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LEGAL DICTIONARY

A

Abstract of Record

An abbreviated but complete history of a case.

Aiding and Abetting

A criminal charge of aiding and abetting or accessory can usually be brought against anyone who helps in the commission of a crime, though legal distinctions vary by state. A person charged with aiding and abetting or accessory is usually not present when the crime itself is committed, but he or she has knowledge of the crime before or after the fact, and may assist in its commission through advice, actions, or financial support. Depending on the degree of involvement, the offender’s participation in the crime may rise to the level of conspiracy.

For example, Andy draws a floor plan of a bank, knowing of Dan’s intention to rob it. After Dan commits the robbery, Alice agrees to let him store the stolen money at her house. Both Andy and Alice can be charged with aiding and abetting, or acting as accessories to the robbery.

Under federal law, the punishment for someone who aids and abets a crime is the same as the punishment for the person who principally committed the crime. In some states, the punishment may be less.

Answer

The pleading in which the defendant states his or her position concerning the plaintiff’s allegations and sets forth the grounds of his or her defense.

Arraignment

In criminal practice, to bring the prisoner to court in person to answer the charge.

Attorney-Client Privilege

(sometimes called: lawyer-client privilege, legal-professional privilege) Rule of law protecting communications between a lawyer and his client. This privilege means a defendant can, and his lawyer must, refuse to give evidence in a legal proceeding about what was discussed or written between them.  This privilege stands no matter what the offense, be it criminal, civil or family matter.

It does NOT include any discussion of a FUTURE crime the client may be planning to commit.

The attorney-client privilege can almost never be revoked, even if the attorney is given information by the client that could conclusively prove the innocence of another person about to be convicted of a crime–even if that crime is murder and the punishment is the death penalty.

The attorney-client privilege stands even if the attorney resigns his position as legal counsel to the accused, and even after the client’s death.

If a lawyer breaks the attorney client privilege, he is subject to being disbarred and could be charged in a malpractice suit.

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B

Bail Bond

A financial obligation signed by the accused and those who serve as sureties to guarantee his or her future appearance in court.

Bailiff

A court attendant who keeps order and is responsible for the custody of the jury.

Best Evidence

The primary evidence–the “best evidence” available. Evidence short of this is “secondary” (Example: An original letter is the “best evidence”. A photocopy is “secondary evidence”.)

Burden of Proof

The duty to establish a fact or facts in a dispute. (Example: The plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit has the burden of providing that an injury occurred, and that the defendant caused it.

C

Challenge For Cause

An objection to the qualifications of a juror for which a reason is given; usually on the grounds of personal aquaintance with one of the parties involved or the existence of a bias which may affect the verdict.

Challenge To The Array

To question the qualifications of an entire panel summoned for jury duty, usually because of alleged partiality or some deficiency in the manner by which the panel was selected and summoned.

Change Of Venue

The removal of a suit started in one county or district to another location for trial, usually on the grounds that one of the parties cannot obtain a fair trial in the original county or district.

Circumstantial Evidence

A group of facts that when considered as a whole, can be used to come to a logical conclusion about something not known.

Indirect evidence that implies something occurred but doesn’t directly prove it.

It is evidence used in criminal courts to establish a defendant’s innocence or guilt through reasoning.

Indirect or inferred evidence can be distinguished from “direct” or “eyewitness evidence” in the following example:

Just before going to bed, a man looks outside his window and sees that the ground is bare.  When he wakes up the next morning, he sees that the ground is covered with snow.  He comes to the conclusion that it snowed during the night.  The evidence he bases this conclusion on is indirect or circumstantial evidence.–He did not actually see it snow, but he concludes that it did from the fact that there is snow on the ground.)

The two areas of importance in the applications of circumstantial evidence are criminal and civil cases where direct evidence is lacking.  Forensic evidence is often crucial in establishing the truth of a matter, especially when corroborated by independent tests.  Expert Evidence is usually needed to prove forensic conclusions.  Most criminal cases in this country are tried on circumstantial evidence.

Commutation

The reduction of a sentence. (example: Changing a sentence from death (the greatest sentence) to life imprisonment (the lesser sentence)

Corpus Delicti

The object or thing upon which a crime has been committed. (example: The body of a murdered person or the charred shell of a house)

Corroborating Evidence

Additional evidence which tends to strengthen or confirm evidence already given of a crime. (Example: Joe, a witness,  testifies that he saw Mary drive her automobile into a blue car.  Linda, another witness strengthens Joe’s testimony by saying later that day she noticed blue paint on Mary’s fender.  Linda provided corroborating evidence.)

Cross Examination

The questioning of a witness in a trial, or in the taking of a deposition, by the party opposed to the one who produced the witness.

Cumulative Sentence

Sentences for two or more crimes to run successively rather than concurrently.

D

Defendant

The party against which an action is brought.

Depose

an examination for discovery that is under oath.  This will take place somewhere other than in open court and is part of the civil court process.  If you are suing or being sued you will be asked to give a deposition.  No judges or court officials attend, but the person being deposed will have his own lawyer present and the opposing lawyer will ask the questions. A stenographer will write down the questions and answers, and you will later receive a copy to review and correct if any mistakes were made. See Deposition below.

Deposition

Testimony of a witness given elsewhere than in open court, recorded and sworn to for use at the trial of the case. See Depose above.

Direct Evidence

Facts proven by witnesses who personally saw deeds or heard words spoken which constitute irrefutable proof.

It can be distinguished from circumstantial evidence through the following example:

Jim watched Eric pull out a gun and shoot George dead.  This is considered direct evidence if Jim is proven to be a credible witness, because he was physically present when the crime was committed.

Discovery

Procedure by which each party requests relevant information and documents from the other sidee in an attempt to discover pertinent facts.

Common discovery devices: depositions, interrogatories, request for physical exam, request for production of documents, requeswt for inspection, suppoena.

The scope of discovery is broad and NOT limited to what can be used in a trial. Federal and most state courts allow a party to discover any information reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Due Process Of Law

The fundamental rules which guarantee “fair play” in the conduct of legal proceedings (example: the right to an impartial judge and jury, the right to present evidence on one’s own behalf, the right to confront one’s accuser, the right to be represented by counsel, etc.

E

Exception

A formal objecgtion to the court’s ruling which implies that the excepting party does not accept the court’s ruling and will seek its reversal at a later time.

Excited Utterance

A statement made by a person in response to a startling or shocking event or condition. The statement must be spontaneously made by the person while still under the stress of excitement from the event or condition. The subject matter and content of the statement must “relate to” event or condition.

An exclamation made at the moment of an accident or other unexpected and disturbing event, considered under the rules of evidence as likely to be truthful because of the urgency of the surrounding circumstances and, therefore, an exception to the hearsay rule.

Exculpatory evidence

Evidence that is favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial, which clears or tends to clear the defendant of guilt.  In the US, LE or prosecutor must disclose to the defendant any exculpatory evidence they possess. Failure to disclose can result in the dismissal of a case.

Exhibit

A paper or article submitted in a court or produced during a trial or hearing and formally made a part of the record.

Ex Parte Proceeding

By or for or on the request of one party only, without notice to any other party.

The legal procedure in which only one side is represented.

Expert Evidence

Testimony concerning scientific, technical or professional matters by persons qualified to speak with authority theron by reason of their specific training, skill or familiarity with the subject.

F

Fair Preponderance

Evidence strong enough to convince jurors in civil cases that the party bearing the burden of proof has established its case; the greater weight of evidence

Felony

A serious crime, generally punishable by death or imprisonment in a state prison for more than a year.

Filicide

The murder of your own child.

First Degree Murder

Premeditated unlawful killing of a human being by another with malice aforethought.

G

Grand Jury

A jury of inquiry which receives complaints and accusations in criminal cases.  It hears the prosecutors evidence and issues indictments when satisfied that there is probably cause to believe that a crime was committed, that the accused committed that crime and that a trial should be held. The defense is not allowed to be present or to cross-examine witnesses.   A grand jury is made up of private citizens and is not open to the public.

H

Habeas Corpus

“You have the body”; the name of a writ used to bring a person before a court or judge.  Generally the writ is addressed to an official or person who holds another. It commands him or her to produce the detained person in court so that the court may determine whether that person is being denied his or her freedom lawfully.

Hearsay

Second-hand evidence not arising from personal knowledge of the witness from repetition of what the witness has heard others say.

Hostile Witness

A witness who exhibits such antagonism toward the party which called him or her to testify that cross-examination of that witness by that party is permitted by the court.

Hypothetical Question

A question based upon assumed and/or proven facts upon which an expert is asked his or her opinion at trial.

I

Immunity From Prosecution

State and federal statutes may grant witnesses immunity from prosecution for the use of their testimony in court or before a grand jury. A promise not to prosecute for a crime in exchange for information or testimony in a criminal matter, granted by the prosecutors, a judge, a grand jury or an investigating legislative committee.

Transactional immunity or full immunity gives full immunity from prosecution for a crime revealed from the testimony of a witness. This type acts much like a full pardon for the offense, once granted one may not be prosecuted.

Use  immunity is the base line protection afforded by the 5th Amendment. The  use of compelled testimony and the use of evidence derived form the testimony can’t be used to convict a witness. To be convicted for a crime testified about, the prosecution has the burden to show that the evidence used was derived by a complete, separate source of information.

Impeachment Of Witness

An attack on the credibility (believability) of a witness through evidence produced for that purpose.

Inadmissible

That which under the rules of evidence cannot be admitted or received as evidence

Inculpatory Evidence

Evidence that shows, or tends to show, a person’s involvement in an act, or evidence that can establish guilt.  In criminal law, the prosecution has a duty to provide all evidence to the defense, whether it favors the prosecution’s case, or the defendant’s case.

In Camera

legal term in a court of law meaning, “in private”

In Camera Inspection

Judge’s private inspection of a document before ruling on whether that document is admissible for trial.

Incompetent Evidence

Inadmissible evidence

Indictment

A grand jury’s written accusation that charges a named party with the commission of a crime.

Inter Alia

Among other things

Inter Alios

Among other persons; between others

Interlocutory

Temporary; not final.

Interrogatories

Written questions posed by one party and served on another who must answer them in writing under oath. A form of discovery to enable the party posing the questions to prepare for trial.

Irrelevant

Evidence not bearing on the matter in dispute, not tending to prove or disprove any issue involved in the matter

J

Jurisprudence

The philosophy of law; the science which deals with principles of law and legal relationships.

Jury

A given number of persons selected according to the law to determine issues of fact on the basis of evidence submitted to them.

Jury Commissioner

The court officer responsible for choosing the panel of persons to serve as potential jurors for a particular court term.

K

L

LE

abbreviation for “Law Enforcement”

Leading Question

One which suggests to a witness the answer desired by the inquirer, or puts words into the witness’ mouth. This is prohibited on direct examination on the theory that the witness is friendly to the party who called him or her and will accept any suggestions made by that party’s counsel rather than answering, as he or she should, on the basis of his or her own recollection.

Locus Delicti

The place where an offense was committed

M

Malfeasance

The commission of an unlawful act.

Malicious Prosecution

An action initiated without probable cause to believe that the charges can be sustained, for the purpose of injuring the defendant.

Manslaughter

The unlawful killing of another without intent to kill. This can be either

voluntary–upon a sudden impulse. (example: a quarrel erupts into a fist-fight in which one of the           participants is killed.)

involuntary —during the commission of an unlawful act not ordinarily expected to result in great bodily harm, or during the commission of a lawful act without proper caution. (Example: Driving an automobile at excessive speed resulting in a fatal collision.)

Mitigating Circumstances

One which, though it does not excuse an offense, reduces the degree of blame.  This particularly relevant to the question of whether punitive damages should be awarded or to what extent punishment should be imposed.

Motion In Limine

a motion made before the start of a trial requesting that the judge rule that certain evidence may, or may not, be introduced to the jury in a trial. This is done in judge’s chambers, or in open court, but always out of hearing of the jury. If a question is to be decided in limine, it will be for the judge to decide. Usually it is used to shield the jury from possibly inadmissible and unfairly prejudicial evidence.

Murder

The unlawful killing of a human being by another with malice aforethought.

1st Degree Murder: Characterized by premeditation.

2nd Degree Murder: Characterized by a sudden and instantaneous intent to kill or to cause injury without caring whether it kills or not.

N

Negligence

Failure to do or not to do something which a reasonable and prudent person would do or not do under the same circumstances.

Nolle Prosequi

It is a declaration made by a prosecutor in a criminal case or by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit either before or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped. The declaration may be made because the charges cannot be proved, the evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution’s claim, or the prosecutor no longer thinks the accused is guilty, and/or the accused has died. It is generally made after indictment, but is not a guarantee that the person will not be re-indicted.

Notice To Produce

A written notice requiring the opposing party to produce a specific paper or document at the trial or during pre-trial discovery.

O

Objection

The taking of an exception to a question, answer, statement, or procedure in a trial. It is intended to focus the court’s attention on some allegedly improper item of evidence or procedure and to obtain relief therefrom.

Obstruction of Justice

Any interference of the administration and due process of law.  This can happen during the investigation of a crime as well as during the actual trial. Any person that knowingly hinders the work of police, investigators, or government agencies can be charged. You can also be charged if you impair the efforts of a court trial.

Obstruction charges can also be filed  when a person who is not considered a suspect in a case lies to investigating officers. It doesn’t matter if the person lied to protect a suspect—or even if that suspect is innocent. He can still be charged.

Charges can be made if a person alters or destroys physical evidence–even if he wasn’t asked at any time to produce the evidence.

OCSD

Orange County Sheriff’s Department

Opinion Evidence

Statement of what the witness thinks, believes or infers about facts in dispute. This is different from his or her personal knowledge of the facts themselves; not admissible except in the case of experts, with certain limitations.

P

Peremptory Challenge

The right of the prosecution and defense in criminal cases to dismiss a prospective juror without giving any reason.  The number of such challenges is limited by statute.

Plaintiff

a person who brings an action in a court of law.

Preliminary Hearing

Preliminary examination. A hearing before a judicial officer to determine whether there is sufficient evidence against a person charged with a crime to warrant holding him or her for trial. The constitution bans secret accusations, so preliminary hearings are public unless the defendant asks otherwise; the accused must be present and accompanied by legal counsel. The defense can cross-examine witnesses and a judge determines the outcome of the hearing.

Preponderance

Evidence strong enough to convince jurors in civil cases that the party bearing the burden of proof has established its case; the greater weight of the evidence.

Presumption Of Facts

An inference as to the existence of a fact dawn from the existence of some other fact. (Example: When I left the house the streets were snow-covered so I presume it must have snowed.)

Presumption Of Law

A requirement that courts and judges shall draw particular inferences from the existence of particular facts; irrebuttable presumptions are those which may not be overcome by proof. (Example: That a child born to a married mother is legitimate) rebuttable presumptions exist until and unless the truth of the inference is disproven. (Example: That one in possession of property is its owner)

Pretrial

A court proceeding held before the actual trial, with 3 main objectives.

1. It provides a venue for possibly reaching a resolution in the case without going to actual trial or to narrow the issues for the trial.  A person may plead “no contest” to some or all of the allegations in the petition thus simplifying the issues being brought to trial, or eliminating the need to go to trial at all.

2. The hearing is used to establish the time frames for discovery, for the prosecution and defense to exchange witness lists, and to file motions.

3. It allows all parties (the prosecution, the defense, and the Court to all agree on the trial date.

Probable Cause

A reasonable ground, established after investigation, for believing that facts exist warranting further proceedings.

Pro Bono

Done for the good of the public at no charge.  Services that are provided free.

Pro Hac Vice

Latin meaning “for this occasion” or “for this event.” (literally, “for this turn”) It is a legal term referring to a lawyer who has not been admitted to practice in a certain jurisdiction but has been allowed to participate in a particular case in that jurisdiction.

Prosecutor

A public officer whose duty is the prosecution of criminal proceedings on behalf of the people.

Q

R

Reasonable Doubt

If, in the minds of the jury, a doubt exists which may have arisen from the evidence, or lack of evidence. A doubt that would exist in the mind of a reasonable person after fully, fairly, and carefully considering all of the evidence–or lack of evidence, is reasonable doubt and the defendant must be found not guilty.

If there is more than one logical conclusion inferable from the same set of circumstances, where one conclusion implies a defendant’s guilt and another their innocence, the benefit of the doubt principle would apply.

Rebuttal

The introduction of answering evidence; proof by one party disputing proof provided by that party’s adversary; also, the stage of a trial when such evidence is introduced.

Re-Direct Examination

The questioning of a witness during trial by the party that called him or her to testify in the first place, following the cross-examination by the other party upon matters the original party wishes to clarify.

Reply

The plaintiff’s answer to the defendant’s argument when a case is tried or argued before a court.

S

Search Warrant

A written order from a justice or magistrate directing an officer to search a specific place for a specific object.  A search warrant is issued upon a showing of probable cause.

Sequestration of Witnesses

A court order requiring each witness to stay outside the courtroom until called to testify. This is requested and issued to prevent the testimony of any witness from being influenced by that of another witness.

Slow Plea

1) A court trial where a defendant is advised by counsel and has the same rights that would be afforded by a “guilty plea” in which the court indicates the high probability of a “guilty” verdict. However, issues that would normally have been waived by an ACTUAL plea of “guilty” are NOT waived and are preserved for APPEAL.

2) Defendent pleads “not guilty” but then does nothing to defend the charge at trial. He allows the State’s evidence to be presented unchallenged and unrebutted, and then simply waits for the inevitable “guilty” verdict.

3)Allows a defendent TO APPEAL by pleading not guilty and stipulating the factsi in the preliminary examination transcript. Another name for this “slow plea” is a ’stipulation on transcript.”

4) any one of a number of contrived procedures which don’t require the defendant to admit guilt but which results in a finding of guilt on an anticipated charge. A method to reserve the right to appeal.

Speedy Trial

A rule of law wherein the defendant must be brought to trial within 90 days for misdemeanor charges and 175 days for a felony charge.

It is the right available to a defendant to demand the conclusion of a trial early so it can be completed before violating the provisions contained within the 6th amendment.  This amendment limits the time an accused person can be held over for trial.  The ‘due process’ provision  within this amendment says the charges against a defendant should be dropped if the trial cannot be completed within the time limit.

Spoilation

The intentional destruction of a document or an alteration of it that destroys its value as evidence.

State’s Evidence

Testimony of an accomplice or participant in a crime which tends to incriminate or convict others, given under a promise of immunity   (example: John turned “state’s evidence” and testified that Ray, the defendant, killed the night watchman at the bank he robbed, and he knew this because he was with him when he was robbing the bank and saw him kill the night watchman. John received a lesser or no sentence himself, because he helped prove that Ray killed the night watchman)

Supoena

An order commanding a witness to appear and testify.

Supoena Duces Tecum

An order commanding a witness to produce certain documents or records.

T

Testimony

Evidence given by a competent witness under oath, as distinguished from documentary evidence or evidence from other sources.

Transcript

The record of proceedings ina trial or hearing.

True Bill

In criminal practice, the written endorsement made by a grand jury upon a proposed indictment when they find enough evidence to indict. A finding by a grand jury of the existence of sufficient evidence to warrant the issuance of an indictment.

U

USE IMMUNITY: A witness’s compelled testimony in a criminal case cannot be used against him for criminal prosecution.

Transactional and use immunity are granted to a witness in order to preserve their constitutional protection against self-incrimination.

The states grant either form of this immunity.  The federal govt. grants only use immunity.

A witness with use immunity can still be prosecuted, but only based on evidence NOT gathered  from the protected testimony.

V

Venire

Technically, a writ summoning prospective jurors, popularly refers to the group of jurors summoned.

Venireman

A member of the jury

Venue

The county, city, or other locality which has justification over a case.

Verdict

The jury’s decision or finding on the issues submitted to it for determination.

Voir Dire

“To speak the truth.” The preliminary examination into the qualificationsw of prospective witnesses or jurors.

As defined by Gordon P. Cleary:  “Voir Dire is the process by which attorneys select, or perhaps more appropriately reject, certain jurors to hear a case.

W

Waive

To abandon or surrender a claim, privilege or 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, thereby making it possible for his testimony to be used against him in future proceedings.

Warrant Of Arrest

An order issued by a magistrate, justice or other competent authority to a peace officer requiring the arrest of the person named therein.

Weight Of Evidence

The qualitative value in any given evidence to support one side of an issue rather than the other. (Example: The weight of the witness’ testimony favored the plaintiff.)

Witness

One who testifies to what he or she has seen, heard, or otherwise observed.

Witness List

At the beginning of a trial by jury, both sides may be required to submit a list of potential witnesses.  In criminal cases, it could be used in jury selection to inform prospective jurors of who might testify.  The prospective jurors can then say if they know any witnesses and might be partial because of their association with them.

If either side wants someone named on the potential witness list to testify, they have to take the appropriate measures to see that they appear in court by order of a subpoena.

X

Y

Z

16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2009 8:33 am

    lol well now i have a reference guide!

  2. cajun permalink
    February 26, 2009 9:02 am

    under H habeas corpus…”the name of a WRITE used to bring a person”…? do you mean RIGHT, WRIT or something else?

  3. itsamysterytome permalink*
    February 26, 2009 9:53 am

    oops! It’s a typo–meant to write “writ”. Thanks for catching that!

  4. June 3, 2013 12:02 pm

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