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Legal and Judicial Terms 


A

  • answer - the defendant's response to allegations in the civil complaint or pleading.

    C

  • civil case - a case that is not criminal in nature, but one that pertains to the settlement of disputes between individuals, i.e., a suit seeking the recovery of damages incurred from an automobile accident, breach of contract action, divorce case.
  • circuit court - a trial court of general jurisdiction hearing all civil matters where the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000 and all criminal prosecutions involving felony offenses, as well as misdemeanors and municipal ordinance violations arising out of felonies. The district court also has original jurisdiction concurrent with the circuit court in matters where the amount in controversy exceeds $1,500 but does not exceed $10,000, and in taking non-capital felony guilty pleas before an indictment is returned.
  • closing argument - a summary of the evidence presented to the jury by the attorneys on both sides of a case.
  • complaint(civil) - statements by the plaintiff stating the claims he/she has against the defendant.
  • complaint(criminal) - a formal statement charging an individual with a criminal offense.
  • cross-examination - questioning of a witness by the opposing side.

    D

  • deadlock - a term used to refer to when a jury cannot reach a verdict, resulting in a mistrial.
  • deposition - testimony taken under oath and outside the courtroom.
  • direct examination - the first questioning of a witness by the party on whose behalf he/she is called.
  • district court - a trial court of limited jurisdiction hearing all civil matters where the amount in controversy does not exceed $1,500 and all criminal prosecutions of misdemeanors, unless the misdemeanors arise out of felony charges or have had an indictment returned. District courts also have concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit court in matters where the amount in controversy exceeds $1,500 but does not exceed $10,000, and in taking non-capital felony guilty pleas before an indictment is returned. District courts also have original jurisdiction to hold preliminary hearings in felony prosecutions.

    E

  • evidence - any legally presented proof which may be established by witness, testimony, documents, etc.
  • exhibit -a paper, document, or other object used as evidence during a trial or hearing.

    F

  • felony - a serious criminal offense punishable by at least one year and one day in the penitentiary and may also include a fine of $5,000 or more.

    I

  • indictment - a grand jury's written accusation charging a person or business with committing a crime.
  • information - a written statement charging a defendant with the commission of an indictable offense, made under oath, signed and presented to the court by the district attorney without action by the grand jury.

    M

  • misdemeanor - a less serious criminal offense punishable by up to one year in the county jail or a fine of $2,000 or both.
  • mistrial - an erroneous or invalid trial declared defective and void because of prejudicial error in the proceedings or inability of the jury to reach a verdict.
  • moral turpitude crime - an offense consisting of a base or vile act or the depravation in private and social duties which man owes to his fellow man or to society in general. It is essentially an act or behavior which violates the accepted moral standards of the community.

    O

  • oath - a written or oral pledge to speak the truth.
  • objection - a statement by an attorney opposing specific testimony or admission of evidence.
  • opening statement - outline of anticipated proof presented to the jury by the attorney's at the trial's beginning.
  • overrule - court's denial of a motion or objection raised to the court; when a court overrules an objection to evidence(for example, testimony), the jury may properly consider it.

    P

  • probable cause - a reasonable belief that a crime has or is being committed; the basis for all lawful searches and arrests.
  • prosecution - act of pursuing a lawsuit or criminal trial; the prosecution in a criminal case is brought by the state through the district attorney.

    R

  • rebuttal - the introduction of rebutting evidence to discredit statements of opposing witnesses.
  • redirect examination - follows cross-examination and is exercised by the party who first examined the witness.
  • restitution - a full or partial payment of money damages to a victim or its equivalent in services or work or labor done for the victim's benefit as determined by a judge.
  • "the rule" - (also known as "invoking the rule") a request made by a party to a case asking the judge to rule that material witnesses who are to give testimony must stay out of the courtroom to testify. This rule is invoked so that the witnesses will not be able to hear what has been said in the trial to ensure that they will give unbiased testimony.

    S

  • striking a jury - a process of selecting a trial jury where attorney's "strike" or excuse jurors until the number required remains.
  • sustain - court's acceptance of any motion or objection; when a court sustains an objection to evidence(for example, testimony), the jury may not consider it.

    V

  • venire - the group of sworn jurors.
  • verdict - the final formal trial decision made by a jury, read before the court, and accepted by the judge.
  • voir dire examination - the preliminary questioning of jurors to establish their qualifications.

    If there are other terms or phrases which you hear while serving as a juror that you do not understand, ask the judge to explain the term or phrase to you.

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