Helpful Legal Terms

Acknowledgment – the act of going before a qualified officer (e.g., Clerk) and declaring the validity of a document.  The officer certifies that document, whose certification is now known as the acknowledgment.

Acquittal – a jury verdict that a criminal defendant is not guilty, or the finding of a judge that the evidence is insufficient to support a conviction.

Active judge – a judge in the full-time service of the court.

Adjournment – is a temporary postponement to a case.

Adjudicate – to hear or try and determine judicially.

Administrative Office of the United States Courts – the federal agency responsible for collecting court statistics, administering the federal courts’ budget, and performing many other administrative and programmatic functions, under the direction and supervision of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Admissible – a term used to describe evidence that may be considered by a jury or judge in civil and criminal cases.

Affidavit – a written or printed statement made under oath.

Affirmed – in the practice of the court of appeals, it means that the court of appeals has concluded that the lower court decision is correct and will stand as rendered by the lower court.

Alternate juror – a juror selected in the same manner as a regular juror who hears all the evidence but does not help decide the case unless called on to replace a regular juror.

Amend – to change an existing complaint, pleading, or motion that is already before the Court.

Answer – a document filed by the defendant in response to the complaint.

Appeal – a procedure wherein one of the parties seeks the reversal of a law or judgment of a lower court. A higher court will issue a ruling on the appeal. Judge’s orders and judgments made during the proceeding of the case may be appealed.

Arbitration – a method of amicable dispute resolution.

Arraignment – the initial appearance of a person charged with a felony in Common Pleas Court occurs after an indictment, and its purpose is to inform the defendant of the charge against them and to take their pleas to the charge. Arraignments are heard before the judge.

Arrears – overdue payments or debts.

Attorney or Lawyer – a person who has been trained in law and has been certified to give legal advice or to represent others in legal matters.

Automatic Stay – an injunction that automatically stops lawsuits, foreclosures, garnishments, and most collection activities against the debtor the moment a bankruptcy petition is filed.

Bail – the release, prior to trial, of a person accused of a crime, under specified conditions designed to assure that person’s appearance in court when required. Also can refer to the amount of bond money posted as a financial condition of pretrial release.

Bankruptcy – a legal procedure for dealing with debt problems of individuals and businesses; specifically, a case filed under one of the chapters of title 11 of the United States Code (the Bankruptcy Code).

Breach of Contract – the failure to do what is promised under a contract.

Brief – a legal document that sets out the legal arguments in a lawsuit.

Burden of Proof – the duty to prove disputed facts. In civil cases, a plaintiff generally has the burden of proving his or her case. In criminal cases, the government has the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt.

Capital Offense – a crime punishable by death.

Case file – a complete collection of every document filed in court in a case.

Certify – is to testify in writing.

Citation – an order by a court, usually for lesser offenses such as a traffic violation, for a person to appear before the court to answer charges.  Typically used for lesser offenses because it relies on the good faith of the defendant to appear as requested, as opposed to an arrest or bail.  Failure to obey a citation often results in a warrant for the arrest of the person.

Class action – a lawsuit in which one or more members of a large group, or class, of individuals or other entities sue on behalf of the entire class. The district court must find that the claims of the class members contain questions of law or fact in common before the lawsuit can proceed as a class action.