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completely accurate, although reasonable attempts were made to achieve this goal. This
glossary is to be used for general reference purposes only, should be considered a "workin-progress," and is not intended to provide legal advice. This glossary is not intended to
be used as a study guide for purposes of passing California court interpreter certification
examinations, as some terminology might differ when used in specific context.
Neither the Administrative Office of the Courts, nor the Superior Court of California,
Sacramento County, nor any of its officials or employees assumes any legal liability or
responsibility for the accuracy of these translations. For more information or comments,
please contact Ms. Elaine Flores, Administrative Services Officer II of the Court, at (916)
874-8663 or via e-mail at [email protected].
1203.03 PC MOTION - Request to cancel, modify, change or terminate probation.
1203.4 PC MOTION - Request to take back guilty plea or set aside a guilty verdict, and dismiss the
accusations or information. (Made after probation has either terminated or defendant was discharged from
probation prior to termination.)
170.6 PC MOTION - Request to disqualify the assigned judge from hearing a matter.
995 PC MOTION - Request made by a defendant to dismiss a count of information.
ABANDONMENT - When a parent leaves a child without enough care, supervision, support, or parental
contact for an excessive period of time.
ABATE - To put an end to; to cancel out.
ABATEMENT OF ACTION - A suit which has been set aside and ended.
ABDUCTION – The offense of taking away a wife, child, or ward, by deceitful persuasion, force, or
ABROGATE - To repeal or cancel an old law using another law or constitutional power.
ABSTRACT - A summary of what a court or government agency does. In Traffic, document that is sent to
the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to update driving record.
ABSTRACT OF JUDGMENT- Summary of the court's final decision. Can be used as a lien if you file it
with the county recorder.
ABSTRACT OF RECORD - Short form of the case.
ABUSE – (1) immoderate or improper use; (2) to do physical, sexual, or psychological harm to someone.
ABUSE OF PROCESS - Misuse of the power of the court.
ACCESSORY - A person who helps someone else commit a crime, either before or after the crime.
ACCIDENT AND MISFORTUNE – An unintentional event; unforeseen event causing misfortune.
ACCOMPLICE - A person that helps someone else commit a crime. Can be on purpose or not.
ACCORD - A satisfaction agreed upon between the parties in a lawsuit, which prevents further actions
after the claim.
ACCORD AND SATISFACTION - Agreement by the parties to settle a claim or dispute in which the
parties typically agree to give or accept something.
ACCRUAL – The total amount of child support payments that are owed or that are late.
ACCUSATION - A formal charge against a person.
ACCUSED - The person that is charged with a crime and has to go to criminal court. (See
ACKNOWLEDGMENT - Saying, testifying, or assuring that something is true.
English Legal Glossary2
ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF SATISFACTION OF JUDGMENT – A court form that the person who
wins the case must fill out, sign, and file with the court when the judgment is fully paid. If there are no
liens, the back of the Notice of Entry of Judgment can be signed and filed with the court (See JUDGMENT
ACQUIT - To legally find the innocence of a person charged with a crime. To set free, release or discharge
from an obligation, burden or accusation. To find a defendant not guilty in a criminal trial.
ACQUITTAL - When a judge or jury finds that the person on trial is not guilty.
ACTION - In court, when one person sues someone else to, defend or enforce a right, stop something bad
from happening or fix something, or punish them for a crime.
ACTION IN PERSONAM - Proceeding against the person for the recovery of a specific object, usually an
item of personal property such as an automobile.
ACTION IN REM - Proceeding "against the thing" as compared to personal actions (in personam).
Usually a proceeding where property is involved.
ACTIVE STATUS – A case that is in court but is not settled or decided has active status. (See
ACTUAL LOSS – This is a showing that the plaintiff or injured party has undergone some loss of property
or other thing of value by reason of fraud, forgery, or other illegal action. For the crime of forgery the
existence of a specific intent to defraud is an essential element; however, there is no requirement of actual
loss to complete the crime.
AD LITEM - Comes from Latin meaning for the "purposes of the lawsuit." For example, a guardian ad
litem is a person appointed by the court to protect the interests of a minor or legally incompetent person in a
ADD-ON - Refers to an additional matter that is added to a specific calendar at a time after the initial
preparation of the calendar.
ADDENDUM - A thing added or to be added.
ADDICTION – A person who has become emotionally dependent on the use of a drug and the effect is an
irresistible need to continue its use and has developed a tolerance to the drug and requires larger stronger
ADDITUR - The power of a trial court to increase the amount of an award of money to one party made by
jury verdict, as a condition of denial of motion for new trial. The defendant must consent to the increased
money award, the plaintiff need not consent.
ADHESION CONTRACTS – Contract where one party has no real choice as to its terms.
ADJOURNMENT - To put off a court hearing until another time or place.
ADJUDICATE - When a judge hears and decides a case.
ADJUDICATION - The judge's decision in a case or action.
ADMIN PER SE - Latin meaning,“by itself, inherently.” Requires the Department of Motor Vehicles
(DMV) to automatically suspend or cancel the driver's license of a driver whose blood alcohol content
measures more than .08%, or who refuses to take a test to measure his/her blood alcohol level.
English Legal Glossary3
ADMINISTER – (1) to manage; (2) taking a drug by injection, inhalation, ingestion, or any other means,
to the body for that person's immediate needs.
ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURE – The way an executive government agency makes and enforces
support orders without going to court.
ADMINISTRATIVE REVIEW OR “AR” – A review of the welfare of a child in long-term foster care
by a panel of people selected by the state Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS). The review is
conducted at least once a year, in place of a 6-month placement hearing by the Court. The panel reviews a
report from DHHS. The review is open to the parents of the child, parents’ attorney and child’s attorney.
ADMINISTRATOR - 1. Man who represents the estate of a person who dies without a will. 2. A court
ADMINISTRATRIX - Woman who represents the estate of a person who dies without a will.
ADMISSIBLE - Pertinent and proper to be considered in reaching a decision.
ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE - Evidence that can be legally and properly be used in court.
ADMISSION - Saying that certain facts are true. But not saying you are guilty. (Compare with
ADMONISH - To warn, advise, or scold.
ADMONITION - Advice or caution by the court to the jury respecting their duty or conduct as jurors, and
the purpose for which evidence may be considered.
ADMONITION TO JURORS - What the judge says to the jury about what they must do and how they
must behave, what evidence they can use to make their decision (called "admissible" evidence), and how
they can use that evidence to make a decision.
ADOPTION - The way to make the relationship between a parent and child legal when they are not related
ADOPTIVE ADMISSION – Action by a party that communicates agreement with the statements of
ADVERSARY SYSTEM - The system of trial practice in the United States and some other countries in
which each of the opposing (or "adversary") parties has the opportunity to present and establish opposing
positions before the court.
ADVERSE WITNESS – A person called to testify for the other side.
AFFIANT - A person who makes and signs an affidavit.
AFFIDAVIT - A written statement that someone swears to under oath in front of someone that is legally
authorized, like a judge or notary public.
AFFIRMATION – When an appellate court says that the lower court’s decision was right.
AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE - When a defendant or person responding to a civil case has a reason that
would make him or her "not guilty" or not at fault and gives the court new evidence to prove that. The
defense has to prove what it says (called BURDEN OF PROOF). The defense has to explain this defense in
English Legal Glossary4
AFFIRMED - In appellate courts, it means that the decision of the trial court is correct.
AFTER ACQUIRED INTENT – When the defendant did not intend to commit a crime until after the
crime had been committed.
AGENT - Someone who has authority to act for another.
AGENCY – One person acts for or represents another by authority. In Traffic, the department issuing the
AGGRAVATION - Circumstances that may be considered as magnifying, or adding to, the degree of
AGGRAVATED ARSON – Aggravated Arson – Deliberately setting fire with specific intent to cause
injury or damage structures where defendant has been previously convicted of arson, the damage exceeds
$5m, or at least 5 residences were damaged.
AGGRAVATED BATTERY - Unlawful use of force against another such as using a dangerous weapon.
AGGRAVATED MAYHEM – Causing permanent disability or disfigurement with specific intent to
cause the injury and with extreme indifference to well-being of other person.
AGGRAVATED TRESPASS – Unlawfully entering property of another with specific intent to carry out
prior threat of serious bodily injury.
AGGRAVATING FACTORS - Any factors associated with the commission of a crime which increase
the seriousness of the offense.
AGGREGATE TERM - The total length of imprisonment
AGREED STATEMENT OF FACTS - Statement of all important facts, which all the parties agree is true
and correct, and which is submitted to a court for a decision.
AGREEMENT - When the people involved in a legal dispute agree about something.
AID AND ABET - to help or assist, in committing a crime.
AIDER AND ABETTOR – One who has criminal intent and assists another to commit a crime.
ALLEGE - To say, declare, or charge that something is truce even though it is not proved yet.
ALLEGED - Said to be true as described; a person who is accused, but has not yet been tried in court.
ALLEGATION - A statement or claim that is made and has not been proved to be true or false.
ALLEGED FATHER – A man who may be the father of the child.
ALIAS - Known by another name; or means "also known as" which A.K.A. is short for.
ALIBI - A defense claim that the accused was somewhere else at the time a crime was committed.
ALIMONY - Money the court orders you to pay to a spouse or ex-spouse. (See SPOUSAL SUPPORT).
ALLOCUTION - Defendant's statement to try to reduce punishment.
English Legal Glossary5
ALTERATION, FORGERY BY – Adding, erasing, or changing a document with the specific intent to
cause it to appear different from what it originally was intended to be to cheat another person.
ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR) - Methods of resolving disputes without official
court proceedings. These methods include MEDIATION and ARBITRATION.
AMEND - To add to or change a claim that has been filed in court.
AMENDMENT - A change made by correction, addition, or deletion.
AMICUS CURIAE (A-MI'KUS KU'RIE) - Someone that gives advice to the court about the law in a case,
but is not part of the case. Comes from the Latin for "friend of the court."
ANNOTATION - A case summary or commentary on the law cases, statutes, and rules.
ANNUAL REVIEW - Yearly judicial review.
ANNULMENT – A legal action that says your marriage was never legally valid because of unsound mind,
incest, bigamy, being too young to consent, fraud, force, or physical incapacity.
ANONYMOUS – When someone's name is kept secret.
ANSWER - A statement that a defendant writes to answer a civil complaint and says what defense they
ANTICIPATORY BREACH - When a person who is to perform as set forth in a contract, clearly
indicates to the other party that he will not or cannot perform.
APPEAL - When someone that loses at least part of a case asks a higher court (called an "APPELLATE
COURT") to review the decision and say if it is right. This is called "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." The
person that appeals is called the "APPELLANT." The other person is called the "APPELLEE."
APPEARANCE - Going to court. Or a legal paper that says you will participate in the court process.
APPEARANCE PROGRESS REPORT (APR) – A court order for a report by the Department of Health
and Human Services (DHHS) on an issue requested by the court.
APPELLANT - Someone that APPEALS a court's decision. (Compare with APPELLEE.)
APPELLATE - Having to do with appeals. An APPELLATE COURT can review a lower court's (called a
"TRIAL COURT" or "superior court." Decision. For example, California Court of Appeal review the
decisions of the superior courts.
APPELLATE COURT - A court that can review how the law was used to decide a case in a lower court.
APPELLATE JURISDICTION - The appellate court has the right to review and change the lower court
APPELLEE - A person that answers an appeal in higher court.
ARBITRATION - When a person that isn't involved in the case looks at the evidence, hears the
arguments, and makes a decision. (Compare with MEDIATION.)
ARGUMENT - Remarks made by an attorney to a judge or jury on the facts of the case or on points of
English Legal Glossary6
ARMING CLAUSE - A conduct enhancement alleging that defendant or an accomplice was
ARRAIGN - Process where the person who is accused is brought before the court to hear the criminal
charge(s) against him or her and to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest.
ARRAIGNMENT - When a person that is accused of committing a crime is taken to court, told about the
charges, and asked to plead "guilty" or "not guilty."
ARREARAGE – Child support that is overdue or unpaid.
ARREST - The legal capture of a person who is charged with a crime.
ARREST OF JUDGMENT - Postponing the result of a judgment already entered.
ARSON - The malicious burning of someone's own house or of someone else's house, or of someone's
commercial or industrial property.
ASSAULT - When someone tries or threatens to hurt someone else. Can include violence, but is not
battery. (See BATTERY.)
ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON - When someone tries to hurt someone and there is threat to
do bodily harm without justification by use of a weapon like a gun or a knife.
ASSESSMENT – Additional charges added to a case.
ASSIGNEE - A person or business that is put in the place of the original creditor, such as a collection
agency. You can assign your JUDGMENT to another person or business.
ASSIGNMENT – Choosing someone to do something. Usually for: Cases - when the court uses a
calendar to give (or "assign" cases to judges; Lawyers - when lawyers are chosen (or "appointed") to
represent juveniles, conservatees or defendants; and Judges - when judges are sent (or "assigned") to
different courts to fill in while other judges are on vacation, sick, etc., or to help with cases in a court.
ASSIGNMENT OF SUPPORT RIGHTS – When a person who gets public assistance agrees to give the
state any child support they get in the future. The person gets money and other benefits from the state. So
the state can use part of the child support to pay for the cost of that public assistance.
ASSIGNMENT ORDER – A court order (made after a MOTION that says a JUDGMENT DEBTOR
must assign certain rights to the JUDGMENT CREDITOR. Useful for payments that the judgment debtor
would usually get, like rent from tenants, wages from the federal government, sales commissions, royalties,
a business's accounts receivable, or installment payments on IOUs (also called "PROMISSORY NOTES"
ASSUMPTION OF RISK - A defense to a lawsuit for personal injury. The essence of the defense is that
the plaintiff assumed the known risk of whatever dangerous condition caused the injury.
AT ISSUE - The time in a lawsuit when the complaining party has stated his or her claim and the other
side has responded with a denial and the matter is ready to be tried.
AT ISSUE MEMORANDUM – A legal paper filed in a civil case that says the case is ready to go to trial.
ATTACHMENT - (1) Document attached to court papers to give more information; (2) A way to collect
judgment: by getting a court order that says you can take a piece of property.
English Legal Glossary7
ATTACHMENT FOR DEFAULTER - A process by the court for the arrest of a person other than a
defendant. (See ATTACHMENT, BENCH WARRANT.)
ATTEMPT - An effort to do an act or commit a crime.
ATTEST - To witness, to affirm to be true or genuine, to certify.
ATTESTATION - The act of witnessing something in writing, at the request of a party.
ATTORNEY - Someone that is qualified to represent clients in court and to give them legal advice. (See
ATTORNEY OF RECORD - The lawyer whose name is listed in a case record as representing someone
in the case.
ATTORNEY-AT-LAW - An advocate, counsel, or official agent employed in preparing, managing, and
trying cases in the courts.
ATTORNEY-IN-FACT - A private person (who is not necessarily a lawyer) authorized by someone to act
in his or her place, either for some particular purpose, or for the transaction of business in general. This
authority is given in writing, called a power of attorney.
AUDIT – When records or accounts are looked at to check that they are right and complete.
AUTHENTICATE - To give authority or legal authenticity to a statute, record, or other written document.
AUTO TAMPERING - The manipulation of an automobile and its parts for a specific purpose.
AUTOMATED ADMINISTRATIVE ENFORCEMENT OF INTERSTATE CASES (AEI) – Part of
the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) that lets states fins, put
a lien on, and take property from people in a different state who owe money.
AUTOMATED VOICE RESPONSE SYSTEM (AVR) – Phone system that gives information to people
over the phone.
AVERAGE ADULT PERSON – A hypothetical person who is used as an example of the entire
community. This hypothetical person represents the interests of all, including persons religious and
irreligious; persons of all nationalities, all adult ages and all economic, educational and social standings;
persons with normal, healthy, average contemporary attitudes, instincts and interests concerning *****. (in
the context of obscenity)
BACKLOG – All the cases that haven’t been settled or decided in the time the law says they should be.
BAD FAITH – Generally implies actual or constructive fraud, or a design to mislead or deceive another.
BAIL - A security deposit (usually money) given to release a defendant or witness from custody and to
make sure that they go to court when they're supposed to.
BAIL BOND - A legal paper that you buy from a bondsman and give to the court instead of bail. The
defendant signs it and is let go. But if they don't come to court when they're supposed to, they must pay the
amount of money on the bail bond.
BAIL BONDSMAN - Person who is responsible for paying the bond for the defendant's release from jail.
BAIL EXONERATION – When you get your bail back. Or when a bail bondsman or insurance ("surety")
company isn’t responsible for your bail anymore.
English Legal Glossary8
BAIL FORFEITURE - A court order to let the court keep the bail deposit because the defendant didn't go
to court when they were supposed to.
BAILIFF - Person who is in charge of security in the court. Bailiffs are picked by sheriffs.
BAILMENTS – A delivery of goods from one person to another in trust for purpose of carrying out
agreed upon services.
BAIL NOTICE – A legal paper from the court that says the court will make a WARRANT for arrest
unless the defendant goes to court or pays bail.
BAIL RECEIPT – A written statement that the court gives a defendant that says bail was paid.
BAIL REVIEW - A hearing established to re-evaluate the bail amount that was originally set for the
BALLARD MOTION - A motion for psychiatric examination of prosecutor’s witnesses (victims).
BANK LEVY – Way to enforce a decision against someone who owes money. The money is taken from
their checking or savings account at a bank, savings and loan, or credit union.
BANKRUPT - The state or condition of a person who is unable to pay his or her debts when they are due.
BANKRUPTCY - The legal way for a business or person to get help when they can't pay the money they
owe. In bankruptcy court, they can get rid of debts by paying part of what they owe. There are special
bankruptcy judges at these hearings.
BAR - All of the lawyers qualified to practice law. For example, a state bar includes all of the lawyers
qualified to practice law in that state.
BAR EXAMINATION - A state examination that is taken in order to be admitted and licensed to practice
BASE TERM - A term of imprisonment selected by the court according to the Determinate Sentencing
BATTERED CHILD SYNDROME (B.C.S.) - Physical condition of a child where external or internal
injuries result from acts committed by a parent or custodian.
BATTERY - Illegal beating or physical violence or control of a person without their permission. (Compare
BATTERY, SPOUSAL - An offensive touching or use of force on a spouse without the spouse's consent.
BEAGLE MOTION - A request to exclude any reference of the defendant’s prior conviction to the jury.
BEHAVIOR INTERVENTION PLAN – Plan made by a local educational agency (LEA) as part of an
individualized education program (IEP), to change the behavior of students who harm themselves, assault
others, or are destructive.
BENCH - (1) the desk where a judge sits in court; (2) Judges in general, or a specific judge.
BENCH CONFERENCE - A meeting either on or off the record at the judge's bench between the judge,
counsel, and sometimes the defendant, out of the hearing of the jury.
English Legal Glossary9
BENCH TRIAL - Trial without a jury. The judge decides the case.
BENCH WARRANT - An order given by the judge (or "bench") to arrest a person who didn't do what the
court ordered. For example, didn't go to court when they were supposed to. (See WARRANT, WRIT).
BENEFICIARY - Someone who gets something from a trust.
BENEFIT OF THE BARGAIN RULE – Rule which provides that a person may recover the difference
between the actual value of the property and the value that was represented.
BEQUEATH - To leave someone something in a will.
BEQUESTS - What you leave someone in a will.
BEST EVIDENCE - Primary proof; the best proof available. For example, an original letter is “best
evidence,” and a photocopy is “secondary evidence.”
BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT - The burden of proof in a criminal case requiring that the jury be
convinced that every element of a crime has been proven by the prosecution.
BIAS - A pre-conceived opinion or a predisposition to decide a cause or an issue a certain way.
BIFURCATE - To try issues separately, such as guilt and criminal responsibility in a criminal proceeding
or liability and damages in a civil action.
BIFURCATION MOTION - A request to change the order in which issues are heard at trial.
BILL OF PARTICULARS - A statement of the details of the charge made against the defendant.
BIND – To make yourself or someone else legally responsible for something.
BIND OVER - A judge's decision before a trial that says there is enough evidence for a trial.
BLOOD-ALCOHOL CONTENT (BAC) - The measurement in grams of alcohol per 100
milliliters of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
BLOOD TEST – Testing someone’s blood sample to: (1) see how much of a certain chemical is in the
blood, (2) see who is the parent of a child.
BODY ATTACHMENT - A written order issued by a court directing a peace officer to take custody of
someone and bring them before the court: 1) A witness who fails to comply with a subpoena, 2) a party
who fails to comply with a court order in a civil action, or 3) a material witness in a criminal case.
BONA FIDE – Sincere, real without fraud or deceit. Comes from the Latin "in good faith."
BOND - A certificate or evidence of a debt.
BOOK (BOOKING) - What the police do when they arrest someone. Includes taking fingerprints,
photographs, and writing down personal information about the person.
BOOKING NUMBER - The number assigned to the criminal record that corresponds to the person's
BOOKMAKING - Collecting the bets of others or making odds on future gambling events.
English Legal Glossary10
BRADY MOTION - A motion made by defense when they believe the District Attorney has not turned
over exculpatory and material evidence.
BRANDISHING A WEAPON - Showing a weapon to another person, typically the police or the victim.
BREACH - The breaking or violating of a law, right, obligation, or duty either by doing an act or failing to
do an act.
BREACH OF PEACE – Every person who unlawfully fights in a public place or willfully and maliciously
disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise, or in a public place, says offensive words to one or
more persons which are likely to start an immediate violent reaction.
BREAKING AND ENTERING - Going into someone's house at night with intent to commit a felony.
BREATHALYZER TEST - Testing someone's breath to see how much alcohol is in their blood.
BRIBE - A gift, not necessarily of monetary value, given to influence the conduct of the receiver.
BRIEF - A written statement that each side gives the court to say why the court should decide that they are
BURDEN OF PROOF - When one person in the case has to prove more than the other person.
BURGLARY - When someone unlawfully breaks into or enters a building or home, and they intend to or
do commit a theft or other serious crime.
BYSTANDERS - A chance onlooker; one who has no concern with the business being conducted.
CALENDAR - A list, in alphabetical order, of all the cases in each courtroom every day. "To calendar"
something means to give a day, time, and courtroom to a case.
CALIFORNIA RULES OF COURT – The rules for practices and procedures in California’s state courts.
CALJIC – California Jury Instructions, Criminal.
CALLING THE DOCKET - The public calling of the docket or list of causes at the beginning of court,
for setting a time for trial or entering orders.
CAPACITY - The person with the ability to perform under his or her will.
CAPITAL CASE - A criminal case where the defendant can get the death penalty.
CAPITAL CRIME - A crime punishable by death.
CAPITAL OFFENSE – A crime that you can get the death penalty for committing.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT - Punishment by death. (See DEATH PENALTY.)
CAPTION - What is written at the top of all papers (called "pleadings") given to the court. It says things
like case name, court, and case number.
CARJACKING – Taking a motor vehicle that belongs to someone else against his will, by means of force
CASE - A lawsuit. Or a complaint filed in criminal, traffic, or civil court.
English Legal Glossary11
CASE FILE – The folder that has official court papers for a case.
CASEFLOW MANAGEMENT – How a case is managed from the first paper filed to the final decision.
CASE ID – Identification number given to case by the court.
CASE LAW - Law made by earlier decisions in similar cases.
CASELOAD – The number of cases a judge has in a specific time.
CASE NUMBER - The number that identifies a case. This number is on all papers filed in the case. Also
called "case ID." Also called DOCKET NUMBER.
CAUSATION - The act which causes something else to happen.
CAUSE - A lawsuit, litigation, or action.
CAUSE OF ACTION - The charges that make up the case or lawsuit. (See COUNTS).
CAUSTIC CHEMICALS – Corrosive acid or flammable substance.
CAUTIONARY INSTRUCTIONS – When the judge tells the jury to consider certain evidence only for a
CAVEAT - A warning; a note of caution.
CAVEAT EMPTOR - A theory that says you buy things at your own risk. Comes from the Latin for "let
the buyer beware."
CEASE AND DESIST ORDER - An order of an administrative agency or court prohibiting a person or
business from doing something.
CERTIFICATE OF PROBABLE CAUSE - An order signed by the court granting a defendant the right
to appeal from a plea of guilty.
CERTIFICATION - A judge's order to move a criminal case to another court in a different county.
CERTIFIED - Saying that something is true or an exact reproduction.
CERTIFIED COPY - An official copy of a paper from a case file that is marked as being true, complete,
and a real copy of the original legal case.
CERTIORI - Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court.
CHAIN OF CUSTODY - A method to track the whereabouts of evidence from the moment it is received
in custody until it is offered in court.
CHALLENGE - Someone's right to object to or fight something in a legal case.
CHALLENGE FOR CAUSE - Reasons that a lawyer gives for removing a juror or judge from a case.
(Compare with PEREMPTORY CHALLENGE.)
CHALLENGE TO THE ARRAY - Questioning the qualifications of an entire jury panel, usually on the
ground of partiality or some fault in the process of summoning the panel.
CHAMBERS - A judge's private office.
English Legal Glossary12
CHANGE OF VENUE - When a civil or criminal case is moved from one court jurisdiction to another.
CHARACTER EVIDENCE - Evidence pertaining to whether a criminal defendant is a good or bad
CHARGE - In criminal law, each thing the defendant is accused of. (See COUNT).
CHARGE TO THE JURY - The judge's instructions to the jury concerning the law that applies to the
facts of the case on trial.
CHARGING DOCUMENT - A written accusation saying a defendant has committed an offense. Includes
a citation, an indictment, information, and statement of charges.
CHATTEL – A piece of personal property.
CHIEF JUDGE - Presiding or Administrative Judge in a court.
CHILD ABUSE - Hurting a child physically, sexually or emotionally.
CHILD ABDUCTION – The offense of taking away a child by deceit and persuasion, or by violence.
CHILD MOLESTATION - Any form of indecent or sexual activity on, involving, or surrounding a child
under the age of 18.
CHILD PORNOGRAPHY - Any obscene material that depicts a person under the age of 18 years
personally engaging in or personally simulating sexual conduct.
CHILD PROCUREMENT - Intentionally giving, transporting, providing, or making available or offering
to give, transport, provide, or make available a child under the age of 16 for the purpose of any lewd or
lascivious act. Also causing, inducing, or persuading a child under the age of 16 to engage in any lewd or
lascivious act with another person.
CHILD SUPPORT - Money paid by a parent to help support a child or children.
CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT (CSE) AGENCY - Agency that exists in every state to find
parents that don’t have custody. (called "noncustodial parents," or "NCPs"). Or to find a person assumed to
be the father of the child (“Putative father” or "PF"). Also, makes, enforces, and changes child support.
Collects and gives out child support money.
CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE - All evidence that is indirect. Testimony not based on actual personal
knowledge or observation of the facts in dispute.
CITATION - A COURT ORDER or SUMMONS that tells a defendant what the charges are. Also tells the
defendant to go to court and/or post bail.
CITED – When a defendant is not in custody, but has signed a ticket promising to go to court on a certain
CIVIL ACTION - Noncriminal case in which one private individual or business sues another to protect,
enforce private or civil rights.
CIVIL CASE - A lawsuit to get property back, to force someone to complete a contract, or to protect
someone's civil rights.
English Legal Glossary13
CIVIL JURISDICTION – A court’s right or power to hear noncriminal civil cases.
CIVIL PROCEDURE - The rules and process by which a civil case is tried and appealed, including the
preparations for trial, the rules of evidence and trial conduct, and the procedure for pursuing appeals.
CIVIL PROCESS – Court papers that tell the people in a civil case that it has started. Or papers that try to
force the court to reach a judgment.
CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS – Violations of the personal, natural rights guaranteed and protected by
CLAIM - The statement of a right to money or property.
CLAIM OF EXEMPTION – A court paper filed by the JUDGMENT DEBTOR that lists each piece of
property that the judgment debtor claims is an exempt asset under certain provisions of the law and,
therefore, can’t be taken to pay the JUDGMENT.
CLAIM SPLITTING – When you split up a civil claim and file two lawsuits to stay below the limit of
how much money you can ask for. Not allowed in most cases.
CLASS ACTION - A lawsuit brought by one or more persons on behalf of a larger group.
CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE - Standard of proof commonly used in civil lawsuits and in
regulatory agency cases. It governs the amount of proof that must be offered in order for the plaintiff to win
CLEMENCY OR EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY - Act of grace or mercy by the president or governor to
ease the consequences of a criminal act, accusation, or conviction. It may take the form of commutation or
CLERICAL ERROR - An unintentional mistake, in writing, which may be made by clerk, counsel, or
court. (See NUNC PRO TUNC.)
CLERK - Officer of the court who files pleadings, motions, judgments, etc., issues process, and keeps
records of court proceedings.
CLERK’S TRANSCRIPT - Those pleadings, minute orders, affidavits, written opinions of the Court, trial
exhibits, etc., designated by the attorneys which have been filed during the course of the litigation process
are put together with the appeal documents and collectively form the Clerk’s Transcript.
CLOSING ARGUMENT - Counsel's final statement to the judge/and or jury after all parties have
concluded their presentation of evidence.
CODE - The law created by statutes. For example, the California Code of Civil Procedure, California Civil
Code, California Vehicle Code, California Penal Code, and California Health and Safety Code.
CODE OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY - The rules of conduct that govern the legal
profession. The Code contains general ethical guidelines and specific rules written by the American Bar
CO-DEFENDANT - In a criminal case, an individual charged with involvement in the same crime as
CODICIL (kod'i-sil) - A legal paper that adds to or changes a will.
COERCION – Compulsion; constraint; compelling by force or arms or threat.
English Legal Glossary14
COHABITANT – One who lives with another.
COLLATERAL - 1. Property that is pledged as security against a debt. 2. A person belonging to the same
ancestry (a relation), but not in a direct line of descent.
COLLATERAL ATTACK - An attack on a judgment other than a direct appeal to a higher court.
COMBUSTIBLE MATERIAL OR DEVICE – Capable of blowing up; apt to catch fire; inflammable.
COMMISSIONER - A person chosen by the court and given the power to hear and make decisions in
certain kinds of legal matters.
COMMIT - To do something, like "to commit" a crime, or to put someone in a sheriff's custody. Or to use
a court order to send a person to jail.
COMMITMENT - 1. The action of sending a person to a prison or mental institution. 2. The order
directing an officer to take a person to a prison or mental institution.
COMMITMENT ORDER - A court order that says a person must be kept in custody, usually in a jail or
COMMON BARRATRY (also called BARRETRY) – Making a habit of starting fights or lawsuits.
Starting lawsuits without a good reason.
COMMON CARRIER – Required by law to carry passengers or freight without refusal if the fare is paid;
in contrast to a private or contract carrier.
COMMON LAW - Laws that come from court decisions and not from statutes ("codes") or constitutions.
COMMUNITY OBLIGATIONS – Debts that a husband and wife owe together. In most cases, that
includes anything that you still owe on any debts either of you had during the time you were living together
as husband and wife. For example, if you bought furniture on credit while you were married and living
together, the unpaid balance is a part of your community obligations.
COMMUNITY PROPERTY - Everything that a husband and wife own together. In most cases that
includes: (1) Money or benefits like pensions and stock options that you now have which either of your
earned during the time you were living together as husband and wife; and (2) Anything either of you
bought with money earned during that period.
COMMUNITY SERVICE - Work performed as punishment for a crime. It may also be performed instead
of a fine, or as a condition of probation.
COMMUTATION - The reduction of a sentence, such as from death to life imprisonment.
COMPARATIVE FAULT – Percentage of fault which is assigned to any one party.
COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE - A legal doctrine by which acts of the opposing parties are compared
to determine the liability of each party to the other for negligent acts.
COMPENSATORY DAMAGES – Money that one person must pay another to cover the cost of a wrong
or injury. (See DAMAGES).
COMPETENCE ORDER – An order from a superior court that says that a defendant is mentally able to
go to trial. Tells the trial court to go ahead with the criminal case.
English Legal Glossary15
COMPETENCY - The ability for a person to understand and communicate, especially with regard to
standing trial and assisting counsel in his or her defense.
COMPLAINANT - Person who wants to start a court case against another person. In a civil case, the
complainant is the PLAINTIFF. In a criminal case, the complainant is the state.
COMPLAINT - The legal document that usually begins a civil lawsuit and is also used to start a criminal
case. Says what the plaintiff thinks the defendant did and asks the court for help. Also called the "initial
pleading" or "petition."
COMPLY - To act in accordance with, to accept, to obey.
COMPOSITE DRAWING - A picture of an alleged criminal created by a professional police artist using
verbal descriptions given by the victim or a witness.
CONCEALMENT – Withholding of something which one knows and which one, in duty, is bound to
CONCILIATION - A form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a
neutral third party, who helps lower tensions, improve communications, and explore possible solutions.
Similar to mediation, but it may be less formal.
CONCURRENT JURISDICTION - The territory of two or more courts, that are each authorized to deal
with the same subject matter.
CONCURRENT PLANNING – Refers to the legal requirement in dependency cases that reunification
services be provided at the same time an alternative plan is developed (e.g., adoption , guardianship) if
CONCURRENT SENTENCES - Sentences you can serve at the same time. For example, if you have
concurrent sentences of 10 years and 5 years, you must serve a total of 10 years. (Compare with
CONCURRING CAUSES – Acting contemporaneously and together causing injury, which would not
have resulted in absence of either.
CONDEMNATION - The legal process by which the government takes private land for public use, paying
the owners a fair price. (See EMINENT DOMAIN.)
CONDITIONS – Certain things that someone has to do, or not do, to be released.
CONDITIONAL RELEASE - Freedom from custody which regulates the activities and associations of
the defendant. If a defendant fails to meet the conditions, the release is cancelled.
CONDUCT ENHANCEMENTS - A kind of punishment-enhancing allegation (such as the arming clause
of Penal Code section 12022) that relates to the nature of the offense at the time the crime was committed.
CONFESSION - When someone admits out loud or in writing that they committed a certain kind of crime.
(Compare with ADMISSION).
CONFESSION OF JUDGMENT - The act of a debtor in a written statement that permits judgment to be
entered against him by his creditor, without legal proceedings.
CONFIDENTIAL - A file or record that is not available for public viewing. Authorized viewing allowed
only in statute and/or court policy. Files and records are identified and receive special handling.
English Legal Glossary16
CONFIDENTIAL RECORD – Information in a court case that is not available to the public.
CONFIDENTIALITY – Treated as private and not for publication.
CONFISCATE - To seize or take private property for public use (the police took the weapon).
CONFLICT OF INTEREST - When you have two different interests at the same time. For example, a
lawyer who represents two sides at the same time can't be fair.
CONFORM COPIES - To make copies identical to an original; e.g., copies with duplicate signatures,
CONFRONTATION RIGHT – Defendant’s right to be face-to-face with the witnesses against him or her.
It generally includes the right to ask questions and object, and to have witnesses testify in person.
CONSANGUINITY – COLLATERAL - The relationship that exists between persons who have the same
ancestors, but who do not descend, or ascend, one from the other; as between uncle and nephew.
CONSANGUINITY – LINEAL - The relationship that exists persons of whom one is descended in a
direct line from the other, as between son, father, grandfather, and so upwards in the direct ascending line;
or between son, grandson, great-grandson, and so downwards in the direct descending line.
CONSECUTIVE SENTENCES - Successive sentences, one beginning at the end of another, imposed
against a person convicted of two or more violations.
CONSERVATEE - Someone who can't take care of themselves and has a caretaker (called the
"CONSERVATOR") who the court picked.
CONSERVATOR - Someone picked by the court to either take care of someone who can't take care of
themselves (called a "CONSERVATEE") or take care of that person's property , or both.
CONSERVATORSHIP - A court proceeding where a judge picks someone (a conservator) to take care of
an adult's personal needs and/or his or her finances. For minors, see GUARDIANSHIP.
CONSENT – A written agreement to obey a decision or deal.
CONSIDERATION - The cause, price, or impelling influence which makes a party enter into a contract.
CONSOLIDATION OF ACTIONS – When at least two cases that involve the same people are grouped
CONSORTIUM, LOSS OF – Unable to have a sexual relationship between a husband and a wife.
CONSPIRACY – Where two or more persons intentionally agree to commit crime and do an act towards
committing the crime.
CONSTRUCTIVE POSSESSION - Where a person does not actually possess a thing, but knowingly has
control over it.
CONSTITUTION – The central law of our country that sets up the creation, character, and organization of
its power and how that power is exercised. The rule, principles, descriptions of the government’s power,
and the main rights that the people of a country or state have.
CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT - A right guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution, interpreted by the federal
courts; also, a right guaranteed by some other constitution (such as a state constitution).
English Legal Glossary17
CONTEMNOR - One who has committed contempt of court.
CONTEMPORARY COMMUNITY STANDARD – What is, objectively acceptable to the community
as a whole. Ascertainment of the standard must be based upon an objective determination of what is
unacceptable to the community as a whole. Your own personal, social, or moral views on the material
involved in the case may not be considered.
CONTEMPT (OF COURT) - Disobeying a court order. Punishment can be a fine or jail.
CONTINUANCE - Putting off a court case to a later date. (See ADJOURNMENT).
CONTINUING EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION – Theory that only one support order should be valid
between the same people at a time. And when a court hears a child support case, it can add to and change
that order. The court of continuing exclusive jurisdiction has control over a support case until another court
takes it away. This is defined in the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA).
CONTRACT - (1) an agreement between two or more people to do or not to do a particular thing; (2) an
agreement between two or more people that makes, changes, or ends a legal relationship.
CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE - A legal doctrine that says if the plaintiff in a civil action for
negligence also was negligent, in any way, he or she cannot recover damages from the defendant for the
CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES – Any drug identified by law whose availability is restricted. Unless
otherwise specified, a drug, substance, or immediate precursor which is listed in any schedule in Health &
Safety Code sections 11054, 11055, 11056, 11057 or 11058.
CONVERSION - The wrongful assumption of ownership over the goods or personal property belonging to
CONVEY – (1) to give the title to property to someone else. (2) to make known or communicate.
CONVICT - (1) A person who has been found guilty of a crime and is serving a sentence for that crime; a
prison inmate. (2) To find a person guilty of an offense by either a trial or a plea of guilty.
CONVICTION - When a judge or jury finds a criminal defendant guilty.
CORONER - Public official charged to inquire into the causes and circumstances of any death which
occurs through violence or suddenly (suspicious causes).
CORPORATION - A group of persons who get a charter granting them as a body certain legal powers,
rights, privileges, and liabilities as an individual.
CORPUS DELECTI - Body of the crime. The objective proof that a crime has been committed. It
sometimes refers to the body of the victim of a homicide or to the charred remains of a burned house, but
the term has a broader meaning. For the state to introduce a confession or to convict the accused, it must
prove the occurrence of a specific injury or loss and a criminal act was the source of that particular injury
CORROBORATE - To support with evidence or authority; make more certain.
CORROBORATING EVIDENCE - Supplementary evidence that tends to strengthen or confirm the
CORROBORATION - Confirmation or support of a witness' statement or other fact.
English Legal Glossary18
CORRUPTLY - Dishonestly.
COSTS - (1) Fees and charges that a party pays to file and present a court case or to enforce a judgment;
(2) money won in a civil suit to pay for expenses.
COUNSEL - One or more lawyers who represent a client. Also, legal advice. (See ATTORNEY).
COUNSEL TABLE - The physical location where the defense and prosecuting parties are seated during
COUNT - Each separate charge (or statement) in a criminal case. (See CHARGE).
COUNTERCLAIM - An independent charge by one side in a case (either the plaintiff or defendant) that
goes against the claim made by the other side.
COUNTERFEIT - To forge, to copy or imitate, without authority or right, and with the purpose to deceive
by passing off the copy as genuine.
COUNTY JAIL - A building or structure used to put alleged criminals and/or convicted criminals of local
COURT - A judge or group of judges whose job is to hear cases and carry out justice. (See BENCH.)
COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATES (CASA) - These are volunteers who represent abused
and neglected children.
COURT ATTENDANT - Provide courtroom support in selected courtrooms by performing limited
security-related and clerical duties and serving as the court liaison for juries, witnesses, attorneys and the
COURT ADMINISTRATOR/CLERK OF COURT - An officer appointed by the Court or elected to
oversee the administrative, non-judicial activities of the court.
COURT APPOINTED COUNSEL - A defense attorney assigned by the court to represent a defendant
who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
COURT COSTS - The expenses of prosecuting or defending a lawsuit, other than the attorneys' fees. An
amount of money may be awarded to the successful party (and may be recoverable from the losing party)
as reimbursement for court costs.
COURT OF RECORD - A court in which the proceedings are recorded, transcribed, and maintained as
COURT ORDER - A decision made by a judicial officer that gives someone certain rights or tells
someone to do something.
COURT REPORTER - Someone who writes down, word for word, what is said in court. What is
recorded is called a TRANSCRIPT.
COURT TRIAL - A trial without a jury. A judge decides the case.
COURT, APPEALS - In some states, the highest appellate court, where it is the Court's decision whether
to hear the case.
COURT, DISTRICT - (1) Federal - A trial court with general Federal jurisdiction. (2) State - Meaning
varies from state to state.
English Legal Glossary19
COURT, JUVENILE - A court having jurisdiction over cases involving children under a specified age,
usually 18. Cases generally involve delinquent, dependent, and neglected children.
COURT, NIGHT - A specialized court that deals with cases during the late evening and early morning
COURT, SUPERIOR - Trial court; meaning varies from state to state.
COURT, TRAFFIC - A specialized court that hears crimes dealing with traffic offenses.
COURTESY NOTICE - A notice made by a computer that is usually sent for traffic violations to tell a
defendant about a court date, bail, etc.
COURTROOM - The section of a courthouse in which the judge presides over the proceedings.
COURTROOM CLERK - Courtroom personnel who attends court sessions and prepares record of court
proceedings in conformance with statutes, policies, and the direction of a Judge; swears in witnesses and
juries; maintains exhibits offered in evidence.
CREDIBILITY - The quality in a witness which makes his or her testimony believable.
CREDIT – Arrangement or understanding by the maker of a check with the person/institution upon which
the order is drawn, for the payment of that check upon its presentation.
CRIME - Something you do, or don't do, that breaks a law. If you are found guilty, you can be punished
by: death; jail or prison; fine; being removed from office; being unable to hold any office of honor, trust, or
CRIMINAL - Someone convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor.
CRIMINAL CASE - A court case that starts because of a crime.
CRIMINAL CONDUCT – The nature of or involving a crime.
CRIMINAL INSANITY - Lack of mental ability to do or keep from doing a particular act; not able to
distinguish right from wrong.
CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE – Act(s) which are aggravated, reckless or flagrant and which depart from
the conduct of an ordinarily prudent, careful person under the same circumstances as to be contrary to a
proper regard for human life or to constitute an indifference to the consequences of those acts.
CRIMINAL RECORD - (1) Arrest record. A written account listing all the instances in which a person
has been arrested. (2) A form completed by a police officer when a person is arrested.
CRIMINAL STREET GANG - An ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons,
having as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more criminal acts, having a common
name or common identifying sign or symbol, and whose members individually or collectively engage in or
have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.
CRIMINAL SUMMONS - An order commanding an accused to appear in court.
CROSS-CLAIM - A claim filed by defendant(s) or plaintiff(s) against each other.
CROSS-EXAMINATION - When the other side's lawyer asks a witness questions in a hearing or trial.
English Legal Glossary20
CUMULATIVE SENTENCES - Sentences for two or more crimes to run a consecutively, rather than
concurrently. (See CONCURRENT SENTENCES AND CONSECUTIVE SENTENCES.)
CUSTODIAL PARENT – The parent that has primary care, custody, and control of the child(ren).
CUSTODY - (1) When someone is under the physical control of the court to make sure they go to court
when they're supposed to; (2) when the judge sends a person to jail after they are found guilty of a crime;
(3) the care and control of children.
CUSTODY ORDER - A court order that says who a child will live with and who should make decisions
about health care, education, and other important things.
CUSTOM – A usage or practice of the people, which, by common adoption and acquiescence, has become
DAMAGES - Money that the losing side must pay to the winning side to make up for losses or injuries.
There are two kinds of damages: (1) "compensatory," meaning money to pay for the actual cost of an injury
or loss; and (2) "punitive" or "exemplary," meaning an amount of money that's more than the actual
damages. This is a punishment for willful or malicious acts.
DEADLY WEAPON – Any weapon, instrument or object that is capable of being used to inflict death or
great bodily injury.
DEATH PENALTY - Death imposed by the state as punishment for a serious crime. (See CAPITAL
DEATH ROW - The area of a state or federal prison where criminals who are sentenced to death are
confined until their sentence is commuted or carried out.
DECEDENT – In criminal law, it means a murder victim; in probate law, it means a dead person.
DECISION - A court's judgment or decree that settles a dispute. (See also DECREE, JUDGMENT.)
DECLARATION - A statement that a person writes and files with the court. It tells the judge why the
person should win the case. Sometimes, a person signs this under penalty of perjury.
DECLARATION OF PATERNITY – Form signed by unmarried parents, generally at the hospital, where
the parents declare who is the father of the child.
DECLARATORY JUDGMENT - A judgment of the court that explains what the existing law is or
expresses the opinion of the court without the need for enforcement.
DECREE - A court decision. It can be (1) "interlocutory," which means it is not a final decision, or (2)
"final," which means all issues of the case are settled.
DE FACTO PARENT – A person found by the court to have assumed, on a day-to-day basis, the role of
parent, fulfilling both the child's physical and psychological needs for care and affection, and who has
assumed that role for a substantial period.
DE FACTO - To exercise power in a juvenile dependency case. Latin meaning "from the fact."
DEFAMATION - When one person hurts another person's character, fame, or reputation by making false
and malicious statements that are not protected by law.
DEFAULT - When a defendant in a civil case doesn't file an answer or go to court when they're supposed
to, but was properly notified.
English Legal Glossary21
DEFAULT JUDGMENT - A court decision in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant doesn't answer or
go to court when they're supposed to.
DEFENDANT - In a civil case, the person or company being sued. In a criminal or traffic case, the person
accused of the crime.
DEFENSE - In a civil case, the facts or arguments presented by the defendant to show why the plaintiff
doesn't have a right to the relief asked for. In a criminal case, the reasons why a defendant should not be
convicted of the charge(s).
DEFENSE ATTORNEY - In a criminal case, the lawyer that represents the accused person (called the
DEFRAUD – To make a misrepresentation of an existing material fact, knowing it to be false or making it
recklessly without regard to whether it is true or false. To practice fraud; to cheat or trick. To deprive a
person of property or any interest, estate, or right by fraud, deceit or artifice.
DEGREE - Scope of an action or charge.
DELIBERATE - To consider all the evidence and arguments related to a case that were presented in court.
DELIBERATION - When a jury, for either a civil or criminal case, goes into the jury room to discuss the
evidence and testimony and reach a verdict.
DELINQUENCY COURT - The division of the Juvenile Court hearing cases where juveniles have been
charged with committing a crime.
DELINQUENCY, JUVENILE - Antisocial behavior by a minor; especially behavior that would be
criminally punishable if the minor were an adult, but instead is usually punished by special laws pertaining
only to minors.
DEMURRER - When a defendant says the facts presented by a plaintiff may be true, but they aren't
enough to prove the defendant's legal responsibility.
DENNIS H. – A hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to sustain a juvenile court petition.
DE NOVO - Starting a case all over again as if it had not been heard before. In Latin, novo means "new."
(See TRIAL DE NOVO.)
DEPENDENCY COURT - The division of the Juvenile Court hearing cases of child abuse and neglect.
DEPENDENT CHILD - In family law, this usually means a child that is financially supported by another
person. In juvenile law, this means a minor that is in the custody of the court because he or she was abused,
neglected, or molested or is physically dangerous to the public because of a mental or physical disorder.
DEPORTATION - The act of removing a person to another country. Order issued by an immigration
judge, expelling an illegal resident from the United States. A deportation has certain consequences
regarding the number of years within which a deportee may not legally immigrate. There are also criminal
consequences for reentry within a prescribed time period.
DEPOSITION - Written or oral testimony given under oath in front of an authorized third person like a
court reporter. Depositions take place outside of the court. They allow the parties to get a record of a
person's testimony, or to get testimony from a witness that lives far away. They can help the lawyers
prepare their court papers called "pleadings." (See also DISCOVERY.)
English Legal Glossary22
DEPRIVATION OF CUSTODY - The court transfer of legal custody of a person from parents or legal
guardian to another person, agency, or institution. It may be temporary or permanent.
DEPUTY - One appointed to substitute for another with power to act for him in his name or on his behalf.
For example, a Deputy County Clerk is appointed on behalf of the County Clerk.
DEPUTY D.A. - An assistant lawyer to the district attorney.
DESCENT AND DISTRIBUTION STATUTES - State laws that provide for the distribution of estate
property of a person who dies without a will. Same as INTESTACY LAWS.
DESTRUCTIVE DEVICE / EXPLOSIVE - any substance, the purpose of which is detonation or rapid
combustion, and which is capable of rapid release of gas and heat.
DETENTION - When a person is temporarily locked up until the court makes a final decision.
DETENTION HEARING - The initial hearing in Dependency Court soon after the child has been
removed from the parent.
DETERMINATE (SENTENCE) - Confinement for a fixed period as specified by statute.
DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED - Those persons, not psychotic, who are so developmentally
disabled from infancy or before reaching maturity that they are incapable of managing themselves and their
affairs independently, with ordinary prudence, or of being taught to do so, and who require supervision,
control, and care for their own welfare, or for the welfare of others, or for the welfare of the community.
(Formerly termed "mentally retarded.")
DEVISE - A gift of real property by a will.
DEVISEE - A person who receives real property by will.
DIRECT EVIDENCE - Proof of facts by witnesses who saw acts done or heard words spoken.
DIRECT EXAMINATION - When a witness testifies and answers questions asked by the party that asked
them to testify. (Compare CROSS-EXAMINATION.)
DIRECTED VERDICT - An instruction by the judge to the jury to return a specific verdict. Now called
Judgment as a Matter of Law.
DISBARMENT - Form of discipline of a lawyer resulting in the loss (often permanently) of that lawyer's
right to practice law. It differs from censure (an official reprimand or condemnation) and from suspension
(a temporary loss of the right to practice law).
DISCLAIM - To refuse a gift made in a will.
DISCLAIMER - The repudiation or renunciation of a claim or power vested in a person or which he had
formerly alleged to be his. The disavowal, denial, or renunciation of an interest, right, or property imputed
to a person or alleged to be his.
DISCOVERY - The gathering of information (facts, documents, or testimony) before a case goes to trial.
Discovery is done in many ways, such as through depositions, interrogations, or requests for admissions. It
can also be done through independent investigation or by talking with the other side's lawyer.
DISCOVERY MOTION - A motion to have evidence disclosed to the moving party.
English Legal Glossary23
DISCRIMINATION – An act which confers particular privileges on a class arbitrarily selected.
DISMISS - To terminate legal action involving outstanding charges against a defendant in a criminal case.
DISMISSAL WITH PREJUDICE - When a court dismisses a case and will not allow any other suit to be
filed on the same claim in the future.
DISMISSAL WITHOUT PREJUDICE - When a court dismisses a case, but will allow other suits to be
filed on the same claim.
DISORDERLY CONDUCT - Any behavior, contrary to law, which disturbs the public peace or decorum,
scandalizes the community, or shocks the public sense of morality.
DISPARITY – Marked difference in quantity or quality between two things.
DISPOSITION - The final decision by the court in a dispute.
DISPOSITIONAL HEARING – The hearing held after a petition is sustained (allegation found true), to
determine whether the child will become a dependent of the court, where the child will reside, and what
reunification services, if any, will be provided to the parent.
DISSENT - To disagree. An appellate court opinion setting forth the minority view and outlining the
disagreement of one or more judges with the decision of the majority.
DISSOLUTION - A marriage that is ended by a judge's decision, also known as a "divorce." (Compare
DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE - The act of terminating a marriage; divorce; but the term does not
DISTINCTIVELY MARKED – A vehicle, operated by a peace officer, is “distinctively marked” when in
addition to a lighted red lamp and activated siren, the vehicle is of such appearance that a reasonable person
would be able to recognize it as a peace officer’s vehicle, and a person fleeing is on reasonable notice that
pursuit is by a peace officer.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY - A lawyer appointed or elected to represent the state in criminal cases in his or
her respective judicial districts. (See PROSECUTOR.)
DISTURBING THE PEACE - Conduct which tends to annoy all citizens, including unnecessary and
DIVERSION - Instead of going to jail, a defendant goes to a rehabilitation ("rehab") program and is
supervised by a probation officer. When the defendant finishes the program, the charges are dismissed and
the defendant is not sentenced. (Compare ELECTRONIC MONITORING, HOME MONITORING.)
DIVORCE - A common name for a marriage that is legally ended. See DISSOLUTION.
DOCKET - A record with the complete history of each case a court hears. It contains short chronological
summaries of the court proceedings.
DOCKET NUMBER - Identification number that the court clerk's office gives a case. This number is on
all papers filed in the case. Also called CASE NUMBER.
DOE - Used in law courts, legal papers, etc., to refer to any person whose name is unknown.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE - An assault committed by one member of a household against another.
English Legal Glossary24
DOMICILE - The place where a person has his or her permanent legal home. A person may have several
residences, but only one domicile.
DOUBLE JEOPARDY - The constitutional prohibition under the Fifth Amendment against a person
being put on trial more than once for the same offense.
DRIVE-BY MURDER - Murder perpetrated by means of discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle
intentionally at another person outside of the vehicle. When the perpetrator specifically intended to inflict
death, the murder is of the first degree.
DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED (DWI) - The unlawful operation of a motor vehicle while under the
influence of drugs or alcohol. In some jurisdictions it is synonymous with DRIVING UNDER THE
INFLUENCE (DUI), but in others, driving while intoxicated is a more serious offense than driving under
DRUNK DRIVING - The operation of a vehicle in an impaired state after consuming alcohol that when
tested is above the state's legal alcohol limit.
DUE PROCESS OF LAW - The regular way that the law is administered through the courts. The U.S.
Constitution says that everyone has to have a day in court, has the right to be represented by a lawyer, and
the right to benefit from court procedures that are speedy, fair, and impartial.
DURESS – Consists in any illegal imprisonment or threats of bodily harm in order to coerce the will of
another and inducing him to do an act contrary to his free will.
EASEMENTS – A right of use over the property of another.
ELEAZER MOTION - A motion to require prosecution to disclose the whereabouts of an informant or
show that reasonable effort has been made to locate him.
ELECTRONIC MONITORING – Use of an electronic device to keep an eye on where a sentenced
person is in the community and to restrict his or her activities, instead of putting the person in jail. (See
also HOME MONITORING).
ELECTRONIC TECHNOLOGY - includes, but is not limited to computer modem, magnetic media,
optical disk, facsimile machine, or telephone.
ELEMENTS OF A CRIME - Specific factors that define a crime which the prosecution must prove
beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction. The elements that must be proven are 1) that a
crime has actually occurred, 2) that the accused intended the crime to happen, and 3) a timely relationship
between the first two factors.
EMANCIPATION – A legal way for children to become adults before they are 18. Once a child is
emancipated, his or her parents don't have custody or control of him or her anymore.
EMBEZZLE - To willfully take or convert to one's own use, another's money or property, which the
wrongdoer initially acquired lawfully, because of some office, employment, or some position of trust.
EMBEZZLEMENT – Taking property by a person to whom the property has been entrusted.
EMINENT DOMAIN - The right of the state to take private property for public use after giving fair
compensation to the owner.
EN BANC - Court sessions where all the judges of a court participate, instead of the usual number. For
example, the U.S. circuit courts of appeals usually use panels of three judges, but all the judges in the court
English Legal Glossary25
may decide certain matters together. When that happens, they are sitting "en banc" (sometimes spelled "in
banc"). It comes from the French language and means "on the bench."
ENDORSE - To sign your name on a document to authorize its contents or transfer (as in a check that is
endorsed to transfer money).
ENDORSED-FILED COPIES - Copies of court papers that are stamped in the top right corner to show
when they are filed. (Compare with CERTIFIED COPY.)
ENDORSEMENT, FORGERY BY – Falsely writing or endorsing check to cheat another person.
ENHANCE - To make greater in value, to increase.
ENHANCEMENT - An allegation added to a basic charge which, if proven, increases the basic sentence.
Example: “use of a gun in the commission of a crime” may be added to the felony charge.
ENJOINING - An order by the court telling a person to stop something.
ENTER A GUILTY PLEA - The formal statement before the court that the accused admits committing
the criminal act.
ENTRAPMENT - A defense to criminal charges alleging that agents of the government induced a person
to commit a crime he or she otherwise would not have committed.
ENTRY OF DEFAULT - The clerk's record that the defendant has defaulted by not answering, or not
answering on time. The plaintiff must request this record entry.
EQUAL PROTECTION - The guarantee in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that all
persons be treated equally by the law.
EQUITABLE ACTION - An action which may be brought for the purpose of restraining the threatened
infliction of wrongs or injuries, and the prevention of threatened illegal action.
EQUITY - A system of law that supplements the statutory and case law and is based on principles of what
is "fair and right."
ERROR CORAM NOBIS - Petition filed in trial court seeking relief from conviction based on new facts.
ERROR CORAM VOBIS - Petition filed in appellate court seeking relief from conviction based on new
ESCAPE BY FORCE OR VIOLENCE – Using force to escape from custody.
ESCHEAT (ES-CHET) - The process by which a deceased person's property goes to the state if there is no
will or no heirs.
ESCROW - Money or a written instrument such as a deed that, by agreement between two parties, is held
by a neutral third party (held in escrow) until all conditions of the agreement are met.
ESTATE - Everything a person (alive or dead) owns and owes. There are different types of estates, like
probate, nonprobate, trust and taxable estates. Probate estate: The property in someone's will. Or, if they do
not have a will, the property the probate court handles. Nonprobate estate: The property the probate court
does not handle. For example, if there's a trust or joint tenancy. Trust estate: Property in a trust. A trustee
controls the trust. Taxable estate: The property subject to federal estate tax when a person dies. For
example, life insurance.
English Legal Glossary26
ESTATE TAX - Generally, a tax on the privilege of transferring property to others after a person's death.
In addition to federal estate taxes, many states have their own estate taxes.
ESTOPPEL - An act or statement that prevents a person from later making claims to the contrary.
ET AL - In Latin, this means "and others." Refers to parties not included in the formal name of a court
ET SEQ - An abbreviation for et sequentes, or et sequentia. Latin meaning "and the following," ordinarily
used in referring to a section of statutes.
ET UX - In Latin, this means "and wife."
EVICTION - Recovery of land or rental property from another by legal process. (See UNLAWFUL
EVIDENCE - Any proof legally presented at trial through witnesses, records, and/or exhibits.
EVIDENCE, CIRCUMSTANTIAL - Conclusion drawn from proven facts.
EVIDENCE, DIRECT - Evidence in form of a witness's testimony, who actually saw, heard, or touched
the subject in question.
EVIDENCE, EVANESCENT - Evidence which can disappear relatively quickly, such as the amount of
alcohol in a person's blood.
EXAMINATION, DIRECT - The first examination of a witness by the counsel who called the witness to
EXAMINATION, RECROSS - A second examination of a witness by the opposing counsel after the
second examination (or redirect examination) by the counsel who called the witness to testify is completed.
EXAMINATION, REDIRECT - A second examination of a witness by the counsel who called the
witness to testify. This examination is usually focused on certain matters that were discussed by the
opposing counsel's examination.
EXCEPTIONS - Declarations by either side in a civil or criminal case reserving the right to appeal a
judge's ruling upon a motion. Also, in regulatory cases, objections by either side to points made by the
other side or to rulings by the agency or one of its hearing officers.
EXCESSIVE FORCE – Use of unreasonable amount of force by police officer.
EXCLUSION OF WITNESSES - An order of the court requiring all witnesses to remain outside the
courtroom until each is called to testify, except the plaintiff or defendant. The witnesses are ordered not to
discuss their testimony with each other and may be held in contempt if they violate the order.
EXCLUSIONARY RULE - The rule preventing illegally obtained evidence to be used in any trial.
EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION - The matter can only be filed in one court.
EX CONTRACTU - Arising from a contract.
EXCULPATORY EVIDENCE - Evidence which tends to indicate that a defendant did not commit the
EXECUTE - (1) To carry out all terms of a contract or court order; (2) to sign (a document); (3) to kill.
English Legal Glossary27
EXECUTION - The name of a court order issued to a sheriff, marshal, or constable authorizing and
requiring him to carry out the judgment of the court.
EXECUTION OF SENTENCE SUSPENDED - Imposing a sentence that will not be served. This is
frequently ordered in combination with grants of probation. If the defendant is subsequently found in
violation of probation, the suspension will be lifted and the sentence carried out.
EXECUTOR - Person or company named in a will to carry out the will's instructions and requests. The
executor is usually supervised by the probate court.
EX DELICTO - Arising from a wrong, breach of duty. (See TORT.)
EXEMPLARY DAMAGES - Monies awarded to the plaintiff that exceed the normal or expected amount.
Serve as punishment for willful or malicious acts by the defendant, rather than act of negligence.
EXEMPLIFICATION - An extremely formal type of certification in which the Clerk signs the
certification of the document or record. The Presiding Judge then signs attesting to the fact of the identity
of the Clerk, and that the signature is authentic. Finally, the Clerk signs again, this time attesting to the fact
that the judge is a Judge of that county’s General Jurisdiction Court, and that the signature is authentic.
EXHIBIT - A document or an object shown and identified in court as evidence in a case.
EXHIBIT, PEOPLE'S - Exhibit and/or evidence that is offered by the prosecution.
EXONERATE - To clear of blame or to relieve from responsibility.
EX PARTE - A court procedure with only one side. For emergencies only.
EX PARTE PROCEEDING - The legal procedure in which only one side is represented.
EXPERT TESTIMONY - Testimony given in relation to some scientific, technical, or professional matter
by experts, i.e., person qualified to speak authoritatively by reason of their special training, skill, or
familiarity with the subject.
EXPLOSIVE/DESTRUCTIVE DEVICE – Any substance, or combination of substances, the primary or
common purpose of which is detonation or rapid combustion, and which is capable of a relatively
instantaneous or rapid release of gas and heat, or any substance, the primary purpose of which, when
combined with others, is to form a substance capable of a relatively instantaneous or rapid release of gas
EX POST FACTO - Latin meaning, "after the fact." The Constitution prohibits the enactment of ex post
facto laws. These are laws that permit conviction and punishment for a lawful act performed before the law
was changed and the act made illegal.
EXPUNGEMENT - Official and formal erasure of a record or partial contents of a record.
EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES - Circumstances which render a crime less aggravated, heinous,
or reprehensible than it would otherwise be.
EXTORTION - The act of obtaining the property of another person through wrongful use of actual or
threatened force, violence, or fear.
EXTRADITION - Bringing a person that is in custody in one state to the authorities of another state where
that person has been accused or convicted of a crime.
English Legal Glossary28
EXTRAORDINARY WRIT - A court order, often issued by an appellate court, making available
remedies not regularly within the powers of lower courts. They include writs of habeas corpus, mandamus,
prohibition and quo warranto.
EYE WITNESS - One who saw the act, fact, or transaction to which he or she testifies.
FACTUAL BASIS - The underlying facts supporting a defendant’s guilty or NOLO CONTENDERE plea.
FACTUALLY INNOCENT - No reasonable cause exists to believe the person arrested committed the
FAILURE TO APPEAR - The act of not appearing in court after being presented with a subpoena or
FAILURE TO COMPLY - The act of not following an order that is directed by the court.
FAIR HEARING - A hearing in which certain rights are respected such as the right to present evidence, to
cross examine and to have findings supported by evidence.
FAIR MARKET VALUE – The cash value price that the property would have brought at the time it was
FALSE ARREST - Any unlawful physical restraint of another's personal liberty, whether or not carried
out by a peace officer.
FALSE IMPRISONMENT - The unlawful restraint by one person of another person's physical liberty.
FALSE PRETENSES - Representation of some fact or circumstance which is not true and is calculated to
mislead, by which a person obtains another's money or goods.
FALSE TOKEN – Any tangible object or a document that is not genuine, is not what it appears or claims
to be, and is intended to be used and is used to deceive the person to whom it is presented.
FAMILY ALLOWANCE - A small amount of money kept from the estate of the deceased to provide for
the surviving family members during the administration of the estate.
FEDERAL EMPLOYER’S LIABILITY ACT – Federal workers’ compensation law which protects
FEES - A specific amount of money that's paid in exchange for a service, such as filing a court paper.
FEE SIMPLE - The most complete, unlimited form of ownership of real property, which lasts until the
current holder dies without an heir.
FEE WAIVER - Permission not to pay the court's filing fees. People with very low income can ask the
court clerk for a fee waiver form.
FELONY - A serious crime that can be punished by more than one year in prison or by death. (Compare
FELONY MURDER - A murder committed during the commission of a felony such as robbery, burglary,
FIDUCIARY - A person that acts for another person's benefit, like a trustee or guardian. It also means
something that is based on a trust or confidence. (See also TRUSTEE.)
English Legal Glossary29
FIELD SOBRIETY TEST - A method of determining whether a person is intoxicated using a motor skills
test which is administered by testing the driver's speaking ability and/or physical coordination.
FIFTH AMENDMENT - Among other rights, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees
that a person cannot be forced to present self-incriminating testimony in a criminal proceeding.
FILE - When a person officially gives a paper to a court clerk and that paper becomes part of the record of
FIND GUILTY - For the judge or jury to determine and declare the guilt of the defendant.
FINDING - When a judicial officer or jury says something is a fact.
FINDINGS OF FACT - An oral or written statement by a judge after a review of the evidence stating that
the facts given are found to be true.
FINE - The money a person must pay as punishment for doing something illegal or for not doing
something they were supposed to do.
FINGERPRINT - The distinctive pattern of lines on human fingertips that are used as a method of
identification in criminal cases.
FIREARM - A weapon which acts by force of gunpowder, such as a rifle, shotgun or revolver.
FIRST APPEARANCE - The initial appearance of an arrested person before a judge to determine whether
there is probable cause for his or her arrest. Generally, the person comes before a judge within hours of the
arrest, and are informed of the charges against him or her and of his or her rights to a preliminary hearing,
to counsel, and to bail. No plea is asked for at this time. Also called INITIAL APPEARANCE.
FITNESS HEARING – A court hearing to decide if a juvenile (minor) should be tried as an adult.
FORCIBLE AND ATROCIOUS CRIME – Any felony that by its nature and the manner of its
commission threatens, or is reasonably believed by the defendant to threaten life or great bodily injury so as
to instill in him a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury. Murder, mayhem, rape, and robbery are
all forcible and atrocious crimes.
FORCIBLE ENTRY AND DETAINER - Ordinarily refers to a summary proceeding for restoring
possession of land to one who has been wrongfully deprived of possession.
FORECLOSURE - Procedure by which mortgaged property is sold on default of the mortgagor in
satisfaction of mortgage debt.
FORFEIT - To lose, or lose the right to. In Traffic – to forfeit means to enter an implied guilty plea and
pay total bail to close a case.
FORFEITURE - When a person must give up money or property because he or she didn't meet a legal
obligation. (See also BAIL FORFEITURE).
FORGERY - The act of claiming one's own writing to be that of another.
FORMAL PROBATION - Court-ordered terms and conditions placed upon a defendant instead of a
sentence. Formal probation involves supervision of the defendant by a probation officer. Summary
probation involves no probation officer; the defendant is responsible directly to the court.
FORUM NON CONVENIENS - A doctrine patterned upon the right of the court in the exercise of its
equitable powers to refuse the imposition upon its jurisdiction of the trial of cases even through the venue is
English Legal Glossary30
properly laid if it appears that for the convenience of litigants and witnesses and in the interest of justice the
action should be instituted in another forum where the action might have been brought.
FOSTER CARE - A program that gives money to a person, family, or institution to raise someone else's
FOUNDATION - In a trial, a foundation must be laid to establish the basis for the admissibility of certain
types of evidence. For example, an expert witnesses's qualifications must be shown before expert testimony
will be admissible.
FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT - Among other matters, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
prohibits states from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without adequate DUE PROCESS.
FRAUD - Deceiving someone on purpose in a way that financially hurts others.
GAG ORDER - Orders restraining parties and counsel to a criminal proceeding from talking about the
case to the press or public.
GAMBLING - The act of staking money, or other thing of value, on an uncertain event or outcome.
GARNISH - To withhold a debtor's money, and turn it over to another in order to pay a debt. Typically, the
one withholding the money is the debtor's employer.
GARNISHMENT - A legal process that allows part of a person's wages or property to be withheld for
payment of a debt.
GENERAL ASSIGNMENT - The voluntary transfer, by a debtor, of all property to a trustee for the
benefit of all of his or her creditors.
GENERAL JURISDICTION - Refers to courts that have no limit on the types of criminal and civil cases
they may hear.
GLUE SNIFFING - The act of inhaling glue in order "to get high."
GOOD CAUSE - A good reason. For example, a person must have good cause (better than not having a
car or a baby-sitter ) for not coming to a court hearing.
GOOD FAITH - An honest belief, the absence of malice, and the absence of design to defraud.
GOOD SAMARITAN RULE - One who assists a person in imminent and serious danger, though
negligence of another cannot be charged with negligence in attempting a rescue.
GOOD TIME - A reduction in sentenced time in custody as a reward for good behavior. It usually is onethird to one-half off the maximum sentence.
GRAND JURY - A group of 16 to 23 citizens that listen to the prosecutor's evidence of criminal
allegations and decide whether there is probable cause to believe a person committed a crime and to charge
them with that crime.
GRAND THEFT - Taking and carrying away the personal property of another person of a value in excess
of an amount set by law with the intent to deprive the owner or possessor of it permanently.
GRANTOR OR SETTLOR - The person who sets up a trust.
GREAT BODILY INJURY – Injury which involves a substantial risk of death, serious permanent
disfigurement, or loss of function of any part of an organ of the body. Is a graver and more serious than
English Legal Glossary31
GROSS NEGLIGENCE – A negligent act(s) which is reckless or flagrant and which is such a departure
from conduct of an ordinary, prudent person under the same circumstances as to be contrary to a proper
regard for human life or to constitute indifference to the consequences of those acts. The facts must be
such that the consequences of the negligent act(s) could reasonably have been foreseen and it must appear
that the death/danger to human life was not the result of inattention or mistaken judgment, but the natural
and probable result of reckless or flagrantly negligent act.
GROUNDS - A foundation or basis; points relied on.
GUARDIAN - A person appointed by will or by law to assume responsibility for incompetent adults or
minor children. If a parent dies, this will usually be the other parent. If both die, it probably will be a close
relative. In Juvenile Dependency cases, once a guardian is appointed, dependency may be terminated.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM - An adult appointed by a court who represents a minor child or legally
incompetent person. (See also AD LITEM).
GUARDIANSHIP - A court proceeding where a judge chooses someone to care for a person under age 18
or to manage the minor's estate (property), or both. In some states, conservatorship of an adult is called
guardianship, but not in California. (Compare with CONSERVATORSHIP.)
GUILTY - A court decision that a defendant committed a crime.
GUILTY PLEA - When a person admits in court that he or she is guilty of a crime.
HABEAS CORPUS - The name of a writ used to bring a person before a court or judge to decide whether
that person is being unlawfully denied his or her freedom. The term comes from Latin.
HANDCUFFS - Chains or shackles for the hands to secure prisoners.
HARASSMENT - Words, gestures, and actions which tend to annoy,
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