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Glossary of Common Legal Terms
- A ACQUIT
- A decision by the trial jury or judge that a person is not guilty
of an offense.
- A legal demand for a right asserted by instituting a case in
- To temporarily postpone or reschedule the proceedings of
a case until a future time.
- A judgment or decree.
- A sworn or affirmed statement made in writing and signed.
- (a) An appellate court’s act of upholding as correct a
judgment or decision of a lower court; (b) An act of declaring something to
be true under the penalty of perjury.
- The act of a party to a legal action of stating what he/she
intends to prove.
- ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR)
- Ways of helping people resolve legal problems out of court. Collaborative law and mediation are types of ADR.
- A pleading submitted by a defendant or respondent in response
to allegations asserted by the plaintiff or petitioner.
- A proceeding to have a case examined by a higher court to see
if a lower court’s proceedings and decisions were made correctly.
- When a defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the court.
- The party appealing a judgment or decision to a higher
- The victorious party against whom an appeal is brought.
- ARTICLE 78
- A special proceeding brought to challenge the activities
of an administrative agency.
- ARTICLE 81
- A special proceeding under the Mental Hygiene Law to name
a person as the guardian of another. Once appointed, the guardian is invested
with the power and charged with the duty of taking care of the person and managing
the property and rights of that person, who is considered incapable of administering
his or her own affairs.
- Formal proceeding where a defendant appears in court and
is apprized of the allegations against him or her.
- ARREST WARRANT
- A court order directing a peace officer to arrest/seize
a named person to bring her or him before the court for arraignment.
- ASSIGNED COUNSEL
- An attorney assigned by the court to represent a defendant
- B BAIL
- Cash, bond or other security deposited with the court in order
to obtain the release of a defendant. The Surety, who is the party
posting bail, undertakes an obligation to produce the defendant
as required before the court.
- BENCH WARRANT
- An order issued by the court for the arrest of a defendant who
has failed to appear in court as directed.
- A written document submitted by a party to an action setting forth
relevant facts and law.
- C CAPTION
- The heading of a pleading or case file, indicating
the parties, the court, case number and other pertinent information.
- An action.
- A judge’s office.
- CHANGE OF VENUE
- The removal of an action to another jurisdiction
for legal reasons.
- CITATION OR CITE
- A group of numbers and letters used to locate
a previously decided case in a law casebook. Ex. 15 N.Y. 2d 500 -
Look to Volume 15 of the New York Reports Second Series, page 500.
- COLLABORATIVE LAW
- A way to solve legal problems without going to court. Both sides have a lawyer but they agree not to go to court.
- The power of a court to order a person to a correctional
institution, mental hospital or juvenile reformatory.
- A determination by the court that a person is
legally fit and qualified to give evidence.
- A plaintiff.
- The initial pleading in an action formally setting
forth the allegations in issue.
- Opinion of a judge or justice of an appellate court
which is in agreement with the decision rendered by another judge
for the same or different reasons.
- CONCURRENT SENTENCE
- When a court order permits two or more
sentences to be served at the same time as opposed to consecutively.
- CONTEMPT OF COURT
- An act done with the intent to embarrass,
hinder or obstruct a court from the administration of justice. Direct
contempt is an act done in the presence of the court. Indirect contempt
is the wilful disobedience of a court order.
- A finding of guilt by plea or trial.
- Claim presented by a defendant in opposition
to those claims asserted by the plaintiff.
- An offense which is enumerated in any law governing
conduct as a misdemeanor or a felony. (Note: infractions and violations
are not crimes.)
- The questioning by a party or his/her attorney
of another party or a witness called by another party.
- D DECEDENT
- A deceased person.
- 1) Civil case - the party being sued; (2) Criminal case -
the party accused of committing the offense charged.
- DE NOVO
- From the Latin for “anew”; usually used to mean
a new trial.
- Decision or order of the court.
- When a party fails to answer or appear in the proscribed time period.
- Written testimony of a witness who may not be present in
- Where one party obtains information or facts about the action pursuant
to statutory rules.
- An order by the court ending an action for a specified reason.
A dismissal permits a party to institute the same action again.
- DUE PROCESS
- Law in its regular course of administration through courts
of justice. Due process means that no person may be deprived of life liberty
or property or of any right granted by statute, unless the matter involved shall
first be adjudicated upon a trial conducted according to established rules regulating
judicial proceedings, and it forbids condemnation without a hearing.
- E ENJOIN
- To require an individual to refrain or to perform an act.
- The acts by agents of the government to induce a person to perform
a criminal act for the purpose of prosecuting that individual.
- The right of the state to property in the absence of anyone to
- A deed, writing or fund delivered to one person to be held until
specified acts are performed or certain conditions are met.
- To bar or impede
- EX PARTE
- By or for one party done outside the presence of the other party.
- F FALSE ARREST
- An unlawful physical restraint of an individual.
- A serious crime, punishable by a term of incarceration greater
then one year.
- One who is authorized to act for another concerning the subject
matter of the trust.
- A proceeding whereby a mortgagee (usually a bank) seeks
to take title to or forces the sale of the mortgagor’s (for example, a
homeowner) property in satisfaction of a debt.
- An intentional misrepresentation, deceit or perversion of the
- G GARNISHMENT
- A method of satisfying an outstanding debt or judgment by
seizing property or credits of the debtor held by a third party.
- A legal arrangement by which one person (a guardian) has
the legal right and duty to care for another and his or her property.
- GRAND JURY
- A group of sixteen to twenty-three individuals impaneled
to hear evidence to decide if probable cause exists that a crime has been committed
and an indictment should be returned.
- GUARDIAN AD LITEM
- A person appointed by the court to look after the
interests of an infant or an incompetent.
- H HABEAS CORPUS
- The name given to a variety of writs or court orders
whose primary purpose is to bring a party before a court
or judge to determine if that person is being unlawfully
deprived of his or her liberty.
- An out of court statement being offered for the truth
of its contents.
- I INCOME EXECUTION
- A method to satisfy a judgment by levying a portion
of the defendant's wages.
- INDETERMINATE SENTENCE
- A sentence without a definite term. For example a sentence of "x
to y years” or a sentence of “not more then x but not
less than y years.”
- A written accusation voted by a grand jury.
- A order issued by the court directing a person to do or
refrain from certain action.
- Direction given by the judge to the jury.
- Written questions proffered by one side which must
be answered in writing by the other side as part of the discovery process in
- When an individual dies without leaving a will.
- J JUDGMENT
- Final decision of a court, resolving the matter in dispute.
- The geographical and "type of actions" limitations
of a court. For example Westchester County Family Court has jurisdiction over
family matters within the limits of Westchester County.
- A certain number of individuals determined by law who are sworn
to inquire into certain matters of fact.
- JUVENILE OFFENDER
- A 13, 14 or 15 year old charged with acts constituting
murder in the second degree or a 14 or 15 year old charged with acts constituting
certain serious offenses enumerated in the criminal code.
- L LIEN
- A claim, encumbrance, or charge on property for payment of some
debt obligation or duty.
- LIS PENDENS
- A pending suit. Jurisdiction, power or control which courts
acquire over property in suit pending action and until final judgment. A notice
of lis pendens is filed on public records for the purpose of warning all persons
that title to certain property is in litigation, and that they may be bound
by an adverse judgment.
- M MARSHAL
- A law enforcement official who is authorized, pursuant to a warrant
of eviction, to remove one party from a premises and to turn over
possession to the other party.
- Where you and the other side meet with a neutral person – called a mediator – who is specially trained to help people resolve their disputes without having to go in front of a judge.
- A lesser level of crime punishable by a term of incarceration
of one year or less.
- An invalid trial.
- An oral or written request made by a party to the court for specific
- N NEGLIGENCE
- The failure to do something that a reasonable person guided by ordinary
considerations would do, or something a reasonably prudent person would
- NO TRUE BILL
- A decision by a grand jury not to return an indictment.
- NOLO CONTENDERE
- From the Latin meaning “no contest.
- O OBJECTION
- The act of taking exception to a statement or ruling in
- Conduct for which a sentence to a term of imprisonment
or to a fine is provided by any law, statute, or rule governing
- ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE
- A court order to appear as directed
and present to the court such reasons why a particular decree should
not be made.
- P PAROLE
- The conditional release of a prisoner under supervision before
the termination of the sentence of imprisonment.
- PEREMPTORY CHALLENGE
- The right of a party to dismiss a prospective
juror without citing a reason.
- The party initiating a proceeding or the party bringing
an appeal to a higher court.
- An individual who brings a civil action.
- A criminal defendant's response to the charges, i.e. guilty, not
guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity.
- The process by which the parties in an action present their
causes of action and arguments.
- POLLING THE JURY
- Asking individual jurors whether they assent to a
- POOR PERSONS ORDER
- An order of a court finding a person unable to pay
the costs, fees and expenses necessary to prosecute or defend an action or appeal.
Once the status is granted, the poor person is not liable for the costs or fees
in the action.
- POWER OF ATTORNEY
- Authorization for one person to act as the agent
- PRELIMINARY HEARING
- A pretrial hearing conducted by a judge to determine
if an individual should be held to answer for criminal charges.
- A district attorney, attorney general, their assistants
or any other public official who represents the people in a criminal action.
- PRESENTENCE REPORT
- A report filed with the court by the Department
of Probation, which contains information about the defendants prior criminal
history and background, as well as a summary of the instant case. The report
may also contain a statement by the victim and prosecutor. This report is made
to aid the judge in formulating a just sentence.
- PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATIONS OR INFORMATION
- Made between persons in a
particular relationship which is not subject to disclosure without the permission
of the individual benefitting from the privilege (i.e., attorney-client; husband-wife;
- PRO SE
- Appearing on one’s own behalf without an attorney.
- PRO BONO
- Legal services provided without cost.
- The process of proving a will.
- In criminal law a sentence served outside of prison under
direct supervision according to a specified set of conditions.
- R REASONABLE DOUBT
- A doubt as to the guilt of an individual that a reasonable
person would have at the conclusion of a trial.
- A plaintiff’s response to a defendant’s answer containing
- (a) The defending party in a proceeding; (b) the party against
whom an appeal is taken.
- A party rests when he or she has no other evidence to offer.
- S SEAL ORDER
- A court order mandating that a record be closed from public
- SEARCH WARRANT
- An order issued by a court upon a finding of probable
cause directing the search of a particular location for a particular item(s).
- The protection of one’s property or person against
some injury attempted by another. The law of self-defense justifies an act done
in reasonable belief of immediate danger.
- A formal rule of law enacted by a governmental body.
- STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
- The time period in which an action must be commenced.
Failure to file the action within the statute of limitations bars the action
- A court order that suspends a case or some designated proceedings
within it. To "stay" an order or decree means to hold it in abeyance
or refrain from enforcing it.
- An agreement by adversaries as to any matter pertaining
to the proceedings or trial. Must be assented to by the parties and in writing.
- A process by which a witness is compelled to appear and give
testimony before a court.
- SUBPOENA DUCES TECUM
- Process by which a person is compelled to produce
records or other documents.
- A process issued by a local court directing a person to appear
before it at a designated future time in connection with a particular proceeding.
- SUPPRESSION HEARING
- A pretrial hearing in a criminal matter upon a
motion to exclude evidence in which the judge must decide whether or not improper
procedures were used to obtain evidence.
- T TESTATOR
- The maker of a will.
- An injury or wrong against a person.
- The official record of a proceeding.
- V VACATE
- To set aside a previous action.
- The county or geographical area in which a case may be heard.
- VOIR DIRE
- The examination of jurors or a witness as to their qualifications.
- W WARRANT OF EVICTION
- Issued when a judgment orders a transfer of possession
of property from one party to another. Such a warrant authorizes and orders
the sheriff or marshal to remove one party from the premises and to turn over
possession to the other party
- One who testifies as to what they have observed.
- Order from a court requiring a certain act to be done.
- Y YOUTHFUL OFFENDER (Y.O.)
- A person who is sentenced for an offense that
occurred when the person was 14, 15, 16, 17 or 18 years old.