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Terms and Definitions

# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
There are 76 names in this directory beginning with the letter A.
A Fortiori
Latin term meaning "with stronger reason." An inference that because a certain conclusion or fact is true, then the same reasoning makes it even more certain that a second conclusion is true. For example: Jeff is accused of aiding in a bank robbery in which all of the participants were over six feet tall. One suspect has already been cleared by police because he is only five feet six inches. Since Jeff is only five feet two inches, a fortiori he could not have participated in the robbery and will also be cleared.
A Posteriori
Latin term that means "from the most recent point of view." Relates to knowledge gained through actual experience or observation, rather through logical conclusions.
A Priori
Latin term meaning "from the former, from the first." Modern usage has deviated significantly from the Latin. An a priori conclusion or judgment is one that is necessarily true, that is neither proved by nor capable of being disproved by experience, and that is known to be true by a process of reasoning independent of all factual evidence. The term is commonly used to indicate a judgment that is widely believed to be certain or that is introduced presumptively, without analysis or investigation. Thus to accuse someone of having assumed a fact or conclusion a priori is often to disparage him or her for having failed to support a judgment through evidence or analysis.
Abandonment
The intentional giving up of rights or property with no future intention to regain title or possession.
Abduction
The criminal or wrongful act of forcibly taking away another person through fraud, persuasion or violence.
Abrogate
To annul, repeal, put an end to; to make a law void by legislative repeal.
Abscond
To travel secretly out of the jurisdiction of the courts, or to hide in order to avoid a legal process such as a lawsuit or arrest.
Accessary After The Fact
A person who harbors or assists a criminal knowing that he or she has committed a felony or is sought in connection with a crime.
Accessary Before The Fact
A person who incites, counsels or orders another to commit a crime, but who in not present when it is committed.
Accessory
A person who aids or contributes to a crime as a subordinate. An accessory performs acts that aid others in committing a crime or in avoiding apprehension. In some jurisdictions an accessory is called an aider and abettor.
Accomplice
One who voluntarily joins another in committing a crime. An accomplice has the same degree of liability as the defendant.
Accuse
To institute legal proceedings charging someone with a crime.
Accused
The person charged with a crime; the defendant.
Acquit
To set free from an accusation of guilt by a verdict of not guilty.
Acquittal
A legal finding that an individual charged with a crime is not guilty and is therefore set free.
Act Of GOD
A manifestation of the forces of nature, which could not have been prevented or avoided by foresight or prudence. Proof that an injury was caused by an act of God may be used as a defense against negligence, though it will not excuse a contractual duty in the absence of statutory or contractual language to the contrary.
Action
A court proceeding wherein one party prosecutes another party for a wrong done, or for protection of a right, or prevention of a wrong.
Ad Hoc
Latin term meaning "for this, for this particular purpose." An ad hoc committee is one commissioned for a special purpose, an ad hoc attorney is one designated for a particular client in a special situation.
Adjourn
To postpone; to delay briefly a court proceeding through recess. An adjournment for a longer duration is termed a continuance. The term has a special meaning in the rules of legislatures which adjourn between legislative sessions, but recess for periods, of whatever duration within a single session.
Adjudication
The determination of a controversy and pronouncement of judgment.
Administrator
Someone appointed to handle the affairs of a person who has died without leaving a will. If the decedent left a will, an executor performs the same function.
Admissible Evidence
Evidence that may be introduced in court to aid the judge or jury in deciding the merits of a case. Each jurisdiction has established rules of evidence to determine what evidence is admissible. A judge may exclude otherwise admissible evidence when he or she determines that its value is outweighed by such factors as undue consumption of time, prejudice, confusion of issues, or a danger that the jury will be misled. A lurid, gory, photograph, for example, depicting the scene of the crime, the weapon used, injury to the victim may have very high probative value as to several issues in a criminal trial, but since it may cause undue prejudice in the minds of the jurors, it will be excluded if there is any way to prove the necessary facts.
Admission
The voluntary acknowledgment that certain facts are true, a statement by the accused or by an adverse party that tends to support the charge or claim against him or her but is not necessarily sufficient to establish guilt or liability. In civil procedure, an admission is a pretrial discovery device by which one party asks another for a positive affirmation or denial of a material fact or allegation at issue.
Adopt
To agree to, appropriate, borrow, derive from, make use of; the formal process terminating legal rights between a child and his or her natural parents and creating new rights between the child and the adopting parents.
Adoption
The legal process by which the parent/child relationship is created between persons not so related by blood. The adopted child becomes the heir and is entitled to all other privileges belonging to a natural child of the adoptive parent.
Adversary
Opponent or litigant in a legal controversy or litigation.
Adversary Opinion
A formal opinion by a judge, court, or law officer upon a question of law submitted by a legislative body or government official but not presented in an actual court case or adversary proceeding. Such an opinion has no binding force as law.
Advocacy
The active taking up of a legal cause; the art of persuasion. A legal advocate is a lawyer.
Affidavit
A written statement made under oath before an officer of the court, a notary public, or another person legally authorized to certify the statement.
Affirm
To approve or confirm; refers to an appellate court decision that a lower court judgment is correct and should stand.
Affirmative Action
A positive step taken to correct conditions resulting from past discrimination or from violations of a law.
Affirmative Action Programs
Hiring practices and other employment programs adopted to eliminate discrimination in the employment of minority persons. Such programs are required by Federal law.
Age Discrimination
The denial of privileges as well as other unfair treatment of employees on the basis of age, which is prohibited by Federal law under the Age Discrimination Unemployment Act or 1967. This act was amended in 1978 to protect employees up to 70 years of age.
Agency
A relationship in which one person (agent) acts on behalf of another (principal) with the authority of the latter.
Aggrieved Party
One who has been injured or has suffered a loss. A person is aggrieved by a judgment, order or degree whenever it operates prejudicially and directly upon his or her property, or monetary or personal rights.
Aid And Abet
To knowingly encourage or assist another in the commission or attempted commission of a crime.
Alias
"Otherwise known as," an indication that a person is known by more than one name. "AKA" and "A/K/A" mean "also known as" and are in indictments to introduce the listing of an alias.
Alibi
An excuse that proves the physical impossibility that a suspected person could have committed the crime.
Alien
One who is not a citizen of the country in which he lives. A resident alien is a person who has been admitted to permanent resident status but has not been granted citizenship. An illegal alien is a noncitizen who has not been given permission by immigration authorities to reside in the country in which he is living.
Alimony
Court-ordered payment for the support of one's estranged spouse in the case of divorce or separation.
Allegation
In a pleading, an assertion of fact, a statement of what the contributing party expects to prove.
Amend
To alter. One amends a statute by changing (but not abolishing) an established law. One amends a pleading by adding to or subtracting from an already existing pleading.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
A national organization, founded in 1920, that seeks to enforce and preserve the rights and civil liberties guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions. Its activities include handling cases opposing allegedly repressive legislation, and publishing reports and informational pamphlets.
Amicus Curiae
Latin term meaning "friend of the court." A qualified person who is not a party to the action but gives information to the court on a question of law. The function of an amicus curiae is to call attention to some information that might escape the court's attention.
Amnesty
A pardon extended to a group of persons excusing them for offenses against the government.
Annul
To make void; to dissolve that which once existed, as to annul a marriage. Annulment wipes out or invalidates the entire marriage, whereas divorce only ends the marriage from that point on and does not affect the former validity of the marriage.
Answer
The defendant's principal pleading in response to the plaintiff's complaint. It must contain a denial of all the allegations the defendant wishes to dispute, as well as any affirmative defenses by the defendant and any counterclaim against the plaintiff.
Antitrust Laws
Statutes that promote free competition by outlawing such things as monopolies, price discrimination, and collaboration, for the purpose of restraint of trade, between two or more business enterprises in the same market. The two major U.S. Antitrust laws are the Sherman Act and the Clayton Act.
Appeal
A request to a higher court to review and reverse the decision of a lower court. On appeal, no new evidence is introduced; the higher court is limited to considering whether the lower court erred on a question of law or gave a decision plainly contrary to the evidence presented during trial. Unless special permission is granted by the higher court to hear an interlocutory appeal, an appeal cannot be made until the lower court renders a final judgment.
Appearance
The required coming into court of a plaintiff or defendant in an action either by himself or through his attorney. An appearance is a voluntary submission to the jurisdiction of the court.
Appellant
The party to a lawsuit who appeals the decision to a higher court.
Appellee
The party prevailing in the lower court who argues, on appeal, against setting aside the lower court's judgment. In some state courts this party is referred to as the respondent.
Arbiter
A person (other than a judicial officer) appointed by the court to decide a controversy according to the law. Unlike an arbitrator, the arbiter needs the court's confirmation of his decision for it to be final.
Arbitration
Submitting a controversy to an impartial person, the arbitrator, chosen by the two parties in the dispute to determine an equitable settlement. Where the parties agree to be bound by the determination of the arbitrator, the process is called binding arbitration. In labor law, arbitration has become an important means of settling disputes, and the majority of labor contracts provide for arbitration of disputes over the meaning of contract clauses.
Arbitrator
An impartial person chosen by the parties to solve a dispute between them, who is empowered to make a final determination concerning the issue(s) in controversy, who is bound only by his own discretion, and from whose decision there is no appeal.
Argument
A course of reasoning intended to establish a position and to induce belief.
Arraign
To bring a defendant to court to answer the charge under which an indictment has been handed down.
Arraignment
An initial step in the criminal process in which the defendant is formally charged with an offense, given a copy of the complaint, indictment, information or other accusatory instrument, and informed of his constitutional rights, including the pleas he may enter. Where the appearance is shortly after the arrest, it may properly be called a presentment since often no plea is taken.
Arrest
To deprive a person of liberty by legal authority; in the technical criminal law sense, to seize an alleged or suspected offender to answer for a crime.
Arson
The willful and malicious burning of another's house; sometimes expanded by statute to include acts similar to burning (such as exploding) or the destruction of property other than dwellings.
Articles Of Impeachment
A formal statement of the grounds upon which the removal of a public official is sought, similar to an indictment in an ordinary criminal proceeding. In the federal system, articles of impeachment are voted by the House of Representatives, with the trial occurring before the Senate.
Articles Of Incorporation
The document that creates a private corporation, according to the general corporation laws of the state.
Artifice
A fraud or a cunning device used to accomplish some wrong; usually implies craftiness or deceitfulness.
Assault
An attempt or apparent attempt to inflict bodily injury upon another by using unlawful force, accompanied by the apparent ability to injure that person if not prevented. An assault need not result in a touching so as to constitute a battery. Thus, no physical injury need to be proved to establish an assault. An assault may be either a civil or criminal offense. Some jurisdictions have defined criminal assault to include battery-the actual physical injuring. Aggravated assault is an assault with a dangerous or deadly weapon.
Associate Justice
A member of the U.S. Supreme Court, other than the chief justice; the title held by a judge, other than the presiding judge, on the highest court of some states.
Assumption Of Risk
In torts, an affirmative defense used by the defendant in a negligence suit claiming that plaintiff had knowledge of an obviously dangerous condition or situation and yet voluntarily exposed himself to the hazard thereby relieving the defendant of legal responsibility for any resulting injury. In contract law, the agreement by an employee to assume the risks of ordinary hazards arising out of his occupation.
At Law
That which pertains to or is governed by the rules of law, as distinguished from the rules of equity; according to the rules of the common law. In England, and later in the United States courts of law developed strict rules establishing the kinds of causes of action that could be maintained and the kinds of remedies that were available. Courts of equity established different rules and remedies, partly to mitigate the rigors of the law courts. "At law" and "in equity" thus refer to two different bodies of jurisprudence.
Attachment
A legal proceeding by which a defendant's property is taken into custody and held for payment of a judgment in the event plaintiff's demand is later established and judgment is rendered in his favor.
Attempt
An overt act, beyond mere preparation, moving directly toward the actual commission of a criminal offense. The attempt to accomplish a criminal act is often made a crime itself, separate and distinct from the crime that is attempted.
Attest
To affirm as true; to sign one's name as a witness to the execution of a document; to bear witness to.
Attorney General
The chief law enforcement officer of the federal government or of a state government.
Attorney-Client Privilege
Protection of the confidential communications between a client and his or her attorney from disclosure to any other party; can be waived by the client but not by the attorney.
Attractive Nuisance
The doctrine in tort law that holds that one who maintains something dangerous on his premises that is likely to attract children is required to reasonably protect the children against the dangers of that attraction. Thus, one has a duty to fence swimming pools, to remove doors from discarded refrigerators, to enclose partially constructed buildings, and to be sensitive to other potentially dangerous conditions that attract curious children.
Audit
An inspection of the accounting records and procedures of a business, government unit or other reporting entity by a trained accountant, for the purpose of verifying the accuracy and completeness of the records. It may be conducted by a member of the organization (internal audit) or by an outsider (independent audit).
Auditor
A public officer charged by law with the duty of examining and verifying the expenditure of public funds; and accountant who performs a similar function for private parties.
Autopsy
The dissection of a body to determine the cause of death. It may involve the inspection of important organs in order to determine the nature of a disease or abnormality.