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Glossary: Courts and the Law

This article provides a list of terms that are common in court cases. As you conduct legal research in preparation for your court case, these definitions should be helpful. 

For more information about these terms, consider using FindLaw's search function to learn more. If you still have questions, consider contacting a civil litigation or criminal defense attorney for legal advice.

To quickly navigate through the glossary, use the links below:

• A - C • D - F • G - K • L - N • O - R • S - T • U - Z

Acquittal - Attorney-Client Privilege

Acquittal: An acquittal is a finding that the defendant is not guilty of their criminal charges. In a jury trial, the jury may acquit a defendant after the parties try the case. A trial judge may acquit a defendant if the parties tried their case before a judge rather than a jury.

Admissible: Admissible refers to evidence that a jury may hear and that a judge allows parties to introduce in civil or criminal cases. A judge will exclude inadmissible evidence. Whether a judge will admit or exclude evidence depends upon the nature of the evidence, local court rules, and the applicable rules of evidence.

Adversarial process: Parties to a court case in the United States legal system use the adversarial process to resolve disputes. Through the adversarial process, each side in a dispute has the right to present its case as persuasively as possible, subject to the rules of evidence. An independent fact-finder, such as a judge or jury, decides in favor of one side or the other.

Alternate juror: An alternate juror is a juror whom the parties select in the same manner as a regular juror. The alternate juror hears the evidence in the case, but they only help the jurors decide the case if the court calls upon them to replace a regular juror.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)ADR is a procedure for settling a dispute outside the courtroom or helping to make the trial more efficient. Examples of ADR include mediation and arbitration.

Amicus curiae: An amicus curiae is a person or organization that is not a party to a case but has a strong interest in the outcome of the case. It is a Latin term meaning "friend of the court." An amicus curiae may file an amicus brief. The brief may call important legal or factual matters to the court's attention to help the court decide the case.

Answer: An answer is the defendant's formal response to the plaintiff's complaint in civil litigation. It typically sets forth the grounds of the defendant's defense. In general, if a defendant fails to file an answer, the court may issue a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor. The plaintiff will win the case.

Appeal: An appeal is a request asking another court, usually an appellate court to decide whether the lower court conducted its trial court proceeding properly. The parties to an appeal (the appellant and appellee) cannot introduce new evidence in their appeal. Instead, the appellate court will only review the lower court's decision for legal or procedural errors.

Appellant: The appellant is the party who appeals a lower court's decision. Compare with appellee.

Appellate court: An appellate court is a court that reviews decisions of lower courts. In the federal courts, the primary appellate courts are the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. State courts also have an intermediate court of appeals and a higher appellate court, often called the state's supreme court.

Appellee: The appellee is the non-appealing party when the appellant files an appeal. As the non-appealing party, they seek to protect the lower court's judgment or order. Compare with appellant.

ArbitrationArbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which an arbitrator (i.e., a neutral decisionmaker) issues an award on the legal issues involved in a case after listening to presentations by each party. Depending on the agreement among the parties before the proceeding, arbitration may or may not legally bind the parties to the award.

Arraignment: An arraignment is a court proceeding in which the court informs a person accused of committing a crime of their criminal charges. The court will also ask them whether they plead guilty or not guilty. The arraignment is often the first time a criminal defendant appears in court.

Arrest: An arrest occurs when law enforcement detains a person or otherwise leads them to reasonably believe that they are not free to leave.

Attorney-client privilegeAttorney-client privilege is a doctrine that ensures that communications between an attorney and their client remain confidential. Several exceptions apply to the privilege. If the client discloses confidential information to a third party, privilege no longer applies to the information shared.

Bail - Burden of Proof

BailBail refers to conditions in which the prison or jail may release an inmate before their trial. The inmate must provide security, often money, in exchange for their release. The specified financial or nonfinancial conditions tend to ensure the person will appear in court following their release.

Bankruptcy: Declaring bankruptcy allows people, businesses, and other entities to discharge their debts or create a repayment plan. Bankruptcy allows many people and businesses a financial fresh start by ridding them of some or all of their debts. The United States has specialized bankruptcy courts, which are federal courts that decide bankruptcy cases.

Bench trial: Bench trials are trials where a judge decides the case and makes findings of fact. Compare this with a jury trial.

Brief: A brief is a written statement that the parties to a case submit to the court. A party's brief is persuasive, explaining the party's legal and factual arguments and why the court should decide the case in its favor.

Burden of proof: The burden of proof is the level or quality of proof that a party needs to prove their case. In civil cases, the plaintiff must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. This means the plaintiff's proof must outweigh the defendant's for the plaintiff to win. If the two sides are equal, the defendant wins.

In criminal cases, the government has the burden of proof, which is much higher. Obtaining a guilty verdict requires the government to prove the defendant's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Case File - Cross-Examination

Case file: The case file is a complete collection of every document in a case. For example, a civil case would include the plaintiff's complaint, the summons, and any pleadings the parties filed.

Case law: Case law refers to the decisions courts issue. Case law results from the judiciary interpreting existing laws and legislation and applying them to a case's specific set of facts. As the U.S. court system operates on precedence, case law shapes the laws in the United States. Compare with statute.

Case management: Case management involves techniques the court uses to process cases from one stage of the proceeding to another. Examples include setting deadlines for discovery or scheduling pretrial conferences. Case management varies based on each case's specific circumstances. The judge is primarily responsible for case management, but lawyers and court clerks provide additional assistance and cooperation.

Challenge for cause: Challenge for cause occurs during jury selection. It refers to a lawyer's attempt to prevent a prospective juror from sitting on a jury. An attorney may challenge a juror for cause if, in the lawyer's view, the juror's answers to voir dire questions suggest that they cannot approach the case in an impartial manner. If the judge agrees with the lawyer, the judge will then strike (excuse) the prospective juror for cause. Compare with peremptory challenge.

Chambers: A judge's office is also called their chambers. The judge may carry on business in chambers that they cannot in open court, such as discussions or conferences with attorneys.

Circuit: The U.S. court system has 13 regional circuits that hear appeals from the U.S. District Courts. A circuit judicial council oversees the circuit courts' administration.

Circuit court: Circuit court is an informal name for the U.S. Court of Appeals. Some state trial courts are also called circuit courts.

Civil case: A civil case is a lawsuit involving a private dispute between a plaintiff and a defendant. It often involves the plaintiff claiming that the defendant failed to carry out a legal duty owed to the plaintiff and that the breach caused the plaintiff financial or personal injury. The plaintiff seeks a court order for the defendant to pay for the plaintiff's alleged damages. Compare a civil case to a criminal case.

Class action: A class action lawsuit involves a class of individuals or entities claiming that another person or entity injured them. The class sues the defendant(s) as a group rather than filing a large number of similar claims. The court must agree to certify the class before allowing the class action case to proceed.

Clerk of court: The clerk of court is a court-appointed officer who works with the chief judge and other judges to oversee the court's administration. They often assist in managing the flow of cases through the court. The clerk of the court may provide procedural information to parties but cannot offer legal advice.

Closing arguments: Once parties have introduced all the evidence in a court case, they may present a closing argument to the court. A closing argument often summarizes the evidence and attempts to persuade the judge or jury to draw conclusions favorable to a party. Closing arguments, like opening statements, do not constitute evidence.

Complaint: The complaint is the plaintiff's written statement filed with the court to begin a civil lawsuit. The civil complaint details the wrongs the defendant allegedly committed against the plaintiff. A civil complaint is also called a petition. A criminal complaint lists the government's criminal charges against a criminal defendant.

Concurring opinion: See opinion.

Condition: A condition is a court-imposed requirement that carries legal repercussions if the person subjected to the condition violates it. For example, a defendant or offender on probation or parole must abide by all court-imposed conditions to remain under community supervision. If they violate a condition, the court may imprison them.  

Contract: A contract is an agreement between two or more persons or entities. A contract creates an obligation to do or not to do a particular thing. Each party to the contract must include some form of consideration to create a valid contract. Parties often enter into written contracts but can enter into oral contracts as well. Some transactions, like the sale of real estate, require parties to enter into a written contract.

Counsel: Counsel refers to a lawyer or a team of lawyers. The term is often used during a trial to refer to the lawyers in a case.

Count: A count is an allegation in an indictment charging a defendant with a crime. An indictment may contain allegations that the defendant committed more than one crime. The separate allegations are the counts of the indictment.

Counterclaim: A defendant may file a counterclaim against the plaintiff if they have claims against the plaintiff. A counterclaim is a response to the plaintiff's claims in their lawsuit. The defendant becomes the counterclaim plaintiff in the case, and the plaintiff becomes the counterclaim defendant. The defendant (i.e., the counterclaim plaintiff) has the burden of proof with the counterclaim.

Court: The court is a tribunal over which a judge presides in legal disputes. Judges and lawyers sometimes use court to refer to the judge, as in "the court has read the pleadings." The court resolves administrative, civil, and criminal law disputes.

Court interpreter: A court interpreter is a court employee who translates what parties, witnesses, and judges say from one language into another language. The court clerk can provide information to the parties about how to request an interpreter.

Court of appeals: See appellate court.

Court reporter: The court reporter makes a word-for-word record of what parties, witnesses, and judges say in a court proceeding. The court reporter produces a transcript of the proceeding upon request. Court reporters also transcribe depositions and other legal proceedings.

Courtroom deputy clerk: A courtroom deputy clerk is a court employee who assists the judge by keeping track of witnesses, evidence, and other trial matters. They may also assist the court by scheduling cases or performing other administrative tasks.

Criminal case: A criminal case involves the government prosecution of a criminal suspect accused of committing a crime against society. If the jury convicts the defendant, they may face criminal penalties, fines, or imprisonment.

Criminal record: A criminal record is a list of a person's prior arrests and convictions. A criminal record may affect the potential punishments a criminal defendant receives if a jury convicts them. It may also affect plea bargain negotiations.

Cross-claim: A cross-claim is one party's claim against another party on the same side of the legal action. For example, one defendant could file a cross-claim against another defendant in the case. The defendant who files the cross-claim is the cross-claim plaintiff, and the party they file the cross-claim against is the cross-claim defendant. 

A cross-claim may allege that the cross-claim defendant is responsible for any injury to the plaintiff and that the cross-claim defendant is responsible for any damages the court may award to the plaintiff. The cross-claim may also allege a separate but related injury to the cross-claim plaintiff that the cross-claim defendant is accused of.

Cross-examinationCross-examination refers to an opposing party's questions directed to a witness after a party conducts a direct examination of the witness. The questions focus on matters the witness testified to during direct examination and may test the witness's credibility. The party conducting the cross-examination may ask leading questions that suggest how the attorney would like the witness to answer. Compare with direct examination.

Damages - Docket

Damages: A defendant pays damages to a plaintiff who prevails in a civil case to compensate the plaintiff for loss or injury. Damages are often a court-ordered sum of money.

Deadlocked jury: A deadlocked jury is unable to agree upon a verdict. A deadlocked jury will result in a mistrial. Another name for a deadlocked jury is a hung jury.

Default judgment: A court may enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor when the defendant fails to appear in the case, file a necessary pleading, or attend the scheduled hearing or trial. If the court enters a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor, it may award some or all of the plaintiff's demanded relief. A summons must notify the defendant that failing to appear and defend against the lawsuit will result in the court's entry of a default judgment.

Defendant: In a civil case, the defendant is the person or entity the plaintiff sues. In a criminal case, the defendant is the person or entity the government accuses of a crime.

Deposition: A deposition allows one party to ask an opposing party, a witness, or a person with information about the case questions under oath. Depositions are a common way to obtain discovery in civil cases. A court reporter transcribes the deposition testimony.

Direct examination: Direct examination is the initial questioning of any witness. The party that calls the witness to testify conducts the direct examination. Compare with cross-examination.

Discovery: Discovery is a tool that parties to a lawsuit use to learn more information about the case. In a civil case, parties use pretrial procedures such as depositions, interrogatories, and demands for discovery. In a criminal case, the prosecutor and the defendant's attorney may meet to discuss specific types of evidence and disclosures. The government may also make a discovery request of the defendant.

Docket: A court's docket is a list of court proceedings and filings in chronological order.

En Banc - Expert Witness

En banc: En banc refers to a session in which all of the judges on an appellate court participate in the decision. En banc is a French term meaning "on the bench."

Evidence: Evidence is anything presented in a case to persuade the factfinder (i.e., a judge or jury) that a fact is either true or false. Typical forms of evidence include witness testimony, documents, photographs, videos, or other physical objects. Relevant evidence is any evidence that tends to prove a fact's existence.

Exhibit: An exhibit is something a party introduces as evidence in court. For example, the prosecution may introduce exhibits of documents proving the defendant's guilt. A criminal defendant may introduce an exhibit of a surveillance video purporting to show they were not at the crime scene. The parties submit their exhibits to the court before a court proceeding begins.

Expert witness: An expert witness is a person with specialized training and experience in a particular subject matter. A party may call an expert witness to testify or offer an opinion on an issue in the case based on their specialized knowledge. For example, in a medical malpractice case, the parties may call medical specialists to testify and offer their opinions as to the alleged malpractice.

Factfinder - Foreperson

Factfinder: The factfinder or finder of fact is the jury in a jury trial or the judge in a bench trial. The factfinder weighs the evidence in a case and determines the facts.

Fact witness: A fact witness is a person with knowledge about what happened in a particular case. A party may call a fact witness to testify about what they saw happen. The parties to a case are often fact witnesses. A third party that witnessed the events giving rise to the lawsuit, such as an alleged assault, is also a fact witness.

Federal courts: The U.S. Constitution establishes federal courts, which hear disputes arising under federal laws or the Constitution. The term refers to courts of the federal judicial branch, which include the Supreme Court of the United States, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, the U.S. District Courts (including U.S. Bankruptcy Courts), and the U.S. Court of International Trade. Congress established other federal courts in the executive branch, such as immigration courts.

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) are rules that govern civil cases in federal courts. According to FRCP 1, they intend to provide a "just, speedy, and inexpensive determination" to every case in federal court. States have developed their own rules of civil procedure for civil cases in state courts.

FederalismFederalism gives some functions to the U.S. government and leaves other functions to the states. The functions of the U.S. (or federal) government involve the nation as a whole. For example, Congress has the power to regulate commerce that affects people in more than one state, provide for the national defense, and take care of federal lands. State and local governments perform such functions as running their schools, managing their police departments, and paving their streets.

Felony: A felony is a crime that carries a penalty of death or more than one year in prison.

Fine: A fine is a form of punishment for a crime in which the defendant must pay a sum of money to the public treasury. In a civil case, a fine is a forfeiture or a civil penalty that the non-prevailing party pays to the injured party.

Final decision: A final decision is a court's decision that resolves the parties' claims. A final decision leaves nothing further for the court to do but ensure that the parties adhere to the decision or judgment.

Foreperson: The foreperson is the juror who presides over the jury's deliberations and speaks for the jury. Depending on the court's procedures, the jurors elect, or the judge selects, the foreperson.

Grand Jury - Guilty Verdict

Grand jury: The grand jury is a group of citizens who listen to the government present evidence of a person's alleged criminal activity. The grand jury determines whether enough evidence exists to justify an indictment charging the person with a crime.

Guilty plea: A guilty plea is a criminal defendant's admission to the court that they committed the charged offense(s). A defendant who enters a guilty plea agrees to waive their right to a trial. The court will either accept or reject the guilty plea. If the court accepts the plea, it will schedule a sentencing hearing.

Guilty verdict: A jury who finds a criminal defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt returns a guilty verdict, thereby convicting the defendant of their charge or charges. After the jury returns a guilty verdict, the court orders a presentence investigation of the defendant and sets a sentencing date.

Habeas Corpus - Hung Jury

Habeas corpusHabeas corpus is a Latin phrase that translates to "you shall have the body." A prisoner may file a writ of habeas corpus to challenge the validity of their confinement by the government.

HearsayHearsay evidence refers to an out-of-court statement presented as evidence for the truth of the matter asserted. Courts often exclude hearsay evidence because out-of-court statements are, in general, less reliable than statements made under oath. A court may allow hearsay evidence if it falls under one of the 23 exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Hung jury: See deadlocked jury.

Imprisonment - Interrogatories

Imprisonment: When the government sentences someone to a prison term, they imprison that person. The length of one's imprisonment depends upon various sentencing factors.

Indictment: An indictment is the formal charge a grand jury issues. It states that enough evidence presented to them justifies the government's imposition of criminal charges. An indictment may contain allegations that the defendant committed more than one crime. The separate allegations are referred to as counts. Compare with information.

In forma pauperis: A party unable to pay the filing fees and other costs involved in an appeal may file a motion in the district court asking to proceed in forma pauperis. If the court grants the motion, the party may file the appeal without paying fees or costs. In forma pauperis is a Latin phrase that means "as a pauper."

Information: An information is a formal accusation in which the government charges a defendant with a crime. Prosecutors present the information. Compare with indictment.

Injunction: An injunction is a court order that a party takes or refrains from taking a certain action. Depending on the circumstances, a court may order the injunction as either permanent or temporary.

Interlocutory appeal: An interlocutory appeal is an appeal from a nonfinal court order, such as an injunction. This is an appeal that the appellate court allows, even though the court has yet to issue a final order regarding all aspects of the case.

InterrogatoriesInterrogatories consist of written questions one party sends to another during discovery in a civil case. The party sending the interrogatories makes a demand to the other party to answer the questions in writing and under oath.

Judge - Jury Trial

Judge: A judge is a public official who has the authority to preside over and decide lawsuits brought to court.

Judgment: A judgment is the court's final order in a case. It resolves the case and states the parties' rights and liabilities.

Judgment as a matter of law (JMOL): A party files a motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) after a trial concludes but before the court submits the case to the jury for deliberation. A party files a motion for JMOL when they believe they will prevail (or the non-moving party will lose) on a claim and that a reasonable jury could not conclude otherwise. Compare to summary judgment.

JurisdictionJurisdiction refers to a court's ability to interpret laws, apply them to a case, and render a decision in a legal dispute. A court must have subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute and personal jurisdiction over the parties to the case to have jurisdiction over a case.

Jury: A jury is a group of citizens whose duty is to weigh the evidence fairly and impartially and decide the facts in a trial (petit jury) or to decide whether the evidence against a defendant is sufficient to file an indictment charging them with a crime (grand jury).

Jury instructions: The judge gives jury instructions to the jury after the parties have finished presenting their evidence. The judge may give the instructions either before or after closing arguments. The instructions cover such matters as the jurors' responsibilities, how the jurors may decide the case, and applicable laws.

Jury trial: A jury trial is a trial in which a jury decides the facts and renders a verdict. Compare this with a bench trial.

Lawsuit - Leading Question

Lawsuit: A lawsuit is any one of various proceedings someone may file in a court of law seeking relief or remedies due to an alleged wrong.

Leading question: An attorney asking a leading question does so by using words that suggest how the attorney wants the witness to answer. The court allows leading questions during cross-examination but not during direct examination. An example of a leading question is, "You worked with the victim for 10 years, correct?"

Mediation - Motion

MediationMediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution. It involves a mediator who facilitates negotiations between the parties to help them resolve their dispute. Some courts require parties to mediate their dispute before trial.

Misdemeanor: A misdemeanor is a criminal offense that generally carries a fine and/or imprisonment of one year or less.

Mistrial: A mistrial occurs when a trial ends without a verdict. A hung jury results in a mistrial. If prejudicial misconduct occurs, the court may declare a mistrial. Parties may request a new trial following a mistrial.

Motion: A party files a motion with the court to try to obtain an order of some kind. For example, a party may file a motion to compel to try to obtain a court order that requires a party or witness to respond to a discovery demand.

Nolo Contendere Plea

Nolo contendere plea: A criminal defendant who enters a nolo contendere plea does not admit guilt to their criminal charges but waives their right to a trial. They also authorize the court to impose punishment at a sentencing hearing. Nolo contendere is a Latin term that means "it is not contested." A defendant may decide to enter a nolo plea because, unlike a guilty plea, the court cannot consider the defendant's decision to accept their criminal punishment in a related civil case.

Objection - Overrule

Objection: An objection is a party's statement to a judge that some aspect of the judicial proceeding is wrong or breaks a court rule. For example, they may object to a question that opposing counsel asks or the way a witness answers it. If the judge thinks the objection is valid they will sustain the objection, telling either the witness not to answer or the jury to disregard the answer. 

If there is no basis for the objection, the judge will overrule it and let the questioning continue. 

The party objecting must do so without delay. Failing to object in time may result in the party's inability to raise the issue on appeal.

Opening statements: Either parties or their lawyers may make an opening statement to the jury summarizing what they intend to present as evidence. Opening statements, like closing arguments, do not constitute evidence.

Opinion: An opinion is a judge's written explanation of a decision in a case or some aspect of a case. The court's opinion explains the decision of all or a majority of the judges. Judges who disagree with the majority of judges may issue a dissenting opinion. A judge who agrees with the majority but wants to offer further comment or a different reason may write a concurring opinion.

Oral argument: Parties to an appellate case may appear before the judges to present oral arguments and answer the judges' questions. Parties also submit an appellate brief in addition to engaging in oral argument.

Order: A judge may issue an order commanding, deciding, or directing litigants to do or not do something. Judges issue orders in response to motions. For example, a judge may issue a court order commanding a party to respond to another party's discovery demands.

Overrule: A judge may overrule a party's objection when the objection has no merit, or they may overrule a case decided previously. When a court overrules an objection, it sets the objection aside and allows the objected-to party to continue their answer, line of questioning, or other conduct. Compare with sustain

When a court overrules a case, the case no longer has precedential value.

Parole - Prosecutor

Parole: Parole involves the suspension of a convict's prison sentence and the convict's release from prison. A parolee must abide by the conditions of their parole or face legal consequences. See also probation and supervised release.

Parties: The plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) in a case are known as parties to the lawsuit.

Per curiam opinion: If a panel of judges unanimously agree on the disposition of a case, they may issue a per curiam opinion and issue it from the court rather than from a particular judge.

Peremptory challenge: During jury selection, a party or their attorney may make a peremptory challenge to a prospective juror without stating any reason. The court will often strike or exclude the juror from the trial. Parties have the right to a certain number of peremptory challenges in each case. Parties may make peremptory challenges for a variety of reasons, including hunches. 

A party may not make a peremptory challenge based on race or gender. Compare with challenge for cause.

Plaintiff: The person who files the complaint in a civil lawsuit is the plaintiff in the case.

Plea: A criminal defendant enters their plea to the court during their arraignment. They will inform the court whether they plead guilty or not guilty to their charges.

Plea agreement: A plea agreement is the result of plea bargaining between the government and the defendant when the defendant enters a guilty plea. In exchange for the guilty plea, the prosecutor may agree to dismiss or reduce certain charges or recommend a particular sentence, among other things.

Plea bargainPlea bargaining is a process in which the defendant and the prosecutor in a criminal case negotiate a mutually satisfactory resolution of the case. The plea bargain is subject to court approval. It often involves the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser offense or fewer counts in a multi-count indictment.

Pleadings: A pleading is a party's formal declaration. For example, it may set forth their claim for relief or defenses to another party's claim. Parties to a civil case file pleadings to inform the court and other parties about their positions.

Precedent: Precedent refers to a court's decision in an earlier case with facts and legal issues similar to those before a court. In general, courts follow precedent. For example, a U.S. Court of Appeals must follow the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A state trial court follows decisions handed down by that state's highest appellate court, often the state's Supreme Court. Courts also follow their precedents unless they set forth reasons for changing the case law.

Preponderance of the evidence: See burden of proof.

Presumption of innocence: The jury must presume a criminal defendant is innocent until the prosecution proves their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Privilege against self-incrimination: The privilege against self-incrimination refers to a person's constitutional right to remain silent in the face of accusation or questioning by government agents. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the right to remain silent. People may invoke the privilege at any time, including after an arrest, at the police station, before the grand jury, or at trial.

Pro se: A person who represents themself in a lawsuit proceeds pro se. Pro se is a Latin term meaning "on one's own behalf."

Probable cause: The Fourth Amendment requires that law enforcement base their arrests and searches on probable cause. An arresting officer has probable cause for an arrest only if they have enough reliable information or evidence to support a reasonable belief that a suspect committed or will commit a crime.

ProbationProbation is a criminal sentencing alternative in which the court appoints a probation officer to supervise an offender instead of sentencing them to imprisonment. This allows the offender to remain in the community. While on probation, the offender must report to a probation officer and comply with court-imposed conditions.

Probation officer: A probation officer is responsible for conducting presentence investigations of offenders and preparing presentence reports. They are also responsible for supervising offenders on probation and supervised release.

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt: See burden of proof.

Prosecute: The government prosecutes a person, organization, or entity it has charged with a crime. The prosecutor determines how to prosecute the defendant, and they present the government's case against said defendant.

Prosecutor: A prosecutor is a government attorney who is responsible for prosecuting criminal defendants. In most state cases, the prosecutor is a district attorney or assistant district attorney. In federal cases, the prosecutor is a U.S. attorney or assistant U.S. attorney.

Record - Right to Remain Silent

Record: The record refers to all the documents filed in a case and a written account of the trial proceedings. On appeal, an appellate court will review the lower court's record for legal errors.

Recuse: If a judge recuses themselves from a case, they withdraw or disqualify themself. A judge will recuse themselves from a case due to personal prejudice, a conflict of interest, or another good reason why the judge should not sit in the interest of fairness.

Redirect examinationRedirect examination refers to questions an attorney directs to a witness whom they previously questioned on direct examination. Redirect examination follows cross-examination. Redirect examination focuses on matters raised during cross-examination.

Relief: A plaintiff in a civil case seeks relief in the form of monetary damages or some other remedy. They must list their requested relief in the complaint they file to begin their lawsuit.

RemandRemand refers to an appellate court's order sending a case back to a lower court for further proceedings.

RemovalRemoval is a procedure where the court transfers a lawsuit from one court to another. For example, suppose a federal court has jurisdiction over a case, but the plaintiff chooses to sue the defendant in state court. The federal removal statute may allow the defendant to remove federal court to ensure fairness.

Representative party: A representative party is a party that sues or is sued on behalf of the class in a class action lawsuit. Their claims or defenses must be typical of the class, and they must protect the class' interests. A representative party has several other responsibilities that other members of the class do not, such as attending events when necessary and prosecuting the case. See also class action.

Requests for admission: Parties often make requests for admission from another party in the case during discovery. These involve a party asking another to admit or deny the truth of facts or the genuineness of documents. If a party does not respond to a request for admission within the time limit to respond, the court considers the requests admitted.

Requests for the production of documents: A party may request the production of documents to inspect and copy documents that another party possesses. It is a form of discovery in civil cases that allows a party to review and copy documents and other things, like electronically stored data or a physical object.

Restitution: A convicted criminal pays restitution to a victim for the losses suffered due to the defendant's crimes. Restitution reimburses a victim for losses or damages suffered and may include medical expenses or lost income, among other things. The court may order restitution as part of the criminal's punishment. The court may also order restitution as a condition of probation or supervised release.

Reverse: When a court reverses a decision or order, it sets aside the prior decision and enters a different decision or order. A remand often follows a reversal.

Revocation of probation: A revocation of probation occurs when a court issues an order sending a probationer or someone on supervised release to prison or jail. A court may revoke someone's probation if they violate a condition of their probation.

Right to remain silent: See privilege against self-incrimination.

Search Warrant - Sustain

Search warrant: A search warrant authorizes law enforcement to search certain premises or people. The search warrant typically specifies the area and time in which law enforcement may perform the search. Law enforcement must obtain a search warrant from a judge, and they must show probable cause to search.

Sentence: A sentence is the court's judgment punishing a defendant for criminal conduct.

Service of process: The service of process refers to the process by which a plaintiff provides notice of a lawsuit to the defendant's attention. It involves the plaintiff arranging for the delivery of the complaint, summons, and/or notice of the proceeding to the parties involved in the lawsuit. Serving the defendants in a lawsuit is a critical part of a civil case. See summons.

Settlement: A settlement is an agreement between the parties to a lawsuit to resolve their dispute. The parties may have to file a written settlement agreement with the court to resolve the case.

Sidebar (or sidebar conference): A sidebar is a private discussion between the judge and attorneys in a court case. The judge and attorneys conduct the sidebar such that nobody else in court can hear the discussion. An attorney may request a sidebar to discuss an objection or another important legal matter with the judge and opposing counsel to prevent the jury from hearing something that may hurt their client's case.

State courts: Each state has a state court system. These courts hear disputes that involve state laws. State court systems vary between states. In general, each state has a trial court, an intermediate appellate court, and a higher appellate court, such as a state supreme court. Most states also have administrative court systems.

Statute: Congress and state legislatures pass laws, also called statutes. Compare with case law.

Statute of limitations: The statute of limitations is a law setting a fixed period after which a person cannot sue someone for an alleged injury, or a government cannot prosecute someone for a crime. If you fail to file a lawsuit within its statute of limitations, the court cannot render a decision regarding it. The statute of limitations varies based on the claim the plaintiff or government wishes to file.

Stay: A stay is a temporary postponement or halting of a judicial proceeding or judgment. A judge may issue a stay on the proceedings in a court case if concurrent litigation in another case may affect the present case or if a party appeals the judgment.

Stipulate: Parties may stipulate to certain facts, conditions, or requirements. Stipulating means they agree to said facts, conditions, or requirements. For example, in a DUI case, the parties may stipulate the fact that the alleged drunk driver had two drinks before the arrest occurred. Matters to which the parties stipulate in a court case are considered proven and neither side must present evidence as to the stipulated matter.

Sua sponteSua sponte refers to an order that the court issues on its own without prior motion by either party. It is a Latin term meaning "on its own responsibility or motion." For example, if a judge becomes aware that the court does not have jurisdiction over the issue in a case, the court may dismiss the case sua sponte.

Subpoena: A subpoena is a court order that requires a person to produce documents or appear at a trial, hearing, or deposition to testify. The court may hold someone who disobeys or disregards a subpoena in contempt.

Summary judgment: A party files a motion for summary judgment when the case record indicates there is no genuine issue of material fact and the party believes it is entitled to a favorable judgment based on applicable law. A party must wait at least 20 days after a case begins to file a motion for summary judgment. The party may file a motion for summary judgment concerning the entire case or specific claims in the lawsuit.

Summons: In a civil case, the summons is a document the plaintiff prepares and court issues once the plaintiff files their lawsuit. The summons notifies someone that the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against them. The plaintiff must serve a copy of the summons on the defendant, along with other documents. In a criminal case, a prosecutor may request that the court issue a summons as an alternative to an arrest warrant.

Supervised release: See revocation of probation.

Sustain: A judge who sustains an objection agrees with the objection. If a judge sustains an objection, they rule that a lawyer's questioning or a witness's testimony must stop. Compare with overrule.

Testimony - Trial

Testimony: A witness or party provides testimony when they give oral evidence during trials, hearings, depositions, and other court proceedings.

Third-party claim: A third-party claim is a claim that a defendant can include in their answer against a person or entity that is not currently part of the lawsuit. The third-party claim often states a non-party's breach of duty gave rise to all or part of the plaintiff's claim. Serving the third-party complaint brings the entity into the suit as a third-party defendant. The defendant who files the third-party claim then becomes a third-party plaintiff.

Tort: A tort is a civil action, other than a breach of contract, where the plaintiff claims damages or requests an injunction. Examples of torts include negligence and trespass claims.

Transcript: A transcript is a written record of statements parties, witnesses, and judges made in a proceeding, such as a trial or deposition. The court reporter creates a word-for-word record of what the parties say and will produce a transcript upon request.

Trial: A trial is the court proceeding at which parties in a civil case, or the government and the defense in a criminal case, produce evidence for consideration by a factfinder. The factfinder makes findings of fact, applies the law to the facts, and decides whether the defendant is guilty in a criminal case or which party should win in a civil case.

Uphold - U.S. Constitution

Uphold: When a court upholds a decision, it allows a lower court's decision to stand as is. Appellate courts either uphold, reverse, remand, or reverse and remand a decision after reviewing it.

U.S. Constitution: The U.S. Constitution is the highest law of the land in the United States. It establishes the federal government's structure and functions, grants rights to citizens and states, and limits the federal government's powers. U.S. Constitution also includes its amendments. The first ten amendments to the Constitution constitute the Bill of Rights.

Verdict - Voir Dire

Verdict: A verdict is the jury's decision on the factual issues in a civil or criminal case. The jury must usually reach a unanimous verdict.

Voir direVoir dire refers to jury selection, the process by which judges and lawyers select jurors for a trial. It also encompasses the initial questioning of expert witnesses to ensure they have the competence to testify. Voir dire is a French term that means "to speak the truth."

Waiver - Writ of Habeas Corpus

WaiverWaiver is the act of giving up a right. Someone who waives a right must do so intentionally and knowingly. For example, the court must ensure that a defendant who pleads guilty understands that they are waiving the right to a jury trial.

Witness: A witness is a person a party calls to testify in a lawsuit. Different types of witnesses testify regarding different aspects of the case. For example, a character witness testifies about a criminal defendant's character. Expert witnesses have special knowledge that allows them to testify about topics that require specialized knowledge, such as medical treatment or standards of care.

Writ of certiorari: The U.S. Supreme Court issues a writ of certiorari when it accepts a review of a U.S. Court of Appeals case or a state's Supreme Court case. The lower court must produce the records of a particular case it tried so that the U.S. Supreme Court can inspect the proceedings.

Writ of garnishment: A writ of garnishment is a means of enforcing a judgment. It allows the judgment creditor to garnish the judgment debtor's wages or bank accounts. If they garnish the debtor's wages, the debtor's employer will withhold money from the debtor's paychecks and give the withheld money to the court. Once the amount of money satisfies the judgment, the court will distribute the money to the creditor.

Writ of habeas corpus: An imprisoned person files a writ of habeas corpus to test the legality of a restraint on their liberty. The writ commands a public official to bring the prisoner before the court. The court then determines whether the government has lawfully detained the person.

Questions? Contact an Attorney

If you have a legal dispute, consider contacting an attorney near you. They can provide critical legal advice about your specific claims or defenses and information about your legal rights throughout the litigation process. Contact a civil litigation attorney if you have a civil case or a criminal defense attorney if the government has criminally charged you.

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