Glossary of Legal Terms

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Glossary of Legal Terms

This section includes difficult or uncommon legal terms (bolded in the essays) and their definitions from West's Encyclopedia of American Law (WEAL). Simple or common legal terms such as “lawsuit” and “plaintiff” are notbolded in the text and do not appear in this glossary; they do, however, have full entries in WEAL. Furthermore, terms that appear in SMALL CAPS within the essays—such as acts, cases, events, organizations, and persons—also appear in WEAL.


Abet: To encourage or incite another to commit a crime. This word is usually applied to aiding in the commission of a crime. To abet another to commit a murder is to command, procure, counsel, encourage, induce, or assist. To facilitate the commission of a crime, promote its accomplishment, or help in advancing or bringing it about.

In relation to charge of aiding and abetting, term includes knowledge of the perpetrator's wrongful purpose, and encouragement, promotion or counsel of another in the commission of the criminal offense.

A French word, abeter—to bait or excite an animal.

Abuse of Discretion: A failure to take into proper consideration the facts and law relating to a particular matter; an arbitrary or unreasonable departure from precedents and settled judicial custom.

Adjudication: The legal process of resolving a dispute. The formal giving or pronouncing of a judgment or decree in a court proceeding; also the judgment or decision given. The entry of a decree by a court in respect to the parties in a case. It implies a hearing by a court, after notice, of legal evidence on the factual issue(s) involved. The equivalent of a determination. It indicates that the claims of all the parties thereto have been considered and set at rest.

Adjusted gross income: The term used for income tax purposes to describe gross income less certain allowable deductions such as trade and business deductions, moving expenses, alimony paid, and penalties for premature withdrawals from term savings accounts, in order to determine a person's taxable income.

Administrative Agency: An official governmental body empowered with the authority to direct and supervise the implementation of particular legislative acts. In addition to agency, such governmental bodies may be called commissions, corporations (e.g., FDIC), boards, departments, or divisions.

affirmative defense: A new fact or set of facts that operates to defeat a claim even if the facts supporting that claim are true.

Allocation: The apportionment or designation of an item for a specific purpose or to a particular place.

Annuity: A right to receive periodic payments, usually fixed in size, for life or a term of years that is created by a contract or other legal document.

Appellate: Relating to appeals; reviews by superior courts of decisions of inferior courts or administrative agencies and other proceedings.

Appellate Court: A court having jurisdiction to review decisions of a trial-level or other lower court.

Arbiter: [Latin, One who attends something to view it as a spectator or witness.] Any person who is given an absolute power to judge and rule on a matter in dispute.

Arrest warrant: A written order issued by authority of the state and commanding the seizure of the person named.

Articles: Series or subdivisions of individual and distinct sections of a document, statute, or other writing, such as the Articles of Confederation. Codes or systems of rules created by written agreements of parties or by statute that establish standards of legally acceptable behavior in a business relationship, such as articles of incorporation or articles of partnership. Writings that embody contractual terms of agreements between parties.

Attorney-Client Privilege: In law of evidence, client's privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications between the client and his or her attorney. Such privilege protects communications between attorney and client made for the purpose of furnishing or obtaining professional legal advice or assistance. That privilege that permits an attorney to refuse to testify as to communications from the client though it belongs to the client, not the attorney, and hence the client may waive it. In federal courts, state law is applied with respect to such privilege.


Balance sheet: A comprehensive financial statement that is a summarized assessment of a company's accounts specifying its assets and liabilities. A report, usually prepared by independent auditors or accountants, which includes a full and complete statement of all receipts and disbursements of a particular business. A review that shows a general balance or summation of all accounts without showing the particular items that make up the several accounts.

Banc: [French, Bench.] The location where a court customarily or permanently sits.

Battery: At common law, an intentional unpermitted act causing harmful or offensive contact with the person of another.

Bench Trial: A trial conducted before a judge presiding without a jury.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: The standard that must be met by the prosecution's evidence in a criminal prosecution: that no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, thereby over-coming the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Bilateral contract: An agreement formed by an exchange of promises in which the promise of one party is consideration supporting the promise of the other party.

Blasphemy: The malicious or wanton reproach of God, either written or oral. In English law, the offense of speaking disparaging words about God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, or the Book of Common Prayer with the intent to undermine religious beliefs and promote contempt and hatred for the church as well as general immorality. In U.S. law, any maliciously intended written or oral accusation made against God or religion with the purpose of dishonoring the divine majesty and alienating mankind from the love and reverence of God.

Bona fide: [Latin, In good faith.] Honest; genuine; actual; authentic; acting without the intention of defrauding.

Burden of Persuasion: The onus on the party with the burden of proof to convince the trier of fact of all elements of his or her case. In a criminal case the burden of the government to produce evidence of all the necessary elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Burglary: The criminal offense of breaking and entering a building illegally for the purpose of committing a crime therein.


Canons of construction: The system of basic rules and maxims applied by a court to aid in its interpretation of a written document, such as a statute or contract.

Capitalize: To regard the cost of an improvement or other purchase as a capital asset for purposes of determining income tax liability. To calculate the net worth upon which an investment is based. To issue company stocks or bonds to finance an investment.

Carriers: Individuals or businesses that are employed to deliver people or property to an agreed destination.

Cause of Action: The fact or combination of facts that gives a person the right to seek judicial redress or relief against another. Also, the legal theory forming the basis of a lawsuit.

Certiorari: [Latin, To be informed of.] At common law, an original writ or order issued by the Chancery of King's Bench, commanding officers of inferior courts to submit the record of a cause pending before them to give the party more certain and speedy justice.

A writ that a superior appellate court issues on its discretion to an inferior court, ordering it to produce a certified record of a particular case it has tried, in order to determine whether any irregularities or errors occurred that justify review of the case.

A device by which the Supreme Court of the United States exercises its discretion in selecting the cases it will review.

Chose: [French, Thing.] Chattel; item of personal property.

Circuit Court: A specific tribunal that possesses the legal authority to hear cases within its own geographical territory.

Civil Procedure: The methods, procedures, and practices used in civil cases.

Class Action: A lawsuit that allows a large number of people with a common interest in a matter to sue or be sued as a group.

Clear and convincing proof: A standard applied by a jury or by a judge in a nonjury trial to measure the probability of the truthfulness of particular facts alleged during a civil lawsuit.

Clemency: Leniency or mercy. A power given to a public official, such as a governor or the president, to in some way lower or moderate the harshness of punishment imposed upon a prisoner.

Closely held: A phrase used to describe the ownership, management, and operation of a corporation by a small group of people.

Collateral: Related; indirect; not bearing immediately upon an issue. The property pledged or given as a security interest, or a guarantee for payment of a debt, that will be taken or kept by the creditor in case of a default on the original debt.

Commerce Clause: The provision of the U.S. Constitution that gives Congress exclusive power over trade activities between the states and with foreign countries and Indian tribes.

Common Law: The ancient law of England based upon societal customs and recognized and enforced by the judgments and decrees of the courts. The general body of statutes and case law that governed England and the American colonies prior to the American Revolution.

The principles and rules of action, embodied in case law rather than legislative enactments, applicable to the government and protection of persons and property that derive their authority from the community customs and traditions that evolved over the centuries as interpreted by judicial tribunals.

A designation used to denote the opposite of statutory, equitable, or civil; for example, a common-law action.

Compensatory Damages: A sum of money awarded in a civil action by a court to indemnify a person for the particular loss, detriment, or injury suffered as a result of the unlawful conduct of another.

Corpus: [Latin, Body, aggregate, or mass.]

Correlative: Having a reciprocal relationship in that the existence of one relationship normally implies the existence of the other.

Court of Appeal: An intermediate federal judicial tribunal of review that is found in thirteen judicial districts, called circuits, in the United States.

A state judicial tribunal that reviews a decision rendered by an inferior tribunal to determine whether it made errors that warrant the reversal of its judgment.

Court of Claims: A state judicial tribunal established as the forum in which to bring certain types of lawsuits against the state or its political subdivisions, such as a county. The former designation given to a federal tribunal created in 1855 by Congress with original jurisdiction—initial authority—to decide an action brought against the United States that is based upon the Constitution, federal law, any regulation of the executive department, or any express or implied contracts with the federal government.

Criminal Law: A body of rules and statutes that defines conduct prohibited by the government because it threatens and harms public safety and welfare and that establishes punishment to be imposed for the commission of such acts.

Criminal Procedure: The framework of laws and rules that govern the administration of justice in cases involving an individual who has been accused of a crime, beginning with the initial investigation of the crime and concluding either with the unconditional release of the accused by virture of acquittal (a judgment of not guilty) or by the imposition of a term of punishment pursuant to a conviction for the crime.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Such punishment as would amount to torture or barbarity, and cruel and degrading punishment not known to the common law, or any fine, penalty, confinement, or treatment so disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community.


De facto: [Latin, In fact.] In fact, in deed, actually.

Decision on the merits: An ultimate determination rendered by a court in an action that concludes the status of legal rights contested in a controversy and precludes a later lawsuit on the same cause of action by the parties to the original lawsuit.

declaratory judgment: Statutory remedy for the determination of a justiciable controversy where the plaintiff is in doubt as to his or her legal rights. A binding adjudication of the rights and status of litigants even though no consequential relief is awarded.

Disorderly Conduct: A broad term describing conduct that disturbs the peace or endangers the morals, health, or safety of a community.

Disposition: Act of disposing; transferring to the care or possession of another. The parting with, alienation of, or giving up of property. The final settlement of a matter and, with reference to decisions announced by a court, a judge's ruling is commonly referred to as disposition, regardless of level of resolution. In criminal procedure, the sentencing or other final settlement of a criminal case. With respect to a mental state, denotes an attitude, prevailing tendency, or inclination.

District Court: A designation of an inferior state court that exercises general jurisdiction that it has been granted by the constitution or statute which created it. A U.S. judicial tribunal with original jurisdiction to try cases or controversies that fall within its limited jurisdiction.

Doing business: A qualification imposed in state long-arm statutes governing the service of process, the method by which a lawsuit is commenced, which requires nonresident corporations to engage in commercial transactions within state borders in order to be subject to the personal jurisdiction of state courts.

DWI: An abbreviation for driving while intoxicated, which is an offense committed by an individual who operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and narcotics.

An abbreviation for died without issue, which commonly appears in genealogical tables.


en banc: [Latin, French. In the bench.] Full bench. Refers to a session where the entire membership of the court will participate in the decision rather than the regular quorum. In other countries, it is common for a court to have more members than are usually necessary to hear an appeal. In the United States, the Circuit Courts of Appeal usually sit in panels of judges but for important cases may expand the bench to a larger number, when the judges are said to be sitting en banc. Similarly, only one of the judges of the U.S. Tax Court will typically hear and decide on a tax controversy. However, when the issues involved are unusually novel or of wide impact, the case will be heard and decided by the full court sitting en banc.

Entity: A real being; existence. An organization or being that possesses separate existence for tax purposes. Examples would be corporations, partnerships, estates, and trusts. The accounting entity for which accounting statements are prepared may not be the same as the entity defined by law.

Entity includes corporation and foreign corporation; not-for-profit corporation; profit and not-for-profit unincorporated association; business trust, estate, partnership, trust, and two or more persons having a joint or common economic interest; and state, U.S., and foreign governments.

An existence apart, such as a corporation in relation to its stockholders.

Entity includes person, estate, trust, governmental unit.

Equal Protection: The constitutional guarantee that no person or class of persons shall be denied the same protection of the laws that is enjoyed by other persons or other classes in like circumstances in their lives, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.

Escrow: Something of value, such as a deed, stock, money, or written instrument, that is put into the custody of a third person by its owner, a grantor, an obligor, or a promisor, to be retained until the occurrence of a contingency or performance of a condition.

Et seq.: “An abbreviation for the Latin et sequentes or et sequentia, meaning ‘and the following.”’

Examiner: An official or other person empowered by another—whether an individual, business, or government agency—to investigate and review specified documents for accuracy and truthfulness.

A court-appointed officer, such as a master or referee, who inspects evidence presented to resolve controverted matters and records statements made by witnesses in the particular proceeding pending before that court.

A government employee in the Patent and Trademark Office whose duty it is to scrutinize the application made for a patent by an inventor to determine whether the invention meets the statutory requirements of patentability.

A federal employee of the Internal Revenue Service who reviews income tax returns for accuracy and truthfulness.

Excise: A tax imposed on the performance of an act, the engaging in an occupation, or the enjoyment of a privilege. A tax on the manufacture, sale, or use of goods or on the carrying on of an occupation or activity, or a tax on the transfer of property. In current usage the term has been extended to include various license fees and practically every internal revenue tax except the income tax (e.g., federal alcohol and tobacco excise taxes).

Executive Privilege: The right of the president of the United States to withhold information from Congress or the courts.

Exoneration: The removal of a burden, charge, responsibility, duty, or blame imposed by law. The right of a party who is secondarily liable for a debt, such as a surety, to be reimbursed by the party with primary liability for payment of an obligation that should have been paid by the first party.


Fair market value: The amount for which real property or personal property would be sold in a voluntary transaction between a buyer and seller, neither of whom is under any obligation to buy or sell.

Federal Courts: The U.S. judicial tribunals created by Article III of the Constitution, or by Congress, to hear and determine justiciable controversies.

Felony: A serious crime, characterized under federal law and many state statutes as any offense punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year.

Feres Doctrine: A doctrine that bars claims against the federal government by members of the armed forces and their families for injuries arising from or in the course of activity incident to military service.

Fiduciary: An individual in whom another has placed the utmost trust and confidence to manage and protect property or money. The relationship wherein one person has an obligation to act for another's benefit.

Final Decision: The resolution of a controversy by a court or series of courts from which no appeal may be taken and that precludes further action. The last act by a lower court that is required for the completion of a lawsuit, such as the handing down of a final judgment upon which an appeal to a higher court may be brought.

Financial statement: Any report summarizing the financial condition or financial results of a person or an organization on any date or for any period. Financial statements include the balance sheet and the income statement and sometimes the statement of changes in financial position.

First Impression: The initial presentation to, or examination by, a court of a particular question of law.

Fiscal: Relating to finance or financial matters, such as money, taxes, or public or private revenues.

Forensic: Belonging to courts of justice.

Fraud: A false representation of a matter of fact—whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed—that deceives and is intended to deceive another so that the individual will act upon it to her or his legal injury.

Fraudulent: The description of a willful act commenced with the specific intent to deceive or cheat, in order to cause some financial detriment to another and to engender personal financial gain.


Gag Order: A court order to gag or bind an unruly defendant or remove her or him from the courtroom in order to prevent further interruptions in a trial. In a trial with a great deal of notoriety, a court order directed to attorneys and witnesses not to discuss the case with the media—such order being felt necessary to assure the defendant of a fair trial. A court order, directed to the media, not to report certain aspects of a crime or criminal investigation prior to trial.

General Jurisdiction: The legal authority of a court to entertain whatever type of case comes up within the geographical area over which its power extends.

General term: A sitting of the court en banc, with the participation of the entire membership of the court rather than the regular quorum. A phrase used in some jurisdictions to signify the ordinary session of a court during which the trial determination of actions occur.

Good Faith: Honesty; a sincere intention to deal fairly with others.

Grand Jury: A panel of citizens that is convened by a court to decide whether it is appropriate for the government to indict (proceed with a prosecution against) someone suspected of a crime.

Grantee: An individual to whom a transfer or conveyance of property is made.

Gross income: The financial gains received by an individual or a business during a fiscal year.


Habeas Corpus: “[Latin, You have the body.] A writ (court order) that commands an individual or a government official who has restrained another to produce the prisoner at a designated time and place so that the court can determine the legality of custody and decide whether to order the prisoner's release.”

Hate Crime: A crime motivated by racial, religious, gender, sexual orientation, or other prejudice.

Hearsay: A statement made out of court that is offered in court as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.


Implied warranty: A promise, arising by operation of law, that something that is sold will be merchantable and fit for the purpose for which it is sold.

in camera: In chambers; in private. A judicial proceeding is said to be heard in camera either when the hearing is had before the judge in his or her private chambers or when all spectators are excluded from the courtroom.

Insanity Defense: A defense asserted by an accused in a criminal prosecution to avoid liability for the commission of a crime because, at the time of the crime, the person did not appreciate the nature or quality or wrongfulness of the acts.

Interpleader: An equitable proceeding brought by a third person to have a court determine the ownership rights of rival claimants to the same money or property that is held by that third person.

Interrogatories: Written questions submitted to a party from his or her adversary to ascertain answers that are prepared in writing and signed under oath and that have relevance to the issues in a lawsuit.


Joinder: The union in one lawsuit of multiple parties who have the same rights or against whom rights are claimed as coplaintiffs or codefendants. The combination in one lawsuit of two or more causes of action, or grounds for relief. At common law the acceptance by opposing parties that a particular issue is in dispute.

Joint and several liability: A designation of liability by which members of a group are either individually or mutually responsible to a party in whose favor a judgment has been awarded.

Judicial Review: A court's authority to examine an executive or legislative act and to invalidate that act if it is contrary to constitutional principles.

Jurisprudence: “From the Latin term juris prudentia, which means ‘the study, knowledge, or science of law’; in the United States, more broadly associated with the philosophy of law.”

Justice of the Peace: A judicial officer with limited power whose duties may include hearing cases that involve civil controversies, conserving the peace, performing judicial acts, hearing minor criminal complaints, and committing offenders.


Leasehold: An estate, interest, in real property held under a rental agreement by which the owner gives another the right to occupy or use land for a period of time.

Ledger: The principal book of accounts of a business enterprise in which all the daily transactions are entered under appropriate headings to reflect the debits and credits of each account.

Legal Aid: A system of nonprofit organizations that provide legal services to people who cannot afford an attorney.

Lewdness: Behavior that is deemed morally impure or unacceptable in a sexual sense; open and public indecency tending to corrupt the morals of the community; gross or wanton indecency in sexual relations.


Magistrate: Any individual who has the power of a public civil officer or inferior judicial officer, such as a justice of the peace.

Mail Fraud: A crime in which the perpetrator develops a scheme using the mails to defraud another of money or property. This crime specifically requires the intent to defraud, and is a federal offense governed by section 1341 of title 18 of the U.S. Code. The mail fraud statute was first enacted in 1872 to prohibit illicit mailings with the Postal Service (formerly the Post Office) for the purpose of executing a fraudulent scheme.

Manslaughter: The unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice. The unlawful killing of a human being without any deliberation, which may be involuntary, in the commission of a lawful act without due caution and circumspection.

Margin call: A demand by a broker that an investor who has purchased securities using credit extended by the broker (on margin) pay additional cash into his or her brokerage account to reduce the amount of debt owed.

Market value: The highest price a willing buyer would pay and a willing seller would accept, both being fully informed, and the property being exposed for sale for a reasonable period of time. The market value may be different from the price a property can actually be sold for at a given time (market price). The market value of an article or piece of property is the price that it might be expected to bring if offered for sale in a fair market; not the price that might be obtained on a sale at public auction or a sale forced by the necessities of the owner, but such a price as would be fixed by negotiation and mutual agreement, after ample time to find a purchaser, as between a vendor who is willing (but not compelled) to sell and a purchaser who desires to buy but is not compelled to take the particular article or piece of property.

Mediation: A settlement of a dispute or controversy by setting up an independent person between two contending parties in order to aid them in the settlement of their disagreement.

Medicaid: A joint federal-state program that provides health care insurance to low-income persons.

Mental anguish: When connected with a physical injury, includes both the resultant mental sensation of pain and also the accompanying feelings of distress, fright, and anxiety. As an element of damages implies a relatively high degree of mental pain and distress; it is more than mere disappointment, anger, worry, resentment, or embarrassment, although it may include all of these, and it includes mental sensation of pain resulting from such painful emotions as grief, severe disappointment, indignation, wounded pride, shame, despair, and/or public humiliation. In other connections, and as a ground for divorce or for compensable damages or an element of damages, it includes the mental suffering resulting from the excitation of the more poignant and painful emotions, such as grief, severe disappointment, indignation, wounded pride, shame, public humiliation, despair, etc.

Misdemeanor: Offenses lower than felonies and generally those punishable by fine, penalty, forfeiture, or imprisonment other than in a penitentiary. Under federal law, and most state laws, any offense other than a felony is classified as a misdemeanor. Certain states also have various classes of misdemeanors (e.g., Class A, B, etc.).

Mistake of law: A misconception that occurs when a person with complete knowledge of the facts reaches an erroneous conclusion as to their legal effect; an incorrect opinion or inference, arising from a flawed evaluation of the facts.

Money Laundering: The process of taking the proceeds of criminal activity and making them appear legal.

Monopoly: An economic advantage held by one or more persons or companies deriving from the exclusive power to carry on a particular business or trade or to manufacture and sell a particular item, thereby suppressing competition and allowing such persons or companies to raise the price of a product or service substantially above the price that would be established by a free market.

Mutual mistake: An error of both parties to a contract, whereby each operates under the identical misconception concerning a post or existing material fact.


Natural law: The unwritten body of universal moral principles that underlie the ethical and legal norms by which human conduct is sometimes evaluated and governed. Natural law is often contrasted with positive law, which consists of the written rules and regulations enacted by government. The term natural law is derived from the Roman term jus naturale. Adherents to natural law philosophy are known as naturalists.


Of counsel: A term commonly applied in the practice of law to an attorney who has been employed to aid in the preparation and management of a particular case but who is not the principal attorney in the action.

Omnibus: [Latin, For all; containing two or more independent matters.] A term frequently used in reference to a legislative bill comprised of two or more general subjects that is designed to compel the executive to approve provisions that he or she would otherwise reject but that he or she signs into law to prevent the defeat of the entire bill.

Open court: “Common law requires a trial in open court; ‘open court’ means a court to which the public has a right to be admitted. This term may mean either a court that has been formally convened and declared open for the transaction of its proper judicial business or a court that is freely open to spectators.”

Overbreadth doctrine: A principle of judicial review that holds that a law is invalid if it punishes constitutionally protected speech or conduct along with speech or conduct that the government may limit to further a compelling government interest.


Pander: To pimp; to cater to the gratification of the lust of another. To entice or procure a person, by promises, threats, fraud, or deception to enter any place in which prostitution is practiced for the purpose of prostitution.

Parent company: An enterprise, which is also known as a parent corporation, that owns more than 50 percent of the voting shares of its subsidiary.

Pension: A benefit, usually money, paid regularly to retired employees or their survivors by private business and federal, state, and local governments. Employers are not required to establish pension benefits but do so to attract qualified employees.

Peremptory Challenge: The right to challenge a juror without assigning, or being required to assign, a reason for the challenge.

Plurality: The opinion of an appellate court in which more justices join than in any concurring opinion.

The excess of votes cast for one candidate over those votes cast for any other candidate.

Polygamy: The offense of having more than one wife or husband at the same time.

Positive law: Those laws that have been duly enacted by a properly instituted and popularly recognized branch of government.

Preemption: A doctrine based on the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that holds that certain matters are of such a national, as opposed to local, character that federal laws preempt or take precedence over state laws. As such, a state may not pass a law inconsistent with the federal law.

A doctrine of state law that holds that a state law displaces a local law or regulation that is in the same field and is in conflict or inconsistent with the state law.

Preliminary hearing: A proceeding before a judicial officer in which the officer must decide whether a crime was committed, whether the crime occurred within the territorial jurisdiction of the court, and whether there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime.

Preliminary Injunction: A temporary order made by a court at the request of one party that prevents the other party from pursuing a particular course of conduct until the conclusion of a trial on the merits.

Prevailing party: The litigant who successfully brings or defends an action and, as a result, receives a favorable judgment or verdict.

Price-Fixing: The organized setting of what the public will be charged for certain products or services agreed to by competitors in the marketplace in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (15 U.S.C.A.§ 1 et seq.).

Pro Bono: Short for pro bono publico [Latin, For the public good]. The designation given to the free legal work done by an attorney for indigent clients and religious, charitable, and other nonprofit entities.

Pro se: For one's own behalf; in person. Appearing for oneself, as in the case of one who does not retain a lawyer and appears for himself or herself in court.

Probative: Having the effect of proof, tending to prove, or actually proving.

Procedural Law: The body of law that prescribes formal steps to be taken in enforcing legal rights.

Product Liability: The responsibility of a manufacturer or vendor of goods to compensate for injury caused by a defective good that it has provided for sale.

Profanity: Irreverence towards sacred things; particularly, irreverent or blasphemous use of the name of God. Vulgar, irreverent, or course language.

Proximate Cause: An act from which an injury results as a natural, direct, uninterrupted consequence and without which the injury would not have occurred.

Public Domain: Land that is owned by the United States. In copyright law, literary or creative works over which the creator no longer has an exclusive right to restrict, or receive a royalty for, their reproduction or use but which can be freely copied by the public.

Public Policy: A principle that no person or government official can legally perform an act that tends to injure the public.

Punitive Damages: Monetary compensation awarded to an injured party that goes beyond that which is necessary to compensate the individual for losses and that is intended to punish the wrongdoer.

Purview: The part of a statute or a law that delineates its purpose and scope.


Ratification: The confirmation or adoption of an act that has already been performed.

Recidivism: The behavior of a repeat or habitual criminal. A measurement of the rate at which offenders commit other crimes, either by arrest or conviction baselines, after being released from incarceration.

Recognizance: A recorded obligations, entered into before a tribunal, in which an individual pledges to perform a specific act or to subscribe to a certain course of conduct.

Redress: Compensation for injuries sustained; recovery or restitution for harm or injury; damages or equitable relief. Access to the courts to gain reparation for a wrong.

Reformation: A remedy utilized by the courts to correct a written instrument so that it conforms to the original intent of the parties to such an instrument.

Relevancy: The tendency of a fact offered as evidence in a lawsuit to prove or disprove the truth of a point in issue.

Reorganization plan: A scheme authorized by federal law and promulgated by the president whereby he or she alters the structure of federal agencies to promote government efficiency and economy through a transfer, consolidation, coordination, authorization, or abolition of functions.

Reparation: Compensation for an injury; redress for a wrong inflicted.

Repeal: The annulment or abrogation of a previously existing statute by the enactment of a later law that revokes the former law.

Rescind: To declare a contract void—of no legal force or binding effect—from its inception and thereby restore the parties to the positions they would have occupied had no contract ever been made.

Respondent: In equity practice, the party who answers a bill or other proceeding in equity. The party against whom an appeal or motion, an application for a court order, is instituted and who is required to answer in order to protect his or her interests.

Restitution: In the context of criminal law, state programs under which an offender is required, as a condition of his or her sentence, to repay money or donate services to the victim or society; with respect to maritime law, the restoration of articles lost by jettison, done when the remainder of the cargo has been saved, at the general charge of the owners of the cargo; in the law of torts, or civil wrongs, a measure of damages; in regard to contract law, the restoration of a party injured by a breach of contract to the position that party occupied before she or he entered the contract.

Retainer: A contract between attorney and client specifying the nature of the services to be rendered and the cost of the services.

Right of action: The privilege of instituting a lawsuit arising from a particular transaction or state of facts, such as a suit that is based on a contract or a tort, a civil wrong.

Robbery: The taking of money or goods in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence, by force or intimidation.

Rule of law: Rule according to law; rule under law; or rule according to a higher law.


Solicitation: Urgent request, plea, or entreaty; enticing, asking. The criminal offense of urging someone to commit an unlawful act.

Solicitor General: An officer of the U.S. Department of Justice who represents the U.S. government in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Solvency: The ability of an individual to pay his or her debts as they mature in the normal and ordinary course of business, or the financial condition of owning property of sufficient value to discharge all of one's debts.

Sovereign Immunity: The legal protection that prevents a sovereign state or person from being sued without consent.

State Action: A requirement for claims that arise under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and civil rights legislation, for which a private citizen seeks relief in the form of damages or redress based on an improper intrusion by the government into his or her private life.

Statute: An act of a legislature that declares, proscribes, or commands something; a specific law, expressed in writing.

Statute of Limitations: A type of federal or state law that restricts the time within which legal proceedings may be brought.

Statutory: Created, defined, or relating to a statute; required by statute; conforming to a statute.

Strict Liability: Absolute legal responsibility for an injury that can be imposed on the wrongdoer without proof of carelessness or fault.

Subcontractor: One who takes a portion of a contract from the principal contractor or from another subcontractor.

Subornation of perjury: The criminal offense of procuring another to commit perjury, which is the crime of lying, in a material matter, while under oath.

Substantive due process: The substantive limitations placed on the content or subject matter of state and federal laws by the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Substantive law: The part of the law that creates, defines, and regulates rights, including, for example, the law of contracts, torts, wills, and real property; the essential substance of rights under law.

Summary Judgment: A procedural device used during civil litigation to promptly and expeditiously dispose of a case without a trial. It is used when there is no dispute as to the material facts of the case and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Supremacy Clause: “The clause of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution that declares that all laws and treaties made by the federal government shall be the ‘supreme law of the land.”’

Surcharge: An overcharge or additional cost.

Suspended sentence: A sentence given after the formal conviction of a crime that the convicted person is not required to serve.


Tax Court: A specialized federal or state court that decides cases involving tax-related controversies.

Taxable Income: Under the federal tax law, gross income reduced by adjustments and allowable deductions. It is the income against which tax rates are applied to compute an individual or entity's tax liability. The essence of taxable income is the accrual of some gain, profit, or benefit to a taxpayer.

Tort Law: A body of rights, obligations, and remedies that is applied by courts in civil proceedings to provide relief for persons who have suffered harm from the wrongful acts of others. The person who sustains injury or suffers pecuniary damage as the result of tortious conduct is known as the plaintiff, and the person who is responsible for inflicting the injury and incurs liability for the damage is known as the defendant or tortfeasor.

Trade name: Names or designations used by companies to identify themselves and distinguish their businesses from others in the same field.

Tribunal: A general term for a court, or the seat of a judge.

Trustee: An individual or corporation named by an individual, who sets aside property to be used for the benefit of another person, to manage the property as provided by the terms of the document that created the arrangement.


Voir Dire: [Old French, To speak the truth.] The preliminary examination of prospective jurors to determine their qualifications and suitability to serve on a jury, in order to ensure the selection of fair and impartial jury.


Wanton: Grossly careless or negligent; reckless; malicious.

Writ: An order issued by a court requiring that something be done or giving authority to do a specified act.

Wrongful Death: The taking of the life of an individual resulting from the willful or negligent act of another person or persons.


Zoning: The separation or division of a municipality into districts, the regulation of buildings and structures in such districts in accordance with their construction and the nature and extent of their use, and the dedication of such districts to particular uses designed to serve the general welfare.