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Home > Law & Legal Topics > Law Articles > Legal Research > Article

Legal Terms

This is a collection of different legal terms and definitions. More legal terms and definitions will be added over time, so remember to check back often.

A

AKA

“Also known as.” Used to list aliases or another name, or another spelling of a name used by a person.

Acknowledgement

The signature of a clerk or attorney certifying that the person filing the document has sworn that the contents are true, and/or that the document is signed by his or her free act and deed.

Action

Also called a case or lawsuit. A civil judicial proceeding where one party sues another for a wrong done, or to protect a right or to prevent a wrong.

Acquittal

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.

Active judge

A judge in the full-time service of the court. Compare to senior judge.

Adjournment

Postponement of a court session until another time or place.

Adjudication

A decision or sentence imposed by a judge.

Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO)

The federal agency responsible for collecting court statistics, administering the federal courts’ budget, and performing many other administrative and programmatic functions, under the direction and supervision of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Admissible

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

Adversary proceeding

A lawsuit arising in or related to a bankruptcy case that begins by filing a complaint with the court, that is, a “trial” that takes place within the context of a bankruptcy case.

Affidavit

A written or printed statement made under oath.

Affirmation

Declaring something to be true under the penalty of perjury by a person who will not take an oath for religious or other reasons.

Affirmed

In the practice of the court of appeals, it means that the court of appeals has concluded that the lower court decision is correct and will stand as rendered by the lower court.

Alimony

Money a court requires one spouse to pay the other spouse for support before and/or after the divorce is granted.

Allegation

Saying that something is true. The assertion, declaration or statement of a party in a case, made in a pleading.

Alternate juror

A juror selected in the same manner as a regular juror who hears all the evidence but does not help decide the case unless called on to replace a regular juror. A juror selected as a substitute in case another juror must leave the jury panel.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)

A procedure for settling a dispute outside the courtroom. Most forms of ADR are not binding, and involve referral of the case to a neutral party such as an arbitrator or mediator. Also called ADR. Any method used to resolve disputes other than traditional trial proceedings. For example, mediation. ADR programs speed up the disposition of civil cases.

Alternative sanctions

Criminal punishment that is less restrictive than incarceration.

Amicus curiae

Latin for “friend of the court.” It is advice formally offered to the court in a brief filed by an entity interested in, but not a party to, the case. A Latin term meaning “friend of the court.” An Amicus Curiae brief is filed by someone who is not a party to a case but has an interest in its outcome.

Answer

The formal written statement by a defendant in a civil case that responds to a complaint, articulating the grounds for defense.

Annulment

A court order declaring that a marriage is invalid.

Answer

A court document, or pleading, in a civil case, by which the defendant responds to the plaintiff’s complaint.

Appeal

A request made after a trial by a party that has lost on one or more issues that a higher court review the decision to determine if it was correct. To make such a request is “to appeal” or “to take an appeal.” One who appeals is called the “appellant;” the other party is the “appellee.”

Appeal bond

Money paid to the court while taking an appeal to cover costs and damages to the other party, if the appeal is not successful.

Appearance

The official court form filed with the court clerk which tells the court that you are representing yourself in a lawsuit or criminal case or that an attorney is representing you. All court notices and calendars will be mailed to the address listed on the form. When a defendant in a civil case files an appearance, the person is submitting to the court’s jurisdiction.

Appellant

The party who appeals a district court’s decision, usually seeking reversal of that decision.

Appellate

About appeals; an appellate court has the power to review the judgment of a lower court (trial court) or tribunal. For example, the U.S. circuit courts of appeals review the decisions of the U.S. district courts.

Appellee

The party who opposes an appellant’s appeal, and who seeks to persuade the appeals court to affirm the district court’s decision.

Arbitration

Submitting a case or dispute to designated parties for a decision, instead of using a judge.

Arraignment

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

Arrest

When a person is taken into custody by a police officer and charged with a crime.

Arrearages

Money for alimony and/or child support or other payments, which is overdue and unpaid.

Article III judge

A federal judge who is appointed for life, during “good behavior,” under Article III of the Constitution. Article III judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Assets

Property of all kinds, including real and personal, tangible and intangible.

Assistant attorney general

An attorney who represents a state or other agency.

Assume

An agreement to continue performing duties under a contract or lease.

Attachment

A lien on property or assets to hold it to pay or satisfy any final judgment.

Attorney of record

Attorney whose name appears in the permanent records or files of a case.

Automatic orders

Court orders that take effect when a divorce or custody case is started.

Automatic stay

An injunction that automatically stops lawsuits, foreclosures, garnishments, and most collection activities against the debtor the moment a bankruptcy petition is filed.

B

Bail

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

Bail bondsperson

A person who lends money to a defendant to pay for bail.

Bail commissioner

A state-appointed person who may set the amount of bond for persons detained at a police station prior to arraignment in court, and who recommends to the court the amount of bond that should be set for the defendant on each criminal case.

Bankruptcy

A legal procedure for dealing with debt problems of individuals and businesses; specifically, a case filed under one of the chapters of title 11 of the United States Code (the Bankruptcy Code).

Bankruptcy administrator

An officer of the Judiciary serving in the judicial districts of Alabama and North Carolina who, like the United States trustee, is responsible for supervising the administration of bankruptcy cases, estates, and trustees; monitoring plans and disclosure statements; monitoring creditors’ committees; monitoring fee applications; and performing other statutory duties.

Bankruptcy code

The informal name for title 11 of the United States Code (11 U.S.C. §§ 101-1330), the federal bankruptcy law.

Bankruptcy court

The bankruptcy judges in regular active service in each district; a unit of the district court.

Bankruptcy estate

All interests of the debtor in property at the time of the bankruptcy filing. The estate technically becomes the temporary legal owner of all of the debtor’s property.

Bankruptcy judge

A judicial officer of the United States district court who is the court official with decision-making power over federal bankruptcy cases.

Bankruptcy petition

A formal request for the protection of the federal bankruptcy laws. (There is an official form for bankruptcy petitions.)

Bankruptcy trustee

A private individual or corporation appointed in all Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases to represent the interests of the bankruptcy estate and the debtor’s creditors.

Bar

Refers to attorneys as a group.

Bench trial

A trial without a jury, in which the judge serves as the fact-finder.

Best interest of the child

The standard a judge uses to decide custody and visitation issues.

Bench warrant

Court papers issued by the judge, “from the bench,” for the arrest of a person.

Booby trap

Any concealed or camouflaged device designed to cause bodily injury when triggered by any action of a person making contact with the device. This term includes guns, ammunition, or explosive devices attached to trip wires or other triggering mechanisms, sharpened stakes, nails, spikes, electrical devices, lines or wires with hooks attached, and devices for the production of toxic fumes or gases.

Bond

Also called bail. Money or property given to the court for the temporary release of a defendant, to ensure that the defendant will return to court. There are two kinds of bonds: a) Non-financial bonds: Non-surety bond where the defendant’s signature alone guarantees the amount of bond and the defendant is not required to post any property or retain the services of a professional bail bondsperson as collateral. b) Promise to appear. Surety bond: The court requires cash, real estate or a professional bail bondpersons signature as collateral before releasing the defendant back into the community. (The court may allow the defendant to post ten percent of the bond in cash to secure his or her release.)

Bond forfeiture

Alsocalled, calling the bond. If the defendant fails to appear in court as scheduled, the judge may order the bond forfeited (paid to the state) and the defendant rearrested.

Bond review

A hearing for a judge to decide if the defendant’s bond amount needs to be changed.

Bondsman

A surety; one who has put up cash or property as collateral before a defendant may be released.

Brief

A written statement submitted in a trial or appellate proceeding that explains one side’s legal and factual arguments.

Broken down irretrievably

The most common reason for granting a divorce. It means there is no hope of the husband and wife getting back together again. Also known as “no-fault” divorce.

Burden of injecting the issue

The defendant must offer some competent evidence relating to all matters subject to the burden, except that the defendant may rely upon evidence presented by the prosecution in meeting the burden.

Burden of proof

The duty to prove disputed facts. In civil cases, a plaintiff generally has the burden of proving his or her case. In criminal cases, the government has the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt. (See standard of proof.)

Business bankruptcy

A bankruptcy case in which the debtor is a business or an individual involved in business and the debts are for business purposes.

C

Calendar

A list of court cases scheduled for a specific date and time; the civil and family court docket.

Calendar call

The calling of cases scheduled for the day, usually done at the beginning of each court day.

Capias mittimus

A civil arrest warrant used to get a person physically into court to respond to a specific case or claim.

Capital felony

A criminal offense in which the death penalty may be imposed (C.G.S. ’53a-54b).

Capital offense

A crime punishable by death.

Case

A lawsuit or action in a court.

Case conference

A meeting scheduled by the court to review the case.

Case file

The court file containing papers submitted in a case. A complete collection of every document filed in court in a case.

Case flow coordinator

A person who keeps track of your case and supervises the scheduling of hearings and trials.

Case law

The law as established in previous court decisions. A synonym for legal precedent. Akin to common law, which springs from tradition and judicial decisions.

Caseload

The number of cases handled by a judge or a court.

Cause of action

A legal claim.

Certify

To testify in writing; to make known or establish as a fact.

Challenge

Rejecting a potential juror.

Chambers

The offices of a judge and his or her staff.

Chapter 7

The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for “liquidation,” that is, the sale of a debtor’s nonexempt property and the distribution of the proceeds to creditors. In order to be eligible for Chapter 7, the debtor must satisfy a “means test.” The court will evaluate the debtor’s income and expenses to determine if the debtor may proceed under Chapter 7.

Chapter 7 trustee

A person appointed in a Chapter 7 case to represent the interests of the bankruptcy estate and the creditors. The trustee’s responsibilities include reviewing the debtor’s petition and schedules, liquidating the property of the estate, and making distributions to creditors. The trustee may also bring actions against creditors or the debtor to recover property of the bankruptcy estate.

Chapter 9

The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for reorganization of municipalities (which includes cities and towns, as well as villages, counties, taxing districts, municipal utilities, and school districts).

Chapter 11

A reorganization bankruptcy, usually involving a corporation or partnership. A Chapter 11 debtor usually proposes a plan of reorganization to keep its business alive and pay creditors over time. Individuals or people in business can also seek relief in Chapter 11.

Chapter 12

The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for adjustment of debts of a “family farmer” or “family fisherman,” as the terms are defined in the Bankruptcy Code.

Chapter 13

The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for the adjustment of debts of an individual with regular income, often referred to as a “wage-earner” plan. Chapter 13 allows a debtor to keep property and use his or her disposable income to pay debts over time, usually three to five years.

Chapter 13 trustee

A person appointed to administer a Chapter 13 case. A Chapter 13 trustee’s responsibilities are similar to those of a Chapter 7 trustee; however, a Chapter 13 trustee has the additional responsibilities of overseeing the debtor’s plan, receiving payments from debtors, and disbursing plan payments to creditors.

Chapter 15

The chapter of the Bankruptcy Code dealing with cases of cross-border insolvency.

Charge

Formal accusation of a crime.

Charge to jury

In trial practice, an address delivered by the court to the jury at the close of the case instructing the jury as to what principles of law they are to apply in reaching a decision. (Civil | Criminal)

Chattels

All property except real property; personal property. For example, jewelry, clothing, furniture, and appliances.

Chief judge

The judge who has primary responsibility for the administration of a court; chief judges are determined by seniority.

Child

Any person under the age of majority.

Child support

Money paid by a parent to help meet the financial needs of a child.

Civil action

A lawsuit other than a criminal case usually filed in a Judicial District courthouse. Includes family actions (divorces, child support, etc) and small claims cases, although these are both separately designated.

Claim

A creditor’s assertion of a right to payment from a debtor or the debtor’s property.

Class action

A lawsuit in which one or more members of a large group, or class, of individuals or other entities sue on behalf of the entire class. The district court must find that the claims of the class members contain questions of law or fact in common before the lawsuit can proceed as a class action.

Clerk of court

The court officer who oversees administrative functions, especially managing the flow of cases through the court. The clerk’s office is often called a court’s central nervous system.

Collateral

Property that is promised as security for the satisfaction of a debt.

Common law

The legal system that originated in England and is now in use in the United States, which relies on the articulation of legal principles in a historical succession of judicial decisions. Common law principles can be changed by legislation.

Community service

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

Complaint

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

Complex litigation

A specialized docket designed for complex civil cases, where one judge hears the case from beginning to end. Criteria includes multiple parties, large amounts of money, lengthy trial or complex legal issues.

Concurrent sentence

Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served at the same time, rather than one after the other. Example: Two five-year sentences and one three-year sentence, if served concurrently, result in a maximum of five years behind bars.

Conditional discharge

A disposition, in criminal cases, where the defendant must satisfy certain court-ordered conditions instead of a prison term.

Confirmation

Approval of a plan of reorganization by a bankruptcy judge.

Consecutive sentence

Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served one after the other. Example: Two five-year sentences and one three-year sentence, if served consecutively, result in a maximum of 13 years behind bars.

Consumer bankruptcy

A bankruptcy case filed to reduce or eliminate debts that are primarily consumer debts.

Consumer debts

Debts incurred for personal, as opposed to business, needs.

Contempt of court

A finding that someone disobeyed a court order. Can also mean disrupting court, for example, by being loud or disrespectful in court.

Contingent claim

A claim that may be owed by the debtor under certain circumstances, e.g., where the debtor is a cosigner on another person’s loan and that person fails to pay.

Continuance

The adjournment or postponement of a court case to another day.

Continuance date

Date on which the case will next be heard in court.

Contract

An agreement between two or more people that creates an obligation to do or not to do a particular thing.

Conviction

A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.

Costs

Expenses in prosecuting or defending a case in court. Usually does not include attorney’s fees.

Counsel

Legal advice; a term also used to refer to the lawyers in a case.

Count

The different parts of a complaint, which could each be a basis or grounds for the lawsuit. Also, an allegation in an indictment or information, 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.

Counter claim

A claim by the defendant in a civil action that the defendant is entitled to damages or other relief from the plaintiff.

Court

Government entity authorized to resolve legal disputes. Judges sometimes use “court” to refer to themselves in the third person, as in “the court has read the briefs.”

Court-appointed attorney

An attorney who is asked by the court (judge) to either represent a party to the case, or to serve in some other capacity that the case requires.

Court clerk

The person who maintains the official court record of your case. The court clerks’ office receives all court papers and assigns hearing dates.

Court Interpreter

The person who translates court hearings from English to another language. Provided at state expense in all criminal cases and in cases enforcing child support orders, if requested. No interpreter is available for divorce or any other civil case.

Court monitor

The person who prepares a written record of the court hearing for a fee, if requested, from audiotapes made during the hearing.

Court reporter

A person who makes a word-for-word record of what is said in court, generally by using a stenographic machine, shorthand or audio recording, and then produces a transcript of the proceedings upon request.

Court services officer

A person who assists the judge and oversees cases as they go through the court.

Court trial

Trial by a judge, rather than by a jury.

Creditor

A person to whom or business to which the debtor owes money or that claims to be owed money by the debtor.

Credit counseling

Generally refers to two events in individual bankruptcy cases: (1) the “individual or group briefing” from a nonprofit budget and credit counseling agency that individual debtors must attend prior to filing under any chapter of the Bankruptcy Code; and (2) the “instructional course in personal financial management” in chapters 7 and 13 that an individual debtor must complete before a discharge is entered. There are exceptions to both requirements for certain categories of debtors, exigent circumstances, or if the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator have determined that there are insufficient approved credit counseling agencies available to provide the necessary counseling.

Crime victim compensation program

Awards money to crime victims and their families for medical, mental health, dental, funeral expenses, lost wages and loss of support.

Cross-examination

Questioning by a party or the attorney of an adverse party or a witness.

Custody

A court order deciding where a child will live and how decisions about the child will be made. Parents may ask for any custody arrangement that they believe is in the best interest of their child.

Custody affidavit

A sworn statement containing facts about a child involved in a case, including full name of the child, date of birth, current and past residences and other information as may be required by law.

D

Damages

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). Money a party receives as compensation for a legal wrong.

Day incarceration center

Also called DIC. A community based program that provides monitoring, supervision and services to people who would otherwise be incarcerated. Day Incarceration Center clients are supervised during the daytime hours, seven days per week.

Deadly physical force

Physical force which, under the circumstances in which it is used, is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury.

Deadly weapon

Generally, a firearm or anything manifestly designed, made, or adapted for the purposes of inflicting death or serious physical injury. The term includes, but is not limited to, a pistol, rifle, or shotgun; or a switch-blade knife, gravity knife, stiletto, sword, or dagger; or any billy, black-jack, bludgeon, or metal knuckles.

Declaration

An unsworn statement of facts made by a party to the transaction, or by one who has an interest in the facts recounted.

Debtor

A person who has filed a petition for relief under the Bankruptcy Code.

Default

To fail to respond or answer to the plaintiff’s claims by filing the required court document; usually an Appearance or an Answer.

Defendant

An individual (or business) against whom a lawsuit is filed. In civil cases, the person who is given court papers, also called a respondent. In criminal cases, the person who is arrested and charged with a crime.

Debtor’s plan

A debtor’s detailed description of how the debtor proposes to pay creditors’ claims over a fixed period of time.

Declaratory judgment

A judge’s statement about someone’s rights. For example, a plaintiff may seek a declaratory judgment that a particular statute, as written, violates some constitutional right.

De facto

Latin, meaning “in fact” or “actually.” Something that exists in fact but not as a matter of law.

Default judgment

A judgment awarding a plaintiff the relief sought in the complaint because the defendant has failed to appear in court or otherwise respond to the complaint.

Defendant

In a civil case, the person or organization against whom the plaintiff brings suit; in a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

De jure

Latin, meaning “in law.” Something that exists by operation of law.

Delinquent

In civil or family cases, failing to pay an amount of money when due In juvenile cases, a child who violated a law, local ordinance, or an order of the Superior Court.

De novo

Latin, meaning “anew.” A trial de novo is a completely new trial. Appellate review de novo implies no deference to the trial judge’s ruling.

Deposition

An oral statement made before an officer authorized by law to administer oaths. Such statements are often taken to examine potential witnesses, to obtain discovery, or to be used later in trial. See discovery. Testimony of a witness taken, under oath, in response to another party’s questions. Testimony given outside the courtroom, usually in a lawyer’s office. A word for word account (transcript) is made of the testimony.

Detention hearing or detention release hearing

A hearing on the first business day after a juvenile is admitted to juvenile detention concerning the legality and appropriateness of continued detention of the juvenile. The detention decision must be reviewed at least every fifteen days.

Discharge

A release of a debtor from personal liability for certain dischargeable debts. Notable exceptions to dischargeability are taxes and student loans. A discharge releases a debtor from personal liability for certain debts known as dischargeable debts and prevents the creditors owed those debts from taking any action against the debtor or the debtor’s property to collect the debts. The discharge also prohibits creditors from communicating with the debtor regarding the debt, including through telephone calls, letters, and personal contact.

Dischargeable debt

A debt for which the Bankruptcy Code allows the debtor’s personal liability to be eliminated.

Disclosure statement

A written document prepared by the chapter 11 debtor or other plan proponent that is designed to provide “adequate information” to creditors to enable them to evaluate the chapter 11 plan of reorganization.

Discovery

Procedures used to obtain disclosure of evidence before trial. A formal request by one party in a lawsuit to disclose information or facts known by other parties or witnesses.

Dismissal

A judge’s decision to end the case.

Dismissal with prejudice

Court action that prevents an identical lawsuit from being filed later.

Dismissal without prejudice

Court action that allows the later filing. A judges decision to end the case which permits the complainant or prosecutor to renew the case later. In contrast, dismissal “with prejudice” prevents the complainant or prosecutor to bring or maintain the same claim or action again.

Dispose

Ending a legal case or a judicial proceeding.

Disposable income

Income not reasonably necessary for the maintenance or support of the debtor or dependents. If the debtor operates a business, disposable income is defined as those amounts over and above what is necessary for the payment of ordinary operating expenses.

Disposition

The manner in which a case is settled or resolved.

Dissolution

The legal end of a marriage, also called a divorce.

Diversionary programs

Community based programs that are used to keep eligible, convicted criminal offenders out of prison.

Docket

A log containing the complete history of each case in the form of brief chronological entries summarizing the court proceedings. A list of cases scheduled to be heard in court on a specific day or week.

Docket number

A unique number the court clerk assigns to a case. It must be used on all future papers filed in the court case.

Domicile

The permanent home of a person. A person may have several residences, but only one domicile.

Due process

In criminal law, the constitutional guarantee that a defendant will receive a fair and impartial trial. In civil law, the legal rights of someone who confronts an adverse action threatening liberty or property.

E

Ejectment

A legal case filed against someone who is a holdover tenant (someone who remains after the expiration of a lease).

Electronic monitoring

An electronic system that provides the Probation Officer or Bail Commissioner a report about whether the offender has left home during the time when the offender was required to remain at his or her home.

Emancipated minor

A person under the legal majority age of 18 who is granted most rights and legal privileges of an adult (C.G.S.§46b-150, et seq.).

Emancipation

The release of a youth from the legal authority and control of the youth’s parents and the corresponding release of the youth’s parents from their obligations to the youth.

Eminent domain

The legal process by which private property is taken for public use without the consent of the owner.

En banc

French, meaning “on the bench.” All judges of an appellate court sitting together to hear a case, as opposed to the routine disposition by panels of three judges. In the Ninth Circuit, an en banc panel consists of 11 randomly selected judges.

Equitable

Pertaining to civil suits in “equity” rather than in “law.” In English legal history, the courts of “law” could order the payment of damages and could afford no other remedy (see damages). A separate court of “equity” could order someone to do something or to cease to do something (e.g., injunction). In American jurisprudence, the federal courts have both legal and equitable power, but the distinction is still an important one. For example, a trial by jury is normally available in “law” cases but not in “equity” cases.

Equity

The value of a debtor’s interest in property that remains after liens and other creditors’ interests are considered. (Example: If a house valued at $60,000 is subject to a $30,000 mortgage, there is $30,000 of equity.)

Eviction

Legally forcing a tenant out of rented property. (Housing Publications)

Evidence

Information presented in testimony or in documents that is used to persuade the fact finder (judge or jury) to decide the case in favor of one side or the other. Testimony, documents or objects presented at a trial to prove a fact.

Exclusionary rule

Doctrine that says evidence obtained in violation of a criminal defendant’s constitutional or statutory rights is not admissible at trial.

Exculpatory evidence

Evidence indicating that a defendant did not commit the crime.

Executory contracts

Contracts or leases under which both parties to the agreement have duties remaining to be performed. If a contract or lease is executory, a debtor may assume it (keep the contract) or reject it (terminate the contract).

Exempt assets

Property that a debtor is allowed to retain, free from the claims of creditors who do not have liens on the property.

Exemptions, exempt property

Certain property owned by an individual debtor that the Bankruptcy Code or applicable state law permits the debtor to keep from unsecured creditors. For example, in some states the debtor may be able to exempt all or a portion of the equity in the debtor’s primary residence (homestead exemption), or some or all “tools of the trade” used by the debtor to make a living (i.e., auto tools for an auto mechanic or dental tools for a dentist). The availability and amount of property the debtor may exempt depends on the state the debtor lives in.

Ex parte

A proceeding brought before a court by one party only, without notice to or challenge by the other side. Also, done for, or at the request of, one side in a case only, without prior notice to the other side.

Execution suspended

A prison sentence that is suspended in whole or in part provided certain conditions of probation or conditional discharge are met by the defendant.

F

Face sheet filing

A bankruptcy case filed either without schedules or with incomplete schedules listing few creditors and debts. (Face sheet filings are often made for the purpose of delaying an eviction or foreclosure.)

Failure to appear

In a civil case, failing to file an Appearance form. In a criminal case, failing to come to court for a scheduled hearing.

Family farmer

An individual, individual and spouse, corporation, or partnership engaged in a farming operation that meets certain debt limits and other statutory criteria for filing a petition under Chapter 12.

Family relations counselor

A person who mediates disagreements and negotiates agreements in custody, visitation and divorce cases. At the request of the judge, a family relations counselor may evaluate a family situation by interviewing each parent and the children in the family. The family relations counselor then writes a report for the judge, making recommendations about custody and visitation. Works in the Family Services Office.

Family support magistrate

A person who decides cases involving child support and paternity. Can also enforce court orders involving paternity, child support and alimony.

Family violence education program

A program for family violence offenders that if successfully completed, results in the dismissal of criminal charges.

Family violence victim advocate

A person who works with domestic violence victims to determine their needs and inform them of their rights and resources available to them.

Family with service needs

Also called FWSN. A family that includes a child, who (a) runs away without just cause, (b) is beyond the control of his/her parents/guardian, (c) has engaged in indecent or immoral conduct, and/or (d) is a truant or continuously defiant of school rules and regulations.

Federal public defender

An attorney employed by the federal courts on a full-time basis to provide legal defense to defendants who are unable to afford counsel. The judiciary administers the federal defender program pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act.

Federal public defender organization

As provided for in the Criminal Justice Act, an organization established within a federal judicial circuit to represent criminal defendants who cannot afford an adequate defense. Each organization is supervised by a federal public defender appointed by the court of appeals for the circuit.

Federal question jurisdiction

Jurisdiction given to federal courts in cases involving the interpretation and application of the U.S. Constitution, acts of Congress, and treaties.

Felony

A serious crime, usually punishable by at least one year in prison. Any criminal offense for which a person may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than of one year.

Felony murder

A murder committed while the person is also committing a felony.

File

To place a paper in the official custody of the clerk of court to enter into the files or records of a case.

Filing

Giving the court clerk legal papers which become part of the case file.

Financial affidavit

A sworn statement of income, expenses, property (called assets) and debts (called liabilities).

Finding

The court’s or jury’s decision on issues of fact.

Foreclosure

A court order ending the legal ownership of property.

Foreman

An elected member of a jury who delivers the verdict to the court.

Fraudulent transfer

A transfer of a debtor’s property made with intent to defraud or for which the debtor receives less than the transferred property’s value.

Fresh start

The characterization of a debtor’s status after bankruptcy, i.e., free of most debts. (Giving debtors a fresh start is one purpose of the Bankruptcy Code.)

G

Garnishment

A court order to collect money or property. For example, a garnishment may be issued to an employer to pay part of an employee’s wages to someone else to pay a debt or judgment.

Grand jury

A body of 16-23 citizens who listen to evidence of criminal allegations, which is presented by the prosecutors, and determine whether there is probable cause to believe an individual committed an offense. See also indictment and U.S. attorney.

Grievance

A complaint filed against an attorney or judge, claiming an ethics violation.

Guardian

A person who has the power and duty to take care of another person and/or to manage the property and rights of another person who is considered incapable of taking care of his or her personal affairs.

Guardian ad litem

A person, usually a parent, appointed by the court to represent a child or unborn person in a court case. If a family member is not available, a judge may appoint an attorney.

H

Habeas corpus

Latin, meaning “you have the body.” A writ of habeas corpus generally is a judicial order forcing law enforcement authorities to produce a prisoner they are holding, and to justify the prisoner’s continued confinement. Federal judges receive petitions for a writ of habeas corpus from state prison inmates who say their state prosecutions violated federally protected rights in some way.

Hearsay

Evidence presented by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. With some exceptions, hearsay generally is not admissible as evidence at trial.

Home confinement

A special condition the court imposes that requires an individual to remain at home except for certain approved activities such as work and medical appointments. Home confinement may include the use of electronic monitoring equipment – a transmitter attached to the wrist or the ankle – to help ensure that the person stays at home as required.

Hung jury

A jury whose members cannot reconcile their differences of opinion and thus cannot reach a verdict.

I

Impeachment

1. The process of calling a witness’s testimony into doubt. For example, if the attorney can show that the witness may have fabricated portions of his testimony, the witness is said to be “impeached;” 2. The constitutional process whereby the House of Representatives may “impeach” (accuse of misconduct) high officers of the federal government, who are then tried by the Senate.

In camera

Latin, meaning in a judge’s chambers. Often means outside the presence of a jury and the public. In private.

Incarceration

Confinement to a state correctional institute or prison.

Income withholding order

A court order to deduct child support or alimony payments from someone’s wages. All child support court orders must include an income withholding order unless both parents ask the judge not to.

Inculpatory evidence

Evidence indicating that a defendant did commit the crime.

Indictment

The formal charge issued by a grand jury stating that there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial; it is used primarily for felonies. See also information.

Indigent

Someone without enough money to either support himself or herself or his or her family. Someone who cannot afford to pay certain fees required by the court.

In forma pauperis

“In the manner of a pauper.” Permission given by the court to a person to file a case without payment of the required court fees because the person cannot pay them.

Information

A formal accusation by a government attorney that the defendant committed a misdemeanor. See also indictment. In a criminal case, the formal court document in the clerk’s file, which contains the charges, dates of offenses, bond status, continuance dates and disposition.

Infraction

A case where the fine may be paid by mail and usually the person does not have to appear or come to court. For example, a speeding ticket.

Injunction

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

Insider (of corporate debtor)

A director, officer, or person in control of the debtor; a partnership in which the debtor is a general partner; a general partner of the debtor; or a relative of a general partner, director, officer, or person in control of the debtor.

Insider (of individual debtor)

Any relative of the debtor or of a general partner of the debtor; partnership inwhich the debtor is a general partner; general partner of the debtor; or corporation of which the debtor is a director, officer, or person in control.

Interpreter

The person who correctly translates court hearings from a second language to English. An interpreter is provided at no cost to the person who needs the interpreter in all cases where the person’s life, freedom, children or housing are at risk of being taken away. Interpreters are also provided for criminal and child support cases.

Interrogatories

A form of discovery consisting of written questions to be answered in writing and under oath. Formal, written questions used to get information from another party in a lawsuit.

Investigatory grand jury

A judge, constitutional state referee or any three judges of the Superior Court, appointed by the Chief Court Administrator to conduct an investigation into the commission of a crime or crimes.

Issue

1. The disputed point between parties in a lawsuit; 2. To send out officially, as in a court issuing an order.

J

Joint administration

A court-approved mechanism under which two or more cases can be administered together. (Assuming no conflicts of interest, these separate businesses or individuals can pool their resources, hire the same professionals, etc.)

Joint petition

One bankruptcy petition filed by a husband and wife together.

Judge

An official of the Judicial branch with authority to decide lawsuits brought before courts. Used generically, the term judge may also refer to all judicial officers, including Supreme Court justices. A person who hears and decides cases for the courts.

Judgeship

The position of judge. By statute, Congress authorizes the number of judgeships for each district and appellate court.

Judgment

The official decision of a court finally resolving the dispute between the parties to the lawsuit. A court decision. Also called a decree or an order.

Judgment file

A permanent court record of the court’s final disposition of the case.

Judicial conference of the United States

The policy-making entity for the federal court system. A 27-judge body whose presiding officer is the Chief Justice of the United States.

Jurisdiction

The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case. It also is used as a synonym for venue, meaning the geographic area over which the court has territorial jurisdiction to decide cases. Power and authority of a court to hear and make a judgment in a case.

Jurisprudence

The study of law and the structure of the legal system.

Jury

The group of persons selected to hear the evidence in a trial and render a verdict on matters of fact. Member of a jury. See also grand jury.

Jury charge

The judge’s formal instructions on the law to the jury before it begins deliberations.

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. Directions given by the judge to the jury concerning the law of the case.

Juvenile delinquent

A person under the age of 16 who commits a criminal act.

Juvenile detention

State facility to provide for the temporary care of a child who alleged to be delinquent and who requires a physically restricted, secure environment.

Juvenile detention center

A secure facility for juveniles operated by the Division of Juvenile Detention Services of the Connecticut Judicial Branch, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Juvenile detention officer

Also called JDO. A person who works within a Juvenile Detention Center.

Juvenile matters

All cases concerning uncared for, neglected or dependent children and youth, termination of parental rights of children committed to a state agency, matters concerning families with service needs, contested matters involving termination of parental rights or removal of guardian transferred from the Probate Court and the emancipation of minors. It does not include guardianship or adoption cases, or matters affecting property rights of any child or youth over which the Probate Court has jurisdiction. The Probate Court hears appeals concerning adoption, termination of parental rights and removal of a parent as guardian are included. Juvenile matters in the criminal session include all cases concerning delinquent children in the state.

Juvenile probation

Placement of an adjudicated delinquent under the supervision of a juvenile probation officer.

Juvenile transportation officer

Also called JTO. A person who provides safe transportation services for juveniles in custody.

K

L

Law librarian

Court staff who maintain legal reference and research materials for public use.

Lawsuit

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.

Legal aid or legal services

Free legal representatives in civil cases for income eligible persons.

Legal custody

Relationship with a child created by court order which gives a person legal responsibility for the physical possession of a minor and the duty to protect, care for and discipline the child.

Legal separation

A court order describing the conditions under which two married people will live separately.

Lien

A charge, hold, or claim upon property of another as security for a debt. A charge on specific property that is designed to secure payment of a debt or performance of an obligation. A debtor may still be responsible for a lien after a discharge.

Lis pendens

A pending lawsuit. Jurisdiction or control that courts have over property in a case waiting for final disposition. A notice of lis pendens is filed on the land records.

Litigant

A party to a case.

Litigation

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

Liquidation

The sale of a debtor’s property with the proceeds to be used for the benefit of creditors.

Liquidated claim

A creditor’s claim for a fixed amount of money.

Lockout

Illegally forcing a tenant out of rented property, usually by changing the locks on the doors.

M

Magistrate judge

A person who is not a judge but who is authorized to hear and decide certain types of cases. For example, family support magistrates hear cases involving child support. A judicial officer of a district court who conducts initial proceedings in criminal cases, decides criminal misdemeanor cases, conducts many pretrial civil and criminal matters on behalf of district judges, and decides civil cases with the consent of the parties.

Mandamus

An order directed to a private corporation, or any of its officers, or to an executive, administrative or judicial officer, or to a lower court, commanding the performance of a particular act.

Marshal

The persons responsible for courthouse security including the metal detectors at the entrance of each courthouse and maintaining order in each courtroom. A marshal can also serve (give copies of) legal papers to the other people named in a lawsuit.

Means test

Section 707(b)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code applies a “means test” to determine whether an individual debtor’s chapter 7 filing is presumed to be an abuse of the Bankruptcy Code requiring dismissal or conversion of the case (generally to chapter 13). Abuse is presumed if the debtor’s aggregate current monthly income (see definition above) over 5 years, net of certain statutorily allowed expenses is more than (i) $10,000, or (ii) 25% of the debtor’s nonpriority unsecured debt, as long as that amount is at least $6,000. The debtor may rebut a presumption of abuse only by a showing of special circumstances that justify additional expenses or adjustments of current monthly income.

Mediation

A dispute resolution process in which an impartial third party assists the parties to voluntarily reach a mutually acceptable settlement.

Mental health treatment

Special condition the court imposes to require an individual to undergo evaluation and treatment for a mental disorder. Treatment may include psychiatric, psychological, and sex offense-specific evaluations, inpatient or outpatient counseling, and medication.

Minor

A person under age 18, the age of legal majority.

Misdemeanor

An offense punishable by one year of imprisonment or less. See also felony.

Mistrial

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

Mitigating circumstances

Circumstances that may be considered to reduce the guilt of a defendant. Usually based on fairness or mercy.

Modification

Request to change a prior order. Usually requires showing a change in circumstances since the date of the prior order.

Moot

Not subject to a court ruling because the controversy has not actually arisen, or has ended.

Motion

A request by a litigant to a judge for a decision on an issue relating to the case. Usually written request to the court in a case. Filed with the clerk’s office.

Motion to lift the automatic stay

A request by a creditor to allow the creditor to take action against the debtor or the debtor’s property that would otherwise be prohibited by the automatic stay.

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.

Movant

The person who filed the motion, or request, to the court.

Moving Party

The person making the request to the court in a case.

N

Ne exeat

A legal paper requesting that a person be required to remain within the jurisdiction of the court (either through incarceration or posting of a bond.)

Neglected minor

A child or youth who has (a) been abandoned, (b) is being denied proper attention, (c) is being permitted to live under conditions injurious to his/her well being, or (d) has been abused.

No-asset case

A Chapter 7 case in which there are no assets available to satisfy any portion of the creditors’ unsecured claims.

No contact order

A court order that prohibits contact by a defendant with a victim; can be ordered by a judge, a bail commissioner, a probation officer or a parole officer.

No contest

A plea in a criminal case that allows the defendant to be convicted without admitting guilt for the crime charged. Also called nolo contendre. Although a finding of guilty is entered on the criminal court record, the defendant can deny the charges in a civil action based on the same acts.

No fault divorce

The most common kind of divorce, where no one needs to prove that the husband or the wife is at fault, or caused the marriage to end. Described as “broken down irretrievably”.

Nolle

Short for nollo prosequi, which means “no prosecution”. A disposition of a criminal or motor vehicle case where the prosecutor agrees to drop the case against the defendant but keeps the right to reopen the case and prosecute at any time during the next thirteen months. The nolle is entered on the court record and the defendant is released from custody. If the defendant stays out of trouble during the thirteen months, the case is removed from the official court records.

Nolo contendere

No contest. A plea of nolo contendere has the same effect as a plea of guilty, as far as the criminal sentence is concerned, but may not be considered as an admission of guilt for any other purpose. It means “no contest”. A plea in a criminal case that allows the defendant to be convicted without admitting guilt for the crime charged. Although a finding of guilty is entered on the criminal court record; the defendant can deny the charges in a civil action based on the same acts.

Nondischargeable debt

A debt that cannot be eliminated in bankruptcy. Examples include a home mortgage, debts for alimony or child support, certain taxes, debts for most government funded or guaranteed educational loans or benefit overpayments, debts arising from death or personal injury caused by driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, and debts for restitution or a criminal fine included in a sentence on the debtor’s conviction of a crime. Some debts, such as debts for money or property obtained by false pretenses and debts for fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity may be declared nondischargeable only if a creditor timely files and prevails in a nondischargeability action.

Nonexempt assets

Property of a debtor that can be liquidated to satisfy claims of creditors.

Non-suit

Vacating a case by the court, usually for failure to prosecute.

Notarize

To formally complete a document by acknowledgement or oath.

O

Oath

To swear/affirm to the truth of a statement/document.

Objection to dischargeability

A trustee’s or creditor’s objection to the debtor being released from personal liability for certain dischargeable debts. Common reasons include allegations that the debt to be discharged was incurred by false pretenses or that debt arose because of the debtor’s fraud while acting as a fiduciary.

Objection to exemptions

A trustee’s or creditor’s objection to the debtor’s attempt to claim certain property as exempt from liquidation by the trustee to creditors.

Opinion

A judge’s written explanation of the decision of the court. Because a case may be heard by three or more judges in the court of appeals, the opinion in appellate decisions can take several forms. If all the judges completely agree on the result, one judge will write the opinion for all. If all the judges do not agree, the formal decision will be based upon the view of the majority, and one member of the majority will write the opinion. The judges who did not agree with the majority may write separately in dissenting or concurring opinions to present their views. A dissenting opinion disagrees with the majority opinion because of the reasoning and/or the principles of law the majority used to decide the case. A concurring opinion agrees with the decision of the majority opinion, but offers further comment or clarification or even an entirely different reason for reaching the same result. Only the majority opinion can serve as binding precedent in future cases. See also precedent.

Oral argument

An opportunity for lawyers to summarize their position before the court and also to answer the judges’ questions.

Order

A written direction of a court or judge to do or refrain from doing certain acts.

Order to detain

An order signed by a judge of the Superior Court authorizing admission of a juvenile to a Juvenile Detention Center, pending a hearing on the next business day.

Order of detention (detention order)

An order issued by a judge of the Superior Court finding that there is probable cause that a juvenile committed an offense or a violation of a court order and ordering that the juvenile be held in a Juvenile Detention Center or some alternative facility until further order of the court.

Orders of temporary custody

Also called an OTC. Court order placing a child or youth in the short-term legal custody of an individual or agency authorized to care for juveniles.

P

Panel

1. In appellate cases, a group of judges (usually three) assigned to decide the case; 2. In the jury selection process, the group of potential jurors; 3. The list of attorneys who are both available and qualified to serve as court-appointed counsel for criminal defendants who cannot afford their own counsel.

Parcel

A tract or a plot of land.

Parenting education program

A mandatory program for persons involved in a divorce with children or a custody or visitation case. Must be attended within 60 days of the return date on the summons.

Parole

Release from incarceration after serving part of a sentence. The release of a prison inmate – granted by the U.S. Parole Commission – after the inmate has completed part of his or her sentence in a federal prison. When the parolee is released to the community, he or she is placed under the supervision of a U.S. probation officer.

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 abolished parole in favor of a determinate sentencing system in which the sentence is set by sentencing guidelines. Now, without the option of parole, the term of imprisonment the court imposes is the actual time the person spends in prison.

Parties

The people or legal entities that are named as plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) on legal papers.

Party

A person or legal entity that is named as a plaintiff or defendant on legal papers.

Party in interest

A party who has standing to be heard by the court in a matter to be decided in the bankruptcy case. The debtor, U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator, case trustee, and creditors are parties in interest for most matters.

Paternity

Legal fatherhood.

Pendente lite order

A court order made before final orders are granted.

Petition preparer

A business not authorized to practice law that prepares bankruptcy petitions.

Per curiam

Latin, meaning “for the court.” In appellate courts, often refers to an unsigned opinion.

Peremptory challenge

A district court may grant each side in a civil or criminal trial the right to exclude a certain number of prospective jurors without cause or giving a reason. The rejection of a prospective juror by the attorneys in a case, without having to give a reason. State law defines the number of peremptory challenges available.

Petit jury (or trial jury)

A group of citizens who hear the evidence presented by both sides at trial and determine the facts in dispute. Federal criminal juries consist of 12 persons. Federal civil juries consist of at least six persons.

Petition

The document that initiates the filing of a bankruptcy proceeding, setting forth basic information regarding the debtor, including name, address, chapter under which the case is filed, and estimated amount of assets and liabilities.

Perjury

Making false statements under oath.

Petition

A formal written request to a court, which starts a special proceeding. In juvenile court, the legal document which specifies the complaint against the juvenile and/or family; it includes the name, age and address of the minor and his/her guardian, as well as the statutory grounds and facts upon which the request for the court intervention is based.

Petitioner

Another word for plaintiff, the person starting the lawsuit.

Petty offense

A federal misdemeanor punishable by six months or less in prison.

Physical injury

Impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.

Plaintiff

The person who sues or starts a civil case, also called the petitioner or the complainant. A person or business that files a formal complaint with the court.

Plan

A debtor’s detailed description of how the debtor proposes to pay creditors’ claims over a fixed period of time.

Plea

An accused persons answer to a criminal charge. For example not guilty; guilty; no contest. In a criminal case, the defendant’s statement pleading “guilty” or “not guilty” in answer to the charges. See also nolo contendere.

Plea bargain

The agreement a defendant makes with the prosecutor to avoid a trial. Usually involves pleading guilty to lesser charges in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Pleadings

Written statements filed with the court that describe a party’s legal or factual assertions about the case. The court documents filed with the court by the parties in a civil or criminal case. For example motion to dismiss; motion for modification.

Possess

To have physical possession or otherwise to exercise dominion or control over tangible property.

Posting bond

To pay the court ordered bond amount with cash or property.

Post judgment

Any request to a court or action by a judge after a judgment in a case.

Postpetition transfer

A transfer of the debtor’s property made after the commencement of the case.

Prebankruptcy planning

The arrangement (or rearrangement) of a debtor’s property to allow the debtor to take maximum advantage of exemptions. (Prebankruptcy planning typically includes converting nonexempt assets into exempt assets.)

Precedent

A court decision in an earlier case with facts and legal issues similar to a dispute currently before a court. Judges will generally “follow precedent” – meaning that they use the principles established in earlier cases to decide new cases that have similar facts and raise similar legal issues. A judge will disregard precedent if a party can show that the earlier case was wrongly decided, or that it differed in some significant way from the current case.

Preferential debt payment

A debt payment made to a creditor in the 90-day period before a debtor files bankruptcy (or within one year if the creditor was an insider) that gives the creditor more than the creditor would receive in the debtor’s chapter 7 case.

Presentence report

A report prepared by a court’s probation officer, after a person has been convicted of an offense, summarizing for the court the background information needed to determine the appropriate sentence. Also called PSI. A background investigation conducted by a probation officer on a person who has been convicted of a criminal offense.

Pretrial

In a civil case, a conference with a judge or trial referee to discuss discovery and settlement. In a criminal case, a conference with the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge to discuss the case status and what will happen next.

Pretrial conference

A meeting of the judge and lawyers to plan the trial, to discuss which matters should be presented to the jury, to review proposed evidence and witnesses, and to set a trial schedule. Typically, the judge and the parties also discuss the possibility of settlement of the case.

Pretrial hearing

Conference with attorneys to determine scope of possible trial with view toward resolving issues through agreement.

Pretrial services

A function of the federal courts that takes place at the very start of the criminal justice process – after a person has been arrested and charged with a federal crime and before he or she goes to trial. Pretrial services officers focus on investigating the backgrounds of these persons to help the court determine whether to release or detain them while they await trial. The decision is based on whether these individuals are likely to flee or pose a threat to the community. If the court orders release, a pretrial services officer supervises the person in the community until he or she returns to court.

Priority

The Bankruptcy Code’s statutory ranking of unsecured claims that determines the order in which unsecured claims will be paid if there is not enough money to pay all unsecured claims in full.

Priority claim

An unsecured claim that is entitled to be paid ahead of other unsecured claims that are not entitled to priority status. Priority refers to the order in which these unsecured claims are to be paid.

Probable cause hearing

A hearing held before a judge in criminal cases to determine if enough evidence exists to prosecute. The probable cause hearing must be conducted within 60 days of the filing of the complaint or information in Superior Court, unless the accused person waives the time or the court grants an extension based on good cause.

Probate/probate court

A court with limited authority to hear certain kinds of cases, such as adoption, guardianship, mental health commitments. Not a part of the Superior Court system.

Probation

When a convicted offender receives a suspended term of incarceration and is then supervised by a probation officer for a period of time set by a judge. Sentencing option in the federal courts. With probation, 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.

Probation absconder

A person under probation supervision whose location is unknown, in violation of the conditions of their probation.

Probation officer

Officers of the probation office of a court. Probation officer duties include conducting presentence investigations, preparing presentence reports on convicted defendants, and supervising released defendants.

Procedure

The rules for conducting a lawsuit; there are rules of civil procedure, criminal procedure, evidence, bankruptcy, and appellate procedure.

Promise to appear

A type of non-financial bond where the defendant agrees to return to court without giving cash or property.

Proof of claim

A written statement describing the reason a debtor owes a creditor money, which typically sets forth the amount of money owed. (There is an official form for this purpose.)

Pro per

A slang expression sometimes used to refer to a pro se litigant. It is a corruption of the Latin phrase “in propria persona.”

Property of the estate

All legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property as of the commencement of the case.

Pro se

Representing oneself. Serving as one’s own lawyer. A Latin phrase meaning for “yourself”–representing yourself in any kind of case.

Pro se divorce

Do it yourself divorce.

Prosecute

To charge someone with a crime. A prosecutor tries a criminal case on behalf of the government. To carry on a case or judicial proceeding. To proceed against a person criminally.

Prosecutor

Also called the state’s attorney. Represents the state in a criminal case against a defendant.

Protective order

A criminal court order issued by a judge to protect a family or household member.

Pro tem

Temporary.

Public defender

An attorney appointed and paid by the state who defends a person in a criminal case after the court finds that the person is indigent–financially unable to hire a private attorney.

Q

R

Ready

Means ready to start the trial or begin oral argument. Usually said by an attorney or party in response to a judge calling the list of scheduled cases.

Reaffirmation agreement

An agreement by a debtor to continue paying a dischargeable debt after the bankruptcy, usually for the purpose of keeping collateral or mortgaged property that would otherwise be subject to repossession.

Record

A written account of the proceedings in a case, including all pleadings, evidence, and exhibits submitted in the course of the case. The pleadings, the exhibits and the transcript made by the court reporter of all proceedings in a trial.

Redemption

A procedure in a Chapter 7 case whereby a debtor removes a secured creditor’s lien on collateral by paying the creditor the value of the property. The debtor may then retain the property.

Referee

Judges who reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 may be designated as Judge Trial Referees by the Chief Justice and can hear and decide certain types of cases.

Remand

Send back.

Residential treatment programs

Programs that provide extensive drug or alcohol treatment on an inpatient basis.

Respondent

Another word for defendant; the person responding to a lawsuit. In Juvenile court, the word refers to the person or persons named in a petition. When used in Practice Book Sec. 2-29 through 2-62 the word “respondent” shall mean the attorney against whom a grievance complaint or presentment has been filed or a person who is alleged to have been engaged in the unauthorized practice of law pursuant to General Statutes § 51-88.”

Rest

To be done presenting the evidence in a case, as in “the plaintiff rests”.

Restitution

Money ordered to be paid by the defendant to the victim to reimburse the victim for the costs of the crime. Generally making good, or giving the equivalent for any loss, damage or injury caused by a persons actions. Often a condition of probation.

Restraining order

A civil court order to protect a family or household member from physical abuse.

Return date

The date on which the 90-day waiting period for a divorce begins. Also, the date that starts the countdown for things taking place in a case, including the deadlines for filing certain papers, including the date by which the defendant should file an appearance. Nothing happens in court on the return date and no one needs to go to court on the return date. The return date is always a Tuesday in civil and family cases. In summary process (eviction) cases, the return date is any week day, Monday through Saturday, except a holiday, usually 7 to 10 days from the date the clerk signs the summons if the summons is signed by the clerk.

Reverse

The act of a court setting aside the decision of a lower court. A reversal is often accompanied by a remand to the lower court for further proceedings.

Revocation hearing

A hearing held before a judge to determine whether or not a person has violated the conditions of probation. If there is a finding that a violation has occurred, the judge may impose all or part of the original sentence.

Rule to show cause

Summons compelling a person to appear in court on a specific date to answer to a request that certain orders be modified or vacated.

S

Sanction

A penalty or other type of enforcement used to bring about compliance with the law or with rules and regulations.

Schedules

Lists submitted by the debtor along with the petition (or shortly thereafter) showing the debtor’s assets, liabilities, and other financial information. (There are official forms a debtor must use.)

Seal

A court order closing a case file from public review, usually in cases of youthful offenders and acquittal. Prevents the public from obtaining information on the cases.

Secured creditor

A secured creditor is an individual or business that holds a claim against the debtor that is secured by a lien on property of the estate. The property subject to the lien is the secured creditor’s collateral.

Secured debt

Debt backed by a mortgage, pledge of collateral, or other lien; debt for which the creditor has the right to pursue specific pledged property upon default. Examples include home mortgages, auto loans and tax liens.

Senior judge

A federal judge who, after attaining the requisite age and length of judicial experience, takes senior status, thus creating a vacancy among a court’s active judges. A senior judge retains the judicial office and may cut back his or her workload by as much as 75 percent, but many opt to keep a larger caseload. A judge who reaches the age of 65, or who meets certain other requirements and chooses senior status. Senior judges hear cases on a part time basis until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Sentence

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

Sentencing

When a criminal defendant is brought before a judge after conviction for ordering the terms of the punishment.

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.

Sentence modification

A defendant’s written application to the sentencing judge or court to reduce the sentence at any time during the sentence. The judge conducts a hearing. If the original sentence was more than three years, the prosecutor must agree.

Sentence review

A defendant’s written application to a three judge panel to review the sentence. Must be filed within 30 days after being sentenced with the court clerk. A review decision can increase or decrease the sentence.

Serious physical injury

Physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.

Service

The legal method for giving a copy of the court papers being filed to other parties in a case.

Service of process

The delivery of writs or summonses to the appropriate party.

Settlement

Parties to a lawsuit resolve their dispute without having a trial. Settlements often involve the payment of compensation by one party in at least partial satisfaction of the other party’s claims, but usually do not include the admission of fault.

Sequester

To separate. Sometimes juries are sequestered from outside influences during their deliberations.

Short calendar

A list of cases in which hearing by the judge or magistrate is requested or required.

Small business case

A special type of chapter 11 case in which there is no creditors’ committee (or the creditors’ committee is deemed inactive by the court) and in which the debtor is subject to more oversight by the U.S. trustee than other chapter 11 debtors. The Bankruptcy Code contains certain provisions designed to reduce the time a small business debtor is in bankruptcy.

Small claims

Civil actions to recover damages, or money, up to $5000.The rules of evidence are relaxed and people often represent themselves instead of hiring an attorney.

Statement of financial affairs

A series of questions the debtor must answer in writing concerning sources of income, transfers of property, lawsuits by creditors, etc. (There is an official form a debtor must use.)

Statement of intention

A declaration made by a chapter 7 debtor concerning plans for dealing with consumer debts that are secured by property of the estate.

States attorney

An attorney who represents the state in criminal cases. The prosecutor.

Standard of proof

Degree of proof required. In criminal cases, prosecutors must prove a defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The majority of civil lawsuits require proof “by a preponderance of the evidence” (50 percent plus), but in some the standard is higher and requires “clear and convincing” proof.

Statute

A law passed by a legislature. A law enacted by a legislative body.

Statute of limitations

The time within which a lawsuit must be filed or a criminal prosecution begun. The deadline can vary, depending on the type of civil case or the crime charged. A certain time allowed by law for starting a case. For example, six years in a contract case.

Stay

Temporarily stopping a judicial proceeding.

Stipulation

Also called a “stip.” A written agreement by the parties or their attorneys.

Sua sponte

Latin, meaning “of its own will.” Often refers to a court taking an action in a case without being asked to do so by either side.

Subordination

The act or process by which a person’s rights or claims are ranked below those of others.

Subpoena

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

Subpoena duces tecum

A command to a witness to appear and produce documents. A legal paper requiring someone to produce documents or records for a trial.

Substance abuse education

A community based program for drug offenders that provides education about the harmful effects of drug abuse and also supervises community service.

Substance abuse treatment

A special condition the court imposes that requires an individual to undergo testing and treatment for abuse of illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol. Treatment may include inpatient or outpatient counseling and detoxification.

Substantial abuse

The characterization of a bankruptcy case filed by an individual whose debts are primarily consumer debts where the court finds that the granting of relief would be an abuse of chapter 7 because, for example, the debtor can pay its debts.

Substantive consolidation

Putting the assets and liabilities of two or more related debtors into a single pool to pay creditors. (Courts are reluctant to allow substantive consolidation since the action must not only justify the benefit that one set of creditors receives, but also the harm that other creditors suffer as a result.)

Substitute charge

In a criminal case, a charge that replaces the original charge by the prosecutor.

Summary process

An eviction case.

Summary judgment

A decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented for the record without a trial. It is used when it is not necessary to resolve any factual disputes in the case. Summary judgment is granted when – on the undisputed facts in the record – one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Summons

A legal paper that is used to start a civil case and get jurisdiction over a party.

Supervised release

Term of supervision served after a person is released from prison. The court imposes supervised release during sentencing in addition to the sentence of imprisonment. Unlike parole, supervised release does not replace a portion of the sentence of imprisonment but is in addition to the time spent in prison. U.S. probation officers supervise people on supervised release.

T

Temporary restraining order

Akin to a preliminary injunction, it is a judge’s short-term order forbidding certain actions until a full hearing can be conducted. Often referred to as a TRO.

Testimony

Evidence presented orally by witnesses during trials or before grand juries.

Time served

A sentence of incarceration equal to the amount of time a defendant has already spent in state custody waiting for disposition of the case.

Title

Legal recognition of the ownership of property, usually proven by a document.

Toll

See statute of limitations.

Tort

A civil, not criminal, wrong. A negligent or intentional injury against a person or property, with the exception of breach of contract.

Transcript

The official written record of everything that was said at a court proceeding, a hearing, or a deposition.

Transfer

Any mode or means by which a debtor disposes of or parts with his/her property. Also, assignment of a case to another court location by court order.

Transfer hearing

Juvenile Court hearing to determine whether a child, 14 or older, charged with a serious juvenile offense should have his/her case transferred to a criminal court and be subject to the same processes and penalties as an adult charged with the same crime.

Transcript

A written, word-for-word record of what was said, either in a proceeding such as a trial, or during some other formal conversation, such as a hearing or oral deposition.

Trial de novo

A new trial or retrial in which the whole case with evidence and witnesses is presented as if no previous trial had been held.

Trial referee

An attorney appointed by the Chief Justice to hear any civil non-jury case where the parties agree to use a trial referee and all the legal papers have been filed.

Trustee

The representative of the bankruptcy estate who exercises statutory powers, principally for the benefit of the unsecured creditors, under the general supervision of the court and the direct supervision of the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator. The trustee is a private individual or corporation appointed in all chapter 7, chapter 12, and chapter 13 cases and some chapter 11 cases. The trustee’s responsibilities include reviewing the debtor’s petition and schedules and bringing actions against creditors or the debtor to recover property of the bankruptcy estate. In chapter 7, the trustee liquidates property of the estate, and makes distributions to creditors. Trustees in chapter 12 and 13 have similar duties to a chapter 7 trustee and the additional responsibilities of overseeing the debtor’s plan, receiving payments from debtors, and disbursing plan payments to creditors.

Typing service

A business not authorized to practice law that prepares bankruptcy petitions.

U

U.S. attorney

A lawyer appointed by the President in each judicial district to prosecute and defend cases for the federal government. The U.S. Attorney employs a staff of Assistant U.S. Attorneys who appear as the government’s attorneys in individual cases.

U.S. trustee

An officer of the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for supervising the administration of bankruptcy cases, estates, and trustees; monitoring plans and disclosure statements; monitoring creditors’ committees; monitoring fee applications; and performing other statutory duties.

Uncared for

Legal description of a child or youth who is homeless or whose home cannot provide the specialized care which his/her physical, emotional or mental condition requires.

Unconditional discharge

A sentence in a criminal case in which the defendant is released with without imprisonment, probation supervision or conditions.

Undersecured claim

A debt secured by property that is worth less than the amount of the debt.

Undue hardship

The most widely used test for evaluating undue hardship in the dischargeability of a student loan includes three conditions: (1) the debtor cannot maintain – based on current income and expenses – a minimal standard of living if forced to repay the loans; (2) there are indications that the state of affairs is likely to persist for a significant portion of the repayment period; and (3) the debtor made good faith efforts to repay the loans.

Unlawful detainer action

A lawsuit brought by a landlord against a tenant to evict the tenant from rental property – usually for nonpayment of rent.

Unliquidated claim

A claim for which a specific value has not been determined.

Unscheduled debt

A debt that should have been listed by the debtor in the schedules filed with the court but was not. (Depending on the circumstances, an unscheduled debt may or may not be discharged.)

Unsecured claim

A claim or debt for which a creditor holds no special assurance of payment, such as a mortgage or lien; a debt for which credit was extended based solely upon the creditor’s assessment of the debtor’s future ability to pay.

Uphold

The appellate court agrees with the lower court decision and allows it to stand. See affirmed.

V

Vacate

To cancel or rescind a court order.

Venue

The geographic area in which a court has jurisdiction. A change of venue is a change or transfer of a case from one judicial district to another. Also, the court location.

Verdict

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

Visitation

A court order deciding the amount of time a non-custodial parent may spend with his or her child, also called parenting time or access.

Violation

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

Violation of probation

Action or inaction that disobeys a condition of probation.

Voir dire

Jury selection process of questioning prospective jurors, to ascertain their qualifications and determine any basis for challenge. Also, “to speak the truth.”

Voluntary transfer

A transfer of a debtor’s property with the debtor’s consent.

W

Wage execution

The process of deducting money from wages to pay a judgment. Also called a garnishment or attachment.

Wage garnishment

A nonbankruptcy legal proceeding whereby a plaintiff or creditor seeks to subject to his or her claim the future wages of a debtor. In other words, the creditor seeks to have part of the debtor’s future wages paid to the creditor for a debt owed to the creditor.

Wage withholding

A court order to deduct child support or alimony payments from someone’s wages. All child support court orders must include an income withholding order unless both parents ask the judge not to.

Warrant

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

Witness

A person called upon by either side in a lawsuit to give testimony before the court or jury. A person who testifies to what they saw, heard, observed or did.

Writ

A written court order directing a person to take, or refrain from taking, a certain act. Also, legal paper filed to start various types of civil lawsuits.

Writ of certiorari

An order issued by the U.S. Supreme Court directing the lower court to transmit records for a case which it will hear on appeal.

X

Y

Youth

Any person sixteen (16) to eighteen (18) years of age.

Youthful offender

The legal status of persons who have been arrested for a crime committed when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and who meet other requirements. 16- and 17- year-old defendants are treated as youthful offenders, except those who have been charged with certain felonies, have already been convicted of a felony on the adult docket, or have been adjudicated as a serious juvenile offender. For defendants treated as Youthful Offenders, the information and proceedings are confidential and do not become a part of the person’s criminal record.

Z

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