Sunday, January 18, 2009

Glossary of Legal Terms Pro Se Litigants Need to Know

Case, cause, suit or controversy disputed or contested before a court of justice.

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

In the practice of the appellate courts, the decree or order is declared valid and will stand as rendered in the lower court.

A claim or statement of what a party intends to prove; the facts as one party claims they are.

The correction of an error in any process, pleading, or proceeding.

The formal written statement by a defendant responding to a complaint setting forth the grounds for his defense.

A review by a higher court of the judgment or decision of a lower court.

The party against whom the appeal is taken.

Authentic Legal Resource:
"An authentic text is one whose content has been verified by a government entity to be complete and unaltered when compared to the version approved or published by the content originator. Typically, an authentic text will bear a certificate or mark that conveys information as to its certification, the process associated with ensuring that the text is complete and unaltered when compared with that of the content originator. An authentic text is able to be authenticated, which means that the particular text in question can be validated, ensuring that it is what it claims to be." Source State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources

A written statement of a party's position including a summary of the facts, a statement of the questions of law involved, and the arguments and legal authorities upon which the party relies. It serves as each party's principal submission to the court prior to its decision.

An objection to the seating of a prospective juror for a trial.

Challenge for Cause:
A challenge to a juror for which cause or a reason is alleged.

Peremptory Challenge:
A challenge to a juror without alleging any cause or reason; a limited number of peremptory challenges is allowed each side in any case.

(1) To command the presence of a person; to notify a person of legal proceedings against him and require his appearance in the court, especially to face contempt proceedings.

(2) To read or refer to legal authorities in an argument or submission to a court. For example, to cite a case is to refer to a particular case in an attempt to persuade the Court to be guided by the decision reached in that case.

Civil Action:
Every law suit other than a criminal action; an adversary proceeding for the enforcement or protection of a legal right or the redress or prevention of a wrong.

Clerk of the Court:
An officer appointed by a court of justice who has charge of the clerical work; keeps the records and seal, issues process, enters judgments and orders, and gives certified copies of documents from the record.

A judgment of guild against a criminal defendant.

An amount of money awarded to the successful party (and recoverable from the losing party) solely as reimbursement for certain of the expenses in prosecuting or defending the suit.

Counter Claim:
A claim which a defendant makes against a plaintiff.

Court of Appeals:
An intermediate federal court, inferior to the U.S. Supreme Court but higher than the U.S. District Court. Its function is to review the final decisions of the district courts, if challenged. There is a Circuit Court of Appeals in each of the judicial circuits.

A claim by one party against a co-party (a defendant claiming against another defendant, or a plaintiff against another plaintiff) arising out of the original complaint.

After a witness has given evidence, the attorney for the opposing party examines or questions him about his testimony to verify or refute it or to further develop it.

A monetary compensation which may be recovered in the courts by a person who has suffered a loss or injury through the unlawful act, omission or negligence of another.

The person defending or denying; the party against whom relief or recovery is sought in a civil action or suit; the party who is accused in a criminal suit.

An oral statement made by a person before an officer authorized by law to administer oaths. The attorney for the opposing party is notified to attend the deposition where he may cross-examine the deposed party. The deposition may sometimes be used later at trial, or it may be taken only to obtain discovery.

The disclosure by one party of facts, documents, or information to the opposing party who needs this material to properly prosecute or defend the case.

Diversity of Citizenship:
A phrase used with reference to federal jurisdiction, denoting a case in which the district courts have jurisdiction because all the persons on one side of the case are citizens of the states different from all the persons on the other side. The matter in controversy must also exceed a value of $50,000. See 28 U.S.C. §1332.

Generally refers to writings, drawings, graphs, charts, photographs, phono records, computer records, pictures, maps, etc. Denotes any record such as deeds, agreements, title papers, receipts and other written instruments or data compilations used to prove a fact.

Entry of Judgment:
Recording the judgment; putting into the docket book a statement of the final judgment and entering copies thereof in the record of the case and the judgment book.

Any kind of matter, presented at trial through witnesses, records, or documents for the purpose of persuading the court or the jury of the correctness of the contentions of the parties.

An interrogation or search. The examination of a witness consists of a series of questions asked by a party to the action or his attorney, in order to bring before the court or jury the knowledge which the witness has of the facts or matters in in dispute, or to further probe and sift previously submitted evidence.

Federal Question:
Refers to the jurisdiction of the federal courts to hear cases involving the interprestion and application of Acts of Congress, the U.S. Constitution, and treaties. See 28 U.S.C. §1331.

To put into files or records of the court; to file a paper is to place it in the official custody of the clerk. The clerk is to endorse upon the paper the date it is received and retain it in the record of the case subject to public inspection.

Habeas Corpus:
A writ that is usually used to bring a prisoner before the Court to determine the legality of his imprisonment. It may also be used to bring a person in custody before the Court to give testimony, or to be prosecuted.

A relatively formal proceeding similar to a trial in which evidence is submitted and witnesses are heard, with one or more legal issues to be determined.

To impeach a witness is to introduce evidence intended to contradict testimony or to question his/her credibility.

In Forma Pauperis:
In the manner of a pauper. The permission given to a poor person to sue without payment of court fees. See complete definition of in forma pauperis.

A temporary or permanent order of the Court prohibiting or requiring the performance of some specific act in order to prevent irreparable damage or injury.

Written questions asked by one party and served on an opposing party who must answer them in writing under oath as a discovery device.

The official and authentic decision of a Court adjudicating with finality the respective rights and claims of the parties to a suit.

Default Judgment:
A judgment rendered because of the defendant's failure to answer or appear.

Summary Judgment:
Judgment given on the basis of pleadings, affidavits, and exhibits presented for the record without any need for a trial. It is used when there is no dispute as to the material facts of the case and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Consent Judgment:
The provisions and terms of the judgment are agreed on by the parties and submitted to the Court for its sanction and approval.

Declaratory Judgment:
A judgment which declares the rights and legal relations of the parties of a case.

The power or legal authority of the Court to hear and decide a case.

A certain number of persons selected according to law and sworn to inquire into matters of fact and declare the truth about matters laid before them.

A party to a lawsuit.

A case, controversy, or lawsuit.

Local Rules:
A particular set of rules for each court governing matters not determined by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Literally, "We command." It is a command of a higher court to either a lower court or a public officer to perform a lawful duty.

An invalid trial the result of which cannot stand because of some fundamental error. When a mistrial is declared, the trial must start again from the selection of the jury.

A proceeding which seeks a judgment or ruling on a dispute which does not actually exist. For example, when one party brings a motion to compel the other to answer interrogatories and the other has already answered, tho motion is moot.

Information or a warning usually given in writing, informing a person of some fact which it is his legal right to know.

Notice of Appeal:
Notice to the Court and to the other parties to the suit that a party intends to exercise his right to appeal. Filing the notice of appeal in the district court is the first step in making the appeal.

A legal declaration or claim made under penalty of perjury (either orally or through a written document) stating that what you are about to say is true and correct to the best of your abilities. See complete definition of oath or to be under oath.
Online Official Legal Resource:
"An online official legal resource is one that possesses the same status as a print official legal resource." Taken from the State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources. See the report for a complete argument as to what constitutes an official online legal resource and why online documents need to be established as authenticated legal resources prior to their use in court.

A formal judicial statement of the legal reasoning upon which the judgment is based.

The person or entities who prosecute or defend a lawsuit.

Plaintiff (or Complainant):
The one who brings the suit, asking for the enforcement of a right or the recovery of relief from a wrong.

The formal written statements presented by the parties in a civil case forming the basis for the lawsuit and defining the issues.

Pre-Trial Conference:
This is a conference attended by the attorneys for both sides to clarify the issues, set a schedule for discovery, motions and further proceedings and to discuss settlement, with the judge or magistrate judge presiding. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 16.

The summons or any other writ which may be used during the progress of the case.

To send back. The act of the appellate court in sending a case back to the district court for further action.

The act of an appellate court annulling a judgment of a lower court because of an error.

The delivery of a summons, writ, notice, or injunction, by an authorized person to officially notify another party of a proceeding in which he is concerned.

Service of Process:
The service of writs, summonses, complaints or petitions to the party to whom they ought to be delivered.

A command to a witness to appear and give testimony.

Subpoena Duces Tecum:
A command to a witness to produce at a trial or hearing documents or papers in his possession that are pertinent to the issues of a pending case.

A writ to notify the person named that an action has been commenced against him in the court, and that he is required to appear and answer the complaint.

Temporary Restraining Order:
Prohibits a person from an action which is likely to cause irreparable harm. This differs from an injunction in that it may be granted immediately, without notice to the opposing party and without a hearing. It is intended to last until a hearing can be held.

Oral evidence given by a witness under oath.

The typewritten transcription of the court reporter's shorthand notes of the proceedings in a trial, hearing or deposition.

The geographical location in which a case is tried.

The formal decision or finding made by the jury upon the matters or questions submitted to them at the trial.

Voir Dire:
The preliminary examination of a juror to determine his competency or impartiality to serve on a case.

A formal written command, issued from the Court, requiring the performance of a specific act.

Source: Definitions taken from A Manual for Pro Se Litigants Appearing Before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York which was published by the District Executive's Office United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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