Abstract of title: A chronological summary of
all official records and recorded documents affecting the title to a parcel
of real property.
Accomplice: 1. A partner in a crime. 2. A person
who knowingly and voluntarily participates with another in a criminal
Acknowledgement: 1. A statement of acceptance
of responsibility. 2. The short declaration act the end of a legal paper
showing that the paper was duly executed and acknowledged.
Acquit: To find a defendant not guilty in a
Action: Case, cause, suit, or controversy disputed
or contested before a court of justice.
Additur: An increase by a judge in the amount
of damages awarded by a jury.
Adjudication: Giving or pronouncing a judgment
or decree. Also the judgment given.
Ad Litem: A Latin term meaning for the purposes
of the lawsuit. For example, a guardian "ad litem" is a person
appointed by the court to protect the interest of a minor or legally incompetent
person in a lawsuit.
Administrator: 1. One who administers the estate
of a person who dies without a will. 2. A court official.
Admissible evidence: Evidence that can be legally
and properly introduced in a civil or criminal trial.
Admonish: To advise or caution. For example
the court may caution or admonish counsel for wrong practices.
Adversary System: The trial method used in the
U.S. and some other countries. This system is based on the belief that
truth can best be determined by giving opposing parties full opportunity
to present and establish their evidence, and to test by cross-examination
the evidence presented by their adversaries. All this is done under the
established rules of procedure before an impartial judge and/or jury.
Affiant: A person who makes and signs an affidavit.
Affidavit: A written statement of facts confirmed
by the oath of the party making it, before a notary or officer having
authority to administer oaths. For example, in criminal cases, affidavits
are often used by police officers seeking to convince courts to grant
a warrant to make an arrest or a search. In civil cases, affidavits of
witnesses are often used to support motions for summary judgment.
Affirmative Defense: Without denying the charge,
the defendant raises circumstances such as insanity, self-defense, or
entrapment to avoid civil or criminal responsibility.
Affirmed: In the practice of appellate courts,
the word means that the decision of the trial court is correct.
Aid and Abet: To actively, knowingly or intentionally
assist another person in the commission or attempted commission of a crime.
Allegation: A statement of the issues in a written
document (a pleading) which a person is prepared to prove in court. For
example, an indictment contains allegations of crimes against the defendant.
Alternative dispute resolution: Settling a dispute
without a full, formal trial. Methods include mediation, conciliation,
arbitration, and settlement, among others.
Amicus curiae (a-mi'kus ku'ri-e): A friend of
the court. One not a party to a case who volunteers to offer information
on a point of law or some other aspect of the case to assist the court
in deciding a matter before it.
Answer: The defendant’s response to the plaintiffs
allegations as stated in a complaint. An item-by-item, paragraph-by-paragraph
response to points made in a complaint; part of the pleadings.
Appeal: A request made after a trial, asking
another court (usually the court of appeals) to decide whether the trial
was conducted properly. To make such a request is "to appeal"
or "to take an appeal." One who appeals is called the appellant.
Appearance: 1. The formal proceeding by which
a defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the court. 2. A written notification
to the plaintiff by an attorney stating that he or she is representing
Appellate court: A court having jurisdiction
to hear appeals and review a trial court’s procedure.
Appellee (ap-e-le'): The party against whom
an appeal is taken. Sometimes called a respondent.
Arbitration: A form of alternative dispute
resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third
party and agree to abide by his or her decision. In arbitration there
is a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.
Arraignment: A proceeding in which an individual
who is accused of committing a crime is brought into court, told of the
charges, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty. Sometimes called a preliminary hearing or initial appearance.
Arrest: To take into custody by legal authority.
Assault: Threat to inflict injury with an apparent
ability to do so. Also, any intentional display of force that would give
the victim reason to fear or expect immediate bodily harm.
Assess: To charge with a cost, fine or other
Assessment: The amount of the cost, fine or
other special payment.
At issue: The time in a lawsuit when the complaining
party has stated their claim and the other side has responded with a denial
and the matter is ready to be tried.
Attachment: Taking a person’s property to satisfy
a court-ordered debt.
Attorney-at-law: An advocate, counsel, or official
agent employed in preparing, managing, and trying cases in the courts.
Attorney-in-fact: A private person (who is not
necessarily a lawyer) authorized by another to act in his or her place,
either for some particular purpose, as to do a specific act, or for the
transaction of business in general, not of legal character. This authority
is conferred by an instrument in writing, called a letter of attorney,
or more commonly a power of attorney.
Attorney of record: The principal attorney in
a lawsuit, who signs all formal documents relating to the suit.
Bail: Money or other security (such as a bail
bond) provided to the court to temporarily allow a person’s release from
jail and assure their appearance in court. "Bail" and bond"
are often used interchangeably.
Bail bond: An obligation signed by the accused
to secure his or her presence at the trial. This obligation means that
the accused may lose money by not properly appearing for the trial. Often
referred to simply as bond.
Bail forfeiture: A court decision that the defendant
or surety (see Bail) has lost the right to the money or property
pledged to guarantee court appearance or the fulfillment of another obligation,
or has lost the right to the sum deposited as security for the pledge,
and that the court will retain it.
Bail refund: The reversal of the burden, charge,
or duty to guarantee the appearance of the defendant at a time and place
designated by the court. Bail is released back to the person or surety
originally posting it or to another individual as designated by the court
upon final disposition.
Bail revocation: The court decision withdrawing
the status of release on bail previously conferred upon a defendant.
Bailiff: A court attendant who keeps order in
the courtroom and has custody of the jury.
Bankruptcy: Refers to statutes and judicial
proceedings involving persons or businesses that cannot pay their debts
and seek the assistance of the court in getting a fresh start. Under the
protection of the bankruptcy court, debtors may be released from or "discharged"
from their debts, perhaps by paying a portion of each debt. Bankruptcy
judges preside over these proceedings. The person with the debts is called
the debtor and the people or companies to whom the debtor owes money to
are called creditors.
Bar: 1. Historically, the partition separating
the general public from the space occupied by the judges, lawyers, and
other participants in a trial. 2. More commonly, the term means the whole
body of lawyers.
Bar Examination: A state examination taken by
prospective lawyers in order to be admitted and licensed to practice law.
Battery: A beating, or wrongful physical violence.
The actual threat to use force is an assault; the use of it is
a battery, which usually includes an assault.
Bench: The seat occupied by the judge. More
broadly, the court itself.
Bench trial: Trial without a jury in which a
judge decides the facts.
Bench Warrant: An order issued by a judge for
the arrest of a person.
Beneficiary: Someone named to receive property
or benefits in a will. In a trust, a person who is to receive benefits
from the trust.
Bequeath: To give a gift to someone through
Bequests: Gifts made in a will.
Best Evidence: Primary evidence; the best evidence
available. Evidence short of this is "secondary." That is, an
original letter is "best evidence," and a photocopy is "secondary
Beyond A Reasonable Doubt: The standard in a
criminal case requiring that the jury be satisfied to a moral certainty
that every element of a crime has been proven by the prosecution. This
standard proof does not require that the state establish absolute certainty
by eliminating all doubt, but it does require that the evidence be so
conclusive that all reasonable doubts are removed from the mind of the
Bill of Particulars: A statement of the details
of the charge made against the defendant.
Bind Over: To hold a person for trial on bond
(bail) or in jail. If the judicial official conducting a hearing finds
probable cause to believe the accused committed a crime, the official
will bind over the accused, normally by setting bail for the accused’s
appearance at trial.
Booking: The process of photographing, fingerprinting,
and recording identifying data of a suspect. This process follows the
Brief: A written statement prepared by one side
in a lawsuit to explain to the court its view of the facts of a case and
the applicable law.
Burden of proof: In the law of evidence, the
necessity or duty of affirmatively proving a fact or facts in dispute
on an issue raised between the parties in a lawsuit. The responsibility
of proving a point (the burden of proof) is not the same as the standard
of proof. Burden of Proof deals with which side must establish
a point or points; standard of proof indicates the degree to which
the point must be proven. For example, in a civil case the burden of proof
rests with the plaintiff, who must establish his or her case by such standards
of proof as a preponderance of evidence or clear and convincing evidence.
Capias: Latin for "that you take".
A capias is a writ issued by a judge requesting that the sheriff take
someone into custody, and hold the person until he or she may be brought
Capital crime: A crime punishable by death.
Calendar: List of cases scheduled for hearing
Caption: The heading on a legal document listing
the parties, the court, the case number, and related information.
Case disposition: The termination of a court
case by transfer, consolidation, withdrawal, dismissal, a finding or verdict
of not guilty, the imposition of a criminal sentence, or the issuance
of a final order or opinion.
Case law: Law established by previous decisions
of appellate courts, particularly the Supreme Court.
Case review/final case review: The case reviews
are intended to give the prosecution and defense counsel the opportunity
to discuss plea options, and to determine the readiness of the case for
trial. A plea agreement may be entered into during the case review.
Cause: A lawsuit, litigation, or action. Any
question, civil or criminal, litigated or contested before a court of
Cause of action: The facts that give rise to
a lawsuit or a legal claim.
Caveat: A warning; a note of caution.
Certification: 1. Written attestation. 2. Authorized
declaration verifying that an instrument is a true and correct copy of
Certiorari: A means of getting an appellate
court to review a lower court’s decision. The loser of a case will often
ask the appellate court to issue a writ of certiorari, which orders
the lower court to convey the record of the case to the appellate court
and to certify it as accurate and complete. If an appellate court grants
a writ of certiorari, it agrees to take the appeal. This is often referred
to as granting cert.
Challenge: An objection, such as when an attorney
objects at a hearing to the seating of a particular person on a civil
or criminal jury.
Challenge for Cause: Objection to the seating
of a particular juror for a stated reason (usually bias or prejudice for
or against one of the parties in the lawsuit). The judge has the discretion
to deny the challenge. This differs from peremptory challenge.
Chambers: A judge’s private office. A hearing
in chambers takes place in the judge’s office outside of the presence
of the jury and the public.
Change of venue: Moving a lawsuit or criminal
trial to another place for trial.
Charge to the jury: The judge’s instructions
to the jury concerning the law that applies to the facts of the case on
Chief Judge: Presiding or Administrative Judge
in a court.
Circumstantial Evidence: All evidence except
eyewitness testimony. One example is physical evidence, such as fingerprints,
from which an inference can be drawn.
Citation: 1. A reference to a source of legal
authority. 2. A direction to appear in court, as when a defendant is cited into court, rather than arrested.
Civil Actions: Noncriminal cases in which one
private individual or business sues another to protect, enforce, or redress
private or civil rights.
Civil Procedure: The rules and process by which
a civil case is tried and appealed, including the preparations for trial,
the rules of evidence and trial conduct, and the procedure for pursuing
Class Action: A lawsuit brought by one or more
persons on behalf of a larger group.
Clear and Convincing Evidence: Standard of proof
commonly used in civil lawsuits and in regulatory agency cases. It governs
the amount of proof that must be offered in order for the plaintiff to
win the case.
Clemency or Executive Clemency: Act of
grace or mercy by the president or governor to ease the consequences of
a criminal act, accusation, or conviction. It may take the form of commutation or pardon.
Closing Argument: The closing statement, by
counsel, to the trier of facts after all parties have concluded their
presentation of evidence.
Codicil (kod'I-sil): An amendment to a will.
Collections: All monies received by a court.
Commit: To send a person to prison, asylum,
or reformatory by a court order.
Common law: The legal system that originated
in England and is now in use in the United States. It is based on judicial
decisions rather than legislative action.
Commutation: The reduction of a sentence, as
from death to life imprisonment.
Comparative Negligence: A legal doctrine by
which acts of the opposing parties are compared to determine the liability
of each party to the other, making each liable only for his or her percentage
of fault. See also contributory negligence.
Complainant: The party who complains or sues;
one who applies to the court for legal redress. Also called the plaintiff.
Complaint: 1. The legal document that usually
begins a civil lawsuit. It states the facts and identifies the action
the court is asked to take. 2. Formal written charge that a person has
committed a criminal offense.
Conciliation: A form of alternative dispute
resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third
party, who helps lower tensions, improve communications, and explore possible
solutions. Conciliation is similar to mediation, but it may be
Concurrent Sentences: Sentences for more than
one crime that are to be served at the same time, rather than one after
the other. See also cumulative sentences.
Condemnation: The legal process by which the
government takes private land for public use, paying the owners a fair
Consecutive Sentences: Successive sentences,
one beginning at the expiration of another, imposed against a person convicted
of two or more violations.
Conservatorship: Legal right given to a person
to manage the property and financial affairs of a person deemed incapable
of doing that for himself or herself. (See also guardianship. Conservators
have somewhat less responsibility than guardians.)
Contempt of Court: Willful disobedience of a
judge’s command or of an official court order.
Continuance: Postponement of a legal proceeding
to a later date.
Contract: A legally enforceable agreement between
two or more competent parties made either orally or in writing.
Contributory Negligence: A legal doctrine that
says if the plaintiff in a civil action for negligence also was negligent,
he or she cannot recover damages from the defendant for the defendant’s
negligence. Most jurisdictions have abandoned the doctrine of contributory
negligence in favor of comparative negligence.
Conviction: A judgment of guilt against a criminal
Corpus Delicti: Body of the crime. The objective
proof that a crime has been committed. It sometimes refers to the body
of the victim of a homicide or to the charred shell of a burned house,
but the term has a broader meaning. For the state to introduce a confession
or to convict the accused, it must prove a corpus delicti, that is, the
occurrence of a specific injury or loss and a criminal act as the source
of that particular injury or loss.
Corroborating Evidence: Supplementary evidence
that tends to strengthen or confirm the initial evidence.
Counsel: Legal adviser; a term used to refer
to lawyers in a case.
Counterclaim: A claim made by the defendant
in a civil lawsuit against the plaintiff. In essence, a counter lawsuit
within a lawsuit.
Court Administrator/Clerk of Court: An officer
appointed by the court or elected to oversee the administrative, non-judicial
activities of the court.
Court: Government entity authorized to resolve
legal disputes. Judges sometimes use "court" to refer to themselves
in the third person, as in "the court has read the briefs."
Court Costs: The expenses of prosecuting or
defending a lawsuit, other than the attorneys’ fees. An amount of money
may be awarded to the successful party and may be recoverable from the
losing party) as reimbursement for court costs.
Court reporter: A person who makes a word-for-word
record of what is said in court and produces a transcript of the proceedings
Crime: An action in violation of a law of the
state, county or a municipality, where the legislative body of that government
has classified the action as an offense against the community. A crime
in Delaware may be a violation, misdemeanor, or felony, depending upon
the statute used in the filing of charges in the complaint, information,
or indictment. A failure to act when required by law may also be considered
a crime under Delaware Statutes. One example would be the failure of someone
who has been convicted as a sex offender to register as a sex offender
with the State of Delaware.
Cross-Claim: A claim by co-defendant or co-plaintiffs
against each other and not against persons on the opposite side of the
Cross-Examination: The questioning of a witness
produced by the other side.
Cumulative Sentences: Sentences for two or more
crimes to run consecutively, rather than concurrently.
Custody: Detaining of a person by lawful process
or authority to assure his or her appearance to any hearing; the jailing
or imprisonment of a person convicted of a crime.
Damages: Money awarded by a court to a person
injured by the unlawful act or negligence of another person.
Decision: The judgment reached or given by a
court of law.
Declaratory Judgment: A judgment of the court
that explains what the existing law is or expresses the opinion of the
court without the need for enforcement.
Decree: An order of the court. A final decree
is one that fully and finally disposes of the litigation. An interlocutory decree is a preliminary order that often disposes of only part of a lawsuit.
Defamation: That what tends to injure a persons
reputation. Libel is published defamation, whereas slander is spoken.
Default: A failure to respond to a lawsuit within
the specified time.
Default Judgment: A judgment entered against
a party who fails to appear in court or respond to the charges.
Defendant: In a civil case, the person being
sued. In a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.
Delinquent Debt: Any sum due and owing.
Demurrer: A motion to dismiss a civil case because
of the legal insufficiency of a complaint.
De novo: A new. A trial de novo is a
new trial of a case.
Deposition: An oral statement made before an
officer authorized by law to administer oaths. Such statements are often
taken to examine potential witnesses, to obtain discovery, or to be used
later in trial.
Descent and Distribution statutes: State laws
that provide for the distribution of estate property of a person who dies
without a will. Same as intestacy laws.
Directed Verdict: Now called Judgment as a matter
of Law. An instruction by the judge to the jury to return a specific verdict.
Direct Evidence: Proof of facts by witnesses
who saw acts done or heard words spoken.
Direct Examination: The first questioning of
witnesses by the party on whose behalf they are called.
Disbarment: Form of discipline of a lawyer resulting
in the loss (often permanently) of that lawyer’s right to practice law.
It differs form censure (an official reprimand or condemnation)
and from suspension (a temporary loss of the right to practice
Disclaim: To refuse a gift made in a will.
Discovery: The pretrial process by which one
party discovers the evidence that will be relied upon in the trial by
the opposing party.
Dismissal: The termination of a lawsuit. A dismissal
without prejudice allows a lawsuit to be brought before the court again
at a later time. In contrast, a dismissal with prejudice prevents the
lawsuit form being brought before a court in the future.
Dissent: To disagree. An appellate court opinion
setting forth the minority view and outlining the disagreement of one
or more judges with the decision of the majority.
Diversion: The process of removing some minor
criminal, traffic, or juvenile cases from the full judicial process, on
the condition that the accused undergo some sort of rehabilitation or
make restitution for damages.
Docket: A list of cases to be heard by a court
or a log containing brief entries of court proceedings.
Domicile: The place where a person has his or
her permanent legal home. A person may have several residences, but only
Double Jeopardy: Putting a person on trial more
than once for the same crime. It is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution.
Due Process of Law: The right of all persons
to receive the guarantees and safeguards of the law and the judicial process.
It includes such constitutional requirements as adequate notice, assistance
of counsel, and the rights to remain silent, to a speedy and public trial,
to an impartial jury, and to confront and secure witnesses.
Elements of a crime: Specific factors that define
a crime which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in
order to obtain a conviction. The elements that must be proven are (1)
that a crime has actually occurred, (2) that the accused intended the
crime to happen and (3) a timely relationship between the first two factors.
Eminent Domain: The power of the government
to take private property for public use through condemnation.
En Banc: All the judges of a court sitting together.
Appellate courts can consist of a dozen or more judges, but often they
hear cases in panels of three judges. If a case is heard or reheard by
the full court, it is heard en banc.
Enjoining: An order by the court telling a person
to stop performing a specific act.
Entrapment: A defense to criminal charges alleging
that agents of the government induced a person to commit a crime he or
she otherwise would not have committed.
Equal Protection of the Law: The guarantee in
the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that all persons be
treated equally by the law. Court decisions have established that this
guarantee requires that courts be open to all persons on the same conditions,
with like rules of evidence and modes of procedure; that persons be subject
to no restrictions in the acquisition of property, the enjoyment of personal
liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which do not generally affect others;
that persons are liable to no other or greater burdens than such as are
laid upon others, and that no different or greater punishment is enforced
against them for a violation of the laws.
Equity: Generally, justice or fairness. Historically,
equity refers to a separate body of law developed in England in reaction
to the inability of the common-law courts, in their strict adherence to
rigid writs and forms of action, to consider or provide a remedy for every
injury. The king therefore established the court of chancery, to do justice
between parties in cases where the common law would give inadequate redress.
The principle of this system of law is that equity will find a way to
achieve a lawful result when legal procedure is inadequate. Equity and
law courts are now merged in most jurisdictions.
Escheat (es-chet): The process by which a deceased
person’s property goes to the state if no heir can be found.
Escrow: Money or a written instrument such as
a deed that, by agreement between two parties is held by a neutral third
party (held in escrow) until all conditions of the agreement are
Special Note: For the purposes of Delaware
Courts the governing definition is: Escrow accounts are special accounts
where the funds in the account do not belong to the account holder, but
the account holder has fiduciary responsibility for the funds for a given
period. Cash bail is a specialized form of escrow account.
Estate: An estate consists of personal property
(car, household items, and other tangible items), real property, and intangible
property, such as stock certificates and bank accounts, owned in the individual
name of a person at the time of the person’s death. It does not include
life insurance proceeds (unless the estate was made the beneficiary) or
other assets that pass outside the estate (like joint tenancy asset).
Estate tax: Generally, a tax on the privilege
of transferring property to others after a person’s death. In addition
to federal estate taxes, many states have their own estate taxes.
Estoppel: A person’s own act, or acceptance
of facts, which preclude his or her later making claims to the contrary.
Et al: And others.
Evidence: Information presented in testimony
or in documents that is used to persuade the fact finder (judge or jury)
to decide the case for one side or the other.
Exempt Property: In bankruptcy proceedings,
this refers to certain property protected by law from the reach of creditors.
Exceptions: Declarations by either side in a
civil or criminal case reserving the right to appeal a judge’s ruling
upon a motion. Also, in regulatory cases, objections by either side to
points made by the other side or to rulings by the agency or one of its
Exclusionary Rule: The rule preventing illegally
obtained evidence to be used in any trial.
Execute: To complete the legal requirements
(such as signing before witnesses) that make a will valid. Also, to execute
a judgment or decree means to put the final judgment of the court into
Executor: A personal representative, named in
a will, who administers an estate.
Exhibit: A document or other item introduced
as evidence during a trial or hearing.
Exonerate: Removal of a charge, responsibility
Ex Parte: On behalf of only one party, without
notice to any other party. For example, a request for a search warrant
is an ex parte proceeding, since the person subject to the search is not
notified of the proceeding and is not present at the hearing.
Ex Parte Proceeding: The legal procedure in
which only one side is represented. If differs from adversary system
or adversary proceeding.
Ex Post Facto: After the fact. The Constitution
prohibits the enactment of ex post facto laws. These are laws that permit
conviction and punishment for a lawful act performed before the law was
changed and the act made illegal.
Extenuating Circumstances: Circumstances which
render a crime less aggravated, heinous, or reprehensible than it would
Expungement: Official and formal erasure of
a record or partial contents of a record.
Extradition: The process by which one state
or country surrenders to another state, a person accused or convicted
of a crime in the other state.
Family allowance: A small amount of money set
aside from the estate of the deceased. Its purpose is to provide for the
surviving family members during the administration of the estate.
Fees: Amounts charged for the performance of
a particular court service which are disbursed to a governing entity.
These fees are specified by an authority at a fixed amount.
Felony: A crime of a graver nature than a misdemeanor,
usually punishable by imprisonment in a penitentiary for more than a year
and/or substantial fines.
Fiduciary: A person having a legal relationship
of trust and confidence to another and having a duty to act primarily
for the others benefit, e.g., a guardian, trustee, or executor.
File: To place a paper in the official custody
of the clerk of court/court administrator to enter into the files or records
of a case.
Finding: Formal conclusion by a judge or regulatory
agency on issues of fact. Also, a conclusion by a jury regarding a fact.
Fine: A sum of money assessed as part of a penalty
for conviction of a particular offense.
First Appearance: The initial appearance of
an arrested person before a judge to determine whether or not there is
probable cause for his or her arrest. Generally the person comes before
a judge within hours of the arrest. Also called initial appearance.
Forfeiture: The automatic loss of cash or other
property as a penalty for not complying with legal provisions and as compensation
for the resulting damages or losses.
Fraud: Intentional deception to deprive another
person of property or to injure that person in some other way.
Garnishment: A legal proceeding in which a debtor’s
money, in the possession of another (called the garnishee), is
applied to the debts of the debtor, such as when an employer garnishes
a debtor’s wages.
General Jurisdiction: Refers to courts that
have no limit on the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear.
Good time: A reduction in sentenced time in
prison as a reward for good behavior. It usually is one-third to one-half
off the maximum sentence.
Grand Jury: A body of persons sworn to inquire
into crime and if appropriate, bring accusations (indictments)
against the suspected criminals.
Grantor or Settlor: The person who sets
up a trust.
Guardian: A person appointed by will or by law
to assume responsibility for incompetent adults or minor children. If
a parent dies, this will usually be the other parent. If both die, it
probably will be a close relative.
Guardianship: Legal right given to a person
to be responsible for the food, housing, health care, and other necessities
of a person deemed incapable of providing these necessities for himself
or herself. A guardian also may be given responsibility for the person’s
financial affairs, and thus perform additionally as a conservator. (See
Habeas Corpus: A writ commanding that a person
be brought before a judge. Most commonly, a writ of habeas corpus is a
legal document that forces law enforcement authorities to produce a prisoner
they are holding and to legally justify his or her confinement.
Harmless Error: An error committed during a
trial that was corrected or was not serious enough to affect the outcome
of a trial and therefore was not sufficiently harmful (prejudicial) to
be reversed on appeal.
Hearsay: Statements by a witness who did not
see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else.
Hearsay is usually not admissible as evidence in court.
Hostile Witness: A witness whose testimony is
not favorable to the party who calls him or her as a witness. A hostile
witness may be asked leading questions and may be cross-examined by the
party who calls him or her to the stand.
Hung Jury: a jury whose members cannot agree
upon a verdict.
Incarcerate: To confine in jail.
Immunity: Grant by the court, which assures
someone will not face prosecution in return for providing criminal evidence.
Impeachment of a witness: An attack on the credibility
(believability) of a witness, through evidence introduced for that purpose.
Inadmissible: That which, under the rules of
evidence, cannot be admitted or received as evidence.
In Camera: In chambers, or in private. A hearing
in camera takes place in the judge’s office outside of the presence of
the jury and the public.
Independent Executor: A special kind of executor,
permitted by the laws of certain states, who performs the duties of an
executor without intervention by the court.
Indeterminate Sentence: A sentence of imprisonment
to a specified minimum and maximum period of time, specifically authorized
by statute, subject to termination by a parole board other authorized
agency after the prisoner has served the minimum term.
Indictment: A written accusation by a grand
jury charging a person with a crime.
Indigent: Needy or impoverished. A defendant
who can demonstrate his or her indigence to the court may be assigned
a court appointed attorney at public expense.
Information: Accusatory document, filed by the
prosecutor, detailing the charges against the defendant. An alternative
to an indictment, it serves to bring a defendant to trial.
In Forma Pauperis: In the manner of a pauper.
Permission given to a person to sue without payment of court fees on claim
of indigence or poverty.
Infraction: A violation of law not punishable
by imprisonment. Minor traffic offenses generally are considered infractions.
Inheritance tax: A state tax on property that
an heir or beneficiary under a will receives from a deceased person’s
estate. The heir or beneficiary pays this tax.
Initial Appearance: In criminal law, the hearing
at which a judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence against
a person charged with a crime to hold him or her for trial. The Constitution
bans secret accusations, so initial appearances are public unless the
defendant asks otherwise; the accused must be present, though he or she
usually does not offer evidence. Also called first appearance.
Injunction: Writ or order by a court prohibiting
a specific action from being carried out by a person or group. A preliminary
injunction is granted provisionally, until a full hearing can be held
to determine if it should be made permanent.
In Propria Persona: In courts it refers to persons
who present their own case without lawyers. See Pro Se.
Instructions: Judge’s explanation to the jury
before it begins deliberations of the questions it must answer and the
applicable law governing the case. Also called charge.
Intangible Assets: Nonphysical items such as
stock certificates, bonds, bank accounts, and pension benefits that have
value and must be taken into account in estate planning.
Interlocutory: Provisional; not final. An interlocutory
order or an interlocutory appeal concerns only a part of the issues raised
in a lawsuit.
Interrogatories: Written questions asked by
one party in a lawsuit for which the opposing party must provide written
Intervention: An action by which a third person
who may be affected by a lawsuit is permitted to become a party to the
suit. Differs from the process of becoming an amicus curiae.
Inter Vivos Gift: A gift made during the giver’s
Inter Vivos Trust: Another name for a living
Intestacy Laws: See descent and distribution
Intestate: Dying without a will.
Intestate succession: The process by which the
property of a person who has died without a will passes on to others according
to the state’s decent and distribution statutes. If someone dies without
a will, and the court uses the state’s intestate succession laws, an heir
who receives some of the deceased’s property is an intestate heir.
Irrevocable trust: A trust that, once set up,
the grantor may not revoke.
Issue: (1) the disputed point in a disagreement
between parties in a lawsuit. (2) To send out officially, as in to issue
Joint and Several Liability: A legal doctrine
that makes each of the parties who are responsible for an injury, liable
for all the damages awarded in a lawsuit if the other parties responsible
Joint Tenancy: A form of legal co-ownership
of property (also known as survivorship). At the death of one co-owner,
the surviving co-owner becomes sole owner of the property. Tenancy by
the entirety is a special form of joint tenancy between a husband and
Judge: An elected or appointed public official
with authority to hear and decide cases in a court of law. A Judge Pro
Tem is a temporary judge.
Judgment: The final disposition of a lawsuit.
Default judgment is a judgment rendered because of the defendant’s failure
to answer to appear. Summary judgment is a judgment given on the
basis of pleadings, affidavits, and exhibits presented for the record
without any need for a trial. It is used when there is no dispute as to
the facts of the case and one party is entitled to a judgment as a matter
of law. Consent judgment occurs when the provisions and terms of
the judgment are agreed on by the parties and submitted to the court for
its sanction and approval.
Judgment Bond: An amount posted by a defendant
to secure an appeal (usually the same amount as the judgment).
Judicial Review: The authority of a court to
review the official actions of other branches of government. Also, the
authority to declare unconstitutional the actions of other branches.
Jurisdiction: (1) The legal authority of a court
to hear and decide a case. Concurrent jurisdiction exists when two courts
have simultaneous responsibility for the same case. (2) The geographic
area over which the court has authority to decide cases.
Jurisprudence: The study of law and the structure
of the legal system.
Jury: Persons selected according to law and
sworn to inquire into and declare a verdict on matters of fact. A petit
jury is an ordinary or trial jury, composed of six to twelve persons,
which hears either civil or criminal cases.
Jury Commissioner: The court officer responsible
for choosing the panel of persons to serve as potential jurors for a particular
Jury Foreman: A member of the jury, chosen by
the other jurors, to act as the chairman and spokesperson for the jury.
Justiciable: Issues and claims capable of being
properly examined in court.
Lapsed Gift: A gift made in a will to a person
who has died prior to the will-maker’s death.
Larceny: Obtaining property by fraud or deceit.
Law: The combination of those rules and principles
of conduct promulgated by legislative authority, derived from court decisions
and established by local custom.
Law Clerks: Persons trained in the law who assist
judges in researching legal opinions.
Leading Question: A question that suggests the
answer desired of the witness. A party generally may not ask one’s own
witness leading questions. Leading questions may be asked only of hostile
witnesses and on cross-examination.
Legal Aid: Professional legal services available
usually to persons or organizations unable to afford such services.
Legal Opinion: The opinion as to legality by
an authorized official, such as an attorney general or city attorney.
Legal Tender: Currency or coin, which a government
has declared shall be received in payment of duties or debts.
Leniency: Recommendation for a sentence less
than the maximum allowed.
Letters of Administration: Legal document issued
by a court that shows an administrator’s legal right to take control of
assets in the deceased person’s name.
Letters Testamentary: Legal document issued
by a court that shows an executor’s legal right to take control of assets
in the deceased person’s name.
Liable: Legally responsible.
Libel: Published words or pictures that falsely
and maliciously defame a person. Libel is published defamation; slander is spoken.
Lien: (1) A legal claim against another person’s
property as security for a debt. A lien does not convey ownership of the
property, but gives the lienholder a right to have his or her debt satisfied
out of the proceeds of the property if the debt is not
otherwise paid. (2) A charge or security or encumbrance upon real property.
Liens may be imposed for failure to pay fines for fees due to a court.
Misapproriation: A nonviolent criminal taking
of property. Includes embezzlement, theft, and fraud. Often applied to
an employee’s taking of an employer’s property.
Misdemeanor: A criminal offense considered less
serious than a felony. Misdemeanors generally are punishable by a fine
or a limited local jail term, but not by imprisonment in a state penitentiary.
Mistrial: An invalid trial, caused by fundamental
error. When a mistrial is declared, the trial must start again from the
selection of the jury.
Mitigating Circumstances: Those which do not
constitute a justification or excuse for an offense but which may be considered
as reasons for reducing the degree of blame.
Mittimus: The name of an order in writing, issuing
from a court and directing the sheriff or other officer to convey a person
to a prison, asylum, or reformatory, and directing the jailer or other
appropriate official to receive and safely keep the person until his or
her fate shall be determined by due course of law.
Moot: A moot case or a moot point is one not
subject to a judicial determination because it involves an abstract question
or a pretended controversy that has not yet actually arisen or has already
passed. Mootness usually refers to a court’s refusal to consider a case
because the issue involved has been resolved prior to the court’s decision,
leaving nothing that would be affected by the court’s decision.
Motion: Oral or written request made by a party
to an action before, during, or after a trial, upon which a court issues
a ruling or order.
Murder: The unlawful killing of a human being
with deliberate intent to kill. Murder in the first degree is characterized
by premeditation; murder in the second degree is characterized by a sudden
and instantaneous intent to kill or to cause injury without caring whether
the injury kills or not. (See also manslaughter).
Negligence: Failure to exercise the degree of
care that a reasonable person would exercise under the same circumstances.
Next Friend: One acting without formal appointment
as guardian for the benefit of an infant, a person of unsound mind not
judicially declared incompetent, or other person under some disability.
No Bill: This phrase, endorsed by a grand jury
on the written indictment submitted to it for its approval, means that
the evidence was found insufficient to indict.
No-Contest Clause: Language in a will that provides
that a person who makes a legal challenge to the will’s validity will
No-Fault Proceedings: A civil case in which
parties may resolve their dispute without a formal finding of error or
Nolle Prosequi: Decision by a prosecutor not
to go forward with charging a crime. It translates "I do not choose
to prosecute." Also loosely called nolle pros.
Nolo Contendere: A plea of no contest. In many
jurisdictions, it is an expression that the matter will not be contested,
but without an admission of guilt. In other jurisdictions, it is an admission
of the charges and is equivalent to a guilty plea.
Notice: Formal notification to the party that
has been sued in a civil case of the fact that the lawsuit has been filed.
Also, any form of notification of a legal proceeding.
Nunc pro tunc: A legal phrase applied to acts
which are allowed after the time when they should be done, with a retroactive
Nuncupative Will: An oral (unwritten) will.
Oath: Written or oral pledge by a person to
keep a promise or speak the truth.
Objection: The process by which one party takes
exception to some statement or procedure. An objection is either sustained
(allowed) or overruled by the judge.
On a Person’s Own Recognizance: Release of a
person from custody without the payment of any bail or posting
of bond, upon the promise to return to court.
Opening Statement: The initial statement made
by attorneys for each side, outlining the facts each intends to establish
during the trial.
Opinion: A judge’s written explanation of a
decision of the court or of a majority of judges. A dissenting opinion
disagrees with the majority opinion because of the reasoning and/or the
principles of law on which the decision is based. A concurring opinion
agrees with the decision of the court but offers further comment. A per
Oral argument: An opportunity for lawyers to
summarize their position before the court and also to answer the judges’
Order: A written or oral command from a court
directing or forbidding an action.
Ordinance: A law of a municipality enacted by
the governing body of the governmental entity. If it is not in conflict
with any higher form of law, such as a state statute or constitutional
provision, it has the full force and effect of law within the boundaries
of the municipality to which it applies. The difference between an ordinance
and a resolution is that the latter requires less legal formality and
has a lower legal status. Ordinarily, the statutes or charter will specify
or imply those legislative actions that must be by ordinance and those
that may be by resolution. Revenue raising measures universally require
Overrule: A judge’s decision not to allow an
objection. Also, a decision by a higher court finding that a lower court
decision was in error.
Pardon: A form of executive clemency preventing
criminal prosecution or removing or extinguishing a criminal conviction.
Parens Patriae: The doctrine under which the
court protects the interests of a juvenile.
Parole: The supervised conditional release of
a prisoner before the expiration of his or her sentence. If the parolee
observes the conditions, he or she need not serve the rest of his or her
Party: A person, business, or government agency
actively involved in the prosecution or defense of a legal proceeding.
Patent: A government grant giving an inventor
the exclusive right to make or sell his or her invention for a term of
Peremptory Challenge: A challenge that may be
used to reject a certain number of prospective jurors without giving a
Perjury: The criminal offense of making a false
statement under oath.
Permanent Injunction: A court order requiring
that some action be taken, or that some party refrain from taking action.
It differs from forms of temporary relief, such as a temporary restraining
order or preliminary injunction.
Personal Property: Tangible physical property
(such as cars, clothing, furniture, and jewelry) and intangible personal
property. This does not include real property such as land or rights in
Personal Recognizance: In criminal proceedings,
the pretrial release of a defendant without bail upon his or her promise
to return to court. See also own recognizance.
Personal Representative: The person who administers
an estate. If named in a will, that person’s title is an executor. If
there is no valid will, that person’s title is an administrator.
Person in need of supervision: Juvenile found
to have committed a status offense rather than a crime that would
provide a basis for a finding of delinquency. Typical status offenses
are habitual truancy, violating a curfew, or running away from home. These
are not crimes, but they might be enough to place a child under supervision.
In different states, status offenders might be called children in need
of supervision or minors in need of supervision.
Petitioner: The person filing an action in a
court of original jurisdiction. Also, the person who appeals the judgment
of a lower court. The opposing party is called respondent.
Plaintiff: The person who files the complaint
in a civil lawsuit. Also called the complainant.
Plea: In a criminal proceeding, it is the defendant’s
declaration in open court that he or she is guilty or not guilty. The
defendant’s answer to the charges made in the indictment or information.
Plea Bargaining or Plea Negotiating: The process
through which an accused person and a prosecutor negotiate a mutually
satisfactory disposition of a case. Usually it is a legal transaction
in which a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for some form of leniency.
It often involves a guilty plea to lesser charges or a guilty plea to
some of the charges if other charges are dropped. Such bargains are not
binding on the court.
Pleadings: The written statements of fact and
law filed by the parties to a lawsuit.
Polling the Jury: The act, after a jury verdict
has been announced, of asking jurors individually whether they agree with
Pour-Over Will: A will that leaves some or all
estate assets to a trust established before the will-maker’s death.
Power of Attorney: Formal authorization of a
person to act in the interest of another person.
Precedent: A previously decided case that guides
the decision of future cases.
Pre-Injunction: Court order requiring action
or forbidding action until a decision can be made whether to issue a permanent
injunction. It differs from a temporary restraining order.
Preliminary Hearing: (1) Another term for arraignment.
(2) If a case involves felony charges, it will be sent to the Court of
Common Pleas for a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a determination
that it is more likely than not (probable cause) that the defendant committed
a felony. The judge can decide to send the case to Superior Court if there
is probable cause, or reduce, or dismiss one or more of the charges. The
judge also reviews the amount of bail set on the case at this point. If
the defendant gives up (waives) his or her right to have the preliminary
hearing, the charges go up to superior Court. When felony charges are
sent up to Superior Court, the Attorney General’s Office has to make a
decision as to whether or not they are going to formally charge the defendant
though an indictment. The primary function of the preliminary hearing
is to screen cases, and move the cases forward, where there is probable
cause, to Superior Court. One result of the preliminary hearing process
is that the defendant has an opportunity to hear part of the State’s case
against him or her.
Preponderance of the Evidence: Greater weight
of the evidence, the common standard of proof in civil cases.
Pre-Sentence Report: A report to the sentencing
judge containing background information about the crime and the defendant
to assist the judge in making his or her sentencing decision.
Presentment: Declaration or document issued
by a grand jury that either makes a neutral report or notes misdeeds by
officials charged with specified public duties. It ordinarily does not
include a formal charge of crime. A presentment differs from an indictment.
Pretermitted child: A child borne after a will
is executed, who is not provided for by the will. Most states have laws
that provide for a share of estate property to go to such children.
Pre-trial Conference: A meeting between the
judge and the lawyers involved in a lawsuit to narrow the issues in the
suit, agree on what will be presented at the trial, and make a final effort
to settle the case without a trial.
Prima Facie Case: A case that is sufficient
and has the minimum amount of evidence necessary to allow it to continue
in the judicial process.
Probable Cause: A reasonable belief that a crime
has or is being committed; the basis for all lawful searches, seizures,
Probate: The court-supervised process by which
a will is determined to be the will-maker’s final statement regarding
how the will-maker wants his or her property distributed. It also confirms
the appointment of the personal representative of the estate. Probate
also means the process by which assets are gathered, applied to pay debts,
taxes, and expenses of administration; and distributed to those designated
as beneficiaries in the will.
Probate Court: The court with authority to supervise
Probate Estate: Estate property that may be
disposed of by a will.
Probation: An alternative to imprisonment allowing
a person found guilty of an offense to stay in the community, usually
under conditions and under the supervision of a probation officer. A violation
of probation can lead to its revocation and to imprisonment.
Pro Bono Publico: For the public good. Lawyers
representing clients without a fee are said to be working pro bono publico.
Promissory Note: An unconditional written promise
(signed by the maker) to pay a certain sum in money, on demand, or at
a fixed or determinable future date, either to the bearer or to the order
of a designated person.
Property Bond: Property bonded by a bank that
is used as a surety for appearance in court.
Pro Se: A Latin term meaning "on one’s
own behalf"; in courts, it refers to persons who present their own
cases without lawyers.
Prosecutor: A trial lawyer representing the
government in a criminal case and the interest of the state in civil matters.
In criminal cases, the prosecutor has the responsibility of deciding who
and when to prosecute.
Proximate cause: The act that caused an event
to occur. A person generally is liable only if an injury was proximately
caused by his or her action or by his or her failure to act when he or
she had a duty to act.
Public Defender: Government lawyer who provides
free legal defense services to a poor person accused of a crime.
Quash: To vacate or void a summons, subpoena,
Real Property: Land, buildings, and other improvements
affixed to the land.
Reasonable Doubt: An accused person is entitled
to acquittal if, in the minds of the jury, his or her guilt has not been
proved beyond a "reasonable doubt"; that state of minds of jurors
in which they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction as to the truth
of the charge.
Reasonable Person: A phrase used to denote a
hypothetical person who exercises qualities of attention, knowledge, intelligence,
and judgment that society requires of its members for the protection of
their own interest and the interests of others. Thus, the test of negligence
is based on either a failure to do something that a reasonable person,
guided by considerations that ordinarily regulate conduct, would do, or
on the doing of something that a reasonable and prudent (wise) person
would not do.
Rebut: Evidence disproving other evidence previously
given or reestablishing the credibility of challenged evidence.
Record: All the documents and evidence plus
transcripts of oral proceedings in a case.
Recuse: The process by which a judge is disqualified
from hearing a case, on his or her own motion or upon the objection of
Re-Direct Examination: Opportunity to present
rebuttal evidence after one’s evidence has been subjected to cross-examination.
Redress: To set right; to remedy; to compensate;
to remove the causes of a grievance.
Referee: A person to whom the court refers a
pending case to take testimony, hear the parties, and report back to the
court. A referee is an officer with judicial powers who serve as an arm
of the court.
Rehearing: Another hearing of a civil or criminal
case by the same court in which the case was originally heard.
Rejoinder: Opportunity for the side that opened
the case to offer limited response to evidence presented during the rebuttal
by the opposing side.
Remand: To send a dispute back to the court
where it was originally heard. Usually it is an appellate court that remands
a case for proceedings in the trial court consistent with the appellate
Remedy: Legal or judicial means by which a right
or privilege is enforced or the violation of a right or privilege is prevented,
redressed, or compensated.
Remittitur: The reduction by a judge of the
damages awarded by a jury.
Removal: The transfer of a state case to federal
court for trial; in civil cases, because the parties are from different
states; in criminal and some civil cases, because there is a significant
possibility that there could not be a fair trial in state courts.
Replevin: An action for the recovery of a possession
that has been wrongfully taken.
Reply: The response by a party to charges raised
in a pleading by the other party.
Respondent: The person against whom an appeal
is taken. See petitioner.
Rest: A party is said to rest or rest
its case when it has presented all the evidence it intends to offer.
Restitution: Act of giving the equivalent for
any loss, damage or injury.
Retainer: Act of the client in employing the
attorney or counsel, and also denotes the fee which the client pays when
he or she retains the attorney to act for them.
Return: A report to a judge by police on the
implementation of an arrest or search warrant. Also a report to a judge
in reply to a subpoena, civil or criminal.
Reverse: An action of a higher court in setting
aside or revoking a lower court decision.
Reversible Error: A procedural error during
a trial or hearing sufficiently harmful to justify reversing the judgment
of a lower court.
Revocable Trust: A trust that the grantor may
change or revoke.
Revoke: To cancel or nullify a legal document.
Robbery: Felonious taking of another’s property,
from his or her person or immediate presence and against his or her will,
by means of force or fear. If differs from larceny.
Rules of Evidence: Standards governing whether
evidence in a civil or criminal case is admissible.
Search warrant: A written order issued by a
judge that directs a law enforcement officer to search a specific area
for a particular piece of evidence.
Secured Debt: In bankruptcy proceedings, a debt
is secured if the debtor gave the creditor a right to repossess the property
or goods used as collateral.
Seizure: The taking of an object from its possessor
or custodian by a law enforcement officer.
Self-defense: Claim that an act otherwise criminal
was legally justifiable because it was necessary to protect a person or
property from the threat or action of another.
Self-incrimination, privilege against: The constitutional
right of people to refuse to give testimony against themselves that could
subject them to criminal prosecution. The right is guaranteed in the Fifth
Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. Asserting the right is often referred
to as taking the Fifth.
Self-proving Will: A will whose validity does
not have to be testified to in court by the witnesses to it, since the
witnesses executed an affidavit reflecting proper execution of
the will prior to the maker’s death.
Sentence: The punishment ordered by a court
for a defendant convicted of a crime. A concurrent sentence means that
two or more sentences would run at the same time. A consecutive sentence
means that two or more sentences would run one after another.
Sentence Report: A document containing background
material on a convicted person. It is prepared to guide the judge in the
imposition of a sentence. Sometimes called a presentence report.
Sequester: To separate. Sometimes juries are
separated from outside influences during their deliberations. For example,
this may occur during a highly publicized trial.
Sequestration of witnesses: Keeping all witnesses
(except plaintiff and defendant) out of the courtroom except for their
time on the stand, and cautioning them not to discuss their testimony
with other witnesses. Also called separation of witnesses. This prevents
a witness from being influenced by the testimony of a prior witness.
Service: The delivery of a legal document, such
as a complaint, summons, or subpoena, notifying a person of a lawsuit
or other legal action taken against him or her. Service, which constitutes
formal legal notice, must be made by an officially authorized person in
accordance with the formal requirements of the applicable laws.
Settlement: An agreement between the parties
disposing of a lawsuit.
Settlor: The person who sets up a trust. Also
called the grantor.
Sidebar: A conference between the judge and
lawyers, usually in the courtroom out of earshot of the jury and spectators.
Slander: False and defamatory spoken words tending
to harm another’s reputation, business, or means of livelihood. Slander
is spoken defamation; libel is published.
Small Claims Court: A court that handles civil
claims for small amounts of money. People often represent themselves rather
than hire an attorney.
Sovereign Immunity: The doctrine that the government,
state or federal, is immune to lawsuit unless it gives its consent.
Specific Performance: A remedy requiring a person
who has breached a contract to perform specifically what he or she had
agreed to do. Specific performance is ordered when damages would be inadequate
Spendthrift Trust: A trust set up for the benefit
of someone who the grantor believes would be incapable of managing his
or her own financial affairs.
Standing: The legal right to bring a lawsuit.
Only a person with something at stake has standing to bring a lawsuit.
Stare Decisis: The doctrine that courts will
follow principles of law laid down in previous cases. Similar to precedent.
Status Offenders: Youths charged with the status
of being beyond the control of their legal guardian or are habitually
disobedient, truant from school, or having committed other acts that would
not be a crime if committed by an adult. They are not delinquents (in
that they have committed no crime), but rather are persons in need of
supervision, minors in need of supervision, or children in need of supervision,
depending on the state in which they live. Status offenders are placed
under the supervision of the juvenile court.
Statute: A particular law enacted and established
by the will of the legislative department of government. Also used to
designate written law as compared to unwritten law.
Statute of Limitations: The time within which
a plaintiff must begin a lawsuit (in civil cases) or a prosecutor must
bring charges (in criminal cases). There are different statutes of limitations
at both the federal and state levels for different kinds of lawsuits or
Statutory Construction: Process by which a court
seeks to interpret the meaning and scope of legislation.
Statutory Law: Law enacted by the legislative
branch of government, as distinguished from case law or common law.
Stay: A court order halting a judicial proceeding.
Stipulation: An agreement by attorneys on both
sides of a civil or criminal case about some aspect of the case; e.g.,
to extend the time to answer, to adjourn the trial date, or to admit certain
facts at the trial.
Strike: Highlighting in the record of a case,
evidence that has been improperly offered and will not be relied upon.
Sua Sponte: A Latin phrase which means on one’s
own behalf. Voluntary, without prompting or suggestion.
Subpoena: A court order compelling a witness
to appear and testify.
Subpoena Duces Tecum: A court order commanding
a witness to bring certain documents or records to court.
Summary judgment: A decision made on the basis
of statements and evidence presented for the record without a trial. It
is used when there is no dispute as to the facts of the case, and one
party is entitled to judgment as a matter law.
Summons: A notice to a defendant that he or
she has been sued or charged with a crime and is required to appear in
court. A jury summons requires the person receiving it to report
for possible jury duty.
Support trust: A trust that instructs the trustee
to spend only as much income and principal (the assets held in the trust)
as needed for the beneficiary’s support.
Suppress: To forbid the use of evidence at a
trial because it is improper or was improperly obtained. See also exclusionary
Surety Bond: A written promise to pay damages
or to indemnify against losses caused by the party or parties named in
the document, through nonperformance or through defalcation. Surety bonds
also include fidelity bonds covering government officials and employees.
Survivorship: Another name for joint tenancy.
Suspend: To hold in abeyance.
Sustain: A court ruling upholding an objection
or a motion.
Tangible Personal Property Memorandum (TPPM): A legal document that is referred to in a will and used to guide the distribution
of tangible personal property.
Temporary Relief: Any form of action by a court
granting one of the parties an order to protect its interest pending further
action by the court.
Temporary Restraining Order: A judge’s order
forbidding certain actions until a full hearing can be held. Usually of
short duration. Often referred to as a TRO.
Testamentary Capacity: The legal ability to
make a will.
Testamentary Trust: A trust set up by a will.
Testator: Person who makes a will (female: testatrix).
Testimony: The evidence given by a witness under
oath. It does not include evidence from documents and other physical evidence.
Third Party: A person, business, or government
agency not actively involved in a legal proceeding, agreement, or transaction.
Third-Party Claim: An action by the defendant
that brings a third party into a lawsuit.
Title: Legal ownership of property, usually
real property or automobiles.
Tort: An injury or wrong committed on the person
or property of another. A tort is an infringement on the rights of an
individual, but not founded on a contract. The most common tort action
is a suit for damages sustained in an automobile accident.
Transcript: A written, word-for-word record
of what was said, either in a proceeding such as a trial or during some
other conversation, as in a transcript of a hearing or oral deposition.
Trust: A legal device used to manage real or
personal property, established by one person (the grantor or settlor) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary). A third person (the trustee) or the grantor manages the trust.
Trust Agreement or Declaration: The legal
document that sets up a living trust. Testamentary trusts are set up in
Trustee: the person or institution that manages
the property put in trust.
Unlawful Detainer: A detention of real estate
without the consent of the owner or other person entitled to its possession.
Unsecured: In bankruptcy proceedings, for the
purposes of filing a claim, a claim is unsecured if there is no collateral,
or to the extent the value of collateral is less than the amount of the
Usury: Charging a higher interest rate or higher
fees than the law allows.
Vacate: To set aside. To vacate a judgment is
to set aside that judgment.
Venire: A writ summoning persons to court to
act as jurors. Also refers to the people summoned for jury duty.
Venue: The proper geographical area (county,
city, or district) in which a court with jurisdiction over the subject
matter may hear a case.
Verdict: A conclusion, as to fact or law, that
forms the basis for the court’s judgment. A general verdict is
a jury’s finding for or against a plaintiff after determining the facts
and weighing them according to the judge’s instructions regarding the
Violation: A crime of a less serious nature
than a felony or misdemeanor. In Delaware, the statute a person is charged
with normally states whether it is a violation, a misdemeanor, or a felony.
Voir Dire: Process of questioning potential
jurors so that each side may decide whether to accept or oppose individuals
for jury service.
Wage Attachment: A court order authorizing automatic
deductions from the defendant’s wages to pay some debt as determined by
the court. This is an involuntary action on the part of the defendant.
Waiver: Intentionally giving up a right.
Waiver of Immunity: A means authorized by statute
by which a witness, before testifying or producing evidence, may relinquish
the right to refuse to testify against himself or herself, thereby making
it possible for his or her testimony to be used against him or her in
Warrant: Most commonly, a court order authorizing
law enforcement officers to make an arrest or conduct a search. An affidavit
seeking a warrant must establish probable cause by detailing the facts
upon which the request is based.
Will: A legal declaration that disposes of person’s
property when that person dies.
With Prejudice: Applied to orders of judgment
dismissing a case, meaning that the plaintiff is forever barred from bringing
a lawsuit on the same claim or cause.
Without Prejudice: A claim or cause dismissed
without prejudice may be the subject of a new lawsuit.
Witness: A person who testifies to what he or
she has seen, heard, or otherwise experienced. Also a person who observes
the signing of a will and is competent to testify that it is the will-maker’s
intended last will and testament.
Writ: A judicial order directing a person to
Writ of certiorari: An order issued by the supreme
court directing the lower court to transmit records for a case for which
it will hear on appeal.