Glossary of Terms

Adjudication
The entry of a decree or an order by a court. The legal process of resolving a dispute.

Alimony
Money or other financial support awarded to a spouse in a divorce action for his or her separate support. lt is usually awarded only where one spouse has been dependent on the other or has less earning power than the other and for a temporary period of time. Also called spousal support.

Annulment
A court declaration that a marriage is invalid or nonexistent. Courts annul marriages where fraud bigamy, impotence, or other serious problem has occurred. It means that the marriage never occurred legally. Church annulments are not the same as legal annulments.

Appeal
Process of going to a higher court to review the decision of a lower court.

Arraignment
The initial court proceeding, in which the state formally charges the defendant with a crime, and in which the defendant usually pleads guilty or not guilty.

Arrest
The initial step in the criminal justice process, in which the state deprives a suspect of her freedom due to alleged violations of criminal law.

Assault
A violent physical or verbal attack.

Assess
To figure out a sum of money and charge it to another.

Assignment
To award a debt or benefits to another person. For example, a husband who does not pay child support can be forced to assign his wages to the court for his children.

Asylum
The granting of protection against return to a refugee; can lead to lawful permanent resident status and eventually to citizenship.

Attorney
Legal advocate who is licensed to practice law in the state you are going to court in. Attorneys and lawyers are the same; these terms are used interchangeably.

Attorney general -- (AG)
Head of the state agency responsible for prosecuting violations of state laws. The AG's office is the State's law firm for civil matters. The AG's represent the State, either defending the State, or bringing lawsuits on behalf of the State.

Bail
Money or other security pprovided by the defendant, or by others on her behalf, to assure that she will appear at the required stages of the trial process.

Bench warrant
A warrant that a judge issues for someone's arrest. A judge may issue a bench warrant in a number of circumstances, including when someone does not obey a court order or fails to come to a court hearing that s/he was ordered to come to.

Book
To enter into police records a suspect's name and the crime for which he was arrested.

Brief
A written summary of a client's case, usually summarizing relevant laws and facts.

Clerk
The court official who keeps court records and files.

Commonwealth's attorney
Equivalent of state's attorney who prosecutes felony crimes in their respective counties within the commonwealth of Kentucky. It is possible that this term is also used in other states that are also known as Commonwealths.

Compensate
To give one party money or other benefits to make up for a loss or problem.

Competent
Able to make decisions. The court may decide if a person is competent or incompetent. If someone is incompetent, the court may appoint a legal guardian.

Consent
Free and willing agreement. (eg., A "consent order" is made when both parties agree to the terms of the order and then the judge signs off on it.)

Consortium
The services of a spouse. Services include household tasks one spouse performs for another and/or in addition to sexual services. (Term is used in law suits for "loss of consortium" where one spouse loses the services of the other and can sue for damages. Available only in some states.)

Contempt of court
Committed by a person who intentionally disobeys a court order, acts in a way that does not respect the authority and dignity of the court, or fails to follow a court order.

Continuance
The postponing (rescheduling for later) of a court hearing. If you ask a judge for a continuance, s/he may or may not give it to you.

Convey
To give, sell, or transfer to another person

Court
Place where civil and criminal trials are held.

Court officer
An officer of the court who protects the judge; is in charge of the accused person while he is in the courtroom; and looks after the jurors.

Court reporter
A legal stenographer who records what happens during official court proceedings.

Criminal case
A legal proceeding brought by the state, county, or city against someone, charging the person with a crime.

Damages
An award of money to the winning party in a lawsuit. Actual damages are out-of-pocket expenses such as lost wages or hospital bills. Actual damages in some cases may include an award for psychological harm. Punitive damages are an award to punish the wrongful party for willful improper action.

Default judgment
A judgment made against someone who did not defend himself/herself against a claim. For example, someone asking the Court for a restraining order may get one by default judgment if the accused abuser does not come to court.

Defendant
Person with charges or a lawsuit against him or her. This term is used in both criminal and civil cases. (The defendant is also sometimes called the "respondent.")

Defense attorney
The lawyer who represents the defendant.

Defraud
To cheat or steal by false representation.

Delinquent
Person under 16 years old who commits a crime.

District attorney
The attorney(s) employed by the state to prosecute people for state criminal offenses. Also known as prosecutors, they represent the state. A city government may also have attorneys assigned to prosecute city charges. These people function like district attorneys on a local level.

Domestic Violence
The Texas Family Code (Sec. 71.004) defines "family violence" as: --any act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household --that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault or --that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault.... Family violence also includes abuse by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family or household. Actions taken to protect yourself or your children are not family violence if the court believes they are self-defense. Under TX law, family violence also includes "dating violence." Dating violence is is defined in the Texas Family Code (Section 71.0021) as: -- any act by an individual that is against another individual with whom that person has or has had a dating relationship and --that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault --or that is a threat that reasonably places the individual in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault. "Dating relationship" means: --a relationship between individuals who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature. To determine if a dating relationship exists, the judge will consider: 1. the length of the relationship; 2. the nature of the relationship; and 3. the frequency and type of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.

Domicile
The place where you live.

Emancipation
The process by which a minor child is declared to be an "adult" by a court of law. The child must petition the court for this right. The age at which you can file for emancipation is set by law in each state.

Emergency Protective Order
An Emergency Protective Order (EPO) is a criminally enforceable court order that can be issued to the abuser following an arrest on a family violence offense. The victim is not required to be present in court when the order is issued and there is no separate application process required of the victim.

Evidence
Proof; witnesses' testimony; written statements or physical objects that someone presents at trial to make his or her case. testimonial evidence -- Statements that witnesses make under oath at a trial. demonstrative evidence -- Physical items that the parties introduce at trial, such as records, documents, exhibits, and objects such as guns or other weapons.

Ex parte
On one side only. (EX: A judicial proceeding or order is said to be "ex parte" when it is taken or granted for the benefit of one party only, and without notice to any other person adversely affected. For example, you might have an "ex parte" hearing on your request for a restraining order during which a judge listens ONLY to your side and then can grant you the order without the defendant (your abuser) present. The order will be temporary until the judge can hold a full court hearing with the defendant present to tell his side of the story.)

Examination
The questioning of a witness by a lawyer at a trial or deposition. When the lawyer calls a witness for their case and questions the witness, the questioning is called direct examination. When the opposing lawyer questions the same witness, the questioning is called cross-examination.

False imprisonment
The unlawful detainment of another person. This happens when one person deprives another of freedom of movement by holding that person in a confined space or by physical restraint. Examples include being locked in a car without opportunity to get out, being tied to a chair, or being locked in a closet.

Family Violence
The Texas Family Code (Sec. 71.004) defines "family violence" as: --any act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household --that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault or --that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault.... Family violence also includes abuse by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family or household. Actions taken to protect yourself or your children are not family violence if the court believes they are self-defense. Under TX law, family violence also includes "dating violence." Dating violence is is defined in the Texas Family Code (Section 71.0021) as: -- any act by an individual that is against another individual with whom that person has or has had a dating relationship and --that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault --or that is a threat that reasonably places the individual in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault. "Dating relationship" means: --a relationship between individuals who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature. To determine if a dating relationship exists, the judge will consider: 1. the length of the relationship; 2. the nature of the relationship; and 3. the frequency and type of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.

Felony
A serious criminal offense such as murder, for which the sentence can include imprisonment for more than a year.

Frivolous
A pleading or claim is frivolous if no rational or reasonable arguments can be made to support the claim, and its purpose was to delay the court or embarass the opponent.

Grand jury
A group of 23 citizens who decide whether there is "reasonable cause" to believe the defendant has committed a crime and whether an indictment should be issued

Guardian ad litem
The person assigned by the court to represent the interests of a minor child or incompetent person in legal proceedings. In some states, such as Massachusetts, guardian as litems are appointed by the court to perform investigations or evaluations in custody cases, and to make reports to the court, sometimes with recommendations.

Impound
To seize and take into custody of the law or of a court.

Indian tribe
The term ''Indian tribe'' means any Indian tribe, band, nation, pueblo, or other organized group or community which administers justice or plans to administer justice under its inherent authority or the authority of the United States and which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indian tribes because of their status as Indians.

Indictment
A written accusation by a grand jury charging an individual with a crime, generally a felony.

Injunction
A court order prohibiting someone from doing some specified act or commanding someone to undo some wrong or injury.

Judge
The person who is appointed to decide cases and to make sure that legal procedures are followed in the courtroom.

Jurisdiction
Authority of a court to listen to and decide cases. Each court has the authority to hear certain cases. State and federal laws determine which subjects courts may decide and whether the court's decision will be binding on someone who lives in another state.

Jury
A group of people who determine the guilt or non-guilt of the defendant. The lawyers screen the jury to make sure the people on it are neutral (impartial).

Liable
Legally responsible.

Malpractice
Any professional misconduct or unreasonable lack of skill in a professional duty.

Misdemeanor
Less serious type of crime that can lead to imprisonment for up to one year.

Negligence
Carelessness or lack of care. A person is negligent if she or he fails to act reasonably or take reasonable precautions

Offender
The alleged perpetrator or criminal.

Paternity
Fatherhood.

Persecution
(In asylum proceedings) The infliction of serious suffering or harm, caused by government action or inaction, upon people who differ in a way regarded as offensive (race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion) in a manner condemned by civilized governments.

Petition
A request to a court. (Also sometimes called an "application.")

Plea
The defendant's response to a criminal charge, generally guilty or not guilty.

Plea-bargaining
The process through which the prosecutor and the defense attorney try to reach an agreement where the defendant pleads guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence.

Pro Se
Pro se is a Latin adjective meaning "for self", that is applied to someone who represents himself (or herself) without a lawyer in a court proceeding, whether as a defendant or a plaintiff and whether the matter is civil or criminal.

Probable cause
Sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed, or that certain property is connected with a crime. Probable cause means there is more evidence for than against. Probable cause must exist for a law enforcement officer to make an arrest without a warrant, search without a warrant, or seize property in the belief the items were evidence of a crime

Prosecute
To try to get a court to declare someone guilty of a crime. A district attorney prosecutes cases against persons thought to have committed violations of state criminal law.

Prosecutor
The attorney who represents the state and the victim. He or she tries to present evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime as charged. A prosecutor will be assigned for criminal cases but not civil ones.

Protective Order
A protective order is a court order that can make someone who has hurt an adult or teenager keep away from that person's home, school or place of work. A minor can ask for a protective order against a partner, parent or household member who is physically hurting of threatening him/her. Victims of sexual assault may also seek protective orders.

Public defender
An attorney or staff of attorneys having responsibility for the legal defense of those charged with a criminal offense who are unable to afford or obtain legal assistance.

Refugee
A person outside his or her own country who is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution, or a well founded fear of persecution, on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Regulations
Operating procedures of government agencies.

Restraining order
A court demand for someone to behave in a certain way and to stop violations of laws or court orders. A court can issue a restraining order preventing someone from visiting someone else. Also called protection order, order of protection, etc.

Sentence
The punishment or penalty that the judge gives to a person who has plead guilty or whom a jury has found guilty.

Service of process
In the context of a restraining order, the actual delivery of court paperwork that informs a person of an upcoming hearing and any temporary restraining orders against him/her. When someone receives this paperwork, s/he has been served.

Settlement
A written compromise reached in a civil case and approved by a judge.

Stalking
Each state defines stalking differently. The Stalking Resource Center of the National Center for Victims of Crime provides stalking-related state and federal statutes and other stalking-related info. The Stalking Resource Center website is at www.ncvc.org/src/index.html.

State
Government; society; a group of people living under a single government; the United States or one of the 50 states.

Subpoena
An order of the court that commands a witness to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony about a specific matter or case. Any person who fails to appear as required by the subpoena may be punished as contempt of court.

Suspend
To stop temporarily or to postpone on certain conditions.

Testify
To give evidence under oath in a legal proceeding.

Trial
The process through which a prosecuting attorney and a defense attorney both have the opportunity to prove their sides of the case.

Tribal justice system
The term ''tribal court'', ''tribal court system'', or ''tribal justice system'' means the entire judicial branch, and employees thereof, of an Indian tribe, including, but not limited to, traditional methods and for a for dispute resolution, trial courts, appellate courts, including inter-tribal appellate courts, alternative dispute resolution systems, and circuit rider systems, established by inherent tribunal authority whether or not they constitute a court of record.

Vacate
To cancel or set aside.

Verdict
The decision made by the jury in a trial as to the guilt or non-guilt of the defendant.

Violation
An act that is against the law for which the state can imprison an individual for up to 15 days, but not more.

Violence
an act of aggression (as one against a person who resists)

Voir dire
The process through which the prosecution and defense attorneys question and select jurors for a trial.

Waive
To give up certain rights or responsibilities. (Examples: To "waive" your right to an attorney means you are giving up that right. You can also ask the court to "waive" any fees if you can't pay them. The court then gives up its right to collect fees from you.)

Witness
A person who testifies as to his or her knowledge of the facts related to a particular case.