50 most common Legal Terms


This post is going specialized for lawyers. The list will contain the most important legal terms in alphabetical order. Each word will contain a definition and an example sentence.

A person who in some manner is connected with a crime, either before or after its perpetration, but who is not present at the time the crime is committed.

  • For example, Joe gives Josh the blue-prints to a bank. Afterwards, Jane allows Josh to hide the money at her apartment. Both Jane and Joe are accessories to the robbery.

One who knowingly, voluntarily, and intentionally unites with the principal offender in the commission of a crime as a principal, accessory, or aider or abettor.

  • In a bank robbery for example, the person who helps break open the vault or the person watching the hostages would be considered an accomplice.

A settlement agreed upon between the parties in a lawsuit for something other than what is claimed to be due, and which bars subsequent actions on the claim.

  • For example, in a claim over a house, a party may agree to pay another a certain amount of money to settle the claim over the house.

A method of discharging a claim upon agreement by the parties to give and accept something in settlement of the claim something different from or less than that which the creditor is claiming or entitle to. The accord is “the agreement” and the satisfaction is “the execution and a new contract.”

  • For example, a person going through a divorce is threatened with a lawsuit. Unable to deal with more legal issues; the divorcee talks to the other party and offers to pay a small fine. After both parties sign the statement and the amount is paid, the accord and satisfaction is complete. If the other person threatens to sue, the divorcee would show the accord and satisfaction to a judge and the judge would not allow any more money to be collected.

1. A person charged with having committed a crime or misdemeanor. 2. A defendant in a criminal proceeding.

  • O.J. Simpson was charged with the murder of his wife and was therefore the accused. He was then put on trial for the murder and, as the defendant, was the accused in the trial.

1. A statement of acceptance of responsibility. 2. The short declaration at the end of a writing showing that the instrument was duly executed and acknowledged.

  • For example, usually at the end of a legal document, a notary public verifies that the signer of the document states that all parties actually signed the document. The parties signing the document present a driver’s license to the notary public who will then sign and stamp that section of the document deemed “the acknowledgment.”

To set free or discharge form an accusation of guilt of a crime or responsibility for a civil liability.

  • A jury may acquit a defendant charged with armed robbery by finding him or her not guilty of the charge.

In criminal law, a verdict of not guilty. In contract law, a release, absolution, or discharge from an obligation, liability, or engagement. Acquittal is a noun which is distinguished from the verb “acquit.”

  • The U.S. media found O.J. Simpson’s acquittal astonishing.

Case, cause, suit or controversy disputed or contested before a court of justice. Also termed action at law. Action is used more often for civil lawsuits than for criminal cases.

  • A criminal action is a proceeding initiated by the government to punish a person or entity for a crime.

Latin for “to the damage.” A formal claim for damages in a pleading: typically a clause of a pleading alleging amount of loss or injury from the defendant.

  • In a civil claim for car damage, the plaintiff’s ad damnum may request the court award the plaintiff twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) for the damage sustained due to the defendant’s actions.

Latin for “for the purposes of the legal action.” It refers to the appointment by the court of one party to act in a legal action on behalf of another party.

  • A guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the court to protect the interests of minors or legally incompetent persons in legal actions.

An increase by the court in the amount of damages awarded by a jury.

  • A jury awarded ten thousand dollars ($10,000) to a fifty-year-old man who had been employed as a mechanic until he was permanently disabled at work. The judge awarded an additur of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000), which resulted in a total award of one hundred and sixty thousand dollars ($160,000).

The opposite party in an action.

  • The defendant is the plaintiff’s adversary.

A written statement of facts confirmed by the oath of the party making it, before a notary or officer having authority to administer oaths.

  • In criminal cases, affidavits are often used by police officers seeking to convince courts to grant a warrant to make an arrest or a search. In civil cases, affidavits of witnesses are often used to support motions for summary judgment.

An advocate, counsel, or official agent employed in preparing, managing and trying cases in court. Attorney-at-law is the official name for a lawyer in the United States; in England they are called solicitors.

  • An attorney-at-law was consulted for the initial drafting of the legal document.

bail meaning

The amount of cash required to obtain the release of an accused from law enforcement custody while his or her case progressives.

  • The defendant was released after his sister sold her car and posted the three thousand dollar ($3,000) bail.

Judicial proceedings by which most debts owed by a person found to be insolvent is relived of liability for his or her debts by making court-approved arrangements for partial repayment.

Debts may be extinguished, reduced or the payment of which may be delayed.

Bankruptcy judges preside over these proceedings; the person with the debts is called the debtor; and the people or companies to whom the debtor owes money to are called creditors.

  • Despite the lawyers’ advice, his client filed for bankruptcy, which later ruined his credit report.

A crime (and the basis for a tort) involving intentional and nonconsensual contact with another person’s body or something attached or considered to be apart of them, including clothing or an umbrella.

  • The subway rider was sued for battery after the fight.

A crime punishable by a life sentence in prison or death.

  • Charles Manson was tried and convicted of capital crimes after he and his followers heinously murdered a number of people.

The legal imposition of a sentence of execution for a criminal offense. Also known as DEATY PENALTY.

  • The jury found the defendant guilty and imposed capital punishment.

1. A warning or caution. The judge issued a caveat to the defense attorney to keep his questions simple. 2. A formal notice to a judge, public officer or court to postpone a proceeding until the merits of the notice is determined or the notifier has an opportunity to be heard. The party who files the caveat is known as the caveator.

  • In bankruptcy court, a creditor may file a caveat to be notified if anything is filed in their debtor’s case.

The chronological order of the places where and persons with whom tangible evidence is located from the moment it is received in custody until it is offered as evidence in court. This process aims to ensure evidence is not tampered with and therefore must be followed for the evidence to be accepted in court.

  • A state statute may define a chain of custody to include the seizing officer, the packaging officer and the chemist or other person who touched the piece of evidence before it was analyzed.

The money awarded by a court to a claimant as compensation or imposed as a punishment for a financial loss or injury to person, property or rights.

Damages are distinguishable from costs, which are the expenses incurred as a result of bringing a lawsuit and which the court may order the losing party to pay.

Damages also differ from the verdict, which is the final decision issued by a jury. See also COMPENSATORY DAMAGES, PUNITIVE DAMAGES.

  • Mary hired Tom to fix her toilet. The work Tom did caused flooding and ruined Mary’s carpet. The judge awarded Mary damages to cover the cost of fixing the toilet and replacing the carpet.

1. In litigation, a pretrial discovery proceeding outside the courtroom in which a party or witness gives sworn testimony under oath before a court reporter in response to written interrogatories and where there is an opportunity for cross-examination. 2. The written document created by the court reporter as a result of this pretrial discovery proceeding.

  • A deposition usually takes place in the office of one of the lawyers, in the presence of a court reporter, who transcribes what is said. Questions are asked and answered orally as if in court, with opportunity given to the adversary to cross–examine.

An assault committed by an individual against a household member, or someone with whom they have a familial or intimate relationship.

  • Yoshi’s son (Sako) was charged with domestic violence after punching Yoshi in the chest.

The constitutional prohibition under the Fifth (5th) Amendment against a person being put on trial more than once for the same offense after acquittal or conviction or multiple punishments for the same offense.

  • A defendant took a car without permission and later returns it to the victim. The defendant in court pleads guilty to joyriding. Next, the prosecutor seeks to charge the defendant with auto theft. For double jeopardy purposes, joyriding and car theft are charges for the same offense of illegal use of a vehicle. Since a defendant cannot receive multiple punishments for the same offense, these new charges would be prohibited by double jeopardy.

The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects United States citizens from searches and seizures which are not based on probable cause.

  • The Fourth Amendment reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The killing of one human being by another. Homicide is broader in scope than murder.

  • Justifiable homicide is the killing of a human excused by the law as necessary, such as in the case of self-defense; vehicular homicide is the killing of another by operation of a motor vehicle.

Latin for “in the manner of a pauper.” A designation granted to a party to a lawsuit who does not have funds to pursue a lawsuit or criminal defense which allows court fees to be waived.

  • In forma pauperis is typically awarded by a judge without a hearing and waives normal court costs. However, the costs of case preparation, such as depositions, are not covered.

The presumption of innocence principle which states that all people accused of a crime are considered to be free of culpability until a court or jury finds that the accused did commit the crime.

This principle requires the government to prove the guilt of a criminal defendant and relieves the defendant of any burden to prove their innocence.

  • The inmate was still considered to be innocent until proven guilty because the jury had not yet returned a verdict.

A place of confinement, which is smaller than a prison and usually holds persons convicted of misdemeanors or persons awaiting trial.

  • The teenager was arrested and taken to jail to await his arraignment on theft charges.

The condition of a person charged with a crime and thus in danger of conviction and punishment.

  • The defendant was in jeopardy after he was charged with fifteen (15) counts of larceny.

An elected or an appointed public official with the authority to hear and decide cases in a court of law.

  • A judge controls the proceedings in the courtroom and decides the questions of law.

Any person who actually serves as a member of the jury.

  • The juror was treated to a free breakfast and free lunch as well as paid the minimum hourly wage for their civil service in determining if the defendant was guilty or not guilty.

Requirement that police inform a suspect in their custody of his or her constitutional rights before they question him or her: specifically, the right to remain silent; that any statement made may be used against him or her; the right to an attorney; and if the person cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed if he or she desires. Also known as MIRANDA WARNING.

  • Prior to the time of arrest and any interrogation, the suspect was read his Miranda rights.

A moot case or a moot point is one not subject to a judicial determination because it involves an abstract question or a pretended controversy that has not yet actually arisen or has already passed. Mootness usually refers to a court’s refusal to consider a case because the issue involved has been resolved prior to the court’s decision, leaving nothing that would be affected by the court’s decision.

  • For example, if an individual sues his employer for his termination and the employer rehires the employee the claim becomes moot because the termination has been revoked.

1. The form of verdict in criminal cases where the judge or jury finds that the prosecution has not proven the defendant to be guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt or that the accused was insane at the time the crime was committed.

  • Because the prosecution failed to prove that the defendant was present during the crime, the jury found her not guilty. 2. A plea entered by a defendant in a criminal or civil case denying blame for the charges brought against them. For example, the defendant pled not guilty to all 10 charges of petty theft.

1. Any type of attestation by which an individual signifies that he or she is bound in conscience to perform a particular act, either truthfully or faithfully. 2. A solemn declaration of truth or obligation.

  • The witness took an oath before the court to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

An offense for which the authorized penalty does not exceed imprisonment for three (3) months or a fine of five hundred dollars ($500).

  • Tom’s parking tickets were considered to be a petty offense.

A person who initiates a lawsuit against another. See also complainant.

  • In the landmark Supreme Court case Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, Citizens United was the plaintiff.

1. A negotiation whereby the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval. Usually involves the defendant’s pleading guilty to a lesser offense or to a lesser number of offenses.

  • During the plea bargain, the defendant agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. 2. The result of the negotiation between the offender and the state. For example, as part of his plea bargain, the defendant also agreed to stay away from the store he attempted to rob.

All the documents, evidence and transcripts of oral proceedings in a case.

  • The judge examined the record before the start of the hearing.

1. A contract between attorney and client specifying the nature of the services to be rendered and the cost of the services.

  • The attorney required the new client to sign a retainer before any more work would be done on the case. 2. The fee the client pays when he or she retains the attorney to act for him or her. For example, the lawyer set the retainer at five thousand dollars ($5,000).

A special court that handles expeditious and inexpensive civil claims for small amounts of money. Also known as CONCILIATION COURT.

  • Both parties represented themselves rather than hiring an attorney for the small claims court.

For criminal prosecutions, the defendant has a right to demand a trial within a reasonably short period of time.

  • The right of an accused to a speedy trial as guaranteed by the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Oral evidence offered by a witness under oath, which is used to establish some fact or set of facts. Testimony is distinguishable from evidence that is acquired through the use of written sources, such as documents.

  • The witness’s testimony was used to convict the criminal of the charges brought against them.

That which is contrary to or in conflict with the federal or state constitutions.

  • For example, laws that gave tax breaks only to African Americans were deemed unconstitutional.

The opinion of a jury, or a judge where there is no jury, on the factual issues of a case.

  • The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

Most commonly, a court order authorizing law enforcement officers to make an arrest or conduct a search. An affidavit seeking a warrant must establish probable cause by detailing the facts upon which the request is based.

  • For example, the judge issued a warrant for the respondent’s arrest after he failed to appear for the civil protection order hearing.

That’s all for this post. I you liked it please leave a comment below!

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Francis Akpore
Francis Akpore
5 years ago

Good stuff, we need more of such THX!

Reply to  Francis Akpore
5 years ago

Sure, on which topic?

Ritu Rani
Ritu Rani
3 years ago

Thanks for sharing it is very helpful

5 years ago