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Glossary of Legal Terms


Accomplice: A person who participates or helps another in a criminal activity. This may be in an active role or a protective role.

Acquittal: A declaration of not guilty in a criminal case, or an absolution of responsibility.

Action Case: A suit brought before a court of justice.

Administrator: The person who is responsible for administering the estate of a person’s will after his or her death.

Admissible evidence: Evidence that can be legally admitted into a trial.

Affidavit: A declaration of facts, in writing, taken under oath.

Aid and Abet: To assist a person in committing a crime, knowingly and actively.

Allegation: A statement that a person is prepared to prove true in count.

American Bar Association: The national association of attorneys whose purpose is the administration of justice and improvement of the lawyers’ occupation.

Appeal: A case that is taken to a higher court when the outcome of a lower court is in.

Arraignment: Also referred to as a “preliminary hearing,” it is the hearing in which the defendant is brought into court to plead “guilty” or “not guilty” to the charge.

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Bankruptcy: Legal state and judicial proceedings that are involved when a company or person cannot pay their debts and they ask the court to release them from said debts.

Bar examination: The state examination that law students take in hopes of becoming licensed lawyers.

Bench trial: A trial that is tried by the judge, and not by a jury.

 Bench warrant: An order for a person to be arrested, initiated by a judge, asked for by another public servant.

Bill of particulars: The charges, in detail, against a person

Breach of contract: A failure to complete an assignment/job or finish something that has been promised.

Bylaws: The rules of an establishment, group, or association, that govern its actions or behaviors.


Capital crime: A crime that is worthy of consideration of the death penalty if found guilty.

Canons of ethics: Ethical conduct for attorneys.

Case law: Decisions that have been previously established and set down as law by appellate courts such as the United States Supreme Court.

Caveat: A warning or advisement.

Censure: The official reprimand of an attorney that could lead to disbarment.

Challenge: An objection during a hearing or trial, such as when the opposing attorney brings forth a particular witness.

Circumstantial evidence: All evidence that is not eyewitness testimony, such as physical facts from which a person can make their own inferences.

Civil action: An action to protect the personal rights of an individual.

Civil procedure: All processes by which a civil case is tried; this would include the preparations by the attorney, rules of evidence, trial conduct, and the procedures for pursuing appeals.

Class action: A suit that is initiated by one or more person representing a large group of people.

Clemency (executive clemency): Grace or pardon given by the president of the United States or a governor of a state to lighten the sentence of criminal court.

Closing argument: The closing statements made by the attorney during a trial when both parties have presented all their facts and findings.

Comparative negligence: Damages that would be awarded to someone are lessened by the amount of negligence attributed to the person seeking the damages. This amount is measured in negative percentage.

Complainant: The party that is the initiating person that sues or complains.

Condemnation: When the government takes private land from people for public use but pays them a fair price for it.

Conformed Copy: An exact copy of a document on which things had been written that have not been copied such as signatures by both parties stating that it is, indeed, an exact copy.

Contempt of court: Disobedience or disrespect of a judge’s order or request of an official court order.

Conviction: A guilty judgment against an individual during a criminal proceeding.

Counsel: Refers to a person’s legal advisor, or lawyer.

Cross-examination: When the opposing attorney questions a witness.


Damages: Money awarded to a person by another person when a court or judge rules that there has been willful misconduct against that individual or negligence.

Decision: The final conclusion of a case in a court of law.

Defamation: A public statement that ruins a person’s reputation.

Defendant: The person that is defending himself against a suit, whether criminal or civil.

Defunct: A corporation or company that no longer exists.

Deposition: The transcript of the testimony of witnesses and all those whose oath is taken in the courtroom.

Direct examination: The first round of questions that a witness undergoes by their own attorney.

Disbarment: When a lawyer loses his right to practice law as a punishment.

Discovery: Pretrial ways of obtaining information about the case.

Docket: A list of the pleadings filed in a particular case; the book containing the lists; or the trial docket, which is a calendar of cases to be tried.

Double jeopardy: The act of putting an individual on trial twice for the same crime; it is not allowed per the Fifth Amendment of the United States.


Eminent domain: The power that the government has to claim private property for public use.

Entrapment: Drawing someone into the act of committing a crime.

Equity: The habit of being fair when dealing with others; justice that is delivered in the spirit of fairness.

Escrow: Money or a deed that is held by a third party until conditions of a particular agreement between two other parties is met.

Esquire: The name used after an attorney; used in the U.S. It is abbreviated Esq.

Evidence: Information presented during a trial or proceeding in order for a judge, jury, or arbitrator to decide a case or find favor for one side or the other.

Exclusionary Rule: The rule that prevents illegal evidence to be used in a trial.

Exhibit: Something that is introduced during a trial as evidence.

Ex parte proceeding: Action Circumstances which lessen a crime’s seriousness, causing it to be less aggravated, heinous, or reprehensible than it may be in other circumstances.

Expungement: The destruction of a criminal conviction.


Felony: A crime that is serious enough to warrant jail time in excess of a year or could result in the death penalty.

Finding: Formal conclusion by a judge, jury, or another regulatory agency after evaluating issues of fact.

Foreclosure: The process that a lender goes through, using the court system, to default a mortgage on a property.

Forfeiture: A cancellation whereby a contract purchaser loses all rights or interest in his property after default.

Fraud: False misrepresentation of oneself or information that is meant to deceive someone else.


General jurisdiction: Courts that may hear both criminal and civil cases and have no limits on what types they may preside over.

Grand Jury: A jury of inquiry who receives accusations and complaints to issue formal indictments in criminal cases.

Grievance: A complaint filed by an employee that is resolved by rules set forth in a union contract.

Guardian: A person appointed by the court to care for a minor, or incompetent adult, in the place of their parent, if the parent is absent, dead, or unfit.


Habeas Corpus: A legal action whereby individuals can free themselves from being detained in unlawful detention or by other individuals.

Headnote: A brief summary of the significant facts or information of a case.

Hearing: A formal proceeding that defines the reason that a trial should take place.

Hostile witness: A witness who does not wish to testify on behalf of the individual for whom he is testifying.

Hung jury: A jury who cannot agree on the verdict of a trial.


Immigrants: Individuals who move into a different country to live.

Impeachment: A criminal charge against a person who is acting as a public official.

Inadmissible: Something which is not allowed to be introduced as evidence, as set forth under the rules.

Incarceration: Imprisonment or the act of being in jail.

Incompetent: Someone who is unable to think or act for themselves and cannot manage their own legal affairs or may not be able to think or act in a rational manner.

Indictment: A written accusation of a crime.

Indigent: Someone who is needy or lives in poverty and may qualify for free legal counsel.

Infraction: A minor offense that is not punishable by jail time.

Injunction: An order which prohibits an individual from doing something that he is threatening to do; or an order which requires him to do something that he has refused to do.

Intangible assets: Items that have value but are not physical assets, such as bank accounts, stocks, and bonds, that must be taken into consideration when estimating an estate.

Interrogatories: A discovery device utilized whereby a set of written questions is given to an individual, or several individuals, with information in a case.


Judge: The individual who presides over the courtroom.

Judicial lien: A lien against a debtor which was secured by a judge or other judicial power.

Judicial review: The power of the court to review the actions of other branches of the government and declare that which is unconstitutional.

Jurat: A statement added to a certificate stating before whom a writing was sworn to.

Jurisdiction: The geographic area in which a court has authority.

Jurisprudence: The study of law and the legal system.

Jury: A group of men and women who are chosen to make a determination as to the outcome of a court case during the course of a trial.


Key: To be very important.

Knock and Announce Rule: The rule that police knock on a door and announce their identity and reason for being there before entering a building unless there is possible harm anticipated.


Larceny: Getting possession of property by fraud.

Lawsuit: Term used to describe the proceedings in a court of law between two parties.

Leading question: A question asked by an attorney that leads the witness to the question that is desired by the attorney.

Legislation: The act of making or enacting laws.

Legitimate: Lawful and legal.

Leniency: Recommendation of a lawyer for a sentence less than the judge would be allowed to impose.

Liable: Responsible by law.

Libel: Published slander that is detrimental to a person’s character.

Lien: A burden against a property so that costs can be recouped if a property is sold before the debt is repaid.

Litigant: An individual who is participating in a lawsuit.

Living trust: A trust fund that is created while an individual is still alive to care for his family upon his death.


Malfeasance: Participating in an illegal act.

Malicious prosecution: A prosecution that was initiated simply to injure the defendant when there was no probable cause for the prosecution.

Malpractice: Professional misconduct, usually referring to the medical field.

Manslaughter: The act of killing another person either purposely, as in the case of murder, or accidentally.

Mediation: Using a neutral third party to determine a fair outcome of a dispute rather than taking a case before a judge or jury.

Minute book: A book in the courtroom that contains minute entries of all the trials and all the hearings conducted by the judge of that courtroom; usually maintained by the bailiff.

Miranda warning: The statement given to a suspect by a police officer when they arrest the individual telling them of their constitutional rights.

Misdemeanor: A crime that usually will not result in time spent in a state penitentiary.

Misfeasance: Doing something that is legal but in an illegal, or improper, manner.

Mistrial: A trial that has been deemed invalid due to an error in a procedure. In the case of a mistrial, the trial must begin again from the choosing of the jury.

Mitigating Circumstances: Things which may have happened that do not excuse a crime but can contribute to a reason for a crime, thereby reducing the blame.

Motion: That which is brought to the attention of the court or judge which requests a ruling.

Mutual assent: Agreement.


Naturalization: When a person becomes a citizen after birth.

Negligence: Failure to use a proper amount of care.

Negotiation: When parties will parry back and forth with offers until a settlement is reached.

No-fault proceedings: Used in a civil case proceeding, these cases can be resolved without finding error or fault.

Nonfeasance: Failure to perform a duty that should have been done; neglect.

Notary Public: An individual who certifies documents and administers oaths.

Nuncupative will: An unwritten, or oral, will.


Oath: A pledge made with a responsibility to the law that any statement made or written is a complete truth.

Objection: Exception to a statement made during a court proceeding.

Opening statement: The opening statement during a trial is made by both attorneys that summarizes what he will discuss throughout the proceedings of the case.

Order: A direct command or decision, in writing, given by the court.

Ordinance: A rule made by a governing body that sets forth precedents for a city in matters such as zoning, safety, and other municipal issues.


Paralegal: A legal assistant who has undergone necessary schooling.

Pardon: The act of freeing a person of any wrongdoing or conviction by a governing authority and restoring his rights.

Parole: Supervision that a prisoner undergoes for some time after his release which involves conditions such as checking in with an officer, living only in certain geographical areas, abstaining from alcohol and firearms, and refraining from contact with certain individuals.

Patent: Permission given to an inventor so that no other person may manufacture his invention for a period of time.

Peremptory challenge: A request made that a particular juror not be allowed to serve. No reason needs to be given.

Periodical: A publication that does not run daily, but does run on a regular basis.

Perjury: Making a false statement while under oath during a hearing or trial.

Plaintiff: The person who initiates a hearing or case.

Plea: The defendant's answer to whether or not he is guilty or not guilty.

Power of attorney: A person who acts on the part of another, usually due to a mental or physical incapacitation.

Precedent: Laws that must be followed because they have already been established during other court cases and in other decisions.

Prima facie case: A case that can proceed to the next phase of the judicial process because there is enough evidence to support it.

Probable cause: Reasonable belief that there is a crime being committed.

Proprietor: Owner of an establishment or company.

Prosecutor: A trial lawyer that represents the state in criminal cases.

Punitive damages: Money given to a plaintiff by a defendant because of something he had done unlawfully or due to negligence.


Quash: To leave in order to avoid a summons or subpoena.

Quasi-contract: A contract that was not created by the parties involved, but by the law due to the fact that there was no contract in place.


Real property: Anything that is fixed to the land on which is sits, such as the land itself, houses, in-ground swimming pools, garages, etc.

Reasonable doubt: If a jury has any doubt at all, or has any reason to doubt in a reasonable manner, the guilt of a party, they are instructed to come back with a verdict of “not guilty” in a criminal trial.

Rebut: Evidence or testimony that goes against evidence or testimony that has come previously from another individual.

Recuse: When a judge becomes disqualified from presiding over a case; this can occur when a judge recuses himself from a proceeding, or it may occur when one of the parties of the case finds reason to have the judge dismissed.

Redress: To remove the cause of a grievance or to set things right.

Remand: To send a trial, hearing, or case back to the court where it was originally heard.

Remittitur: A reduction of the amount of damages; the judge decides that the award should be less than the jury had decided.

Resolution: A formal adoption of a motion that is brought forth during the trial.

Restitution: Giving something back to its rightful owner, it may be a physical thing, or it could be a place of power or economical position before a loss.

Revoke: To take back, or to cancel, a legal document or a legal decision.

Right of way: Permission given by a landowner for someone to pass over the property for a roadway or water line, or something in that regard.


Search warrant: Written permission given by the court to search certain premises looking for something in particular, or for a particular piece of evidence in a case.

Secured debts: A secured debt is one that was secured with something of collateral; the lender has the right to take back the property that was purchased with the money borrowed.

Self-defense: This defense can be used when a person commits a crime because he is defending his own well being and had no intention of doing so.

Sentence: The punishment handed down by the court of law for a crime committed.

Sequester: To separate juries from the outside world so that they are not influenced by those things that may be in the newspapers or by those things that are being said about the trial on which they are serving.

Sherman Act: An anti-trust statue that regulates interstate commerce.

Sidebar: A conversation between the judge and the lawyers at the side of the judge’s chair so that they cannot be heard by the jurors, defendants, or the others in the courtroom.

Slander: Spoken defamation of a person that could ruin his reputation.

Sovereign immunity: A doctrine stating that the government is immune to any lawsuit unless it gives its consent.

Standard of proof: The degree to which each of the parties much prove their point.

Statute: Law written and signed by both houses of the legislature.

Statute of limitations: A law that states that certain crimes must be reported within a certain time frame or the suspect cannot be tried.

Stay: A court order stopping a trial.

Subpoena: A written command that a person must appear in court.

Subpoena Duces Tecum: A written court order that a person must appear in court and bring with him certain documents.

Summons: A notice that a person must appear in court because he or she is involved in a particular case.


Tender of performance: An attempt to do what is demanded under the law or under a contract.

Testator (or testatrix /female): An individual who creates a will.

Testimony: Any evidence given under oath during a trial from an individual.

Tort: An act that causes injury on another person for which that person can seek damages.

Transcript: An actual, literal record of what is said, word for word.

Truth in lending: Information that provides credit information to the consumer when making a loan; statutes demand that lenders be honest and forthcoming in their practices.


Unfair labor practice: Any practices by employers that may interfere with the rights of the employees.

Unilateral contract: An agreement in which one party promises to do something for another without promise of any reciprocal action.

Union: An organization of workers that has rules and regulations regarding a particular place of employment and the rights of the employees, especially in regard to collective bargaining.

Usury: Trying to take more interest on a loan than is allowed by the statutes set forth.


Venire: A written request for individuals to report for jury duty.

Verdict: The conclusion that a jury or judge comes to after hearing all evidence and testimony during a trial.

Void: Invalid or no longer good.

Voir dire: An examination made of a witness to determine his competency or ability to speak the truth in a particular matter before proceeding to question him.



Youth Criminal Justice Act: The law that handles criminal behaviors of youth.


Zero tolerance: A term used to indicate that there will be no tolerance for a particular activity, such as with drug use and underage drinking.

The following are useful sites for legal terms:

("Legal information found on this page does not constitute legal advice.")

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