claims he/she was so mentally disturbed at the time of the crime that he/she lacked the capacity to have intended to commit a crime. Such a plea requires that the court set a trial on the issue of insanity alone either by a judge sitting without a jury or by a jury.

Nunc pro tunc
Latin for “now for then,” this refers to changing back to an earlier date of an order, judgment or filing of a document. Such a retroactive re-dating requires a court order which can be obtained by a showing that the earlier date would have been legal, and there was error, accidental omission or neglect which has caused a problem or inconvenience which can be cured

Obiter dicta
Remarks of a judge which are not necessary to reaching a decision, but are made as comments, illustrations or thoughts. Generally, obiter dicta is simply dicta.

Object
To ask the court not to allow a particular question asked of a witness by the opposing lawyer on the basis that it is either legally not permitted, confusing in its wording or improper in its “form.”

Objection
A lawyer’s protest about the legal propriety of a question which has been asked of a witness by the opposing attorney, with the purpose of making the trial judge decide if the question can be asked.

Obligation
A legal duty to pay or do something.

Offense
A crime or punishable violation of law of any type or magnitude.

Offer of proof
An explanation made by an attorney to a judge during trial to show why a question which has been objected to as immaterial or irrelevant will lead to evidence of value to proving the case of the lawyer’s client.

On the stand
Testifying during a trial, in which the witness almost always sits in a chair beside the judge’s bench, often raised above the floor level of the courtroom and behind a knee-high panel.

Open court
The conduct of judicial proceedings (trials, hearings and routine matters such as trial settings) in which the public may be present.

Oral contract
An agreement made with spoken words and either no writing or only partially written. An oral contract is just as valid as a written agreement. The main problem with an oral contract is proving its existence or the terms.

Order to show cause
A judge’s written mandate that a party appear in court on a certain date and give reasons, legal and/or factual, (show cause) why a particular order should not be made.

Ordinary
Regular, customary and continuing, and not unusual or extraordinary, as in ordinary expense, ordinary handling, ordinary risks or ordinary skill.

Out of court
Referring to actions, including negotiations between parties and/or their attorneys, without any direct involvement of a judge or the judicial system.

Outlaw
Popularly, anyone who commits serious crimes and acts outside the law.

Overrule
To reject an attorney’s objection to a question to a witness or admission of evidence. By overruling the objection, the trial judge allows the question or evidence in court.

Overt act
In criminal law, an action which might be innocent itself but if part of the preparation and active furtherance of a crime, can be introduced as evidence of a defendant’s participation in a crime.

Paralegal
A non-lawyer who performs routine tasks requiring some knowledge of the law and procedures and who is employed by a law office or works free-lance as an independent for various lawyers.

Pari delicto
Equal fault.

Peace bond
A bond required as part of a court order to guarantee that a person will stay away from another person he/she has threatened or bothered. The bond will be forfeit (given up) if the order is violated, but that is no consolation to a person injured, molested or murdered by the violator.

Peer
An equal. A “jury of one’s peers,” to which criminal defendants are constitutionally entitled, means an impartial group of citizens from the judicial district (e.g. County) in which the defendant lives

Penal
Referring to criminality, as in defining “penal code” (the laws specifying crimes and punishment), or “penal institution” (a state prison or penitentiary confining convicted felons).

Penalty
In criminal law, a money fine or forfeiture of property ordered by the judge after conviction for a crime.

Per curiam
Latin for “by the court,” defining a decision of an appeals court as a whole in which no judge is identified as the specific author.

Perpetuity
Forever.

Petition
A formal written request to a court for an order of the court.

Pilferage
A crime of theft of little things, usually from shipments or baggage.

Plain error
A mistake by the trial court found by a court of appeals to be very obvious and sufficient to require reversal of the trial decision.

Plaintiff
The party who initiates a lawsuit by filing a complaint with the clerk of the court against the defendant(s) demanding damages, performance and/or court determination of rights.

Plea
In criminal law, the response by an accused defendant to each charge of the commission of a crime.

Political question
The determination by a court (particularly the supreme court) that an issue raised about the conduct of public business is a “political” issue to be determined by the legislature (including congress) or the executive branch and not by the courts.

Possession of stolen goods
The crime of possession of goods which one knows or which any reasonable person would realize were stolen. It is generally a felony.

Post mortem
Latin for “after death,” an examination of a dead body to determine cause of death, generally called an autopsy.

Pour over will
A will of a person who has already executed a trust in which all property is designated to be distributed or managed upon the death of the person whose possessions are in trust, leaving all property to the trust.

Power of attorney
A written document signed by a person giving another person the power to act in conducting the signer’s business, including signing papers, checks, title documents, contracts, handling bank accounts and other activities in the name of the person granting the power.

Preference
In bankruptcy, the payment of a debt to one creditor rather than dividing the assets equally among all those to whom he/she/it owes money, often by making a payment to a favored creditor just before filing a petition to be declared bankrupt.

Privacy
The right to be free of unnecessary public scrutiny or to be let alone.

Pro bono
Short for pro bono publico, latin for “for the public good,” legal work performed by lawyers without pay to help people with legal problems and limited or no funds, or provide legal assistance to organizations involved in social causes such as environmental, consumer, minority, youth, battered women and education organizations and charities.

Pro forma
Latin for “as a matter of form,” the phrase refers to court rulings merely intended to facilitate the legal process .

Pro hac vice
Latin for “this time only,” the phrase refers to the application of an out-of-state lawyer to appear in court for a particular trial, even though he/she is not licensed to practice in the state where the trial is being held. The application is usually granted, but sometimes the court requires association with a local attorney.

Pro se
Latin for “for himself.” a party to a lawsuit who represents himself (acting in propria persona) is appearing in the case “pro se.”

Pro tem
Short for the latin pro tempore, temporarily or for the time being. In law, judge pro tem normally refers to a judge who is sitting temporarily for another judge or to an attorney who has been appointed to serve as a judge as a substitute for a regular judge.

Probable cause
Sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected with a crime.

Probation
A chance to remain free (or serve only a short time) given by a judge to a person convicted of a crime instead of being sent to jail or prison, provided the person can be good.

Proceeding
Any legal filing, hearing, trial and/or judgment in the ongoing conduct of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution. Collectively they are called “proceedings,” as in “legal proceedings.”

Proffer
To offer evidence in a trial.

Prohibition
Forbidding an act or activity. A court order forbidding an act is a writ of prohibition, an injunction or a writ of mandate (mandamus) if against a public official.

Proof
Confirmation of a fact by evidence.

Propria persona
From latin, for oneself.

Prosecute
In criminal law, to charge a person with a crime and thereafter pursue the case through trial on behalf of the government.

Protective custody
The act of law enforcement officials in placing a person in a government facility or foster home in order to protect him/her from a dangerous person or situation.

Quantum meruit
Latin for “as much as he deserved,” the actual value of services performed.

Quasi contract
A situation in which there is an obligation as if there was a contract, although the technical requirements of a contract have not been fulfilled.

Quasi corporation
A business which has operated as a corporation without completing the legal requirements, often in the period just before formal incorporation.

Quasi-criminal
A reference to a court’s right to punish for actions or omissions as if they were criminal.

Quasi-judicial
Referring to the actions of an agency, boards or other government entity in which there are hearings, orders, judgments or other activities similar to those conducted by courts.

Query
Common lawyer lingo for a question to be answered.

Question of fact
In a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, an issue of fact in which the truth or falsity (or a mix of the two) must be determined by the “trier of fact” (the jury or the judge in a non-jury trial) in order to reach a decision in the case.

Question of law
An issue arising in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution which only relates to determination of what the law is, how it is applied to the facts in the case, and other purely legal points in contention.

Qui tam action
From latin for “who as well,” a lawsuit brought by a private citizen (popularly called a “whistle blower”) against a person or company who is believed to have violated the law in the performance of a contract with the government or in violation of a government regulation, when there is a statute which provides for a penalty for such violations.

Quiet title action
A lawsuit to establish a party’s title to real property against anyone and everyone, and thus “quiet” any challenges or claims to the title.

Quo warranto
The name for a writ (order) used to challenge another’s right to either public or corporate office or challenge the legality of a corporation to its charter (articles).

Quorum
The number of people required to be present before a meeting can conduct business.

Quotient verdict
An award of money damages set by a jury in a lawsuit in which each juror states in writing his/her opinion of what the amount should be

Ratification
Confirmation of an action which was not pre-approved and may not have been authorized, usually by a principal (employer) who adopts the acts of his/her agent (employee).

Ratify
To confirm and adopt the act of another even though it was not approved beforehand.

Reasonable
In law, just, rational, appropriate, ordinary or usual in the circumstances.

Recidivist
A repeat criminal offender, convicted of a crime after having been previously convicted.

Reciprocity
Mutual exchange of privileges between states, nations, businesses or individuals.

Recusal
The act of a judge or prosecutor being removed or voluntarily stepping aside from a legal case due to conflict of interest or other good reason.

Redeem
To buy back, as when an owner who had mortgaged his/her real property pays off the debt.

Referendum
The process by which the repeal or approval of an existing statute or state constitutional provision is voted upon.

Refresh one\’s memory
To use a document, exhibit or previous testimony in order to help a witness recall an event or prior statement when the witness has responded to a question that he/she could not remember.

Remedy
The means to achieve justice in any matter in which legal rights are involved.

Remittitur
1) A judge’s order reducing a judgment awarded by a jury when the award exceeds the amount asked for by the plaintiff (person who brought the suit). 2) An appeal’s transmittal of a case back to the trial court so that the case can be retried, or an order entered consistent with the appeals court’s decision.

Repeal
To annul an existing law, by passage of a repealing statute, or by public vote on a referendum.

Replevin
Under common law, the right to bring a lawsuit for recovery of goods improperly taken by another.

Reprieve
A temporary delay in imposition of the death penalty.

Request
To ask or demand a judge to act (such as issuing a writ) or demanding something from the other party (such as production of documents), usually by a party to a lawsuit (usually the attorney).

Res adjudicata
A thing (legal matter) already determined by a court, from latin for “the thing has been judged.” more properly res judicata.

Res gestae
It means all circumstances surrounding and connected with a happening. From latin for “things done”.

Rescue doctrine
The rule of law that if a rescuer of a person hurt or put in peril due to the negligence or intentional wrongdoing of another is injured in the process of the rescue, the original wrongdoer is responsible in damages for the rescuer’s injury.

Resisting arrest
The crime of using physical force (no matter how slight in the eyes of most law enforcement officers) to prevent arrest, handcuffing and/or taking the accused to jail.

Restraining order
A temporary order of a court to keep conditions as they are until there can be a hearing in which both parties are present. More properly it is called a temporary restraining order (shortened to tro).

Restriction
Any limitation on activity, by statute, regulation or contract provision.

Result
Common lawyer lingo for outcome of a lawsuit.

Retraction
To withdraw any legal document in a lawsuit or other legal proceeding, or withdraw a promise or offer of contract.

Reversal
The decision of a court of appeal ruling that the judgment of a lower court was incorrect and is therefore reversed.

Review
The judicial consideration of a lower court judgment by an appellate court, determining if there were legal errors sufficient to require reversal.

Revoke
To annul or cancel an act, particularly a statement, document or promise, as if it no longer existed.

Robbery
The direct taking of property (including money) from a person (victim) through force, threat or intimidation.

Rule
1) To decide a legal question by a court, 2) To make a judicial command, 3) Any regulation governing conduct.

Ruling
Court decision on a case or any legal question.

Sanction
A financial penalty imposed by a judge on a party or attorney for violation of a court rule, for receiving a special waiver of a rule, or as a fine for contempt of court.

Sealed verdict
The decision of a jury when there is a delay in announcing the result, such as waiting for the judge, the parties and the attorneys to come back to court. The verdict is kept in a sealed envelope until handed to the judge when court reconvenes.

Search warrant
A written order by a judge which permits a law enforcement officer to search a specific place and identifies the persons (if known) and any articles intended to be seized (often specified by type, such as “weapons,” “drugs and drug paraphernalia,” “evidence of bodily harm”).

Second degree murder
A non-premeditated killing, resulting from an assault in which death of the victim was a distinct possibility. Second degree murder is different from first degree murder, which is a premeditated, intentional killing or results from a vicious crime such as arson, rape or armed robbery.

Self-defense
The use of reasonable force to protect oneself or members of the family from bodily harm from the attack of an aggressor, if the defender has reason to believe he/she/they is/are in danger.

Self-serving
Referring to a question asked of a party to a lawsuit or a statement by that person that serves no purpose and provides no evidence, but only argues or reinforces the legal position of that party.

Sentence
The punishment given to a person convicted of a crime.

Sequestration
The act of a judge issuing an order that a jury or witness be sequestered (kept apart from outside contacts during trial).

Settle
To resolve a lawsuit without a final court judgment by negotiation between the parties, usually with the assistance of attorneys and/or insurance adjusters, and sometimes prodding by a judge. Most legal disputes are settled prior to trial.

Severance
A separating by court order, such as separate trials for criminal defendants who were charged with the same crime, or trying the negligence aspect of a lawsuit before a trial on the damages.

Short cause
A lawsuit which is estimated by the parties (usually their attorneys) and the trial setting judge to take no more than one day.

Solicitor
An english attorney who may perform all legal services except appear in court.

Sound mind and memory
Having an understanding of one’s actions and reasonable knowledge of one’s family, possessions and surroundings.

Special circumstances
In criminal cases, particularly homicides, actions of the accused or the situation under which the crime was committed for which state statutes allow or require imposition of a more severe punishment.

Special damages
Damages claimed and/or awarded in a lawsuit which were out-of-pocket costs directly as the result of the breach of contract, negligence or other wrongful act by the defendant. Special damages can include medical bills, repairs and replacement of property, loss of wages and other damages which are not speculative or subjective.

Special verdict
The jury’s decisions or findings of fact with the application of the law to those facts left up to the judge, who will then render the final verdict. This type of limited verdict is used when the legal issues to be applied are complex or require difficult computation.

Speedy trial
In criminal prosecutions, the right of a defendant to demand a trial within a short time.

Spendthrift clause
A provision in a trust or will that states that if a prospective beneficiary has pledged to turn over a gift he/she hopes to receive to a third party, the trustee or executor shall not honor such a pledge.

Status conference
A pre-trial meeting of attorneys before a judge required under federal rules of procedure and in many states required to inform the court as to how the case is proceeding, what discovery has been conducted (depositions, interrogatories, production of documents), any settlement negotiations, probable length of trial and other matters relevant to moving the case toward trial.

Statute of frauds
Law in every state which requires that certain documents be in writing, such as real property titles and transfers (conveyances), leases for more than a year, wills and some types of contracts.

Stay
A court-ordered short-term delay in judicial proceedings to give a losing defendant time to arrange for payment of the judgment or move out of the premises in an unlawful detainer case.

Sua sponte
Latin for “of one’s own will,” meaning on one’s own volition, usually referring to a judge’s order made without a request by any party to the case.

Substantial performance
In the law of contracts, fulfillment of the obligations agreed to in a contract, with only slight variances from the exact terms and/or unimportant omissions or minor defects.

Substantive law
Law which establishes principles and creates and defines rights limitations under which society is governed, as differentiated from “procedural law,” which sets the rules and methods employed to obtain one’s rights and, in particular, how the courts are conducted.

Successive sentences
In criminal law, the imposition of the penalty for each of several crimes, one after the other, as compared to “concurrent sentences” (at the same time).

Suppression of evidence
A judge’s determination not to allow evidence to be admitted in a criminal trial because it was illegally obtained or was discovered due to an illegal search.

Surrender
1) To turn over possession of real property, either voluntarily or upon demand, by tenant to landlord. 2) To give oneself up to law enforcement officials.

Suspended sentence
In criminal law, a penalty applied by a judge to a defendant convicted of a crime which the judge provides will not be enforced (is suspended) if the defendant performs certain services, makes restitution to persons harmed, stays out of trouble or meets other conditions.

Sustain
In trial practice, for a judge to agree that an attorney’s objection, such as to a question, is valid.

Tainted evidence
In a criminal trial, information which has been obtained by illegal means or has been traced through evidence acquired by illegal search and/or seizure. This evidence is called “fruit of the poisonous tree” and is not admissible in court.

Temporary injunction
A court order prohibiting an action by a party to a lawsuit until there has been a trial or other court action.

Temporary insanity
In a criminal prosecution, a defense by the accused that he/she was briefly insane at the time the crime was committed and therefore was incapable of knowing the nature of his/her alleged criminal act.

Testify
To give oral evidence under oath in answer to questions posed by attorneys either at trial or at a deposition (testimony under oath outside of court), with the opportunity for opposing attorneys to cross-examine the witness in regard to answers given.

Testimony
Oral evidence given under oath by a witness in answer to questions posed by attorneys at trial or at a deposition (questioning under oath outside of court).

Time is of the essence
A phrase often used in contracts which in effect says: the specified time and dates in this agreement are vital and thus mandatory, and “we mean it.” therefore any delay-reasonable or not, slight or not-will be grounds for cancelling the agreement.

Time served
The period a criminal defendant has been in jail, often while awaiting bail or awaiting trial. Often a judge will give a defendant “credit for time served,” particularly when sentencing for misdemeanors.

Tools of trade
In bankruptcy law, the equipment a person requires in order to pursue his occupation, which is exempt from claims of creditors.

Trial
The examination of facts and law presided over by a judge (or other magistrate, such as a commissioner or judge pro tem) with authority to hear the matter (jurisdiction).

Tribunal
Any court, judicial body or board which has quasi-judicial functions, such as a public utilities board which sets rates or a planning commission which can allow variances from zoning regulations.

Ultimate fact
In a trial, a conclusion of fact which is logically deduced from evidence (“evidentiary facts”).

Unlawful
Referring to any action which is in violation of a statute, federal or state constitution, or established legal precedents

Unlawful detainer
1) Keeping possession of real property without a right, such as after a lease has expired, after being served with a notice to quit (vacate, leave) for non-payment of rent or other breach of lease, or being a “squatter” on the property. Such possession entitles the owner to file a lawsuit for “unlawful detainer,” asking for possession by court order, unpaid rent and damages. 2) A legal action to evict a tenant or other occupier of real property in possession, without a legal right, to declare a breach of lease, and/or a judgment for repossession, as well as unpaid rent and other damages.

Vacate
1) For a judge to set aside or annul an order or judgment which he/she finds was improper. 2) To move out of real estate and cease occupancy.

Vagrancy
Moving about without a means to support oneself, without a permanent home, and relying on begging. Until recently it was considered a minor crime (misdemeanor) in many states.

Vehicular manslaughter
The crime of causing the death of a human being due to illegal driving of an automobile, including gross negligence, drunk driving, reckless driving or speeding.

Verdict
The decision of a jury after a trial, which must be accepted by the trial judge to be final. A judgment by a judge sitting without a jury is not a verdict.

Voluntary bankruptcy
The filing for bankruptcy by a debtor who believes he/she/it cannot pay bills and has more debts than assets. Voluntary bankruptcy differs from “involuntary bankruptcy” filed by creditors owed money to bring the debtor before the bankruptcy court.

Weight of evidence
The strength, value and believability of evidence presented on a factual issue by one side as compared to evidence introduced by the other side.

White collar crime
A generic term for crimes involving commercial fraud, cheating consumers, swindles, insider trading on the stock market, embezzlement and other forms of dishonest business schemes.

Witness
A person who testifies under oath in a trial (or a deposition which may be used in a trial if the witness is not available) with first-hand or expert evidence useful in a lawsuit.

World court
The court of international justice, founded by the united nations in 1945, which hears international disputes, but only when the parties (usually governments) agree to have the issue heard and to be bound by the decision.

Writ
A written order of a judge requiring specific action by the person or entity to whom the writ is directed.

Wrongful death
The death of a human being as the result of a wrongful act of another person. Such wrongful acts include: negligence (like careless driving), an intentional attack such as assault and/or battery, a death in the course of another crime, vehicular manslaughter, manslaughter or murder.

Wrongful termination
A right of an employee to sue his/her employer for damages (loss of wage and “fringe” benefits, and, if against “public policy,” for punitive damages).

Your honor
The proper way to address a judge in court.

Youthful offenders
Under-age people accused of crimes who are processed through a juvenile court and juvenile detention or prison facilities.