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Important legal words to know

In the legal world there are many words and phrases that are unique. These words have their origin hundreds of years ago, and while they may sound odd or carry a different meaning outside an attorney’s office or court room, they are important to know. Television shows like “Law and Order” may have made these words more commonplace in the last 25 years, but it is important to know what these legal terms mean to ensure your rights are protected in any legal circumstance. Consult an attorney with any legal questions and before signing any legal documents.


A sworn statement a person makes before a notary or officer of the court. These statements are made outside of the court and assert that certain facts are true to the best of the person’s knowledge. Affidavits are usually collected before a trial and are used like testimony.


A claim of fact not necessarily proven to be true at the time it was made that states on belief that someone did something wrong or something is deemed to be true. As an example, Walmart makes an allegation that you someone stole something from their store.


Asking a higher court to review or reverse a decision made by a lower court based on error or other mistake.


Money or property given to the court for temporary release from incarceration. The purpose of bail or bond is to ensure the defendant will return to court for pretrial and trial hearings and to ensure the safety of the public.


A written document that is submitted to court articulating their side of the story as well as the law they would like the Court to use in making a determination of some fact or circumstance. Attorneys write briefs to highlight or clarify information to persuade the court to rule in favor of their client.


This is the first document that is filed with a court to get a law suit started. This document is used to tell the Court why you believe that a law suit is necessary and the facts and circumstances surrounding your claims.


The remedy the party requests the court award in order to try and make the injured party whole. There are several types of damages including compensatory, incidental, consequential, nominal and punitive.


The formal process of exchanging information between parties about the witnesses and evidence to be presented at trial. This allows the parties to know before the trial begins what evidence will be presented.


A list of cases to be heard by the court on a specific day or week.


A criminal office for which a person may be sentenced to imprisonment for more than a year. A crime serious enough to be punished by time in prison or even death.


A lesser crime punishable by a fine and/or a term of incarceration of up to one year.


The conditional release of a prisoner before their prison sentence is complete and is supervised by a parole officer. If conditions of parole are violated, the person can return to prison.

Plea Bargain

The agreement the defendant makes with the prosecutor to avoid trial. This usually involves the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge or only one of several charges. It can also involve a guilty plea as charges with the prosecutor recommending leniency in sentencing.


A court order to start doing to stop doing a specific act.

Power of Attorney

A legal document that allows someone else to act on your behalf. This can be helpful to elderly people or for those who want a trusted person to be able to act when they cannot.


It is a lawyer who initiates prosecution of criminal offenses and presents the case for prosecution in a criminal proceeding.

Public Defender

Lawyers appointed by the court to represent defendants. They are appointed and paid by the state to defend a person in a criminal case after the court finds them indigent - unable to financially hire a private attorney.


A financial remedy to restore one party to a financial position where they would have been prior to the damage or injury caused by another person’s actions. Often this is a condition of probation.


The formal legal consequences associated with a conviction. Sentences can be concurrent - multiple sentences served at the same time or consecutive - served back-to-back.


An action taken by the court to stop a legal proceeding or actions of a party. Temporarily stopping a judicial proceeding.


A document that is used to notify someone that they are being sued or are required to appear in court. It may be served by a sheriff or other authorized person, such as the process server.

Time Served

A colloquial term used by the court to describe a sentence of incarceration equal to the amount of time the defendant has already spent in state custody waiting for trial.


An offense for which the only sentence authorized is a fine.

Depending on the type of case or legal expertise needed by an attorney, many other legal terms may be used. It is important to fully understand everything presented, especially before signing any legal documents. Talk with an attorney and ask questions to make sure there is complete understanding. Failure to do so could be costly.

A licensed attorney in the community can answer questions about tenant or landlord rights or the eviction moratorium.

Kimm Burger


"I want to hear your side of the story."


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