Additur—The process in which a trial judge adds to a jury's award of damages. In a tort suit, a plaintiff may file a motion with the court, seeking an increase in damages. This is called an additur. In many jurisdictions, the court can suggest an additur to the defendant, which means that the defendant has a choice of accepting the additur or having to go through another trial against the plaintiff.
Adverse employment action—An action by an employer that has serious and significant impact on an employee's job. Adverse employment actions include discharges, suspensions, reduction in pay, and transfers to jobs with fewer responsibilities.
Aggravating circumstances—Factors in the sentencing phase of a death penalty case that support a death sentence for a defendant. Examples of aggravating factors include murder committed for monetary gain and murder committed in a particularly heinous manner.
Alienation of affections—A little-used tort (abolished now in the vast majority of states) that provides that a person can be liable to a husband or wife if he or she causes that spouse's partner to lose affection for the spouse. Jilted spouses sometimes asserted this tort claim against the person with whom their partner or former partner had an affair.
Alimony—The requirement that a party provide support—temporary or permanent—to his or her former spouse. Alimony is often required in a dissolved marriage in which one party earns substantially more than the other party.
Alternative dispute resolution—Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to a process of resolving legal disputes aside from the traditional method of resolution by a court of law. Arbitration and mediation are the two most common forms of ADR.
Amici Curiae—Latin for "friends of the court." It refers to an interested organization or individual who files court papers (called amicus briefs) on behalf of one party or another in litigation.
Amicus brief—A brief filed in a case not by one of the parties or litigants but by an interested party known by the Latin term "amicus," which means "friend." They are also known as friend of the court briefs.
Appellant—The party or litigant who appeals an adverse verdict to an intermediate appeals court. For example, if a plaintiff loses at trial and appeals, he or she is known as the appellant.
Appellate advocacy—The practice of law before appellate courts, including arguing questions of law before panels of judges or justices.
Appellee—The party or litigant opposite the appellant. Appellees generally defend the judgment of lower courts because they prevailed before them.
Arbitration—A type of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties do not go to court but instead have their case or dispute heard before a neutral arbitrator who then renders a judgment that is normally binding on the parties. Some collective bargaining agreements call for claims to be submitted to an arbitrator.
Arraignment—An initial court hearing in a criminal case in which a judge informs a defendant of the criminal charges and often asks for an initial plea.
Assistance of counsel—The Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel means that a person charged with a crime must have an attorney provided for them if he or she does not have the financial means to acquire legal help.
Attractive nuisance—This refers to a condition on a person's property that is likely to attract children to trespass there. Traditionally, a person has not been obligated to protect trespassers from injury. However, the attractive nuisance doctrine imposes a duty on landowners to take extra precautions (such as warning signs or fences) to ensure that children are not enticed to come onto a property and injure themselves. The attractive nuisance doctrine can come into play, for instance, if a landowner has a swimming pool on his land and does not take any precautions to limit access by trespassing minors.
Bad faith—Bad faith means that a person or company has acted in an improper, often fraudulent, manner. The term is typically used in contract law to show that a party has engaged in very poor conduct against the terms or spirit of a contract. It is also used in employment law to show that a party has acted in a very negative manner.
Bail—The money or security that a defendant puts up in order to avoid immediate incarceration pending trial. The paying of bail money is supposed to ensure that the defendant will appear for later court dates. Generally, the more serious a crime the higher a judge will set bail.
Bankruptcy—A legal process that allows a person or company to start over financially by either discharging or reducing his or her debts. When we say a person is bankrupt that means the person does not have the means to repay creditors and qualifies for some type of legal relief.
Bar examination—A difficult test that law school graduates take in order to become licensed to practice law.
Battery—The intentional or offensive contact upon one person by another. This conduct can constitute a crime or a tort—or both. It is similar to the related concept of assault. In fact, some jurisdictions refer to the crime of "assault and battery." The difference between the two is that the tort of assault requires a plaintiff to actually apprehend an offensive or harmful contact, while battery simply requires the actual contact.
Bench trial—A trial without a jury. In bench trials the judge serves as both judge and jury.
Best interests of a child—This is a standard used in family law to determine the custody of a child. The judge will consider a variety of factors to determine who should be the primary custodial parent of the child. The standard is also used in other family law matters such as child visitation and adoption.
Beyond a reasonable doubt—A stringent legal standard imposed upon the prosecution in criminal cases. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt— a very strong certainty—that the defendant committed the crime. Theoretically, many defendants may receive not guilty verdicts in a case, not because the jury thinks they are actually innocent of the crime but because the jury felt that the prosecution did not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Bifurcate—Bifurcate means to divide in two. In legal matters, this means that a judge has decided to divide certain legal issues into two parts. For example, in many personal injury cases, the first phase of the trial deals with liability and compensatory damages, while the second phase deals with punitive damages. In criminal law, the first phase refers to guilt or innocence and the second phase refers to sentencing.
Bigamy—Marriage to two people. Bigamy is outlawed in the United States and is grounds for divorce.
Brady violation—A Brady violation means that the prosecution has failed to turn over evidence (called exculpatory evidence) that might tend to show that a defendant did not commit the crime in question. The term comes from the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brady v. Maryland (1963).
Breach of contract—This means that a term or terms of a legal and binding contract have not been met. When someone breaches a contract, he or she has violated or not adhered to the terms of a contract.
Brief—A misnamed legal document (because it is often up to 20 to 50 pages in length) in which a litigant advances arguments and description of the facts in a case. There are both trial briefs and appellate briefs, as designated by the court, in which the documents are filed.
Burden of proof—The duty imposed upon a litigant to make a certain showing to maintain a claim or defense in legal proceedings. When the law says that a party has the burden of proof, it means that the onus, or burden, is upon that party to put forth some evidence supporting their position.
Case law—The law developed by courts in their judicial decisions or opinions. Case law forms the basis of common law.
Cause of action—A legal claim or theory advanced by one party in a lawsuit against another.
Change of venue—This refers to a process or determination by a judge that a trial needs to take place in a different location (or venue) for fairness concerns.
Citation—Citation has several meanings. One refers to a written document that holds a person in violation of a law or regulation. It also refers to the abbreviation or notation for a legal authority, such as a case, statute, administrative regulation, or secondary source.
Civil procedure—The body of law that governs how a case is to take place within the confines of the civil justice system. It regulates the filing of complaints, answers, discovery requests, motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgments, and other documents filed in cases.
Code of Federal Regulations—This publication contains the regulations passed by various federal administrative agencies. For example, rules from the Federal Communication Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are included in this book.
Comparative negligence—Comparative negligence means that the parties' negligent acts are compared and assigned percentages of fault. In such a system, a plaintiff's recovery is reduced by the percentage of his or her own fault.
Compensatory damages—Damages awarded to compensate a person for the harm that he or she has suffered. In a personal injury suit, the plaintiff often seeks compensatory damages for medical bills, loss of wages, pain and suffering, and other similar damages. They are different from nominal or punitive damages.
Compulsory Process Clause—The Sixth Amendment right to compulsory process means that a defendant can have the Court issue subpoenas to ensure that witnesses can be compelled to come to court and give testimony. Without this clause, many defendants would not be able to mount an effective defense.
Concurring opinion—An opinion that agrees with the final result of the majority, or main, opinion but does not necessarily agree with its reasoning.
Confrontation Clause—The Sixth Amendment provides that a defendant has the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." This means that a defendant, through his or her attorney, generally has the right to cross-examine witnesses, and if there is no chance for cross-examination, the evidence or statements may not be admitted into evidence and used against the defendant.
Consecutive sentences—When a defendant must serve his or her full sentence for one offense, after which he or she will then begin to serve a sentence for another crime.
Contemporary community standards—The practice of judging whether material is obscene or not by determining how the community views such sexually explicit or otherwise offensive material.
Contingency fee—An arrangement in which an attorney's fee is contingent upon a client's recovery. The standard contingency fee for a personal injury case is one-third of the recovery. In other words, the lawyer receives 33.33% of the award or settlement to the client.
Continuance—An action by a judge to move (or continue) a deadline in a case.
Continuing tort violation—A situation in which a series of individual acts by an employer or agent of an employer violates the rights of an employee. The continuing tort doctrine, or continuing violation theory, provides that the statute of limitations does not start running until the last act.
Contributory negligence—A system of negligence in which a plaintiff cannot recover damages if he or she is found to have contributed to the underlying accident. In other words, if the jury finds that the plaintiff contributed to his or her injuries, ordinarily he or she is barred from recovery.
Court-appointed attorney—An attorney appointed by the court to represent a criminal defendant or other litigant.
Creditor—The person or entity to whom a debtor owes money.
Cross examination—The process in which an attorney questions the other side's witnesses in a trial—civil or criminal. Cross-examination is supposed to serve as a crucible of truth in the sense that a jury can better determine whether witnesses are telling the truth.
Cruel and unusual punishment—This language from the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution refers to punishment that is disproportionate to the crime committed and that violates contemporary standards of decency.
Custodial interrogation—The process in which a suspect is questioned by law enforcement officers while under the custody and care of those officials. Officers are supposed to give defendants their Miranda rights before interrogating them.
Defendant—The party or litigant who has been sued by the plaintiff or complaining party.
Defense attorney—The lawyer who represents a defendant during a criminal trial. More generally, it refers to the lawyer who represents a defendant in any type of case.
De minimus—A Latin term meaning "minimal" or "very small." The term is used in many different types of law, including contract law, employment law, and criminal law. For example, in employment law an employee can sue for discrimination if there has been a material change in circumstances in his or her job, not simply de minimus inconveniences or small changes in responsibilities.
Deposition—The sworn testimony of a party or witness conducted during the discovery phase of a lawsuit. Attorneys often compare the deposition and trial testimonies of a witness during trial to see if they can uncover inconsistencies.
Dicta—Dicta, or orbiter dicta, refers to language in a court opinion that is not the essential holding or ruling of the case. If a lawyer wants to de-emphasize aspects of a court's decision, he or she will refer to that language as mere dicta.
Direct examination—The process in which an attorney conducts initial questioning of his or her witness. After the attorney finishes the direct examination of the witness, then the other side's attorney can conduct cross-examination of that witness.
Disbarment—The most severe form of professional discipline for an attorney which results in the loss of a law license for a period of years—often five years. The attorney then has to make a showing that he or she has been rehabilitated and complies with other conditions to receive his or her license back.
Discovery—The part of a lawsuit in which each side attempts to find out more information from the other side through a variety of tools, such as depositions, interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and requests for admissions.
Dissenting opinion—A dissenting opinion is one in which a judge disagrees with the result of the court's main opinion.
Diversion—An alternative "punishment" for a criminal defendant who is able to avoid prison time and instead engages in certain activities designed to foster rehabilitation. Diversion is usually available only for minor criminal offenses, such as misdemeanor drug possession.
Double jeopardy—The Fifth Amendment right to be free from double jeopardy means that a person must not face criminal prosecution after an acquittal or a conviction. It also means that the government may not charge a person with a crime that consists of the same evidence as a previous charge.
Due process—This freedom found in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantees fundamental fairness under the law.
Equal Protection Clause—This clause in the Fourteenth Amendment requires that similarly situated persons receive the same basic personal rights and protection under the law.
Establishment Clause—This part of the First Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." It provides for a degree of separation between Church and State. Judges, scholars, and members of the community disagree vehemently over the reach and meaning of this clause.
Exclusionary rule—This rule provides that when law enforcement officials violate the Fourth Amendment rights of a person by engaging in an unconstitutional search or seizure, the court will invoke the exclusionary rule and exclude the evidence obtained from the unconstitutional search.
Exculpatory evidence—Evidence that shows that the defendant may be innocent of the charged crime. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brady v. Maryland (1963) that prosecutors are required to turn over exculpatory evidence to the attorneys for criminal defendants. If prosecutors refuse to turn over exculpatory evidence, then this is often referred to as a Brady violation.
Ex parte—A Latin term that means "by one party." Sometimes courts will issue "exparte orders," which means that the court will issue a ruling requiring only one party to be present in court. Sometimes the term is used in a negative sense to refer to improper communications by one party with the court or judge without the presence of the other side.
Expert testimony—Testimony by an individual who is deemed by the court to be an expert in a particular field. Some tort cases require expert testimony to establish proof of fault.
Federalism—The distribution of power between the national, central (or federal) government, and the various state governments. The U.S. Constitution divides power between the federal and state governments.
Felony—A criminal offense in which the punishment is at least one year in prison. It is a serious offense in contrast to a misdemeanor. There are legal repercussions for those convicted of felonies, including the loss of several common privileges of citizenship (such as handgun ownership and voting).
For-cause challenges—These challenges are filed by attorneys against prospective jurors because they show or evince an obvious bias that they cannot decide a case impartially.
Force majeure—This French term means "superior force." It refers to a doctrine in contract law that relieves a party from liability if a party cannot fulfill its obligations due to some unforeseeable event, such as an act of God, or war, or a strike.
Fourteenth Amendment—This amendment, ratified in 1868 during Reconstruction, ensures the right of people to due process and equal protection. It is also the vehicle through which various freedoms found in the U.S. Bill of Rights are extended to protect people from infringements by state and local governmental actors.
Free exercise clause—This part of the First Amendment—"nor prohibit the free exercise thereof"—provides that the government shall not violate a person's right to practice his or her religious faith, or the right to believe in no religion at all. The clause provides absolute protection for freedom of belief, but not for conduct that may violate a general public health, safety, or welfare law.
Friend of the court brief—See "Amicus brief."
Grand jury—A large body of citizens (usually about 23) who serve as an initial screening mechanism in criminal cases to determine whether a prosecutor may indict a particular defendant of a crime.
Guardian ad litem—A guardian appointed by a court to represent the interests of someone (often a child).
Habeas corpus—A Latin term meaning "you have the body." It refers to a written document ordering prison officials to produce an inmate before the court and, if granted, to release that inmate from custody. Known as the "great writ," habeas corpus refers to a federal court action in which an inmate alleges that his conviction violated his or her constitutional rights.
Harmless error—An error committed during a criminal trial that does not impact the overall fairness of the proceeding. In other words, a criminal defendant seeks to show prejudicial, rather than harmless, error to overturn his conviction.
Impartial jury—The Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury means that a trial jury must be selected from a reasonable cross-section of the community. It means, for example, that the cross-section must not exclude certain persons based on race, gender, or income.
Independent contractor—A person who has been hired to perform a job but who does not qualify as an employee because the employer does not maintain the right to control the details of a contractor's time and manner of the job. The distinction between an employee and independent contractor is very important in legal circles because an employer is generally liable for the torts committed by employees but not for those committed by independent contractors.
Indictment—A formal charge issued by a grand jury in finding that there is enough evidence that a defendant committed a crime for the case to move forward.
In loco parentis—This Latin term means "in place of a parent." It is used in legal circles to give nonparents the responsibility and control over children that ordinarily a child would have. It is sometimes used in school law to mean that school officials have the ability to act in a child's best interests when his or her parents are not present.
In solido—Latin term meaning that parties to a contract or parties to a certain action are held together. In law, sometimes it is said that parties are held liable in solido for the damages they cause.
Intentional infliction of emotional distress—This tort occurs when one person engages in outrageous conduct that is beyond the pale of a decent society and that causes another person severe emotional distress. Telling someone that his or her spouse died in an accident— knowing this not to be true—could constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress, for example.
Invitee—A legal term used to describe someone who enters another's land upon the landowner's request. The term is used in tort cases in which the question becomes whether a landowner or premise owner is liable for injuries suffered by the invitee on the landowner's property. Generally, a landowner must exercise ordinary care in protecting an invitee unless there is a so-called "special relationship" that heightens the duty of the landowner (such as the innkeeper-guest relationship).
Irreconcilable differences—A common justification for divorce, particularly when the parties engage in a no-fault divorce. It means that the parties cannot reconcile and the marriage relationship cannot be repaired without alleging specific fault on one or other of the parties. Nearly all states recognize this as a justification for divorce.
Judicial activism—This loaded term refers to a charge that a court or judge exceeds a proper judicial role and decides cases that are better left to the legislature. Often, critics use the label to refer to any court decision with which they disagree. Judicial activism is the opposite of judicial restraint.
Judicial restraint—This concept refers to the practice of judges to decide cases narrowly and to act cautiously to ensure not overstepping into the role of legislators.
Judicial review—The ability of courts to review actions by the legislative and executive branches and determine whether such actions are constitutional or not.
Jurisdiction—This refers to the ability or power of a court to hear a case. If a court has jurisdiction to hear a case, it means that the court has the power to decide the matter. Jurisdiction also generally refers to a geographical location for legal purposes.
Jury instructions—A set of guidelines or instructions read to jurors by the presiding judge. The jury instructions explain the law and related concepts that may be foreign to a layperson not familiar with the legal system.
Jury nullification—The practice of a jury going against the—or nullifying—the law to render a verdict against the evidence in a case. Jury nullification most often describes the practice of a jury to render a "not guilty" verdict in a case where a defendant clearly appears guilty. The jury may have thought that the law was unfair or may have simply acted arbitrarily.
Law clerk—An individual—often a recent law school graduate—who assists a judge in preparing background information about a case and sometimes writes draft opinions. Most U.S. Supreme Court justices employ four law clerks every year. Most law clerks only serve one or two years, while some justices will employ a career clerk.
Leading question—A leading question is one in which an attorney suggests the answer to a witness in his or her question. Leading questions are prohibited, and often you will see attorneys file objections based on the other sides' attorneys asking such questions.
Malpractice—Professional negligence. There are many forms of malpractice, including accountant malpractice, attorney malpractice, medical malpractice, and dental malpractice.
Mediation—A form of alternative dispute resolution in which parties bring their complaints to a third party (the mediator) who helps to hopefully resolve the situation. Mediators are frequently used in some states in family law and juvenile cases.
Medical malpractice—The failure of a medical professional to conform to the prevailing standard of care, resulting in harm to a patient. Most of the time a plaintiff must present expert testimony showing that a physician or other health care professional failed to conform to the necessary standard of care.
Mens rea—This Latin term meaning "guilty mind" refers to the necessary criminal intent of a defendant. To convict a defendant of a crime, a prosecutor must often establish that the defendant possesses the mens rea of purposely or knowingly engaging in criminal conduct.
Miller test—The primary test or legal rule used by courts to determine whether sexually oriented material crosses the line and constitutes legal obscenity. Under the Miller test—named after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. California (1973)—material must appeal predominately to the prurient (morbid or shameful) interest in sex, describe sexual material in a patently offensive way, and have no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Miranda rights—Procedural safeguards and warnings that must be given by law enforcement to individuals they place in custody. The U.S. Supreme Court imposed these requirements in Miranda v. Arizona (1966) to reduce the problem of coerced confessions in criminal cases.
Misdemeanor—A lower level criminal offense that generally results in a fine or imprisonment for less than a year. Common misdemeanor offenses include simple assault, possession of small amounts of marijuana, traffic violations, and public drunkenness. A misdemeanor is a less serious offense than a felony.
Mistrial—This occurs when a judge orders that a trial must end because of some prejudicial error that affects the underlying fairness and impartiality of the proceedings. If a mistrial occurs, then often a second trial will be conducted at a later date.
Mitigating circumstances—Factors that suggest that a criminal defendant or litigant should receive less punishment than he or she might ordinarily deserve. Mitigating circumstances are important in a wide variety of legal cases, such as capital punishment and lawyer discipline cases. The fact that someone does not have a prior criminal record is a common mitigating factor.
Mitigation of damages—This duty provides that a person who sues another and claims damages must take some steps to lessen the impact of the harmful conduct. For example, if an employer unlawfully fires an employee, the employee must attempt to mitigate damages by seeking another job rather than simply stay at home and do nothing.
Mixed motive—This refers to a type of case in employment discrimination law in which an employer acted with both legitimate and illegitimate motives. A plaintiff must show that the employer's illegitimate motive played a substantial role in the unlawful employment action.
Model Penal Code—This code, developed by the American Law Institute, seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of criminal law. It offers model statutes for various types of crimes, defenses, and other relevant criminal concepts. Most states have adopted much of the Model Penal Code in their own legal codes.
Motion to compel—A motion filed in court by an attorney to force the other side to answer requests for information during discovery—the time in a case when each side seeks to uncover information from the other side. If a party refuses to respond in a timely fashion to a discovery request (such as interrogatories), the other party may file a motion to compel with the court.
Motion to reconsider—A motion filed by the losing party in a case asking the court or judge to reconsider the ruling of the judge or jury. A losing party often will file a motion to reconsider before filing an appeal to a higher court.
Mug shot—The photograph of a defendant during the booking process in which the arrested person is taken to the police station for processing.
Negligence—Negligence refers to fault and is one of the three major categories of tort suits. A negligence claim consists of (1) duty, (2) breach of duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages.
Negligence per se—This doctrine applies when someone violates a statute and is presumed to be negligent. For example, if you are driving 15 miles over the speed limit and hit someone, the law would say that you are negligent per se.
Nominal damages—Small damage awards that amount to damages in name only. Sometimes juries award nominal damages when they believe that plaintiffs have proven their cases but have not shown much evidence of actual harm.
Obscenity—Obscenity refers to an unprotected category of expression dealing in sexually explicit material that appeals to a morbid interest in sex, is patently offensive, and has no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Opening statement—The introduction of a case to a jury by an attorney. In the opening statement, the attorney seeks to advance the client's theory of the case and create a favorable impression with the jury.
Palimony—A type of alimony or support that is given by one party to another in an unmarried relationship. When palimony is awarded, the unmarried couple generally has lived together for a long period of time.
Paralegal—A non-lawyer who performs routine legal tasks (often document management of discovery materials) and usually has achieved some level of legal education. A good paralegal can be invaluable to a lawyer.
Pendente lite—Latin for "while the matter is pending." It refers to a court order that applies while a matter is still under litigation. Its most common usage occurs in family law in which a party seeks pendent lite child support while the divorce and child custody matters are under litigation.
Peremptory challenges—These challenges are those filed by attorneys against a prospective juror because the attorney does not believe the person would make a good juror for his or her client. They are distinguished from for-cause challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court has placed limitations on the exercise of peremptory challenges, ruling that they cannot be used in a racial or gender discriminatory manner.
Petitioner—The party that appeals (or petitions) the higher court to review a decision by a lower court. The party that appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court for review of a lower court decision is called the petitioner.
Petit jury—A petit jury, as opposed to a grand jury, is a trial jury normally comprised of 12 jurors. Not all states require petit juries to consist of 12 members.
Plurality opinion—An opinion that has not earned the votes of a majority of the court, but that has earned the votes of multiple judges or justices on a court.
Precedent—This term refers to the fact that a legal authority has lasting power and influence beyond simply the resolution of the particular issues and parties in the case itself. Past court decisions serve as precedent for future court decisions.
Preponderance of the evidence—This standard, used in most civil law cases, provides that something more than likely happened. It is a lower standard than either the clear and convincing evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt standards.
Presumption of innocence—This fundamental principle of American law means that a defendant accused of a crime is presumed innocent and the prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.
Prima facie—This Latin term literally means "at first face." In legal terms it means basic. In employment law, an employee suing her employer for discrimination initially must establish a prima facie case of discrimination, which then shifts the burden to the employer to advance a legitimate reason for its action against the employee.
Probable cause—Probable cause means that there is a reasonably substantial basis that a crime took place. Probable cause means much more than a mere hunch; there has to be some articulable basis to suspect that a crime took place or contraband is at a location. The Fourth Amendment provides that no warrants shall issue unless the police show to a magistrate's satisfaction that there was probable cause for the search.
Pro bono—Pro bono, or pro bono publico, means "for the good of the public." It refers to legal services that are done by a lawyer free of charge. The ABA recommends that lawyers engage in a certain number of pro bono hours of service.
Pro se—A Latin term that signifies that a litigant represents himself or herself in court.
Prosecutorial discretion—Prosecutorial discretion refers to the ability of a prosecutor to decide whether to press charges and what type of charges to initiate.
Public defender—A public defender is a lawyer paid or funded by the government who provides legal assistance and legal services to indigent criminal defendants. Public defender systems arose across the country as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), providing that state court defendants charged with felonies must have a lawyer appointed for them if they cannot afford an attorney.
Punitive damages—These damages punish the tortfeasor or wrongdoer as opposed to compensating a plaintiff for actual harm suffered. Some advocates of tort reform argue for limiting or eliminating punitive damages, contending that they provide a windfall for plaintiffs and their attorneys.
Rap sheet—A rap sheet refers to a defendant's arrest and conviction record that is maintained by a criminal justice agency.
Reasonable doubt—See "Beyond a reasonable doubt."
Record—The record in a case refers to the transcript of the official proceedings of a court hearing, trial, or other judicial proceeding. The record also includes the evidence and various transcripts in a case.
Remittitur—An action by a court to reduce the amount of damages in a civil case. In a tort case, for example, the defendant may petition the court to remit, or reduce, the amount of damages awarded by a jury. Sometimes a trial judge may grant a remittitur, and sometimes an appellate court may grant a remittitur.
Res ipsa loquitur—This Latin phrase means "the thing speaks for itself." It is a doctrine in tort law that provides that negligence is the only rational explanation for why harm befell a plaintiff.
Search warrant—This paper signed by a judge or magistrate authorizes a law enforcement official to search a particular area or place for particular pieces of contraband.
Settlement—A process in which parties to a legal dispute agree to resolve their differences (sometimes by one party paying money to another) rather than continue with the lawsuit.
Speedy trial—The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial means that there must not be unreasonable delay between the initial charging of a criminal defendant and further proceedings in the case.
Statute of limitation—A time period in which a plaintiff has to file suit. In many states, a plaintiff has a one-year statute of limitation for personal injury tort suits. This means that the plaintiff must file suit within a year of the accident or incident or else lose the right to sue forever.
Stop and frisk—A brief stop and pat-down of a person by a police officer to make sure that individual is not carrying weapons.
Strict scrutiny—The highest standard of review in constitutional law cases. It means that the government must advance a compelling governmental interest in a most narrowly tailored manner, often in the least-restrictive way possible.
Structured settlement—A settlement that is structured or framed over a period of time for which one party pays another money to settle and resolve a lawsuit.
Tortfeasor—An individual who commits a tort. In other words, if person A invades the privacy of person B, person A is a tortfeasor because he or she has committed the tort of invasion of privacy.
Tort reform—A movement to curtail frivolous lawsuits, reduce the amount of punitive damages, and otherwise cut down on the litigiousness of the American judicial system. Tort reform advocates often highlight certain lawsuits that they think seek excessive damages and have little merit.
Trial attorney—An attorney who is a litigator, who regularly appears in courtrooms to try cases before judges and juries.
Venire—Venire refers to the panel of prospective persons from which attorneys and the court draw from to form a jury to hear a case.
Voir dire—This is an old French term meaning "to see and to speak." It refers to the process of selecting and sitting a jury in a case.
Wobbler—A crime that can be charged or prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Workers compensation—A system in which employees receive a portion of their wages and receive medical coverage for work-related injuries in exchange for not suing their employer.
Writ of certiorari—An order from the U.S. Supreme Court indicating that it agrees to hear a case appealed from a lower court. A litigant who loses in a lower court and seeks Supreme Court review files a petition for writ of certiorari.
Year and a day rule—The year and a day rule was a common law rule that held that a person could not be charged with murder if his or her victim died more than a year (a year and a day) after the original attack or assault. Nearly all jurisdictions have abolished the year and a day rule.
Zoning—The practice of land-use regulation that provides for the proper location of certain types of businesses or residences on certain areas of land. Oftentimes this area of law is referred to as land-use zoning. An example of a zoning law is one that might prohibit adult entertainment establishments from locating within certain distances of a school or playground or church.