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Disclaimer: The following glossary of legal terms is intended to provide a general understanding of common legal terms and concepts. It is not intended to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. The definitions and explanations provided here are for informational purposes only and may not be applicable to all legal situations or jurisdictions. This glossary should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional legal advice. Readers are advised to consult with a licensed attorney in their jurisdiction for advice on specific legal issues. The author of this glossary is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for any actions taken based on the information provided herein.
To abolish or annul a law or agreement.
The formal decision or judgment of a court or administrative agency.
Evidence that is allowed to be presented in court.
A written statement, sworn to be true, before a notary public or another authorized officer.
Court-ordered financial support paid by one spouse to another after a divorce.
A request to a higher court to review a decision made by a lower court.
Appellate court
A court that hears appeals from lower courts and reviews their decisions.
A method of alternative dispute resolution in which a neutral third party makes a binding decision.
The formal reading of criminal charges and entry of a plea of guilty or not guilty.
The act of intentionally causing fear of physical harm to another person.
A person who is authorized to practice law.
Money or property posted as a guarantee to secure one’s release from jail.
An officer of the court responsible for maintaining order and security in the courtroom.
The legal process by which individuals or businesses seek relief from debts they cannot pay.
Bench trial
A trial before a judge, without a jury.
A person or entity named in a will or trust to receive property or other benefits.
Breach of Contract
The violation of one or more of the terms of a contract.
Burden of Proof
The duty of a party in a legal proceeding to prove the truth of his or her allegations.
The unlawful entry into a building or other structure with the intent to commit a crime.
Business law
The area of law that governs the formation, operation, and dissolution of businesses.
Rules and regulations governing the internal affairs of a corporation, association, or other organization.
Bypass trust
A trust that allows a surviving spouse to receive income from assets held in trust, while preserving the principal for the benefit of the children.
The legal ability to enter into a contract or make decisions.
Case law
The body of judicial decisions that interpret and apply the law.
Civil law
The area of law that deals with private disputes between individuals or organizations.
Class action
A lawsuit brought by a group of people who have been similarly harmed or injured.
A formal legal document that sets out the claims and allegations of the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit.
Contempt of Court
Any conduct that is disrespectful or disruptive to the court.
A legally binding agreement between two or more parties.
The transfer of legal title to real property from one person to another.
The finding of guilt in a criminal case.
A lawyer or legal advisor.
The exclusive right to reproduce, publish, and sell a literary, musical, or artistic work.
A legal entity created by a state government, owned by shareholders, and managed by directors and officers.
A violation of the criminal laws of a state or nation.
Criminal Law
A body of laws that define offenses and prescribe punishments for those offenses.
Monetary compensation awarded to a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit for harm or injury caused by the defendant.
De facto
Latin term meaning "in fact". Refers to something that exists in reality, but not necessarily by legal or formal means.
A person or entity that owes money or other obligations to another party.
A person who has died, especially one who has left a will or estate.
Default judgment
A judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant fails to respond or appear in court.
The party against whom a lawsuit is filed, or the party who is accused of a crime in a criminal case.
A pretrial discovery procedure in which a witness gives sworn testimony under oath, outside of court.
The pretrial phase of a lawsuit in which each party can obtain evidence and information from the other side.
The termination of a lawsuit by a judge or court, without reaching a judgment on the merits of the case.
The legal termination of a marriage.
The legal process by which a minor is released from the control of their parents or guardians.
The act of stealing money or property that has been entrusted to one's care.
A legal claim or burden on property, such as a mortgage, lien, or easement.
A legal right or claim to receive benefits or compensation.
The value of an asset minus any liabilities or debts owed on the asset.
The transfer of property to the state when the owner dies without a will or living heirs.
The total property, assets, and liabilities left by a deceased person.
A legal principle that prevents a person from denying or asserting a fact that they have previously represented as true.
Any information or material presented in court to prove or disprove a disputed fact.
The person appointed in a will to carry out the wishes of the deceased person and manage their estate.
A serious criminal offense that is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.
A person or entity that has a legal duty to act in the best interests of another person or entity.
The legal process by which a lender takes possession of a borrower's property due to a default on the mortgage.
A business arrangement in which a company licenses its name, products, and services to a franchisee in exchange for a fee or royalty.
The intentional deception or misrepresentation of facts for personal gain.
Free speech
The right to express one's opinions and ideas without censorship or restraint by the government.
Freedom of religion
The right to practice any religion or belief without interference by the government.
Full faith and credit
A legal doctrine requiring states to honor the laws, judgments, and public records of other states.
A temporary leave of absence from employment, often without pay.
Future damages
Compensation for losses that will occur in the future as a result of a current injury or harm.
Gag order
A court order that prohibits the parties involved in a legal case from discussing it publicly.
A legal process by which a creditor can collect a debt by taking a portion of a debtor's wages, bank account, or other assets.
Good faith
A legal principle requiring honesty, fairness, and reasonable care in all transactions and dealings.
Grand jury
A group of citizens who are summoned to determine whether there is enough evidence to indict a person for a crime.
A complaint filed by an employee or union against an employer, alleging a violation of a collective bargaining agreement or employment law.
Gross negligence
A legal term that describes a reckless disregard for the safety or well-being of others, resulting in injury or harm.
A promise to pay a debt or fulfill an obligation if the debtor or obligor fails to do so.
A person appointed by a court to care for a minor or incompetent adult and manage their affairs
The legal process by which a court appoints a guardian for a minor or incapacitated person.
Guest statute
A law that limits the liability of a host who invites a guest onto their property and is sued for injuries sustained by the guest while on the property.
A verdict in a criminal case indicating that the defendant has been proven to have committed the crime charged.
Habeas Corpus
A court order requiring an individual to be brought before the court to determine whether he or she is being held lawfully.
A pattern of conduct that is intended to harass, annoy, or intimidate another person.
A legal proceeding in which evidence is presented and arguments are made before a judge or other decision-maker.
Testimony or evidence about a statement made by someone else that is being offered to prove the truth of the statement.
Homeowners Association (HOA)
An organization that governs a community of homes or condominiums, enforcing rules and regulations and maintaining common areas.
The killing of one person by another person, either intentionally or unintentionally.
A person held captive by another person or group in order to gain a concession or to force a government to comply with demands.
Hostile witness
A witness who is not cooperative or who is antagonistic toward the party that called them to testify.
Hostile work environment
A work environment in which the conduct of coworkers or supervisors is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile or abusive work environment.
Human rights
Basic rights and freedoms that are considered to be universal and inherent to all human beings, such as the right to life, liberty, and freedom from discrimination.
Hung jury
A jury that is unable to reach a verdict in a criminal trial, resulting in a mistrial.
Hypothetical question
A question posed to a witness that assumes certain facts are true, in order to elicit their opinion or expert testimony.
A process by which a government official, such as a president or judge, is charged with misconduct or abuse of power and potentially removed from office.
In limine
A pretrial motion to exclude certain evidence or testimony from being presented at trial.
Evidence that cannot be used in court because it is irrelevant, unreliable, or obtained illegally.
A legal agreement by which one party agrees to compensate another party for losses or damages incurred as a result of a specified event or situation.
A formal charge or accusation of a crime, typically handed down by a grand jury.
Property or assets that are passed down to heirs after a person's death, typically through a will or trust.
A court order that requires a person or entity to stop doing something or to take a specific action.
Insider trading
The illegal practice of buying or selling securities based on confidential information not available to the public.
Intentional tort
A civil wrong that is committed with intent to cause harm or injury, such as assault, battery, or defamation.
Written questions that one party sends to another party in a lawsuit, which must be answered under oath.
Dying without a valid will, resulting in the distribution of one's assets according to state law.
Irreparable harm
Injury or damage that cannot be adequately compensated for with money damages, typically used to justify an injunction or other equitable remedy.
Irrevocable trust
A type of trust that cannot be altered or revoked once it is created, except under very limited circumstances.
A disputed point or question that is the subject of a legal dispute, such as a fact in a criminal trial or a point of law in a civil case.
Joint and several liability
A legal doctrine that allows multiple parties to be held responsible for the same harm or injury, with each party being liable for the full amount of damages.
A court's final decision or ruling on a legal dispute or issue.
Judicial review
The power of a court to review and potentially invalidate actions taken by other branches of government, such as laws passed by the legislature or executive actions.
The authority of a court to hear and decide a case based on its geographical location, subject matter, or other factors.
The study or philosophy of law and the principles that govern legal systems.
A member of a jury, who is selected to hear and decide a case based on the evidence presented in court.
A group of individuals selected to hear and decide a case, typically consisting of 12 members in a criminal trial or 6-12 members in a civil trial.
Jury instructions
The legal guidelines and directions given to a jury by a judge before they deliberate and reach a verdict.
Jury nullification
The practice of a jury acquitting a defendant even if the evidence shows they are guilty, because the jurors believe the law itself is unjust or that the defendant acted out of necessity.
Jus cogens
A principle of international law that refers to a norm or rule that is considered to be so fundamental that it cannot be violated under any circumstances.
The principle of fairness and equity in the legal system, ensuring that individuals are treated equally under the law and that legal decisions are based on merit and evidence.
A person under the age of 18 who is subject to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court system.
Juvenile delinquency
The commission of a crime by a person under the age of 18.
Key man insurance
A type of life insurance policy taken out by a business on a key employee or executive, with the business as the beneficiary.
An illegal or unethical payment or compensation made in exchange for a referral or business transaction.
The crime of unlawfully taking and transporting a person against their will, often for ransom or other illicit purposes.
A term used to refer to one's relatives or family members.
Kinship care
A legal arrangement in which a child who is unable to live with their biological parents is placed in the care of a relative or family friend.
The illegal practice of writing a check or using electronic funds to transfer money between bank accounts in order to artificially inflate account balances.
The honorific title given to individuals who have been recognized for their significant contributions to society or their field of work, particularly in the United Kingdom.
Knock and announce
A requirement that police officers must identify themselves and announce their purpose before entering a residence to conduct a search or make an arrest.
Acting with awareness or conscious intent, as opposed to unintentionally or accidentally.
Technical knowledge or expertise, particularly in a specialized field or industry.
A principle of due process that requires individuals to be informed of legal proceedings against them, and to have the opportunity to present evidence and arguments in their defense.
A legal doctrine that bars a party from bringing a claim or seeking relief if they have unreasonably delayed in doing so and the delay has prejudiced the other party.
The unlawful taking and carrying away of another person's property with the intent to permanently deprive them of it.
A set of rules and principles established by a government or other authority to regulate behavior and enforce order.
A legal proceeding in which one party sues another party in court to seek a remedy or resolution to a dispute.
A legal agreement between a landlord and a tenant in which the landlord allows the tenant to use and occupy a property in exchange for rent payments.
The legal responsibility for one's actions or omissions, particularly in the context of paying damages or compensation for harm caused to another person or property.
A written or published statement that falsely and maliciously harms another person's reputation.
A legal permission or authority granted by a government or other authority to engage in a particular activity or use a particular piece of property.
A legal claim or encumbrance on property that allows a creditor to seize or sell the property to satisfy a debt or obligation.
Limited liability
A legal concept that limits the liability of business owners to the amount of their investment in the business, protecting their personal assets from business-related debts and obligations.
The process of bringing a lawsuit and going through the legal system to resolve a dispute or seek a remedy for harm or damages.
The commission of an illegal or wrongful act, especially by a public official or employee.
Professional negligence or misconduct, typically by a healthcare provider, that causes harm to a patient.
The killing of another person without premeditation or malice aforethought.
A process in which a neutral third party facilitates communication and negotiation between two or more parties in a dispute in order to reach a mutually acceptable agreement or resolution.
Miranda warning
A statement read to a suspect in custody by law enforcement officers advising them of their constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
A less serious criminal offense that is punishable by fines, probation, or up to one year in jail.
A trial that is declared invalid or null and void, typically because of a serious procedural error or misconduct by the parties or the court.
Mitigating circumstances
Factors that may be considered by a court in determining a sentence or penalty for a crime or offense, such as the defendant's prior criminal history, age, mental capacity, or remorse.
A temporary suspension or delay of an activity or legal requirement, such as a moratorium on evictions during a pandemic.
A formal request made to a court by a party in a case for a ruling or order, such as a motion to dismiss, a motion for summary judgment, or a motion for a new trial.
A failure to exercise reasonable care or skill that results in harm or damages to another person or property.
No contest plea
A plea in a criminal case where the defendant does not admit guilt but also does not contest the charges brought against them.
Nominal damages
A small monetary award granted by a court when a legal right has been violated but no actual harm or injury has occurred.
Nondisclosure agreement (NDA)
A legal contract between two or more parties that restricts the disclosure of confidential or proprietary information shared between them.
Nonprofit organization
An organization that operates for charitable, educational, or other public purposes and is exempt from paying taxes on its income.
Nonprosecution agreement
An agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant where the defendant agrees to fulfill certain conditions in exchange for the prosecutor's decision not to pursue criminal charges.
Notary public
A public official authorized to verify the authenticity of signatures, administer oaths, and certify documents.
A formal written or oral communication that provides information or warning to a person or party, such as a notice to appear in court or a notice of eviction.
Notice of appeal
A formal written notice filed by a party in a lawsuit indicating their intent to appeal a court decision to a higher court.
The substitution of a new contract or party in place of an existing contract or party, with the consent of all involved parties.
A condition or activity that interferes with the use or enjoyment of property or causes harm or inconvenience to another person or property owner.
Nunc pro tunc
Latin for "now for then," used in legal documents to signify that something is retroactively effective to an earlier date.
A solemn promise or affirmation to tell the truth, usually given in a court of law or when taking office.
A formal statement of disagreement or disapproval made during a trial or hearing.
A proposal or promise to enter into a contract or agreement, which, if accepted, creates a legally binding obligation.
An independent official or agency appointed to investigate and resolve complaints made by individuals against an organization or government agency.
Open court
A court session or hearing that is open to the public and the press.
A decision or direction issued by a court or other official authority that is legally binding and enforceable.
A law or regulation enacted by a local government or municipality.
Out of court settlement
An agreement reached by parties in a legal dispute outside of a formal court proceeding.
A ruling by a higher court that overturns a decision made by a lower court.
Legal right of possession or control over a piece of property or asset.
A legal professional who works under the supervision of a lawyer and assists with tasks such as research, drafting documents, and preparing for trials.
An official act of forgiveness for a crime, which removes the legal consequences of the offense and restores some of the rights that were lost.
The party who initiates a lawsuit or brings a legal claim against another party in court.
Plea bargain
An agreement between the prosecution and defense in a criminal case in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge or receive a reduced sentence in exchange for cooperation or other concessions.
A legal decision or ruling that serves as an authoritative example or guide for future cases involving similar issues or facts.
The legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person, including validating the will, paying debts and taxes, and distributing property to heirs.
The legal process of pursuing charges against a person or entity accused of committing a crime.
Public defender
An attorney appointed by the court to represent an indigent defendant in a criminal case who cannot afford to hire a private attorney.
Punitive damages
Monetary damages awarded by a court to punish a defendant for intentional or reckless conduct that caused harm to the plaintiff.
Power of attorney
A legal document that gives one person (the agent) the authority to act on behalf of another person (the principal) in legal or financial matters.
Qualified immunity
A legal doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for actions performed in the course of their official duties, unless their actions violate clearly established laws or constitutional rights.
Quantum meruit
A Latin term meaning "as much as he deserves," typically used in reference to a legal claim for payment based on the reasonable value of goods or services provided.
To declare invalid or void, typically in reference to a legal document or a court order.
A legal theory that allows a court to impose an obligation on a party in the absence of a formal contract, in order to prevent unjust enrichment or other unfairness.
A term used to describe a government agency or other entity that has some of the powers of a court, such as the ability to hold hearings and make rulings, but is not a formal court.
Quasi-public corporation
A business entity that is owned or controlled by the government, but operates like a private company and is subject to some of the same legal requirements and regulations as private corporations.
Quick take
A legal process by which a government agency can take possession of private property for a public purpose, such as building a road or a park, before a final determination of compensation is made.
Quiet title
A legal action to establish a person's ownership of real property and clear any other claims or liens against it.
A legal release or discharge of a debt or other obligation, typically in writing
The minimum number of members required to be present in order to conduct official business, typically in reference to a meeting of a legislative body or a board of directors.
Real property
Land and any permanent structures or fixtures attached to it, often distinguished from personal property or movable possessions.
Reasonable doubt
The level of uncertainty in a criminal trial that must exist for a defendant to be found guilty, meaning that the evidence presented must be so strong that no reasonable person could doubt the defendant's guilt.
The act of sending a case back to a lower court or administrative agency for further consideration or action.
A legal action that allows someone to recover property that has been wrongfully taken or held by another party.
The act of canceling or terminating a contract or agreement, often due to fraud, misrepresentation, or mistake.
The act of restoring something to its rightful owner or returning something that was lost or stolen, typically involving the payment of damages or compensation.
Restraining order
A court order that prohibits someone from engaging in certain activities or contacting certain individuals, typically used in cases of domestic violence, harassment, or stalking.
A fee paid to a lawyer or other professional in advance for their services, often used to secure their availability or to cover future costs.
Right of way
The legal right to pass through a specific area or use a certain pathway, often in the context of property or transportation law.
Rule of law
The principle that all individuals and institutions are subject to and accountable to the same set of laws and regulations, regardless of their status or position.
The process of determining a punishment for a criminal offense.
Service of process
The legal procedure for delivering court documents to a party involved in a legal action.
A resolution reached between parties to a legal dispute, usually involving a payment or other terms to resolve the matter.
The making of a false and damaging statement about someone to a third party, which can give rise to a civil lawsuit.
Small claims court
A court that handles minor disputes and claims of small monetary value, often without the need for a lawyer.
A written law passed by a legislative body.
Statute of limitations
The time period within which a legal action must be brought, after which the right to bring the action is lost.
Statutory rape
Sexual intercourse with a person who is below the age of consent, as defined by law, even if the minor consents to the act.
A legal order requiring a person to appear in court or produce documents for a legal proceeding.
Summary judgment
A decision made by a judge without a full trial, based on a motion by one party when there is no genuine issue of material fact.
The occupation or possession of property or land by a tenant.
The end of an agreement or contract.
A statement made under oath by a witness in a court of law or in a deposition.
Legal ownership of property or assets.
A civil wrong or wrongful act, whether intentional or accidental, that causes harm or injury to another person.
A symbol, design, or word used to distinguish a product or service from others in the market.
The process of converting spoken words into written or typed text, often used in legal proceedings to create a written record of testimony or evidence.
The unlawful entry onto another person's property without permission.
A formal examination of evidence in a court of law to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant or the merits of a civil case.
A legal arrangement in which one party holds property or assets for the benefit of another.
Ultra vires
Beyond the scope or authority of an entity, such as a corporation or government agency.
A contract or action that is unfair, unjust, or morally offensive.
A person or company that evaluates the risk of insuring a person or entity and sets premiums accordingly.
Uniform Commercial Code (UCC)
A standardized set of laws governing commercial transactions in the United States.
Unilateral contract
A contract in which only one party makes a legally binding promise, such as a reward offer.
Unlawful detainer
A legal action to remove a tenant from a property for failure to pay rent or other lease violations.
Unsecured debt
Debt that is not backed by collateral, such as credit card debt.
Usual, customary, and reasonable (UCR)
A standard used by insurance companies to determine the amount they will pay for medical procedures or treatments.
The right to use and enjoy the property of another person, without owning it.
The practice of charging excessive interest rates on loans, often illegal.
The geographical location where a lawsuit is filed or where a criminal trial takes place.
Venue shopping
The practice of selecting a particular jurisdiction or court system in order to obtain a more favorable outcome in a legal dispute.
The formal decision or finding of a jury or judge in a case.
Verified complaint
A legal document filed by a plaintiff that contains a statement of the facts of the case and is signed under oath or affirmation.
Vexatious litigation
Frivolous or repetitive lawsuits that are brought with the intention of harassing or annoying the other party.
Vicarious liability
Liability imposed on one person for the actions of another person or entity, such as an employer for the actions of an employee.
Visitation rights
The legal right of a non-custodial parent or other designated individual to visit or spend time with a child who is living with another person, typically the custodial parent.
A term used to describe a contract or agreement that is without legal effect from the beginning, usually due to a defect or illegality in the agreement.
Voir dire
The process of questioning potential jurors to determine their suitability to serve on a jury.
Voluntary manslaughter
The killing of another person that occurs without malice or premeditation, usually in response to a provocation.
The voluntary surrender or relinquishment of a right or claim.
A court order authorizing law enforcement to perform an act, such as an arrest or search.
A legal document that outlines a person's wishes regarding the distribution of their property and assets after death.
A person who testifies under oath in a court of law or other legal proceeding.
Witness Tampering
The act of trying to influence or intimidate a witness in a legal proceeding.
Work Product
Documents, notes, or other materials created by an attorney or other legal professional in the course of their work on a legal matter.
Workplace Harassment
Unwelcome conduct in the workplace based on a protected characteristic, such as race, sex, or religion, that creates a hostile or offensive work environment.
A written order issued by a court directing a specific action or prohibiting certain conduct.
Wrongful Death
A civil lawsuit brought by the family members of a person who died as a result of someone else's negligence or wrongful act.
Wrongful Termination
A termination of employment that violates an employee's rights, such as discrimination or retaliation.
A form of electromagnetic radiation used in medical imaging.
A legal agreement or transaction involving three parties.
Cross-reference, used in legal citations to refer to a previous case or source of authority.
The name of Socrates' wife, used in legal contexts to refer to a nagging or quarrelsome spouse.
Fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers.
Year and a day rule
A common law rule that required a victim to die within a year and a day of an act that caused their death in order for the perpetrator to be charged with murder.
Yellow dog contract
A contract between an employer and employee in which the employee agrees not to join a labor union.
In traffic law, yielding refers to the act of giving the right of way to another driver, pedestrian, or cyclist.
Young offender
A person who is under a certain age (usually 18 or 21) and who has committed a criminal offense.
Youth court
A specialized court that deals with cases involving young offenders, usually with a focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Zealous representation
A lawyer's duty to provide a vigorous and diligent defense for their client.
Zero sum game
A situation in which one person's gain is exactly balanced by another person's loss.
Zero tolerance
A policy that imposes severe consequences for even minor infractions of a particular law or rule.
An estimate of the market value of a property provided by the real estate website Zillow
Zipper clause
A provision in a collective bargaining agreement that prohibits either party from making additional demands during the term of the agreement.
Zonal value
The assessed value of a property for tax purposes based on the location or zoning of the property.
Zone of privacy
A space or sphere of personal privacy that is protected by law from intrusion by the government or other individuals.
Zoning laws
Laws that regulate the use of land and buildings in a particular area, usually enacted by local governments.
Zoning variance
A waiver or exception granted to a property owner allowing them to use their property in a way that does not conform to local zoning laws.
The initial cell formed by the union of two gametes (sperm and egg) that eventually develops into a fetus.