These definitions are culled from a page published by the Florida courts, and have been simplified for easier understanding.
- abatement of action
- A suit which has been quashed.
- abstract of record
- A summary of the case.
- An agreement between the parties in a
lawsuit which means they can't sue again.
- accord and satisfaction
- An agreement to give and take something to settle the claim.
- action in personam
- Action "against the person", personal liability. As opposed to action in rem, which is an action for the recovery of a specific object, such as an automobile.
- action in rem
- Action "against the thing" as compared to personal actions (in personam). Usually, property is involved.
- The power of the trial court to increase the damage award made by a jury. There is no additur in federal courts.
- Giving or pronouncing a judgment or decree, or
rendering a decision.
- affirmative defense
- A defense which does not necessarily refute an allegation but offers new matter which may defeat the right to recovery.
- amicus curiae
- A friend of the court; a nonparty volunteers information.
- A pleading by which the defendant responds to the plaintiff's complaint.
- The party appealing a final decision or judgment.
- appellate jurisdiction
- The appellate court has the right to
review and revise the lower court decision.
- The party against whom an appeal is taken.
- arrest of judgment
- Postponing the effect of a judgment.
- assumption of risk
- A defense that says that the plaintiff "knew the job was dangerous when he took it," as they say.
- at issue
- When the parties to a suit come to a point in
the pleadings which is affirmed on one side and denied on the other, they
are said to be "at issue" and ready for trial.
- The plaintiff gets a lien on the defendant's property.
- attorney of record
- Attorney who name appears in the permanent
files of a case.
- bench trial
- Trial without a jury in which the judge decides
- best evidence
- In proving what's in a document, the best
evidence is the document itself, and unless it's not available, no other evidence is admissible to prove it.
- bill of particulars
- A written statement specifying the demands in a civil action. The purpose of the bill of particulars is to give the defendants more information to enable them to prepare a defense.
- Breaking a law, right, obligation, or duty, either by doing an act or failing to do an act.
- A lawyer's written statement of a client's case filed
in court. It usually contains a summary of the facts in the case, the pertinent laws, and an argument of how the law applies to the facts supporting the client's position.
- burden of proof
- The duty to establish a claim or allegation
by admissible evidence. This is usually the duty of the plaintiff in a
civil case and always is the duty of the state in a criminal case. (Does not apply to the IRS).
- The heading or introductory clause of papers connected
with a case in court, which shows the names of the parties, name of the
court, docket number of the case, etc.
- case law
- The law made by courts interpreting cases and laws
instead of law made by legislatures. In the American system, the primary
sources of law are: 1)constitutions, 2) statutes/regulations. and 3) case
- cause of action
- A claim sufficient to justify a legal right to sue.
- "Let him beware". A formal warning given by a party to a court or judge against the performance of certain acts within his or her power and jurisdiction.
- cease and desist order
- An order of an administrative agency
or court prohibiting a person or business from continuing a particular
course of conduct.
- certification of need
- A judicial certification process used
for determining the need for additional judgeships.
- See writ of certiorari.
- A judge's private office in the courthouse.
- The judge's instructions to jury on it duties, on the law involved in the case and on how the law in the case must be applied. The charge is always given just before jury deliberations.
- An order of the court requiring the appearance of
a defendant on a particular day to answer to a particular charge.
- civil case
- A lawsuit brought to enforce, redress, or protect
private rights or to gain payment for a wrong done to a person or party
by another person or party. In genera, all types of actions other than
- clerk of the court
- Court official who keeps court record,
files pleadings, motions, and judgment, and administers the oath to juror
- A collection, compendium or revision of laws, rules and
regulations enacted by legislative authority.
- code of criminal procedure
- Body of federal or state law dealing with procedural aspects of trial for criminal cases.
- common law
- General provisions of law existing before codification or interpretation by courts.
- comparative negligence
- The degree to which a person contributed to his/her own injury, damage or death. Usually measured in terms of percentage.
- A witness's ability to observe, recall and tell
under oath what happened.
- The first pleading on the part of the plaintiff
in a civil action.
- concurrent jurisdiction
- The jurisdiction of two or more courts, each authorized to deal with the same subject.
- The legal process by which real estate of a private owner is taken for public use without the owner's consent, but the owner receives "just compensation".
- The cause, price or impelling influence which
induces a party to enter into a contract.
- A court order postponing proceedings.
- contributory negligence
- The failure to exercise care by a
plaintiff, which contributed to the plaintiff's injury.
- An allowance for expenses in prosecuting or defending
a suit. Ordinarily this does not include attorney fees.
- A claim presented by a defendant in a civil proceeding in opposition to the claim of a plaintiff.
- Court of record
- A court in which the proceedings are recorded,
transcribed, and maintained as permanent records.
- In a civil proceeding, if there are two or more
defendants, one defendant can raise a claim against another defendant.
- A decision or order of the court. A final decree is
one which fully and finally disposes of the litigation. An interlocutory
decree is a preliminary decree which is not final.
- declaratory judgment
- One which declares the rights of the
parties or expresses the opinion of the courts on a question of law, without
ordering anything to be done.
- Making false, derogatory statements about
a person's character, morals, abilities, business practices or financial
status (Includes libel, which is written, and slander, which is
- Occurs when a defendant fails to respond to the plaintiff's complaint within the time allowed, or fails to appear at the trail. The court may then enter a default judgement.
- direct evidence
- Evidence that tends directly to prove or disprove a disputed fact, as distinguished from circumstantial evidence from which an inference can be drawn.
- direct examination
- The first questioning of a witness by the
attorney for the party on whose behalf the witness is called. Usually proceeds with open ended, non leading questions.
- directed verdict
- In civil cases in which there is insufficient
basis for any other conclusion, the judge may direct the jury to render
a specific verdict. Criminal defendants may also ask the court to rule
in their favor rather than submitting the case to the jury.
- The process through which parties to an action are
allowed to obtain relevant information known to other parties or nonparties
- dismissal without prejudice
- A dismissal which permits the
plaintiff to sue again on the same cause of action or the state to proceed
again. Dismissal with prejudice bars the right to subsequently bring an
action on the same cause.
- A term commonly issued to denote the disagreement
of one or more judges of a court of appeals with the decision of the majority.
- A brief entry or the book containing such entries of
any proceeding in court.
- That place where a person has his true and permanent
home. A person may have several residences, but only one domicile.
- due process
- The guarantee of due process requires that no
person be deprived of life, liberty, or property without a fair and adequate
process. In criminal proceedings this guarantee includes the fundamental
aspects of a fair trial, including the right to adequate notice in advance
of the trial, the right to counsel, the right to confront and cross-examine
witnesses, the right to refuse self-incriminating testimony, and the right
to have all elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. (Does not apply to the IRS.)
- Eminent domain
- The power to take private property for public
use by the state and municipalities.
- en banc
- A proceeding in which the entire membership of the
court will participate in the decision.
- To order a person to perform, or to abstain and desist
from performing a specified act or course of conduct. See injunction.
- equitable action
- An action which may be brought for the purpose of restraining the threatened infliction of wrongs or injuries, and the prevention of threatened illegal action.
- equity, courts of
- Courts which administer a legal remedy according to the system of equity, as distinguished from courts of common law.
- In American law, the right of the state to an estate
left vacant, to which no one makes a valid claim.
- A person's own act. or acceptance of facts. which
preclude later claims to the contrary.
- et al
- An abbreviation of et alii, meaning "and others," ordinarily used in lieu of listing all names of persons involved in a proceeding.
- et seq
- An abbreviation for et sequentes, or et sequential
"and the following," ordinarily used in referring to a section
- exclusive jurisdiction
- The matter can only be filed in one
- ex contractu
- Arising from a contract.
- ex delicto
- Arising from a wrong, breach of duty. See tort.
- ex parte
- By or for a single party; done for, in behalf of
or on the application of one party only as distinguished from an adversary
- ex post facto
- After the fact, ordinarily used in reference
to constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws. For example, a person
cannot be punished for conduct committed before a criminal law was enacted.
- A court order allowing the destruction or sealing
of records of minors or adults, after the passage of a specified period
of time or when the person reaches a specified age and has not committed
- extraordinary writ
- A writ, often issued by an appellate court,
making available remedies not regularly within the powers of lower courts.
They include writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition and quo warranto.
- fee simple absolute
- The most complete, unlimited form of ownership of real property.
- A person who has assumed a special relationship
to another person or another person's property, such as a trustee, administrator, executor, lawyer, or guardian. The fiduciary must exercise the highest degree or care to maintain and preserve the person's rights and/or property which are within his/her charge.
- Fifth Amendment
- Among other right, the Fifth Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution guarantees that a person cannot be compelled to present self-incriminating testimony in a criminal proceeding. (Does not apply to the IRS).
- forcible entry and detainee
- Ordinarily refers to a summary
proceeding for restoring possession of land to one who has been wrongfully
deprived of possession.
- In a trial, a foundation must be laid to establish
the basis for the admissibility of certain types of evidence. For example,
an expert witnesses' qualifications must be shown before expert testimony
will be admissible.
- Fourteenth Amendment
- Among other matters, the 14th Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from depriving any person of
life, liberty, or property without adequate due process. (Does not apply to the IRS).
- A court order to take part of a person's wages,
before he gets them, and apply the amount taken to pay a debt owed to a
- general assignment
- The voluntary transfer, by a debtor, of
all property to a trustee for the benefit of all of his or her creditors.
- general jurisdiction
- Jurisdiction which extends to all controversies brought before a court. In contrast, special or limited jurisdiction covers only a particular class of cases.
- good faith
- An honest belief, the absence of malice and the
absence of design to defraud.
- harmless error
- An error committed by a lower court during
a trial, but determined by an appellate court not to be prejudicial to
the rights of the party affected, and therefore furnishing no basis for
reversal of the lower court's judgment.
- hearing de novo
- A full new hearing.
- Second-hand evidence, generally consisting of a witness's testimony that he/she heard someone else say something.
- Entirely written, dated and signed in someone's own handwriting.
- hypothetical question
- An imaginary situation, incorporating
facts previously admitted into evidence, upon which an expert witness is
permitted to give an opinion as to a condition resulting from the situation.
- Legal protection from liability. There are many categories of immunity in civil and criminal law. For example, sovereign immunity protects government agencies from civil liability and judicial immunity protects judges acting in their official capacities.
- impeachment of witness
- An attack on the credibility of a witness.
- implied contract
- A contract in which the promise made by the
obligor is not expressed, but inferred by one's conduct or implied in law.
- in rem
- A procedural term used to designate proceedings or
actions instituted against the thing, in contrast to actions instituted
in personam or against the person.
- inadmissible/incompetent evidence
- Information which is so
unreliable it cannot be admitted under the established rules of evidence.
- in camera
- In a judge's chambers; in private.
- Imprisonment; confinement in a jail or penitentiary.
- To compensate someone for a loss.
- Liability shifted from one person to another.
- A court order forbidding or requiring a certain action.
- When a judge refers to the "instant" case, he means this case. So why doesn't he say this, instead of instant? No money in it.
- A direction given by the judge to the jury concerning the law to be applied in the case.
- inter alia
- Among other things.
- Temporary. Often used to describe a court order that is not a final disposition of the case but only decides
some point in it.
- In the discovery phase of civil litigation
these written questions are submitted by one party to another party and
must be answered in writing under oath.
- When the court permits a third person to intervene and become a party.
- The peril in which an accused is placed. After that, the accused may not be tried later for the same offense. See doublejeopardy.
- joint venture
- An association of persons jointly undertaking
some commercial enterprise. Unlike a partnership, a joint venture does
not entail a continuing relationship among the parties.
- The official decision of a court disposing of a case.
- The legal authority of a court to hear a case
or conduct other proceedings; power of the court over persons involved
in a case and the subject matter of the case.
- Formal study of the principles on which legal rules are based and the means by which judges guide their decision making.
- Willfully or intentionally.
- law and motion
- A setting before a judge at which time a variety of motions, pleas, sentencing, orders to show cause or procedural requests may be presented. Normally, evidence is not taken. Defendants must be present.
- lay person
- One not trained in the law.
- leading question
- One which virtually instructs a witness how
to answer or puts into his mouth word to be echoed back; one which suggest
to the witness the answer desired. Ordinarily prohibited on direct examination, although allowed on cross-examination.
- A seizure; getting money by seizure and sale of property.
- A legal responsibility, obligation, or debt.
- A method of defamation expressed by print, writing,
pictures or signs. In its most general sense any publication that injures the reputation of another.
- A claim which a person has upon the property of another
as security for a debt owned to the lienholder.
- limited action
- Small claims court. A civil action in which recovery of less than a certain amount (as specific by statute) is sought. Simplified rules of procedure are used in such actions.
- lis pendens
- A pending suit.
- A party to a lawsuit.
- locus delicti
- The place of the offense.
- Unlawful conduct.
- malicious prosecution
- An action instituted with intention
of injuring defendant and without probably cause and which terminates in
favor of the person prosecuted.
- A writ by which a court commands the performance
of a particular act.
- A judicial command from a court or judge, directing the proper officer to enforce a judgment.
- material evidence
- Relevant evidence.
- mens rea
- Literally, "guilty mind." The intent to commit a crime. It is a prerequisite to convict for a crime involving a moral wrong, but it is not a prerequisite to convict for an act that is a crime only because a law says it is a crime, for example, overtime parking.
- A minor offense, lower than a felony, and punishable by a fine or imprisonment other than in penitentiaries.
- A trial which is void because of some error.
- mitigating circumstance
- A circumstance which may reduce the degree of moral blame, though it doesn't entirely excuse an offense.
- A case is moot when it doesn't make any difference.
- moral turpitude
- Immorality. An element of crimes inherently
bad (malum in se), as opposed to crimes bad merely because forbidden by
statute (malum prohibitum).
- A formal request presented to a court.
- motion in limine
- A written motion for a protective order against prejudicial questions and statements.
- multiplicity of actions
- Numerous and unnecessary attempts
to litigate the same issue.
- ne exact
- A writ which forbids a person to leave the country, the state or the jurisdiction of the court.
- Failure to exercise the care that an ordinarily
prudent person would exercise in the same circumstances.
- nolle prosequi
- I won't prosecute this"
- nolo contenders
- "I will not contest it."
- nominal party
- One who is joined as a party or defendant merely
because the technical rules of pleading require his presence in the record.
- non obstante verdicto
- Notwithstanding the verdict. A verdict entered by the judge contrary to a jury's verdict.
- notice to produce
- In practice, a notice in writing requiring
the opposite party to produce a certain described paper or document at
the trial, or in the course of pre-trial discovery.
- nunc pro tunc
- Acts allowed to be done retroactively.
- of counsel
- A phrase commonly applied to counsel employed to
assist in the preparation or management of the case, or its presentation
on appeal, but who is not the principal attorney for the party.
- opinion evidence
- Witnesses are normally required to confine
their testimony to statements of fact and are not allowed to give their
opinions in court. However, if a witness is qualified as an expert in a
particular field, he or she may be allowed to state an opinion as an expert
based on certain facts.
- order to show cause
- Court order requiring someone to appear and show cause why the court should not take a particular course of action. If the party fails to appear or to give sufficient reasons why the court should take no action, the court will take the action.
- overt act
- An act establishing intent
- parol evidence
- Verbal evidence.
- The pleading which starts a civil case. It says "Thus and such happened, and I want you to make it right this and such way."
- A person who files a lawsuit.
- The formal allegations by the parties of their respective claims and defenses.
- A rule of law that is established by an appellate
court in an earlier case serves as binding precedent in all subsequent
- prejudicial evidence
- Evidence which might unfairly sway the
judge or jury to one side or the other.
- prejudicial error
- Same as with "reversible error"; an error which warrants the appellate court in reversing a judgment.
- preliminary injunction
- In civil cases when it is necessary
to preserve the status quo prior to trial, the court may issue a preliminary
injunction or temporary restraining order ordering, a party to carry out
a specified activity.
- preponderance of evidence
- Evidence which is even a little bit more convincing. This is the standard by which a plaintiff must prove
his case in a civil suit.
- presumption of law
- A rule of law that courts and judges shall
draw a particular inference from a particular fact, or from particular
evidence. ("Here's what this means.")
- prima facie
- On the face of it. Presumed to be true unless disproved.
- The same right or property in common, or the same right or property one person after another.
- probable cause
- A court decides there's reasonable
grounds that a person should be arrested or searched.
- pro se
- In his own behalf. One who does not retain
a lawyer and appears for himself in court.
- protective order
- A court order to protect a person from harassment.
- proximate cause
- What made it happen.
- punitive damages
- Money awarded to an injured person, over
and above the measurable value of the injury, in order to punish the person
who hurt him.
- quantum meruit
- "What he deserves". It describes the extent of liability on a contract.
- Reverse or nullify.
- quid pro quo
- Tit for tat.
- Confirming a previous act.
- ratio decidendi
- The reason for the decision.
- real evidence
- rebuttal evidence
- Evidence to disprove evidence by the other side.
- Habitual crime.
- An accused awaiting trial can be released without bail if he promises to appear before the court at the proper time.
- redirect examination
- Follow cross-examination, and is conducted by the party who first examined the witness.
- A person to whom a case is referred by the court to take testimony, hear the parties and report to the court.
- "To send back". For example, an appellate
court may remand a case to a lower court for retrial.
- removal, order of
- An order by a court directing the transfer
of a case to another court.
- A written pleading containing the plaintiff's allegations in response to a counterclaim.
- res ipsa loquitur
- Literally, "a thing that speaks for
itself." In tort law, the doctrine which holds a defendant guilty
of negligence without actually showing he was negligent.
- res judicata
- A rule of civil law that once something has been
decided in court, it can't be fought out again in court.
- respondeat superior
- "Let the master answer." The
doctrine that employers are responsible for what their employees do and don't do.
- the person who is the subject of a petition,
- the one who won a court case, and now an appeal is taken against them.
- The fee which the client pays when he/she retains an attorney.
- Rule of court
- A court order.
Rules of court are either general or special; general orders are the regulations of the court; special orders are made in particular cases.
- A penalty to enforce an order.
- The closure of courts records to inspection, except
to the parties.
- slander is defaming another orally. Libel is writing it down.
- sovereign immunity
- The doctrine that you can't sue the government.
- specific performance
- When money damages would be not pay for the breach of a contract, the contractor will be compelled to do specifically what the contract called for.
- standard of proof
- There are three standards of proof:
- In criminal cases, the offense must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
- In civil cases, a mere preponderance of the evidence.(more likely than not). \
- In some civil cases, and in juvenile proceedings such as a permanent end of parental rights, an in between standard applies : proof by clear and convincing evidence.
- (None of these applies to the IRS.)
- stare decisis
- The doctrine that once a principal of law has
been determined to be applicable to certain facts, that principle will
be followed in future cases involving the same facts.
- A law enacted by legislature, as distinguished from case law.
- Stopping a judicial proceeding by order
of a court.
- An agreement by attorneys on opposite sides of
a case as to any matter pertaining to the trial.
- subpoena duces tecum
- A subpoena which commands a witness to produce certain documents.
- substantive law
- The law dealing with rights, duties and liabilities, as contrasted with procedural law, which governs the technical aspects of enforcing civil or criminal laws.
- summary judgment
- When the judge figures there's no need to go to trial, and decides the case.
- A writ issued by an appellate court to preserve
the status quo pending review of a judgment.
- Something you can sue over.
- Actions are "transitory" when they might
have happened anywhere, and are "local" when they could only happen there.
- trial de novo
- A whole new trial held in an appellate
court ast though the first trial never happened.
- trier of fact
- The jury (or judge if the jury is waived) who have the obligation to make finding of fact rather than rulings of law.
- one sidedness in a contract.
- undue influence
- Whatever makes a person do something he would not do if left to himself.
- unjust enrichment
- The principle that one person should not enrich himself at another's expense, but should have to pay.
- unlawful detainer
- Holding real estate without the consent of the owner.
- Charging more interest than the law allows.
- The county, city or geographical area in
which a court may hear a case.
- voir dire
- "To speak the truth." Questioning potential jurors to determine any reasons for disqualification.
- waiver of immunity
- A witness may give up the constitutional right not to be a witness against himself.
- On purpose.
- with prejudice
- A dismissal "with prejudice" bars another action for the same cause.
- without prejudice
- A dismissal "without prejudice"
allows a new suit to be brought for the same cause.
- A court order requiring the performance of a specified
act or giving authority to have the act done.
- writ of certiorari
- A request for appellate review.
- writ of execution
- A writ to put in force the judgment of a court.