How many times have you tried to research your legal problem only to be distracted by what appears to be a foreign language? Really it’s just a collection of legal terms that aren’t used in a typical daily vocabulary, but it can look foreign! I remember when I was first hanging around Andry Law Group with my dad; I would constantly have a dictionary open on my desk or a quick quiz shot to my father for a definition update. After many, many years, I’ve gotten this jargon under my belt and am now here to help you.

We’re slowly building our glossary over time. If you question the definition of a term or you don’t see the one you’re looking for below, feel free to connect with us on social media to ask about it. We’ll be happy to respond!

Common Legal Terms

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The jury finds the criminal defendant not guilty, or the judge finds insufficient evidence needed to fully support a conviction.


An adjective describing evidence that may be used and considered by a judge or jury in a criminal or civil case.


A statement made under oath, written or printed.

Alternate Juror

A juror who sits through the trial and hears all evidence but does not have a say in the decision of the case unless needed to replace a regular juror.

Amicus Curiae

In Latin, it means “friend of the court.” This type of brief is offered as advice to the court from an interested person who is not a party to the case.


After trial, a party who lost one or more issues may request a higher court to determine if the decisions were correct. One can request “to appeal” the decision.


The person or party who appeals the court’s decision, typically in the interest of changing the original decision.


A type of court who has the authority to review and change the judgment of a lower trial court or tribunal.


The person or party who opposes the appellant’s request for appeal; the appellee tries to persuade the appellate to affirm the original decision.


A person who is designated to act on behalf of another person in legal or business matters.

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The freedom from jail before trial, of a person accused of a crime, with specific requests or conditions set to ensure the person appears in court as requested and required. A bail may also refer to the amount of money set as a condition to be released prior to trial.

Bench Trial

A trial without jury. The judge is the fact-finder.


A statement, usually written, submitted to a trial or appellate to explain one side’s argument.

Burden of Proof

The obligation to prove facts which have been disputed. In civil cases, a plaintiff is given the burden of self-proof in his or her own case, while in a criminal case, it is typically the government who must prove the guilt of the defendant.

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Capital Offense

A crime which may be punished by death.

Case File

A thorough collection of all documents filed for a court case.

Case Law

Also known as legal precedent, it is a law defined in previous decisions of the court.


The quantifiable number of cases currently held by the judge or a court.

Cause of Action

The legal claim.


Where the judge and his or her staff hold offices.

Chief Judge

Determined by seniority, it is the judge who holds primary responsibility for the function and administration of the court.

Class Action

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a large group of individuals, also known as a class, seeking the same mission. The first step is to get district court approval; the district court must find a commonality or legal interest in the lawsuit before allowing it to be filed as a class action.

Clerk of Court

An officer of the court who manages administration, especially the flow of cases through the court.


When debt is in question, property may be promised as a security for repayment. Collateral is the property.

Common Law

Founded on tradition of justice in England, this is a type of law now in use in the States. It relies on history of previous trials and verdicts and may be changed by legislation.


The official written statement to start a civil lawsuit. The plaintiff explains claims against the defendant.

Concurrent Sentence

The service of two or more prison terms for different crimes at the same time, rather than one after the other.

Consecutive Sentence

The service of two or more prison terms one after the other, rather than at the same time.


The decision finding a criminal defendant guilty.


A term to describe lawyers on the case who provide legal advice.


Allegations charging a defendant with a crime. The indictment or information may include more than one allegation for more than one crime committed by the defendant; each allegation is known as a count.


A local government permitted to solve legal disputes. It can also be used to describe a judge in third person, such as “the court has reached a verdict.”

Court Reporter

A person who records what is said in court word-for-word. This can be done in a variety of ways. The reporter creates a transcript of the court proceedings as needed.

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Money paid by the defendant to the plaintiff in a civil case, if the plaintiff has won the case. Damages can repay for compensation (such as for injury or for loss) or punitive (to deter future misconduct by monetary punishment).

De Facto

In Latin: “in fact” or “actually.” This is something in court that exists as a fact but is not a law.

De Jure

In Latin: “in law.” This is something that exists by law.

De Novo

In Latin: “anew.” A completely new trial, especially in appellate court.

Declaratory Judgment

A statement by the judge about a person’s rights.

Default Judgment

A judgment that awards a plaintiff whatever was sought in the complaint because the defendant fails to appear in court or respond to the complaint.


A person (or business) who is the recipient of a lawsuit. In a civil case, it is the organization or person against whom the plaintiff brings the lawsuit; in a criminal case, it is the organization or person accused of the crime.


The official oral statement made before a person legally authorized to administer oaths. Depositions are often needed to find possible witnesses, to acquire discovery, or to be used in trial.


The process of using or acquiring disclosed evidence before a trial.

Dismissal with Prejudice

An action of the court preventing an identical lawsuit from filing at a later date.

Dismissal without Prejudice

An action of the court allowing a later filing.


An organization of the court proceedings as a complete, chronological history of all cases.

Due Process

The constitutional guarantee a criminal defendant will be awarded a fair and impartial trial. In a civil trial, it is the assurance liberty and property will not be compromised in adverse situations.

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Documents or other forms of information presented during testimony that helps persuade the judge or jury to make a decision on one side of the case or the other.

Exclusionary Rule

Evidence that is collected and used during a trial that was collected or shown in violation of the defendant’s statutory or constitutional rights is deemed non-admissible during trial.

Exculpatory Evidence

A piece of evidence that shows the defendant did not commit the crime.

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Quite a serious crime that is typically punished by at least one year in prison.


To give the clerk of court an official piece of paper that is entered into the record of the case.

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Grand Jury

A collection of 16-23 citizens who listen to prosecutors as they present evidence that determines whether there is cause to believe a person committed a crime or not.

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Habeas Corpus

In Latin, it means “you have the body.” It is typically used to force law enforcement to give access to a prisoner or to justify why a prisoner is being held. A common example of habeas corpus is when a federal judge receives a petition for a writ of habeas corpus from a state inmate who says the state enforcement has broken their rights.


A secondary source of a story. The person who provides hearsay did not personally witness the story but heard about it from another person. More often than not, hearsay is dismissed during trial; although, there are exceptions.

Home confinement

A unique condition imposed by the court that requires a person to remain at home, except to go to work or to medical appointments, which are special activities that are designated by the court. Sometimes, home confinement requires the person to use electronic monitoring equipment – commonly known as an ankle bracelet – to verify location.

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If a person gives an illegitimate testimony and the prosecutors have reason to believe all or part of it was fabricated, the witness may be “impeached.” In relation to government, a person in a high position who acts against the constitution in misconduct may be “impeached” by the House of Representatives and sent to a trial with the Senate.

In Camera

It is the Latin name for the judge’s chambers. Most often, it is when the judge visits the chambers in private.

In Forma Pauperis

In Latin it means, “In the manner of a pauper” and translates to the relief of a person paying the fee to file a case. A person may file a case in forma pauperis and not pay the required court fees because he or she cannot make the payments.

Inculpatory Evidence

This type of evidence typically proves the defendant did not commit the crime.


The point at which the grand jury determines there is enough evidence to say the defendant has committed the crime and should now have a trial. An indictment is typically for a felony.


Similar to an indictment, it is at the point that the government decides there is enough evidence to say the defendant committed a misdemeanor crime and should now have a trial.


An order from the court that prevents a party (or more) from taking action.


Answering written questions with written answers while under oath. It is used as a form of discovery.

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