Legal Terms


A

  • Adjudication
    Final finding on a case. Giving a judgment or decree, also the name of the judgment given.
  • Affirm
    When a higher court declares that a lower court's action was correct.
  • Allegation
    The accusation, assertion, declaration or statement of a party to an action, made in a pleading, setting out what he expects to prove.
  • Appeal
    To take a case to a higher court for review.
  • Appellate Court
    A court that hears appeals and reviews lower court decisions. Generally, only matters in the lower court transcript and the court files are considered.
  • Arraignment
    In criminal practice, to bring the prisoner to Court in person to answer a charge. (Where the person "pleads" either guilty or not guilty. Typically, defendants plead not guilty at arraignment. They may always change that plea.)

B

  • Bail
    Cash or other security placed on deposit with the Court to obtain the release of an arrested or imprisoned person and to guarantee his reappearance before the Court on a specific day. The vast majority of defendants are entitled to have bail set. If they are unable to post the bail/bond then they remain incarcerated until trial. A very few crimes, such as capital murder and tampering with a witnesses, permit the court to deny bail all together.
  • Bench Trial
    A trial where a judge decides the case - not a jury.
  • Burden of Proof
    In the law of evidence, the necessity or duty of proving a fact or facts in dispute.

C

  • Circumstantial Evidence
    All evidence of indirect nature. The decision process by which a court or jury may reason from circumstances known, or proved, that establish by inference the principal fact.
  • Civil Case
    A case between two parties to remedy a private wrong.
  • Clerk
    One who keeps the records of all proceedings, exhibits and administers the oath to jurors and witnesses. Official custodian of the court's records.
  • Complaint
    The beginning document in a case. The first pleading on the part of the complainant, or plaintiff, in a civil action. The first document outlining charges filed by a prosecutor in a criminal case.
  • Conviction
    Being found guilty or pleading guilty to a crime.
  • Cross Examination
    The questioning of a witness in a trial, or in the taking of a deposition, by the party on the other side of the case.

D

  • Defendant
    In a civil case, the party denying or defending itself against charges brought by a plaintiff. In a criminal case, the person charged with an offense.
  • Deliberation
    Thinking about an act before doing it for any amount of time, no matter how brief the time span.
  • Deposition
    The testimony of a witness, not taken in open court, in pursuance of authority given by statute or rule of Court to take testimony elsewhere. Testimony is under oath.
  • Direct Examination
    The first set of questions asked of a witness by the party who called them to court.
  • Discovery
    A proceeding where one side of an action may be informed as to facts known by other parties or witnesses. Includes the exchange of reports, documents, etc.

E

  • Expert Evidence
    Testimony given in relation to some specific, technical or professional matter by experts, i.e., persons qualified to speak as authorities because of their special training, skills or familiarity with the subject. Only on matters where experts are necessary.

F

  • Felony
    An offense punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year and/or a fine over $1000.
  • Fraud
    An intentional perversion of truth; deceitful practice of device resorted to with intent to deprive another of some property or other right, or in some manner to do him injury.

G

  • Grand Jury
    An independent jury who reviews complaints and accusations in criminal cases filed by prosecutors to see if there is probable cause or reason to believe a crime was committed by the particular person charged and whether a jury trial should occur. They hear evidence. In cases where they believe a trial is warranted they file indictments. In cases, where they believe a trial is not warrant and there is not probable cause they file a no true bill and the case ends prior to trial.

H

  • Hearsay
    Evidence not proceeding from the personal knowledge of the witness.

I

  • Inadmissible
    Those items or matters, under the established rules of evidence, cannot be admitted or received in court.
  • Indictment
    An accusation in writing found and presented by a grand jury, accusing the person of some act, which by law, is a crime.
  • Information
    An accusation of some criminal offenses, similar to an indictment, but that is presented by a prosecutor to a judge after the judge has examined the evidence and determines that the person should be accused of a particular act that is a crime.
  • Irrelevant
    Evidence not relating or applicable to the matter in issue.

J

  • Jurisdiction
    The power of the Court to hear a case in question. Jurisdiction exists when the proper parties are present in a part of the State where the event occurred and when the point to be decided is within the issues authorized statute or Constitution to be handled by the particular court.
  • Jury
    A certain number of persons selected according to law, and sworn to consider matters of fact and decide the truth based on the evidence in front of them.
  • Jury Trial
    A trial where a group of citizens hears the evidence presented and gives its verdict.

M

  • Misdemeanor
    Offense less than a felony; generally those punishable by fine or imprisonment for a term of one year or less.
  • Mistrial
    An incomplete, erroneous or invalid trial. A trial that ends before a decision is reached.
  • Murder
    The unlawful killing of a human being by another with malice aforethought, either expressed or implied.

O

  • Objection
    The act of taking exception to some statement or procedure in trial. Used to call the Court's attention to improper evidence or procedure.

P

  • Parole
    The conditional release from prison of a convict before the end of his sentence. If he observes the conditions, the parolee need not serve the remainder of his sentence.
  • Preliminary Hearing
    Synonymous with "preliminary examination"; the hearing given a person charged with a crime by a judge to determine whether he should be held for trial. The judge reviews the evidence presented by the State to see if there is sufficient evidence (probable cause) to make the person to go to trial on the matter. A preliminary hearing is open to the public unless the defendant requests that it be closed. The accused person must be present at this.
  • Probable Cause
    Reasonable belief that the matter is true. More likely than not that the person is responsible for the crime.
  • Probation
    A sentence where the person is supervised by a probation officer for a set time instead of going to prison.
  • Prosecutor
    A public officer whose duty is the prosecution of criminal proceedings on behalf of the people. The representative of the public in the pursuit of justice.
  • Public Defender
    Lawyers employed by the state to represent defendants accused of crimes that cannot afford to hire their own lawyer.

R

  • Restitution
    The restoring of goods or money to the victim of a crime by the offender.

S

  • Search Warrant
    A written order from a justice or magistrate permitting an officer to search a specific place for a specific object, issued upon a showing of probable cause.
  • Self-Defense
    The protection of one's person or property against some injury attempted by another. The law of "self-defense" justifies an act done in the reasonable belief of immediate danger. When acting in justifiable self-defense, a person may not be punished criminally nor held responsible for civil damages. Deadly self-defense is only lawful when in response to IMMEDIATE death or serious physical injury.
  • State's Attorney
    Same as prosecutor.
  • State's Evidence
    Testimony given by an accomplice or participant in a crime tending to convict others.
  • Statute
    The written law decided by the legislative branch of government.
  • Subpoena
    A process to cause a witness to appear and give testimony before a court or magistrate.
  • Summons
    A notification to the named person that an action has been commenced against him in court and that he is required to appear, on the day named, and answer the complaint in such action.

T

  • Testimony
    Evidence given by a witness, under oath; as distinguished from evidence derived from writings and other sources.

V

  • Verdict
    In practice, the formal decision or finding made by a jury, reported to the Court and accepted by it.
  • Voir Dire
    The process of questioning prospective jurors to determine who is eligible to serve as jurors on an individual case. French for "to speak the truth." Also, the phrase denotes the preliminary examination which the Court may make of one presented as a witness or juror, as to his qualifications.

W

  • Waive
    To give up right or claim voluntarily.
  • Warrant of Arrest
    A writ by a magistrate, justice or other competent authority, to a sheriff or other officer, requiring him to arrest a person therein named and bring him before the magistrate of Court to answer to a specified charge.
  • Witness
    One who testifies to what he has seen, heard, or otherwise observed.