Action. The legal, formal name given to the issues embodied in a complaint against another.
Accused. The defendant in a criminal case.
Alibi. A reason why a defendant could not have done what they are accused of doing; usually a statement by a witness that the defendant was somewhere else.
Appeals Court (also called Appellate Court). A court that reviews decisions made by trail courts because one side in a case is unhappy with the decision and asks for a “second opinion” on review; an appeals court can agree with the trial court and uphold the lower court decision or disagree with the lower court and overturn the decision.
Award. An official decision by a judge or jury that one party must pay another party a specific amount of money.
Bailiff. The law enforcement officer responsible for order and security in a courtroom.; also responsible to watch over and assist the jury.
Bench. The place in the courtroom where the judge sits; also, the court itself.
Burden of Proof. The amount of evidence required in a case in order for the jury to find in favor of the person bringing the suit; the more serious the consequences of the case, the greater amount of proof required.
Civil Case. A legal action stated against another asking recovery for a private wrong; not a criminal case.
Client. A person who employs or retains a lawyers to advise and defend them in a legal matter.
Closing Arguments. The opportunity given to the lawyers at the close of testimony to sum up what they believe the jury’s verdict should be.
Complaint. In civil cases, the legal document that states the reasons why someone is being sued and the relief sought, for example, monetary damages or return of property. In criminal cases, the legal document that states the law (or laws) broken and the reasons why the person (or persons) named in the complaint is accused of committing a crime.
Counsel. Lawyer, attorney, or counselor; someone who gives advice in a legal matter.
Cross Examination. Questioning of a witness by the lawyer who did not call the witness.
Defendant. A person in a trial who is accused of a crime or some wrongdoing.
Defense Attorney. A lawyer who acts on behalf of a defendant on trial.
Finding. A decision made by a judge or jury.
Grand Jury. A jury that investigates criminal complaints and decides whether someone should be formally charged with committing a crime.
Hung Jury. A jury that cannot agree on a verdict; this can result in a new trial before different jurors.
Jury. A group of people who have sworn to decide the facts in a court case and to reach a fair verdict, or decision.
Juvenile Law. A legal system for people under the age of eighteen that is different in some ways from the adult system.
Oath. A formal promise to perform a specific duty or act.
Objection. A request by a lawyer during a trial that the judge order a witness not to answer a question asked by the other layer. The just must either “sustain” the objection (agree with it and forbid the witness to answer it) or “overrule” it (allow the question to be asked).
Opening Statements. The presentation made by the lawyers on each side of a case at the start of trial. During opening statements the issues and facts that will be presented are outlined; the purpose of opening statements is to give the jury an overview of the case so the jurors will be better able to understand the evidence they will hear.
Plaintiff. A person who starts the action, files a complaint, or sues another person.
Plea Bargain. A crimina court practice that allows someone charged with a crime to plead guilty to a lesser offense (so there will be no trial) or allows them to plead guilty to the original charge with the prosecutor promising to recommend a particular sentence.
Prosecute. To bring someone to trial to obtain a conviction.
Prosecutor. The government official who is authorized to accuse and prosecute (bring to trial) someone who is believed to have committed a crime. Prosecutors are known by various names in difference places, i.e. district attorney, state’s attorney, and people’s attorney.
Public Defender. In criminal cases, a lawyer who is appointed and paid by the state or federal government to defend a person who has been accused of committing a crime and who is not able to afford a private attorney.
Rest One’s Case. An announcement by a lawyer that he or she has finished presenting the evidence for that side.
Sentence. In criminal cases, the decision by a judge or jury as to what punishment is appropriate for a convicted defendant.
Subpoena. An order signed by a judge or prosecutor requiring the presence of someone of something (ie. Records) in a court on a specific date and time.
Summons. An official order issued by a judge or law enforcement official which notifies the person named in the summons that legal action has been started against the person and which tells him or her a date, time, and place they must appear to answer the complaint.
Testimony. Evidence given after taking an oath in court to tell the truth, questions answered under oath concerning what one knows about a case being heard in court.
Trial. The formal presentation of both sides of a dispute before a judge or jury.
Verdict. The decision that a jury or judge makes after hearing and considering all of the evidence and testimony in a case.
Witness. Someone who has seen or heard something; someone who provides evidence about something; someone who is officially ordered to testify in a court.