Glossary of Legal Terms

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Absentee -- One who is absent from his usual place of residence or domicile.

Absentia -- Absent; proceedings without the defendant present.

Abstract of Title -- A chronological summary of all official records and recorded documents affecting the title to a parcel of real property.

Accomplice -- 1. A partner in a crime. 2. A person who knowingly and voluntarily participates with another in a criminal activity.

Acknowledgment -- 1. A statement of acceptance of responsibility. 2. The short declaration at the end of a legal paper showing the paper was duly executed and acknowledged.

Acquit, acquittal -- A finding of not guilty by a judge or jury.

Action -- Case, cause, suit, or controversy disputed or contested before a court of justice.

Ad litem -- A Latin term meaning for the purpose of the lawsuit. For example, a guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the court to protect the interests of a minor or legally incompetent person in a lawsuit.

Additur -- An increase by a judge in the amount of damages awarded by a jury.

Adjudication -- Judgment rendered by the court after a determination of the issues.

Adjudication withheld -- A manner of disposition in which the court does not pronounce a formal judgment of conviction.

Administrator -- 1. A person appointed by the court to manage the assets and liabilities of a decedent. 2. A court official.

Admissible evidence -- Evidence that can be legally and properly introduced in a civil or criminal trial.

Admonish -- To advise or caution. For example, the court may caution or admonish counsel for wrong practices.

Adversary Preliminary Hearing -- A proceeding before a judge in which evidence is presented so the court can determine whether there is sufficient cause to hold the accused for trial. (See Rule 3.131 (b), Florida Rules of Criminal Procedures.)

Adversary system -- The trial method used in the U.S. and some other countries. This system is based on the belief that truth can best be determined by giving opposing parties full opportunity to present and establish their evidence, and to test by cross-examination the evidence presented by their adversaries. All this is done under the established rules of procedure before an impartial judge and/or jury.

Affiant -- A person who makes and signs an affidavit.

Affidavit -- A written statement of facts confirmed by the oath of the party making it in the presence of a notary or officer having authority to administer oaths. For example, in criminal cases, affidavits often are used by police officers seeking to convince courts to grant a warrant to make an arrest or a search. In civil cases, affidavits of witnesses often are used to support motions for summary judgment.

Affidavit of defense -- A plea in absentia in infraction and misdemeanor cases.

Affidavit of insolvency -- A detailed form signed by the defendant, under oath, attesting to his/her indigency (inability to pay for private legal counsel).

Affirmative defense -- Without denying the charge, the defendant raises circumstances such as insanity, self-defense, or entrapment to avoid civil or criminal responsibility.

Affirmed -- In the practice of appellate courts, the word means the decision of the trial court is correct.

Aid and abet -- To actively, knowingly, or intentionally assist another person in the commission or attempted commission of a crime.

Allegation -- A statement of the issues in a written document (a pleading) which a person is prepared to prove in court. For example, an indictment contains allegations of crimes committed by the defendant.

Alternative dispute resolution -- Settling a dispute without a full, formal trial. Methods include mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and settlement, among others.

Amicus curiae -- A friend of the court. One not a party to a case who volunteers to offer information on a point of law or some other aspect of the case to assist the court in deciding a matter before it.

Answer -- The defendant’s response to the plaintiff’s allegations as stated in a complaint. An item-by-item, paragraph-by-paragraph response to points made in a complaint; part of the pleadings.

Appeal -- 1. Resort to a superior (i.e. appellate court) to review the decision of an inferior (i.e. trial) court or administrative agency. 2. An application for review of an order of conviction.

Appearance -- 1. The formal proceeding by which a defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the court. 2. A written notification to the plaintiff by an attorney stating he/she is representing the defendant.

Appellate court -- A court having jurisdiction to hear appeals and review a trial court’s procedure.

Appellee -- The party against whom an appeal is taken. Sometimes called a respondent.

Arbitration -- A form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party and agree to abide by his/her decision. In arbitration there is a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.

Arraignment -- Appearance of the defendant in court to enter his/her plea to the charges.

Arrest -- To take into custody by legal authority.

Assault -- Threat to inflict injury with an apparent ability to do so. Also, any intentional display of force that would give the victim reason to fear or expect immediate bodily harm.

Asylum state -- The state holding the fugitive.

At issue -- The time in a lawsuit when the complaining party has stated his/her claim and the other side has responded with a denial and the matter is ready to be tried.

Attachment -- Taking a person’s property to satisfy a court-ordered debt.

Attorney-at-law -- An advocate, counsel, or official agent employed in preparing, managing, and trying cases in the court.

Attorney-in-fact -- A private person (not necessarily a lawyer) authorized by another to act in his/her place, either for some particular purpose, as to do a specified act, or for the transaction of business in general, not of legal character. This authority is conferred by an instrument in writing, called a letter of attorney, or, more commonly, a power of attorney.

Attorney of record -- The attorney retained or assigned to represent a client.