Legal Definitions


- 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. 


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


 - A written or printed statement made under oath.


 - A proceeding in which a criminal defendant is brought into court, told of the charges in an indictment, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.


 - 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. Bail can also can refer to the amount of bond money posted as a financial condition of pretrial release.


 - Written evidence of debt issued by a company with the terms of payment spelled out. It is pre-determined and provides a final pay-off date.

Community Service

 - A special condition the court imposes that requires an individual to work—without pay—for a civic or nonprofit organization.


 - A written statement that begins a civil lawsuit, in which the plaintiff details the claims against the defendant.

Consecutive Sentence

 - Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served one after the other.


 - A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.


 - An allegation in an indictment charging a defendant with a crime. An indictment or information may contain allegations that the defendant committed more than one crime. Each allegation is referred to as a count.


 - Money that a defendant pays a plaintiff in a civil case if the plaintiff has won. Damages may be compensatory (for loss or injury) or punitive (to punish and deter future misconduct).


 - An individual or business against whom a lawsuit is filed.

Defense Attorney

 - The attorney who represents the defendant in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution.


 - Evidence presented by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question, but rather heard about it from someone else. It is not admissible as evidence at trial.


 - A court order preventing one or more named parties from taking some action. A preliminary injunction is often issued to allow fact-finding, so a judge can determine whether a permanent injunction is justified.


 - The disputed point between parties in a lawsuit. JURISDICTION The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case.


 - The group of persons selected to hear the evidence in a trial and render a verdict on matters of fact.

Jury Instructions

 - A judge’s directions to the jury before it begins deliberations regarding the factual questions it must answer and the legal rules that it must apply.


 - A legal action started by a plaintiff against a defendant based on a complaint that the defendant failed to perform a legal duty which resulted in harm to the plaintiff.


 - A case, controversy, or lawsuit. Participants (plaintiffs and defendants) in lawsuits are called litigants.


 - An invalid trial, caused by fundamental error. When a mistrial is declared, the trial must start again with the selection of a new jury.


 - A request by a litigant to a judge for a decision on an issue relating to the case.

Motion in Limine

 - A pretrial motion requesting the court to prohibit the other side from presenting, or even referring to, evidence on matters said to be so highly prejudicial that no steps taken by the judge can prevent the jury from being unduly influenced.


 - The release of a prison inmate after the inmate has completed part of his or her sentence in a federal prison.


 - In a criminal case, the defendant’s statement pleading “guilty” or “not guilty” in answer to the charges.


 - Sentencing option in the federal courts. Instead of sending an individual to prison, the court releases the person to the community and orders him or her to complete a period of supervision monitored by a U.S. probation officer and to abide by certain conditions.


 - A lawyer who conducts the case against a defendant in a criminal court.

Public Defender

 - A lawyer who is employed at public expense in a criminal trial to represent a defendant who is unable to afford legal assistance.


 - The punishment ordered by a court for a defendant convicted of a crime.

Sentencing Guidelines

 - A set of rules and principles established by the United States Sentencing Commission that trial judges use to determine the sentence for a convicted defendant.


 - Parties to a lawsuit resolve their dispute without having a trial.

Standard of Proof

 - Degree of proof required. In criminal cases, prosecutors must prove a defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” while in civil lawsuits it must be “by a preponderance of the evidence” (50 percent or more).


 - A law passed by a legislature.

Statute of Limitations

 - The time within which a lawsuit must be filed or a criminal prosecution begun.


 - A command, issued under a court’s authority, to a witness to appear and give testimony.


 - A civil wrong, such as a negligent or intentional injury against a person or property.


 - The decision of a trial jury or judge that determines the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant, or that determines the final outcome of a civil case.


 - Court authorization, most often for law enforcement officers, to conduct a search or make an arrest.

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