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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 51 names in this directory beginning with the letter D.
Damages
Monetary compensation that the law awards to one who has been injured by the action of another; monetary recompense for a legal wrong such as a breach of contract or a tortuous act.
Day In Court
Refers broadly to the opportunity afforded a party to a lawsuit to be heard by the court.
De Facto
Latin term meaning "in fact." By virtue of the deed or accomplishment; actually. Used to refer to a situation in which a condition or institution is operating as though it were official or pursuant to law, but which is not legally authorized. Such situations may arise where, for example, an authorizing law is declared invalid, or required legal formalities have not been satisfied. Compare De jure.
De Jure
Latin term that means "by right, lawful; legitimate." Generally used in contrast to de facto; de jure connotes "as a matter of law," whereas de facto connotes "as a matter of practice not founded upon law."
De Novo
Latin term meaning "new." In a trial de novo, issues of law and issues of fact are reconsidered as if the original trial had never taken place.
Deadly Weapon
Any device capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. An instrument may be intrinsically deadly, as a knife or pistol, or deadly because of the way it is used, as a wrench or hammer.
Death Penalty
The ultimate punishment imposed for murder or other capital offenses. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that the death penalty is not in every instance to be considered unconstitutional, as cruel and unusual punishment.
Debenture
Written acknowledgment of a debt secured only by the general credit or promise to pay of the issuer. Debentures are the common type of bond issued by large, well-established corporations with adequate credit ratings. The written agreement under which the debentures are sold, the indenture, is specific as to maturity date, interest rate, call features and convertibility. Holders of debentures representing corporate indebtedness are creditors of the corporation and entitled to payment before shareholders upon dissolution of the corporation.
Debt
Any obligation of one person to pay or compensate another.
Debtor
One who owes another anything, or is under obligation, arising from express agreement, implication of law, or principles of natural justice, to pay money or to fulfill some other obligation; in bankruptcy or similar proceedings the person who is the subject of the proceeding.
Deceased
One who has died. In property law, the alternate term decedent is generally used. In criminal law, "the deceased" refers to the victim of a homicide.
Deceit
The tort or fraudulent representation of a material fact made with knowledge of its falsity, or recklessly, or without reasonable grounds for believing truth and with intent to induce reliance on it.
Declaration
In common law, the formal document specifying the plaintiff's cause of action including the facts necessary to sustain a proper cause of action and to advise the defendant of the grounds upon which he or she is being sued.
Deed
An instrument in writing that conveys an interest in land from the grantor to the grantee. Its main function is to pass title to land.
Default Judgment
A judgment against a defendant who has failed to respond to a plaintiff's action or to appear at the trial or hearing.
Defeasance
An instrument that negates the effectiveness of a deed or of a will; a collateral deed that defeats the force of another deed upon the performance of certain conditions.
Defendant
In civil proceedings, the party responding to the complaint; one who is sued and called upon to make satisfaction for a wrong complained of by another. In criminal proceedings, the accused.
Defense
A denial, answer plea disputing the validity of a plaintiff's case, or making some further contention that renders the defendant not liable upon the facts alleged by the plaintiff.
Defraud
To deprive a person of property or interest, estate or right by fraud or deceit.
Degree
The judicial decision in a litigated cause rendered by a court of equity; the determination of a cause in courts of admiralty and probate. It is accurate to use the word judgment for a decision of a court of law and decree from a court of equity, although the former term now includes both.
Deliberation
The process by which the reasons for and against a verdict are weighed by jurors. While such verdict should be the consensus of the judgments of each juror, the purpose of deliberation is to allow opinions to be changed by conference in the jury room.
Denial
A refutation of affirmative allegations contained in the pleading of an adversary. A defendant in his answer must admit, deny or state he has insufficient information upon which to admit or deny the allegations.
Deportation
The transfer of an alien to a foreign country because the deporting government refuses to harbor a person whose presence is deemed inconsistent with the public welfare.
Deposition
A method of pretrial discovery that consists of a stenographically transcribed statement of a witness under oath, in response to an attorney's questions, with the opportunity for the opposing party or his or her attorney to be present and to cross-examine. Such a statement is the most common form of discovery and may be taken of any witness (whether or not party to the action). When taken in the form described, it is called an oral deposition. Depositions may also be taken upon written interrogatories, where the questions are read to the witness by the the officer who is taking the deposition.
Detention
Holding of a person charged with a crime following the person's arrest on that charge.
Devise
A gift of real property made by a will. In modern usage, the term may also embrace testamentary gifts of personal property.
Direct Examination
The initial questioning of a witness by the party who called the witness. The purpose is to present testimony containing the factual argument the party is making.
Directed Verdict
A ruling by a judge, typically made after the plaintiff has presented all of her evidence but before the defendant puts on his case, that awards judgment to the defendant. A directed verdict is usually made because the judge concludes the plaintiff has failed to offer the minimum amount of evidence to prove her case even if there were no opposition. In other words, the judge is saying that, as a matter of law, no reasonable jury could decide in the plaintiff's favor. In a criminal case, a directed verdict is a judgment of acquittal for the defendant.
Disbar
To rescind an attorney's license to practice law because of illegal or unethical conduct.
Discharge
To satisfy or dismiss the obligations of a contract or debt; the method by which a legal duty is extinguished.
Discovery
Modern pretrial procedure by which one party gains information held by the adverse party, concerning the case, the disclosure by the adverse party of facts, deeds and documents that are exclusively within his or her possession or knowledge and are necessary to support the other party's position.
Dismissal
A cancellation. Dismissal of a motion is denial of the motion. Dismissal of a complaint or a related court terminates proceedings on the claim asserted in the complaint. Dismissal of an appeal places parties in the condition as if there had been no appeal, confirming the judgment of the lower court.
Disorderly Conduct
In its broadest sense, this is conduct that tends to breach the peace, disturb those who see or hear it, or endanger the morals, safety or health of the community.
Disposition
1. The giving up of anything; often used in the reference to a testamentary proceeding, as in "the disposition of the estate." 2. Courts "dispose of" cases, i.e., determine the rights of the parties or otherwise terminate the proceedings. 3. In criminal law, the sentence of the defendant is the disposition.
Dispossess
To oust, eject or exclude another from the possession of lands or premises, whether by legal process (as where a landlord lawfully evicts a tenant) or wrongfully.
Dissenting Opinion
A reasoned opinion that differs from that of the majority of the court.
Dissolution
In corporation law, the end of the legal existence of a corporation, whether by expiration of charter, decree of court, act of legislature, vote of shareholders or other means.
Distress
The act or process by which a person, without prior court approval, seizes the personal property of another in satisfaction of a claim, as a pledge for performance of a duty, or in reparation of an injury.
District Attorney
The prosecuting officer of a judicial district such as a city or state.
District Court
In Federal Court and, in some States, the name of the main trial court. Thus, if you file suit in Federal Court, your case will normally be heard in Federal District Court. States may also group their Appellate Courts into districts: for example, The First District Court of Appeal.
Disturbing The Peace
Any public act that molests inhabitants or that excites fear among normal persons.
Divestiture
Loss or surrender of a right or title or interest, a remedy by which the court orders the offending party to rid itself of assets before the party would normally have done so. Divestiture, like restitution, has the purpose of depriving a defendant of the gains of wrongful conduct. It is a remedy sometimes used in the enforcement of the antitrust laws.
Divorce
Dissolution of the bonds of marriage.
Docket
A list of cases on a courts calendar; a formal record of the proceedings in the court whose decision is being appealed.
Domain
Land of which one is absolute owner.
Domicile
An Individual's permanent home or principal establishment. Residence is not the same as domicile, since a person can have many transient residences but only one legal domicile, which is the home address to which he or she always intends to return for prolonged periods. The domicile of a business is the address where the establishment is maintained or where the governing power of the enterprise is exercised. For purpose of taxation, it is often a principal place of business.
Double Jeopardy
Prosecution or punishment twice for the same offense, which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution and by many state constitutions.
Dram Shop Act
A legislative enactment imposing strict liability upon the seller of intoxicating beverages when the sale results in the harm of a third party's person, property or means of support.
Driving While Intoxicated (D.W.I.)
The criminal offense of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. State law controls both the definition of "operating," such as whether it includes the actual driving of the car or merely sitting in the car, and the level of intoxication needed in order to be found in violation of the law.
Due Process Of The Law
A phrase introduced into American jurisprudence in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; the principle that the government may not deprive an individual of life, liberty or property unless certain rules and procedures required by law are followed. The phrase does not have a fixed meaning, but embodies society's fundamental notions of legal fairness. Specifically, the constitutional safeguard of substantive due process guarantees procedural fairness where the government attempts to deprive one of his property or liberty; this required notice and fair hearing prior to a deprivation of life, liberty or property.
Duress
Refers to conduct that has the effect of compelling another person to do what he or she need not otherwise do. It is recognized defense to any act, such as a crime, contractual breach or tort, all of which must be voluntary to create liability.