A Colorado Glossary Of Criminal Legal Terms
The purpose of this list is to provide useful and helpful definition of criminal law definitions and particularly about the justice system here Colorado .
– A –
Accomplice – 1. A partner in a crime. 2. A person who knowingly and voluntarily participates with another in a criminal activity.
Acquittal – A release, absolution, or discharge of an obligation or liability. In criminal law the finding of not guilty.
Adjudication – Giving or pronouncing a judgment or decree. Also the judgment given.
Administrative agencies – Agencies created by the legislative branch of government to administer laws pertaining to specific areas such as taxes, transportation, and labor.
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.
Advance sheets – Paperback pamphlets published by law book publishers weekly or monthly which contain reporter cases, including correct volume number and page number. When there are sufficient cases, they are replaced by a bound volume.
Adversary proceeding – One having opposing parties such as a plaintiff and a defendant. Individual lawsuit(s) brought within a bankruptcy proceeding.
Affiant – The person who makes and subscribes an affidavit.
Affidavit – A voluntary, written, or printed declaration of facts, confirmed by oath of the party making it before a person with authority to administer the oath.
Affirmation – A solemn and formal declaration that an affidavit is true. This is substituted for an oath in certain cases.
Affirmative defense – A defense raised in a responsive pleading (answer) relating a new matter as a defense to the complaint; affirmative defenses might include contributory negligence or estopped in civil actions; in criminal cases insanity, duress, or self-defense might be used.
Affirmed – In the practice of appellate courts, the word means that the decision of the trial court is correct.
Agreement -Mutual consent.
Aid and Abet – To actively, knowingly, or intentionally assist another person in the commission or attempted commission of a crime.
Alien – A foreign-born person who has not qualified as a citizen of the country.
Allegation – A statement of the issues in a written document (a pleading) which a person is prepared to prove in court.
Alteration – Changing or making different.
Annotations – Remarks, notes, case summaries, or commentaries following statutes which describe interpretations of the statute.
Appeal – A proceeding brought to a higher court to review a lower court decision.
Appeal Bond – A guaranty by the appealing party insuring that court costs will be paid.
Appearance – The act of coming into court as a party to a suit either in person or through an attorney.
Appellate court – A court having jurisdiction to hear appeals and review a trial court’s procedure.
Appellee – (See respondent) The party against whom an appeal is taken.
Arraignment – The hearing at which the accused is brought before the court to plead to the criminal charge in the indictment. He may plead “guilty,” “not guilty,” or where permitted “nolo contendere.” (See preliminary hearing.)
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.
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 “power of attorney.”
Attorney of record – The principal attorney in a lawsuit, who signs all formal documents relating to the suit.
– B –
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. (Applies mainly to state courts.)
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.”
Bailiff – An officer of the court responsible for keeping order and maintaining appropriate courtroom decorum and has custody of the jury.
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 who 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 – (Also known as court 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.
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 evidence.”
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 of 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 ordinary person.
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. (This is a state court procedure.)
Bond (See bail bond.) – A written agreement by which a person insures he will pay a certain sum of money if he does not perform certain duties property.
Booking – The process of photographing, fingerprinting, and recording identifying data of a suspect. This process follows the arrest.
Breach – The breaking or violating of a law, right, or duty, either by commission or omission. The failure of one part to carry out any condition of a contract.
Brief – A written argument by counsel arguing a case, which contains a summary of the facts of the case, pertinent laws, and an argument of how the law applies to the fact situation. Also called a memorandum of 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). It deals with which side must establish a point or points. (See standard of proof.)
Burglary – The act of illegal entry with the intent to steal or to commit another crime.
– C –
Calendar -A list of cases scheduled for hearing in court.
Canons of ethics -Standards of ethical conduct for attorneys.
Capacity -Having legal authority or mental ability. Being of sound mind.
Caption -Heading or introductory party of a pleading.
Case law -Law established by previous decisions of appellate courts, particularly the United States Supreme Court.
Caveat -A warning; a note of caution.
Censure -An official reprimand or condemnation of an attorney. (See disbarment or suspension.)
Certiorari -A writ of review issued by a higher court to a lower court. A means of getting an appellate court to review a lower court’s decision. If an appellate court grants a writ of certiorari, it agrees to take the appeal. (Sometimes 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 -A request from a party to a judge that a certain prospective juror not be allowed to be a member of a jury because of specified causes or reasons. (Also, see 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. (See venue.)
Charge to the jury -The judge’s instructions to the jury concerning the law that applies to the facts of the case on trial.
Chief judge -Presiding or administrative judge in a court.
Child -Offspring of parentage; progeny.
Chronological -Arranged in the order in which events happened; according to date.
Circumstantial evidence -All evidence except eyewitness testimony. One example is physical evidence, such as fingerprints, from which an inference can be drawn.
Citation -A writ or order issued by a court commanding the person named therein to appear at the time and place named; also the written reference to legal authorities, precedents, reported cases, etc., in briefs or other legal documents.
Civil -Relating to private rights and remedies sought by civil actions as contrasted with criminal proceedings.
Civil action -An action brought to enforce or protect private rights.
Civil law – Law based on a series of written codes or laws.
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 appeals.
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. (Sometimes known as commutation or pardon.)
Clerk of Court -Administrator or chief clerical officer of the court.
Closing argument -The closing statement, by counsel, to the trier of facts after all parties have concluded their presentation of evidence.
Code of Professional – The rules of conduct that govern the legal profession Responsibility .
Commit -To send a person to prison, asylum, or reformatory by a court order.
Common law -Also case law. Law established by subject matter heard in earlier cases.
Commutation -The reduction of a sentence, as from death to life imprisonment.
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.
Consecutive sentences -Successive sentences, one beginning at the expiration of another, imposed against a person convicted of two or more violations. (See also cumulative or concurrent sentences.)
Consent -Agreement; voluntary acceptance of the wish of another.
Constitution -The fundamental law of a nation or state which establishes the character and basic principles of the government.
Constitutional law -Law set forth in the Constitution of the United States and the state constitutions.
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.
Conviction -A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.
Corroborating evidence -Supplementary evidence that tends to strengthen or confirm the initial evidence.
Counsel -A legal adviser; a term used to refer to lawyers in a case.
Court -A body in government to which the administration of justice is delegated.
Court-appointed attorney -Attorney appointed by the court to represent a defendant, usually with respect to criminal charges and without the defendant having to pay for the representation.
Court reporter A person who transcribes by shorthand or stenographically takes down testimony during court proceedings, a deposition, or other trial-related proceeding.
Court rules-Regulations governing practice and procedure in the various courts.
Crime -An act in violation of the penal laws of a state or the United States. A positive or negative act in violation of penal law.
Criminal justice system- The network of courts and tribunals which deal with criminal law and its enforcement.
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.
– D –
Decision – The opinion of the court in concluding a case at law.
Default – Failure of the defendant to appear and answer the summons and complaint.
Defendant – The person defending or denying a suit.
Defense of property – Affirmative defense in criminal law or tort law where force was used to protect one’s property.
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. (See censure or suspension.)
Discovery – The name given pretrial devices for obtaining facts and information about the case.
Dismissal – The termination of a lawsuit. (See with prejudice and without prejudice.)
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 – An abstract or listing of all pleadings filed in a case; the book containing such entries; trial docket is a list of or calendar of cases to be tried in a certain term.
Docket control – A system for keeping track of deadlines and court dates for both litigation and non-litigation matters.
Domicile – The place where a person has his permanent home to which he intends to return.
Double jeopardy – Putting a person on trial more than once for the same crime. It is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment to the United States 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.
– E –
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: (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.
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.
Entity- A person or legally recognized organization.
Entrapment- The act of inducing a person to commit a crime so that a criminal charge will be brought against him.
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.
Equity- Justice administered according to fairness; the spirit or habit of fairness in dealing with other persons.
Estoppel -An impediment that prevents a person from asserting or doing something contrary to his own previous assertion or act.
Ethics- Of or relating to moral action and conduct; professionally right; conforming to professional standards.
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.
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 hearing officers.
Exclusionary Rule- The rule preventing illegally obtained evidence to be used in any trial.
Execute- To complete; to sign; to carry out according to its terms.
Exonerate- Removal of a charge, responsibility, or duty.
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- Action Circumstances which render a crime less aggravated, heinous, or reprehensible than it would otherwise be.
Expungement -The process by which the record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed.
Extradition -The surrender of an accused criminal by one state to the jurisdiction of another.
– F –
Fair market value – The value for which a reasonable seller would sell an item of property and for which a reasonable buyer would buy it.
Federal Bureau of (FBI) – A federal agency which investigates all violations of federal Investigation laws.
Felony – A serious criminal offense. Under federal law any offense punishable by death or imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
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.
Filing Fee – The fee required for filing various documents.
Finding – Formal conclusion by a judge or regulatory agency on issues of fact. Also, a conclusion by a jury regarding a fact.
Fraud – A false representation of a matter of fact which is intended to deceive another.
– G –
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 of the maximum sentence.
Grand Jury – A jury of inquiry whose duty it is to receive complaints and accusations in criminal matters and if appropriate issue a formal indictment.
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.
– H –
Habeas corpus – The name of a writ having for its object to bring a person before a court.
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.
Headnote – A brief summary of a legal rule or significant facts in a case, which along with other headnotes, precedes the printed opinion in reports.
Hearing – A formal proceeding (generally less formal than a trial) with definite issues of law or of fact to be heard. Hearings are used extensively by legislative and administrative agencies.
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.
– I –
Immunity – Grant by the court, which assures someone will not face prosecution in return for providing criminal evidence.
Impeachment – A criminal proceeding against a public official.
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.
Incapacity – Lack of legal ability to act; disability, incompetence; lack of adequate power.
Incarceration – Imprisonment in a jail or penitentiary.
Incompetent – One who lacks ability, legal qualification, or fitness to manage his own affairs.
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 or 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. (See information.)
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.
Initial appearance – The defendant comes before a judge within hours of the arrest to determine whether or not there is probable cause for his or her arrest.
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.
Infraction – A violation of law not punishable by imprisonment. Minor traffic offenses generally are considered infractions.
Instructions – Judge’s explanation to the jury before it begins deliberations of the question it must answer and the applicable law governing the case. (Also referred to as charge.)
Interlocutory – Temporary; provisional; interim; not final.
– J –
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 cannot pay.
Judge – A presiding officer of the court.
Judgment – The official and authentic decision of a court of justice upon the rights and claims of parties to an action or suit submitted to the court for determination.
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.
Judiciary – The branch of government invested with judicial power to interpret and apply the law; the court system; the body of judges; then bench.
Jurat – Certificate of person and officer before whom a writing is sworn to.
Jurisdiction – The power or authority of a court to hear and try a case; the geographic area in which a court has power or the types of cases it has power to hear.
Jurisprudence- The study of law and the structure of the legal system.
Jury – A certain number of men and women selected according to law and sworn to try a question of fact or indict a person for public offense.
Jury Administrator – The court officer responsible for choosing the panel of persons to serve as potential jurors for a particular court term.
Justiciable – Issues and claims capable of being properly examined in court.
– K –
– L –
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 Clerk – In the United States, usually a law school student employed by a law firm to do research and other tasks. In the courts, a lawyer (or law school student) employed to do legal research.
Lawsuit – An action or proceeding in a civil court; term used for a suit or action between two private parties in a court of law.
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 process – A formal paper that is legally valid; something issuing from the court, usually a command such as a writ or mandate.
Legislation – The act of giving or enacting laws; the power to make laws via legislation in contrast to court-made laws.
Legitimate – That which is legal, lawful, recognized by law or according to law.
Leniency – Recommendation for a sentence less than the maximum allowed.
Liable – Legally responsible.
Libel – Published defamation which tends to injure a person’s reputation.
Limited Jurisdiction – Refers to courts that are limited in the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear. For example, traffic violations generally are heard by limited jurisdiction courts.
– M –
Magistrate – Judicial officer exercising some of the functions of a judge. It also refers in a general way to a judge.
Malicious prosecution – An action instituted with intention of injuring the defendant and without probable cause, and which terminates in favor of the person prosecuted.
Malpractice – Any professional misconduct.
Manslaughter – The unlawful killing of another without intent to kill; either voluntary (upon a sudden impulse); or involuntary (during the commission of an unlawful act not ordinarily expected to result in great bodily harm). (See also murder.)
Marshal – The executive officer of the federal court.
Memorandum – An informal note or instrument embodying something the parties desire to have in written evidence.
Memorialized – In writing.
Minor – A person under the age of legal competence.
Minute book – A book maintained by the courtroom deputy (bailiff), which contains minute entries of all hearings and trial conducted by the judge.
Minutes – Memorandum of a transaction or proceeding.
Miranda warning – Requirement that police tell a suspect in their custody of his or her constitutional rights before they question him or her. So named as a result of the Miranda v. Arizona ruling by the United States Supreme Court.
Misdemeanor – A criminal offense lesser than a felony and generally punishable by fine or by imprisonment other than in a penitentiary.
Misfeasance – Improper performance of an act which a person might lawfully do.
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.
Mitigation – A reduction, abatement, or diminution of a penalty or punishment imposed by 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 – An application made to a court or judge which requests a ruling or order in favor of the applicant.
Motion in Limine – A motion made by counsel requesting that information which might be prejudicial not be allowed to be heard in a case.
Murder – The unlawful killing of a human being with deliberate intent to kill: (1) murder in the first degree is characterized by premeditation; (2) 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.
Mutual assent – A meeting of the minds; agreement.
– N –
Negotiation – The process of submission and consideration of offers until an acceptable offer is made and accepted.
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.
Nonfeasance – Nonperformance of an act which should be performed; omission to perform a required duty or total neglect of duty.
Nonjury trial – Trial before the court but without a jury.
Notary Public – A public officer whose function it is to administer oaths, to attest and certify documents, and to take acknowledgments.
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.
– O –
Oath – A solemn pledge made under a sense of responsibility in attestation of the truth of a statement or in verification of a statement made.
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.
Official reports – The publication of cumulated court decisions of state or federal courts in advance sheets and bound volumes as provided by statutory authority.
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 curiam opinion is an unsigned opinion “of the court.”)
Oral argument – Presentation of a case before a court by spoken argument; usually with respect to a presentation of a case to an appellate court where a time limit might be set for oral argument.
Order – A mandate, command, or direction authoritatively given. Direction of a court or judge made in writing.
Ordinance – A rule established by authority; may be a municipal statute of a city council, regulating such matters as zoning, building, safety, matters of municipality, etc.
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.
– P –
Paralegal – Also, legal assistant. A person with legal skills who works under the supervision of a lawyer.
Pardon – An act of grace from governing power which mitigates punishment and restores rights and privileges forfeited on account of the offense.
Parole – Supervised release of a prisoner from imprisonment on certain prescribed conditions which entitle him to termination of his sentence.
Party – A person, business, or government agency actively involved in the prosecution of defense of a legal proceeding.
Peremptory challenge – Request by a party that a judge not allow a certain prospective juror as a member of the jury. No reason or cause need be stated. (See challenge for cause.)
Periodical – A publication which appears regularly but less often than daily.
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.
Per se doctrine – Under this doctrine an activity such as price fixing can be declared as a violation of the antitrust laws without necessity of a court inquiring into the reasonableness of the activity.
Personal recognizance – In criminal proceedings, the pretrial release of a defendant without bail upon his or her promise to return to court. (See also recognizance.)
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. (See status offense.)
Petitioner – The person filing an action in a court of original jurisdiction. Also, the person who appeals the judgment of a lower court.
Plea – The first pleading by a criminal defendant, 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 – Process where the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a satisfactory disposition of the case, usually by the accused agreeing to plead guilty to a lesser offense. Such bargains are not binding on the court. Also referred to as plea negotiating.
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 the verdict.
Post-trial – Refers to items happening after the trial, i.e., post-trial motions or post-trial discovery.
Power – Authority to do. One has the power to do something if he is of legal age. Also, used as “powers,” the term refers to authority granted by one person to another, i.e., powers given an executor in a will or an agent in a power of attorney.
Power of attorney – An formal instrument authorizing another to act as one’s agent or attorney.
Precedent – Laws established by previous cases which must be followed in cases involving identical circumstances. (See stare decisis in Foreign Words Glossary.)
Preliminary hearing – Also, preliminary examination. A hearing by a judge to determine whether a person charged with a crime should be held for trial. (See arraignment.)
Preponderance of the proof – Greater weight of the evidence, the common standard of evidence in civil cases.
Presentence 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.
Pretrial conference – Conference among the opposing attorneys and the judge called at the discretion of the court to narrow the issues to be tried and to 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.
Primary authority – Constitutions, codes, statutes, ordinances, and case law sources.
Privilege – A benefit or advantage to certain persons beyond the advantages of other persons, i.e., an exemption, immunity, power, etc.
Probable cause – A reasonable belief that a crime has or is being committed; the basis for all lawful searches, seizures, and arrests.
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.
Prosecutor A trial lawyer representing the government in a criminal case and the interests of the state in civil matters. In criminal cases, the prosecutor has the responsibility of deciding who and when to prosecute.
Proximate cause – The last negligent act which contributes to an injury. 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 law – That law such as traffic ordinances or zoning ordinances which applies to the public.
Public defender – Government lawyer who provides free legal defense services to a poor person accused of a crime.
Putative – Alleged; supposed; reputed.
– Q –
Quash -To vacate or void a summons, subpoena, etc.
Quasi-criminal action – A classification of actions such as violation of a city ordinance that is not also violation of a criminal statute, which are wrongs against the public punishable through fines but are not usually indictable offenses.
– R –
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.
Rebut – Evidence disproving other evidence previously given or reestablishing the credibility of challenged evidence.
Recognizance – An obligation entered into before a court whereby the recognizor acknowledges that he will do a specific act required by law.
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 either party.
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.
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. (See rebut.)
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 court’s ruling.
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 court.
Request for production of documents – A direction or command served upon another party for production of specified documents for review with respect to a suit; a discovery devise.
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.
Restatement – A publication which tells what the law is in a particular field, as compiled from statutes and decisions.
Restitution – Act of restoring anything to its rightful owner; the act of restoring someone to an economic position he enjoyed before he suffered a loss.
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.
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. (See larceny.)
Rules – Established standards, guides, or regulations set up by authority.
Rules of evidence Standards governing whether evidence in a civil or criminal case is admissible.
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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.
Seal – To mark a document with a seal; to authenticate or make binding by affixing a seal. Court seal, corporate seal.
Secondary authority – Legal encyclopedias, treatises, legal texts, law review articles, and citators. Writings which set forth the opinion of the writer as to the law.
Self-defense – The 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 to the United States Constitution . Asserting the right is often referred to as “taking the Fifth.”
Sentence – The punishment ordered by a court for a defendant convicted of a crime. (See concurrent and consecutive sentences.)
Sentence Report – (See 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 referred to as “separation of witnesses.”
Service of process – The delivering of writs, summonses, and subpoenas by delivering them to the party named in the document. Also referred to as “service.”
Sheriff – The executive officer of local court in some areas. In other jurisdictions the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of a county.
Sidebar – A conference between the judge and lawyers, usually in the courtroom, out of earshot of the jury and spectators.
Speedy Trial Act – Federal law establishing time limits for carrying out major events, i.e. indictment, arraignment, etc., in a criminal prosecution.
Standard of proof – Indicates the degree to which the point must be proven. 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.” (See burden of proof.)
Standing – The legal right to bring a lawsuit. Only a person with something at stake has standing to bring a lawsuit.
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, i.e., smoking. Also referred to as minors or children in need of supervision.
Statute – Legislative enactment; it may be a single act of a legislature or a body of acts which are collected and arranged for a session of a legislature. (See statutory law.)
Statute of limitations – A statute which limits the right of a plaintiff to file an action unless it is done within a specified time period after the occurrence which gives rise to the right to sue.
Statutory – Relating to a statute; created or defined by a law.
Statutory construction – Process by which a court seeks to interpret the meaning and scope of legislation.
Statutory law – Laws promulgated by Congress and state legislatures. (See case law and common law.)
Statutory research – Research of legislation enacted by a state or the United States.
Stay – A court order halting a judicial proceeding.
Stipulation – An agreement between the parties involved in a suit regulating matters incidental to trial.
Strict liability – Concept applied by the courts in product liability cases that when a manufacturer presents his goods for public sale, he is representing that they are suitable for their intended use.
Subject research – Research of matter by determining all law related to that matter by finding everything on the subject.
Subpoena – A command to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony upon a certain matter.
Subpoena Duces Tecum – A court order commanding a witness to bring certain documents or records to court.
Substantive criminal law – Law with the purpose of prevention of harm to society which prescribed punishment for specific offenses. The basic law of rights and duties as opposed to “remedial law” which provides methods of enforcement.
Substantive law – The statutory or written law that governs rights and obligations of those who are subject to it.
Summons – Instrument used to commence a civil or criminal action or special proceeding; the means of acquiring jurisdiction over a party.
Suppress – To forbid the use of evidence at a trial because t is improper or was improperly obtained. (See also exclusionary rule.)
Surety Bond – A bond purchased at the expense of the estate to insure the executor’s proper performance. Also referred to as “fidelity bond.”
Sustain – A court ruling upholding an objection or a motion.
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Temporary restraining order – An emergency remedy of brief duration issued by a court only in exceptional circumstances, usually when immediate or irreparable damages or loss might result before the opposition could take action.
Testimony – The evidence given by a witness under oath. It does not include evidence from documents and other physical evidence.
Transcript – A written, word-for-word record of what was said. Usually refers to a record of a trial, hearing, or other proceeding which has been transcribed from a recording or from shorthand.
Trial – A judicial examination of issues between parties to an action.
Trial brief – A written document prepared for and used by an attorney at trial. It contains the issues to be tried, synopsis of evidence to be presented and case and statutory authority to substantiate the attorney’s position at trial.
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United States Attorney – A federal district attorney appointed by the President to prosecute for all offenses committed against the United States; to prosecute or defend for the government all civil actions in which it is concerned and perform all duties of the district to which he/she is assigned.
United States District Courts – Courts which try both criminal and civil actions and admiralty cases.
United States Magistrate Judge – Courts given authority by 28 U.S.C. s 636. This court hears all preliminary criminal matters, but does not conduct felony trials, and any pretrial civil matters referred by the district court. If all parties consent, criminal misdemeanor and civil trials can be heard by this court.
United States Marshal’s Service – Agency which serves civil and criminal process in federal courts.
United States Reports – Publication of court decisions of the United States Supreme Court.
United States Supreme Court – The highest court in the land, established by U.S. Constitution.
Unlawful detainer – A detention of real estate without the consent of the owner or other person entitled to its possession.
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Vacate – To set aside.
Venire – A writ summoning persons to court to act as jurors. (See venire facias in Foreign Words Glossary.)
Venue – Authority of a court to hear a matter based on geographical location.
Verdict – A conclusion, as to fact or law, that forms the basis for the court’s judgment. (See directed verdict.)
Voir dire – The preliminary examination made in court of a witness or juror to determine his competency or interest in a matter. Literally, to speak the truth.
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Waiver – Intentionally given 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 future proceedings.
Warrant – Most commonly, a court order authorizing law enforcement officers to make an arrest or conduct a search. An application seeking a warrant must be accompanied by an affidavit which establishes probable cause by detailing the facts upon which the request is based.
With prejudice – A declaration which dismisses all rights. A judgment barring the right to bring or maintain an action on the same claim or cause.
Without prejudice – A declaration that no rights or privileges of the party concerned are waived or lost. In a dismissal these words maintain the right to bring a subsequent suit on the same claim.
Witness – One who personally sees or perceives a thing; one who testifies as to what he has seen, heard, or otherwise observed.
Writ – A judicial order directing a person to do something.
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.
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Year-and-a-day Rule – A common law rule precluding prosecution for murder where the victim died a year and a day, or later, after the infliction of the ultimately fatal wounds.
Young Offender – Young persons who, in many states, are treated differently than adult criminals and are tried in special youth courts.
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