Understanding Legal Terminology: A Comprehensive Guide

Table of Contents

Legal jargon can often feel like a foreign language, leaving many bewildered when trying to navigate the complex landscape of law and regulations. To demystify this intricate world, we’ll delve into a comprehensive guide to legal terminology. So, whether you’re a legal professional or simply curious about the law, this article will serve as your trusty companion. Let’s embark on this enlightening journey from “AB INITIO” to “BYLAW.”

AB INITIO – Latin for “from the beginning”

In the legal realm, Latin phrases are often used to describe specific concepts concisely. “AB INITIO” is one such term, meaning “from the beginning.” For example, it can be applied when discussing a marriage that was considered void “AB INITIO.”

ABANDONMENT – In care and protection and termination…

“ABANDONMENT” refers to the act of leaving a child without any provision for support and without any person responsible for their care, custody, and control. This term frequently arises in care and protection cases.

ABATE – To reduce, diminish or defer a wrong, grievance…

“ABATE” signifies the reduction, diminishment, or deferral of a wrong, grievance, or cause of action. In legal proceedings, it may be employed to mitigate the severity of a claim or issue.

ABROGATE – To annul or repeal a law, rule, or order

To “ABROGATE” means to annul or repeal a law, rule, or order. This action is often taken by legislative bodies to invalidate existing legal provisions.


“ABSENTEE” is a term used interchangeably with “DISAPPEARED PERSON.” It refers to an individual who is conspicuously absent or missing.

ABSOLUTE DATE – In divorce proceedings, the date…

In the context of divorce proceedings, the “ABSOLUTE DATE” is the point at which the divorce becomes legally final. This typically occurs 90 days after the judgment nisi. Parties are not considered legally divorced until the judgment nisi becomes absolute.


“ABSTRACT OF CONVICTION” can be understood by referring to “REGISTRY ABSTRACT.” It involves creating a summary document that outlines a person’s conviction record, commonly used in legal proceedings.

ABSTRACT OF TITLE – A condensed history of the ownership…

An “ABSTRACT OF TITLE” is a condensed history of land ownership based on public records. This document is crucial for determining or establishing present ownership of a property.


“ABUSE OF DISCRETION” often intersects with the “STANDARD OF REVIEW.” It pertains to situations where a legal authority, such as a judge or administrative agency, oversteps the bounds of reasonable decision-making.


“ABUSE PREVENTION ORDER” is synonymous with “RESTRAINING ORDER” or “209A order.” It’s a legal remedy sought to protect individuals from abusive or threatening behavior.

ACCESSORY – Someone who knowingly and intentionally helps…

An “ACCESSORY” is someone who knowingly and intentionally aids another person in committing or concealing a crime, particularly a felony, in the state of Massachusetts.


An “ACCOMPLICE” is an individual who knowingly participates or assists in the commission of a crime by another person.


“ACCOUNT” is a comprehensive financial statement that records debits and credits or receipts and payments. In probate matters, it refers to an annual report on the financial status of an estate.


In civil cases, “ACCORD AND SATISFACTION” is a method of settling a case by substituting a new contract agreed upon and performed by both parties for the old contract, which was the subject of the litigation. In criminal cases, it often involves an agreement between the defendant and the victim, often for restitution, which ends the prosecution of the case.


In summary process eviction cases, “ACCOUNT ANNEXED” denotes the rent for which the landlord is suing.


An “ACQUITTAL” is synonymous with “NOT GUILTY.” It signifies a court’s formal declaration that a defendant is not guilty of the charges brought against them.

ACT – A law or statute enacted by the State Legislature

An “ACT” refers to a law or statute enacted by the State Legislature, signifying its legal authority and validity.


The term “ACTION” is often used interchangeably with “CASE” in legal contexts, representing a legal proceeding or lawsuit.

ADA – Assistant District Attorney. See DISTRICT ATTORNEY…

“ADA” can stand for “Assistant District Attorney,” a crucial role in the legal system. It’s also an abbreviation for the “AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT,” a significant federal statute.

AD DAMNUM – Latin for “to the damage.”

“AD DAMNUM” is a Latin term used in legal documents, meaning “to the damage.” It indicates the amount of the plaintiff’s claim for damages in a civil case.

AD VALOREM – Latin for “according to the value.”

“AD VALOREM” is another Latin phrase, signifying “according to the value.” For instance, it’s applied to ad valorem taxes, where the tax amount depends on the value of the taxed item, like an automobile.

ADDITUR – The power of a trial court…

“ADDITUR” is a legal concept concerning the power of a trial court to increase the amount of a damage award made by a jury, instead of granting a new trial.


“ADJOURN” as a verb means to postpone or put off a trial, hearing, or court session either indefinitely or to a later stated time. “ADJOURNMENT” as a noun refers to the act of adjourning.

ADJUDICATE – To make a final decision…

“ADJUDICATE” is the act of making a final decision in a legal matter through the judicial process. It has various applications depending on the type of case.


In criminal cases, “ADJUDICATION” refers to the formal and final judicial finding of “guilty” or “not guilty” by the court. In civil cases, it represents the judgment or decree issued by the court. In administrative law, it denotes a formal decision by an administrative agency.

ADMINISTER – To manage or distribute property…

To “ADMINISTER” is to manage or distribute property, especially an estate or a trust, under the authority of a court or in accordance with the terms of a will.

ADMINISTRATOR – A person or entity appointed by the court…

“ADMINISTRATOR” is a person or entity appointed by the court to manage the affairs of a decedent’s estate when there is no valid will or when the named executor is unable or unwilling to serve.

ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE – Evidence that is relevant…

“ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE” refers to evidence that is relevant, material, and legally permissible to be presented in court during a trial.

ADOPT – To legally establish a parent-child relationship…

To “ADOPT” means to legally establish a parent-child relationship between individuals who are not biologically related. This process typically involves the adoption of a child by non-biological parents.

ADVERSE PARTY – A party with opposing interests…

“ADVERSE PARTY” is a term used to describe a party in a legal proceeding with opposing interests or adverse to the party making the reference.

AFFIANT – A person who makes an affidavit…

An “AFFIANT” is a person who makes and signs an affidavit, a written statement made under oath or affirmation and used as evidence in legal proceedings.

AFFIDAVIT – A written statement of facts…

An “AFFIDAVIT” is a written statement of facts that the affiant swears to be true, often used as evidence in legal proceedings.

AFFIRM – To uphold or confirm a lower court’s decision…

To “AFFIRM” means to uphold or confirm a lower court’s decision, often done by an appellate court when reviewing a case.

AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE – A legal defense…

An “AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE” is a legal defense in which the defendant presents new facts and arguments to show that they should not be held liable, even if the plaintiff’s claims are true.

AGENT – A person authorized to act on behalf…

An “AGENT” is a person authorized to act on behalf of another person or entity, known as the principal, in legal matters or business transactions.

AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES – Factors that increase…

“AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES” are factors or conditions that increase the severity or culpability of a crime or misconduct. They may lead to harsher penalties.

AGGREGATE LIMIT – In insurance, the maximum…

In insurance terms, “AGGREGATE LIMIT” refers to the maximum amount an insurer will pay for covered losses during a specific policy period.

AGREEMENT – A mutual understanding…

“AGREEMENT” is a mutual understanding or arrangement between two or more parties that outlines their rights and obligations.


“AIDING AND ABETTING” is a legal concept closely related to being an “ACCESSORY” in aiding and abetting a crime, often a felony.

ALIAS SUMMONS – A second summons issued…

“ALIAS SUMMONS” is a second summons issued when the original summons is not served or is returned without service.

ALIBI – A defense claim that the defendant…

“ALIBI” is a defense claim in which the defendant argues that they were not present at the scene of the alleged crime and, therefore, could not have committed it.

ALLEGATION – A statement or assertion of fact…

An “ALLEGATION” is a statement or assertion of fact, often made in a legal context as part of a complaint, indictment, or other legal document.

ALLEGE – To state, affirm, or assert…

“ALLEGING” is the act of stating, affirming, or asserting something, often in a legal context when making allegations or claims.

ALLOCUTION – The right of a criminal defendant…

“ALLOCUTION” is the right of a criminal defendant to make a statement to the court before sentencing, often expressing remorse or providing mitigating information.

ALTERNATE JUROR – A juror selected as a substitute…

An “ALTERNATE JUROR” is a juror selected as a substitute in case one of the regular jurors cannot continue to serve on a trial.

AMENDMENT – A formal change or addition…

“AMENDMENT” refers to a formal change or addition made to a legal document or legislation.

AMICUS CURIAE – Latin for “friend of the court”…

“AMICUS CURIAE” is a Latin term meaning “friend of the court.” It refers to a person or organization that is not a party to a case but provides information or expertise to assist the court in making a decision.

See also  Isanti County Court

ANNUL – To declare something legally void…

To “ANNUL” means to declare something legally void or invalid, often applied to marriages or contracts.

ANSWER – A defendant’s written response…

An “ANSWER” is a defendant’s written response to a complaint or petition filed by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit.

APPEAL – A formal request to a higher…

“APPEAL” is a formal request made by a party to a higher court to review and reconsider a decision made by a lower court.

APPELLANT – The party who initiates an appeal…

“APPELLANT” is the party who initiates an appeal to a higher court, seeking a review of a lower court’s decision.

APPELLATE COURT – A court that reviews…

“APPELLATE COURT” is a court that reviews and decides appeals from lower courts. It does not conduct trials but focuses on reviewing legal issues and decisions.

APPRAISE – To assess the value…

To “APPRAISE” means to assess the value or worth of something, often used in the context of property valuation.

ARBITRATION – A dispute resolution process…

“ARBITRATION” is a dispute resolution process in which a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, makes a binding decision to resolve the dispute.

ARRAIGNMENT – A court proceeding in which…

“ARRAIGNMENT” is a court proceeding in which a defendant is formally charged with a crime and enters a plea, typically “guilty” or “not guilty.”

ARREST – The act of taking a person…

“ARREST” is the act of taking a person into custody by law enforcement officers based on probable cause to believe the person has committed a crime.

ASSET – Something of value that an individual…

“ASSET” refers to something of value that an individual, business, or entity owns or controls, which can be used to meet financial obligations or generate income.

ASSIGNEE – A person or entity to whom…

“ASSIGNEE” is a person or entity to whom rights or interests in property are transferred by assignment.

ASSIGNMENT – The transfer of rights…

“ASSIGNMENT” is the transfer of rights, interests, or property from one party to another, often governed by a written agreement.

ASSUMPSIT – A legal claim based on an…

“ASSUMPSIT” is a legal claim based on an alleged breach of contract, typically seeking monetary damages for the non-performance of contractual obligations.

ATTORNEY – A legal professional authorized…

“ATTORNEY” is a legal professional authorized to practice law and represent clients in legal matters.

ATTORNEY AT LAW – A licensed lawyer who…

“ATTORNEY AT LAW” is a licensed lawyer who is qualified to represent clients in legal matters and advocate for them in court.

BAIL – A security or bond provided…

“BAIL” is a security or bond provided by a defendant to secure their release from custody while awaiting trial, with the understanding that they will return for court proceedings.

BAILIFF – An officer of the court…

“BAILIFF” is an officer of the court responsible for maintaining order in the courtroom and assisting in various court-related tasks.

BAILMENT – The temporary transfer of…

“BAILMENT” is the temporary transfer of possession of personal property from one party (the bailor) to another (the bailee) for a specific purpose, with the property to be returned.

BAILOR – The party who temporarily transfers…

The “BAILOR” is the party who temporarily transfers possession of personal property to another party (the bailee) in a bailment.

BAILEE – The party who receives temporary…

The “BAILEE” is the party who receives temporary possession of personal property in a bailment from another party (the bailor).

BAILMENT – The temporary transfer of…

“BAILMENT” is the temporary transfer of possession of personal property from one party (the bailor) to another (the bailee) for a specific purpose, with the property to be returned.

BANKRUPTCY – A legal proceeding in which…

“BANKRUPTCY” is a legal proceeding in which an individual or business that cannot meet its financial obligations seeks relief from debt through the court system.

BARRISTER – A type of lawyer who…

“BARRISTER” is a type of lawyer who specializes in courtroom advocacy, representing clients in litigation and other legal proceedings.

BATTERY – A criminal offense involving…

“BATTERY” is a criminal offense that involves the intentional and unlawful physical contact or harm inflicted on another person.

BEQUEATH – To leave property or assets…

“BEQUEATH” means to leave property or assets to someone through a will or other legal instrument.

BEQUEST – A gift of personal property…

A “BEQUEST” is a gift of personal property made in a will or testament.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT – The high standard…

“BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT” is the high standard of proof required in a criminal trial, where the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt to the extent that there is no reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors.

BILL OF RIGHTS – The first ten amendments…

The “BILL OF RIGHTS” refers to the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, which enumerate various individual rights and limitations on government power.

BINDING – Legally obligatory or enforceable…

“BINDING” means legally obligatory or enforceable, often referring to agreements or contracts that create legal obligations.

BLACKMAIL – The act of threatening…

“BLACKMAIL” is the act of threatening to reveal embarrassing, disgraceful, or damaging information about a person unless they do something, typically pay money or perform an action.

BONA FIDE – In good faith, genuine…

“BONA FIDE” means in good faith, genuine, or without fraud or deception.

BOND – A financial instrument or security…

“BOND” is a financial instrument or security that represents a debt obligation, typically issued by governments or corporations.

BREACH – The violation or failure to…

“BREACH” refers to the violation or failure to fulfill a legal obligation, such as a contract or duty.

BREACH OF CONTRACT – The failure to…

“BREACH OF CONTRACT” occurs when one party to a contract fails to fulfill its obligations under the agreement, giving rise to legal remedies for the injured party.

BRIEF – A written legal document…

A “BRIEF” is a written legal document that presents legal arguments, points of law, and supporting evidence to a court in a structured format.

BURDEN OF PROOF – The responsibility to…

“BURDEN OF PROOF” is the responsibility to present sufficient evidence to convince a court or jury of the truth of one’s claims or assertions.

CAPITAL OFFENSE – A crime that is punishable…

A “CAPITAL OFFENSE” is a crime that is punishable by death, often referred to as a capital crime.

CASE – A legal dispute or controversy…

A “CASE” is a legal dispute or controversy that is brought before a court for resolution.

CASE LAW – Legal principles and rules…

“CASE LAW” consists of legal principles and rules that are derived from court decisions in specific cases, also known as precedent.

CAUSATION – The relationship between a…

“CAUSATION” refers to the relationship between a defendant’s actions or conduct and the resulting harm or injury.

CAVEAT – A warning or caution…

“CAVEAT” is a warning or cautionary note, often used in legal contexts to indicate a potential issue or limitation.


A “CERTIFICATE OF DEPOSIT” (CD) is a time deposit offered by banks and financial institutions with a fixed term and typically higher interest rates than regular savings accounts.

CERTIORARI – A writ issued by a higher…

“CERTIORARI” is a writ issued by a higher court, typically an appellate court, to review the decision of a lower court.

CHAIN OF CUSTODY – The documented history…

“CHAIN OF CUSTODY” is the documented history of the possession, handling, and location of physical evidence in a criminal case to maintain its integrity and reliability.

CHALLENGE FOR CAUSE – An objection to…

A “CHALLENGE FOR CAUSE” is an objection made during jury selection in which a party argues that a potential juror cannot be impartial or fair in the case due to a specific reason or bias.

CHANCERY – A court of equity…

“CHANCERY” historically refers to a court of equity, which handles cases involving fairness, trusts, and equitable remedies rather than legal remedies.

CHANGE OF VENUE – The transfer of a…

“CHANGE OF VENUE” is the transfer of a legal case from one jurisdiction or location to another, often due to concerns about bias or a fair trial.

CHARGE – A formal accusation of a crime…

A “CHARGE” is a formal accusation of a crime made by a prosecutor against a defendant.

CHATTEL – Personal property or movable assets…

“CHATTEL” refers to personal property or movable assets that are not considered real property or real estate.

CHILD CUSTODY – The legal and practical…

“CHILD CUSTODY” refers to the legal and practical rights and responsibilities of parents regarding the care, control, and upbringing of their children.

CITATION – A formal notice or summons…

“CITATION” is a formal notice or summons issued by a court, law enforcement agency, or other authority to appear in court or comply with certain legal requirements.

CIVIL LAW – A branch of law that deals…

“CIVIL LAW” is a branch of law that deals with non-criminal legal matters, including disputes between individuals, organizations, or entities.

CIVIL RIGHTS – The rights of individuals…

“CIVIL RIGHTS” refer to the rights of individuals to be free from discrimination and to enjoy equal protection under the law.

CLAIM – A demand or assertion of a…

A “CLAIM” is a demand or assertion of a right to something, often made in a legal context seeking relief, compensation, or benefits.

CLASS ACTION – A lawsuit filed on…

A “CLASS ACTION” is a lawsuit filed on behalf of a group or class of individuals who have similar legal claims or grievances.

CLAUSE – A specific provision or section…

A “CLAUSE” is a specific provision or section within a legal document, contract, or agreement that outlines particular rights, duties, or conditions.


“CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE” is a standard of proof that is higher than a preponderance of the evidence but lower than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, often used in civil cases.

CLIENT-ATTORNEY PRIVILEGE – The legal protection…

“CLIENT-ATTORNEY PRIVILEGE” is a legal protection that ensures the confidentiality of communications between an attorney and their client.

CODE – A systematic collection of laws…

A “CODE” is a systematic collection of laws or regulations organized by subject matter or jurisdiction.

COMMON LAW – A legal system based…

“COMMON LAW” is a legal system based on precedent, where judicial decisions in previous cases are used as a basis for resolving current legal disputes.

COMPLAINT – A formal written document filed…

A “COMPLAINT” is a formal written document filed in court that initiates a civil lawsuit and sets forth the plaintiff’s claims and allegations against the defendant.

CONCUR – To agree or express agreement…

To “CONCUR” means to agree or express agreement, often used in the context of appellate court judges who agree with the majority opinion but may have different reasons for doing so.

CONDEMNATION – The legal process by which…

“CONDEMNATION” is the legal process by which the government or a governmental entity acquires private property for public use, often with compensation to the property owner.

CONSENT – Voluntary agreement or permission…

“CONSENT” is a voluntary agreement or permission given by an individual, often used in legal contexts such as contracts, medical procedures, or searches.

CONSTITUTION – A fundamental document that establishes…

A “CONSTITUTION” is a fundamental document that establishes the framework for government, outlines the structure of government, and sets forth fundamental principles and rights.

CONTEMPT OF COURT – Disobeying or showing…

“CONTEMPT OF COURT” is the act of disobeying or showing disrespect for the authority or orders of a court, which can result in sanctions or penalties.

CONTINGENCY FEE – A fee arrangement in…

“CONTINGENCY FEE” is a fee arrangement in which an attorney’s compensation is contingent upon the successful outcome of a case, typically a percentage of the recovery.

CONTRACT – A legally binding agreement between…

A “CONTRACT” is a legally binding agreement between two or more parties that outlines their rights, duties, and obligations.

CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE – A legal doctrine that…

“CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE” is a legal doctrine that holds that a plaintiff who contributed to their own injury through negligence cannot recover damages from a defendant.

CONVERSION – The wrongful act of taking…

“CONVERSION” is the wrongful act of taking, using, or retaining someone else’s property without permission, often leading to a legal claim for damages.

COPYRIGHT – The exclusive legal right to…

“COPYRIGHT” is the exclusive legal right to reproduce, distribute, and display a creative work, such as a book, music, or artwork.

CORPORATION – A legal entity that is…

A “CORPORATION” is a legal entity that is separate from its owners, providing limited liability to its shareholders and the ability to conduct business.

CORROBORATING EVIDENCE – Supplementary evidence that…

“CORROBORATING EVIDENCE” is supplementary evidence that supports or strengthens existing evidence in a case.

COURT – A government entity responsible for…

A “COURT” is a government entity responsible for the administration of justice and the resolution of legal disputes.

COURT ORDER – A formal directive or command…

A “COURT ORDER” is a formal directive or command issued by a court, requiring a party to take a specific action or refrain from doing something.

CRIME – An act or omission that…

A “CRIME” is an act or omission that violates a law or statute and is punishable by a government authority.

CRIMINAL LAW – A branch of law…

“CRIMINAL LAW” is a branch of law that deals with offenses against the state or society and establishes the rules and procedures for prosecuting individuals accused of committing crimes.

CUSTODY – The physical or legal control…

“CUSTODY” refers to the physical or legal control and responsibility for a person or property.

DAMAGES – Financial compensation awarded to…

“DAMAGES” are financial compensation awarded to a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit to compensate for losses or injuries suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions.

DEBT – An obligation to pay money…

A “DEBT” is an obligation to pay money or perform a specific act, often arising from a contract or legal duty.

DECEDENT – A deceased person…

A “DECEDENT” is a deceased person, often used in the context of probate and estate administration.

DECISION – A judgment, ruling, or determination…

A “DECISION” is a judgment, ruling, or determination made by a court or other decision-making authority in a legal matter.

DECLARATION – A formal written statement…

A “DECLARATION” is a formal written statement, often used in legal contexts, that sets forth facts, intentions, or opinions.

DEED – A legal document that conveys…

A “DEED” is a legal document that conveys or transfers ownership of real property, often recorded in public records.

DEFAULT – Failure to fulfill a legal…

“DEFAULT” is the failure to fulfill a legal obligation or duty, often resulting in adverse consequences or penalties.

DEFENDANT – The party in a legal…

A “DEFENDANT” is the party in a legal proceeding who is accused of wrongdoing or against whom legal action is taken.

DEFENSE – Legal arguments and strategies used…

“DEFENSE” refers to the legal arguments and strategies used by a defendant to protect their interests and contest the plaintiff’s claims.

DELINQUENCY – A failure to fulfill a legal…

“DELINQUENCY” is a failure to fulfill a legal duty or obligation, often used in the context of juvenile offenses or financial payments.

DEMURRER – A legal pleading in which…

A “DEMURRER” is a legal pleading in which a party challenges the legal sufficiency of the opponent’s claims in a lawsuit.

DEPOSITION – A sworn out-of-court statement…

A “DEPOSITION” is a sworn out-of-court statement made by a witness or party, typically recorded and used as evidence in legal proceedings.


“DESCENT AND DISTRIBUTION” is the legal process by which a deceased person’s assets and property are transferred to their heirs or beneficiaries.

DISBARMENT – The revocation or suspension of…

“DISBARMENT” is the revocation or suspension of an attorney’s license to practice law due to ethical violations or professional misconduct.

DISCOVERY – The pre-trial process in which…

“DISCOVERY” is the pre-trial process in which parties exchange information, documents, and evidence relevant to a lawsuit.

DISCRIMINATION – Unfair or prejudicial treatment based…

“DISCRIMINATION” is unfair or prejudicial treatment based on certain characteristics, such as race, gender, age, or disability, often prohibited by law.

DURESS – Coercion or threats that compel…

“DURESS” is coercion or threats that compel someone to do something against their will, often used as a defense in contract law.

EMANCIPATION – The legal process by which…

“EMANCIPATION” is the legal process by which a minor is granted the legal status of an adult and is freed from the control and support of their parents or guardians.

EMBEZZLEMENT – The misappropriation or theft of…

“EMBEZZLEMENT” is the misappropriation or theft of funds or property entrusted to one’s care, typically by an employee or trustee.

EMINENT DOMAIN – The government’s power to…

“EMINENT DOMAIN” is the government’s power to take private property for public use, with just compensation to the property owner.

ENJOIN – To legally prohibit or restrain…

To “ENJOIN” means to legally prohibit or restrain a person or entity from taking a specific action through a court order.

ENTITLEMENT – A government program or benefit…

“ENTITLEMENT” refers to a government program or benefit to which eligible individuals have a legal right.

EQUITABLE RELIEF – Remedies or court orders…

“EQUITABLE RELIEF” refers to remedies or court orders that aim to achieve fairness and justice, often in cases involving trusts, property disputes, or injunctions.

EQUITY – Fairness, justice, or the principles…

“EQUITY” refers to fairness, justice, or the principles of fairness and justice in law.

ESCROW – The holding of funds or…

“ESCROW” is the holding of funds or property by a third party, with instructions to release them to the appropriate party once certain conditions are met.

ESTATE – The total assets and liabilities…

An “ESTATE” refers to the total assets and liabilities of a deceased person, often subject to probate and distribution to heirs or beneficiaries.

ESTOPPEL – A legal doctrine that prevents…

“ESTOPPEL” is a legal doctrine that prevents a party from making contradictory statements or denying facts they have previously asserted.

EVICTION – The legal process by which…

“EVICITION” is the legal process by which a landlord removes a tenant from a rented property, typically due to non-payment of rent or lease violations.

EVIDENCE – Information or facts presented in…

“EVIDENCE” refers to information or facts presented in a legal proceeding to establish the truth of a matter and support the parties’ claims or defenses.

EXECUTOR – A person or entity appointed…

An “EXECUTOR” is a person or entity appointed in a will to administer the estate of a deceased person, including managing assets and settling debts.

EXEMPTION – A legal allowance or exclusion…

“EXEMPTION” is a legal allowance or exclusion that provides protection from certain obligations, taxes, or liabilities.

EXPERT WITNESS – A witness with specialized…

An “EXPERT WITNESS” is a witness with specialized knowledge, training, or expertise in a particular field who is called to testify in a legal proceeding to provide expert opinions and analysis.

FACT-FINDER – The person or entity responsible…

A “FACT-FINDER” is the person or entity responsible for determining the facts in a legal case, such as a judge or jury.

FEDERAL – Relating to the national government…

“FEDERAL” means relating to the national government or central authority of a country, typically used to describe laws, agencies, or matters that pertain to the entire nation.

FELONY – A serious criminal offense that…

A “FELONY” is a serious criminal offense that is typically punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.

FIDUCIARY – A person or entity with…

A “FIDUCIARY” is a person or entity with a legal duty to act in the best interests of another party, often involving trust and confidence.

FORECLOSURE – The legal process by which…

“FORECLOSURE” is the legal process by which a lender repossesses and sells a property to recover the outstanding debt when a borrower defaults on a mortgage or loan.

FORFEITURE – The loss or relinquishment of…

“FORFEITURE” is the loss or relinquishment of property or rights, often as a penalty for a violation of law or terms of an agreement.

FRAUD – Deception or misrepresentation intended to…

“FRAUD” is deception or misrepresentation intended to result in financial gain or cause harm to another party.

FREE SPEECH – The right to express one’s…

“FREE SPEECH” is the right to express one’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas freely without government censorship or restraint, often protected by constitutional guarantees.

GARNISHMENT – A legal process by which…

“GARNISHMENT” is a legal process by which a portion of a person’s wages or assets are withheld to satisfy a debt or judgment.

GOOD FAITH – Honesty, sincerity, or a…

“GOOD FAITH” refers to honesty, sincerity, or a genuine belief in the correctness or validity of one’s actions or intentions.

GRAND JURY – A group of citizens…

A “GRAND JURY” is a group of citizens who are summoned to review evidence and determine whether criminal charges should be brought against a defendant.

GUARDIAN – A person or entity appointed…

A “GUARDIAN” is a person or entity appointed by a court to make legal and personal decisions on behalf of an incapacitated or minor individual.

HARASSMENT – Persistent and unwanted behavior…

“HARASSMENT” refers to persistent and unwanted behavior or actions intended to annoy, threaten, or intimidate another person.

HEARSAY – An out-of-court statement offered…

“HEARSAY” is an out-of-court statement offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted, often subject to exclusion as evidence.

IMMUNITY – Legal protection or exemption from…

“IMMUNITY” is legal protection or exemption from liability or prosecution, often granted to individuals in exchange for their cooperation in legal proceedings.

IN CAMERA – In private or behind closed…

“IN CAMERA” means in private or behind closed doors, often used to describe confidential court proceedings.

INCORPORATION – The process of forming a…

“INCORPORATION” is the process of forming a legal entity, such as a corporation, with distinct legal rights and liabilities separate from its owners.

INDICTMENT – A formal accusation or charging…

An “INDICTMENT” is a formal accusation or charging document issued by a grand jury, typically in felony cases, to commence a criminal prosecution.

INFRACTION – A minor violation or offense…

An “INFRACTION” is a minor violation or offense, often subject to lesser penalties than misdemeanors or felonies.

INJUNCTION – A court order that requires…

An “INJUNCTION” is a court order that requires a party to do or refrain from doing a specific action, often used to prevent irreparable harm or enforce legal rights.

INSOLVENCY – The financial condition in which…

“INSOLVENCY” is the financial condition in which an individual or entity cannot meet its financial obligations or pay its debts.

INTERROGATORY – A written set of questions…

An “INTERROGATORY” is a written set of questions used in the discovery process to obtain information from an opposing party in a lawsuit.

JUDGE – A public official appointed to…

A “JUDGE” is a public official appointed to preside over legal proceedings and make rulings based on the law and evidence presented.

JUDGMENT – A formal decision or final…

A “JUDGMENT” is a formal decision or final ruling issued by a court in a legal case.

JUDICIAL REVIEW – The power of courts…

“JUDICIAL REVIEW” is the power of courts to review and potentially invalidate laws, regulations, or government actions that are inconsistent with the constitution or other legal standards.

JUDICIARY – The branch of government responsible…

The “JUDICIARY” is the branch of government responsible for interpreting and applying the law, often through the court system.

JURISDICTION – The authority or power of…

“JURISDICTION” is the authority or power of a court to hear and decide cases within a specific geographic area or over certain types of legal matters.

JURY – A group of individuals selected…

A “JURY” is a group of individuals selected to hear evidence and render a verdict in a legal case.

JUSTICE – Fairness, moral rightness, or the…

“JUSTICE” refers to fairness, moral rightness, or the principle of treating individuals equitably under the law.

LARCENY – The unlawful taking and carrying…

“LARCENY” is the unlawful taking and carrying away of someone else’s personal property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it.

LAW – A system of rules and…

“LAW” is a system of rules and regulations established by a government authority to govern conduct and resolve disputes.

LAWSUIT – A legal dispute between parties…

A “LAWSUIT” is a legal dispute between parties that is resolved through the court system.

LEASE – A contract that grants a…

A “LEASE” is a contract that grants a tenant the right to occupy and use property owned by another party in exchange for rent.

LEGAL AID – Legal services provided to…

“LEGAL AID” refers to legal services provided to individuals who cannot afford to hire an attorney, often by government-funded programs or non-profit organizations.

LEGAL MALPRACTICE – Negligence or unethical conduct…

“LEGAL MALPRACTICE” is negligence or unethical conduct by an attorney that results in harm or financial loss to a client.

LEGAL TENDER – Official currency or money…

“LEGAL TENDER” is official currency or money that is recognized and accepted as a medium of exchange for goods and services.

LEGISLATION – The process of making or…

“LEGISLATION” is the process of making or enacting laws through a legislative body, such as a parliament or congress.

LIABILITY – Legal responsibility or obligation to…

“LIABILITY” is legal responsibility or obligation to pay damages or fulfill a duty, often arising from negligence or wrongful conduct.

LIBEL – A written or published statement…

“LIBEL” is a written or published statement that falsely defames or damages the reputation of an individual or entity.

LICENSE – A legal permission or authorization…

A “LICENSE” is a legal permission or authorization granted by the licensor to the licensee to use or do something.

LITIGATION – The process of resolving disputes…

“LITIGATION” is the process of resolving disputes through the court system, including lawsuits, trials, and legal proceedings.

MAGISTRATE – A judicial officer with limited…

A “MAGISTRATE” is a judicial officer with limited jurisdiction, often responsible for presiding over minor legal matters and issuing warrants.

MALICIOUS PROSECUTION – The wrongful initiation of…

“MALICIOUS PROSECUTION” is the wrongful initiation of a legal action or lawsuit with the intent to harm, harass, or injure another party.

MANDATORY – Required by law or rule…

“MANDATORY” means required by law or rule, often referring to obligations or actions that must be taken.

MEDIATION – A dispute resolution process in…

“MEDIATION” is a dispute resolution process in which a neutral third party (the mediator) helps parties negotiate and reach a mutually acceptable solution.

MISDEMEANOR – A less serious criminal offense…

A “MISDEMEANOR” is a less serious criminal offense than a felony, typically punishable by fines or imprisonment for up to one year.


“MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES” are factors that may lessen the severity of a defendant’s culpability or the punishment they receive in a criminal case.

NEGLIGENCE – The failure to exercise reasonable…

“NEGLIGENCE” is the failure to exercise reasonable care, resulting in harm or injury to another person or their property.

NOLO CONTENDERE – A plea in which…

“NOLO CONTENDERE” is a plea in which a defendant neither admits nor denies guilt but accepts punishment as if guilty, often used in criminal cases.

NOTARY PUBLIC – A public official authorized…

A “NOTARY PUBLIC” is a public official authorized to witness and authenticate signatures on legal documents and administer oaths.

OBJECT – To express opposition or disagreement…

To “OBJECT” means to express opposition or disagreement, often used during legal proceedings to challenge evidence or testimony.

OBJECTION – A formal protest or challenge…

An “OBJECTION” is a formal protest or challenge made during legal proceedings to question the admissibility of evidence or the validity of a statement.

OFFENSE – An act or conduct that…

An “OFFENSE” is an act or conduct that violates a law or rule, often resulting in legal consequences or penalties.

ORDER – A directive or command issued…

An “ORDER” is a directive or command issued by a court or other authority, often requiring a specific action or restraint.

ORDINANCE – A local law or regulation…

An “ORDINANCE” is a local law or regulation enacted by a municipal or local government authority.

OVERSIGHT – The process of monitoring, supervising,…

“OVERSIGHT” is the process of monitoring, supervising, or reviewing the actions of individuals or organizations to ensure compliance with laws or regulations.

PAROLE – The supervised release of a…

“PAROLE” is the supervised release of a prisoner from incarceration before the completion of their full sentence, subject to certain conditions and restrictions.

PARTITION – The division or separation of…

“PARTITION” is the division or separation of property or land among co-owners or tenants-in-common.

PATENT – A legal grant that provides…

A “PATENT” is a legal grant that provides exclusive rights to inventors to make, use, and sell their inventions for a specified period.

PERJURY – The act of deliberately providing…

“PERJURY” is the act of deliberately providing false information or lying under oath in a legal proceeding.

PETITION – A formal written request or…

A “PETITION” is a formal written request or application submitted to a court or government authority seeking relief, action, or redress.

PLAINTIFF – The party who initiates a…

A “PLAINTIFF” is the party who initiates a civil lawsuit by filing a complaint against the defendant, seeking a legal remedy or relief.

PLEA – A defendant’s formal response to…

A “PLEA” is a defendant’s formal response to criminal charges, typically stating whether they are guilty or not guilty.

PLEADINGS – The written documents filed by…

“PLEADINGS” are the written documents filed by parties in a lawsuit, including complaints, answers, and motions, that set forth their claims and defenses.

PRECEDENT – A legal decision or ruling…

“PRECEDENT” is a legal decision or ruling by a higher court that serves as an authoritative example or guide in similar cases.

PREJUDICE – Bias or preconceived judgment…

“PREJUDICE” is bias or preconceived judgment against a person or group, often based on characteristics such as race, gender, or nationality.

PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION – A court order that…

A “PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION” is a court order that temporarily restrains a party from taking a specific action until the court can make a final decision on the matter.


“PREPONDERANCE OF THE EVIDENCE” is a standard of proof in which the evidence shows that a fact is more likely than not to be true, often used in civil cases.

PRIMA FACIE – A Latin term meaning…

“PRIMA FACIE” is a Latin term meaning “at first sight” or “on its face,” often used to describe evidence that is sufficient to establish a fact or create a presumption.

PRO BONO – Legal services provided voluntarily…

“PRO BONO” refers to legal services provided voluntarily and without charge, typically for individuals who cannot afford an attorney.

PRO SE – Representing oneself in a…

“PRO SE” means representing oneself in a legal proceeding without the assistance of an attorney.

PROBABLE CAUSE – A reasonable belief or…

“PROBABLE CAUSE” is a reasonable belief or grounds to suspect that a crime has been or is being committed, often required for the issuance of search warrants or arrests.

PROBATE – The legal process of administering…

“PROBATE” is the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person, including validating the will, paying debts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries.

PROMISSORY NOTE – A written promise or…

A “PROMISSORY NOTE” is a written promise or contract in which one party agrees to pay a specified amount of money to another party at a certain time or on demand.

PROPERTY – Anything that can be owned…

“PROPERTY” refers to anything that can be owned, including real property (land and buildings) and personal property (tangible and intangible assets).

PROSECUTION – The legal process by which…

“PROSECUTION” is the legal process by which the government or state initiates and carries out a criminal case against a defendant.

PROSECUTOR – A government attorney responsible for…

A “PROSECUTOR” is a government attorney responsible for representing the state or government in criminal cases and bringing charges against defendants.

PUBLIC DEFENDER – An attorney appointed by…

A “PUBLIC DEFENDER” is an attorney appointed by the court to represent individuals who cannot afford to hire a private attorney in criminal cases.

QUASH – To nullify or void a…

To “QUASH” means to nullify or void a legal proceeding, subpoena, or indictment, often on the grounds of procedural defects or lack of jurisdiction.

QUI TAM – A legal action brought by…

“QUI TAM” is a legal action brought by a private individual on behalf of the government to recover damages for fraud or wrongdoing, often in cases involving government contracts or programs.

REASONABLE DOUBT – The standard of proof…

“REASONABLE DOUBT” is the standard of proof in a criminal case in which the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt to the extent that no reasonable person would have doubt about it.

REBUTTAL – The presentation of evidence or…

“REBUTTAL” is the presentation of evidence or arguments by one party in response to evidence or arguments presented by the opposing party in a legal proceeding.

REDACT – To edit or prepare a…

To “REDACT” means to edit or prepare a document by removing or obscuring certain information, often to protect sensitive or confidential content.

REFERENDUM – A direct vote by the…

A “REFERENDUM” is a direct vote by the electorate on a specific issue or proposed law, often used to make important decisions in a democratic system.

REFORMATION – The legal process of correcting…

“REFORMATION” is the legal process of correcting or revising a contract or legal document to accurately reflect the parties’ original intentions.

RELEVANT – Closely connected or applicable to…

“RELEVANT” means closely connected or applicable to the matter at hand, often used to describe evidence that is admissible in a legal proceeding.

REMAND – To send a case back…

To “REMAND” means to send a case back to a lower court or a different tribunal for further proceedings or a new decision.

REMEDY – A legal solution or relief…

A “REMEDY” is a legal solution or relief sought by a party to resolve a legal dispute, often in the form of damages, injunctions, or specific performance.


“RES IPSA LOQUITUR” is a Latin term meaning “the thing speaks for itself,” often used in cases where negligence is presumed from the circumstances.

RESCIND – To cancel or annul a…

To “RESCIND” means to cancel or annul a contract or legal agreement, often due to a violation of its terms or other legal grounds.

RESIDENCE – A person’s primary place of…

“RESIDENCE” refers to a person’s primary place of dwelling or abode, often used in legal contexts such as tax and voting registration.

See also  16th circuit court (Macomb County Circuit Court)

RESPONDEAT SUPERIOR – A legal doctrine that…

“RESPONDEAT SUPERIOR” is a legal doctrine that holds an employer liable for the actions of their employees when those actions occur within the scope of employment.

RESTITUTION – The payment or compensation required…

“RESTITUTION” is the payment or compensation required of a defendant to restore a victim to their previous condition or make them whole.

RESTRAINING ORDER – A court order that…

A “RESTRAINING ORDER” is a court order that restricts or prohibits a person from contacting, approaching, or harassing another individual, often used in cases of domestic violence.

RETAINER – A fee paid to an…

A “RETAINER” is a fee paid to an attorney or other professional in advance to secure their services for a specific period or legal matter.

REVERSAL – The act of setting aside…

“REVERSAL” is the act of setting aside or overturning a lower court’s decision or ruling on appeal.

REVOCATION – The act of canceling or…

“REVOCATION” is the act of canceling or invalidating a contract, license, or privilege, often due to non-compliance or misconduct.

ROBBERY – The unlawful taking of someone’s…

“ROBBERY” is the unlawful taking of someone’s property or belongings by force or threat of force, often a criminal offense.

RULE OF LAW – The principle that…

The “RULE OF LAW” is the principle that all individuals and institutions are subject to and accountable under the law, and no one is above the law.

SEARCH WARRANT – A court-issued order that…

A “SEARCH WARRANT” is a court-issued order that authorizes law enforcement officers to search a specific location or seize specific evidence.

SECURED DEBT – Debt that is backed…

“SECURED DEBT” is debt that is backed by collateral, such as a mortgage or car loan, which the lender can claim if the borrower defaults.

SELF-DEFENSE – The legal right to use…

“SELF-DEFENSE” is the legal right to use force, including deadly force, to protect oneself or others from imminent harm or danger.

SENTENCE – The punishment or penalty imposed…

A “SENTENCE” is the punishment or penalty imposed by a court on a defendant who has been found guilty of a crime.

SEQUESTER – To isolate or separate, often…

To “SEQUESTER” means to isolate or separate, often used to describe the sequestration of a jury during a trial to prevent outside influence.

SERVICE – The legal process of delivering…

“SERVICE” is the legal process of delivering court documents, such as summonses and complaints, to parties involved in a lawsuit.

SETTLEMENT – An agreement between parties to…

A “SETTLEMENT” is an agreement between parties to resolve a legal dispute, often involving compromises on claims and damages.

Slander – A spoken false statement that…

“SLANDER” is a spoken false statement that harms the reputation of an individual or entity, often a basis for defamation claims.

SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY – The legal doctrine that…

“SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY” is the legal doctrine that protects government entities from certain lawsuits and liability, often based on the principle that the government cannot be sued without its consent.

SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE – A legal remedy in…

“SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE” is a legal remedy in which a court orders a party to fulfill their contractual obligations as stated in the contract itself.

STATUTE – A written law passed by…

A “STATUTE” is a written law passed by a legislative body, such as a parliament or congress, and is part of the statutory law.


The “STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS” is a legal time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed after a particular event, often varying by the type of claim.

SUBPOENA – A court-issued command that requires…

A “SUBPOENA” is a court-issued command that requires a person to appear in court as a witness or produce documents and evidence.

SUBSTANTIVE LAW – The body of law…

“SUBSTANTIVE LAW” is the body of law that defines and regulates rights, duties, and legal obligations, as opposed to procedural law, which governs legal processes.

SUI JURIS – A Latin term meaning…

“SUI JURIS” is a Latin term meaning “of one’s own right” and is often used to describe a person who is legally competent and capable of managing their own affairs.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT – A court decision issued…

“SUMMARY JUDGMENT” is a court decision issued when there are no genuine disputes of material fact, and the judge can determine the case’s outcome based on the law.

SUMMONS – A legal notice that requires…

A “SUMMONS” is a legal notice that requires a person to appear in court or respond to a lawsuit, often issued to defendants.

SUPREME COURT – The highest appellate court…

The “SUPREME COURT” is the highest appellate court in a country’s legal system, often responsible for interpreting the constitution and making final rulings on important legal issues.

SURETY – A person or entity that…

A “SURETY” is a person or entity that provides a guarantee or assurance of another party’s performance or fulfillment of an obligation.

SUSPENDED SENTENCE – A criminal sentence that…

A “SUSPENDED SENTENCE” is a criminal sentence that is imposed but not immediately served, often contingent on the defendant’s compliance with certain conditions.

TORT – A civil wrong or injury…

A “TORT” is a civil wrong or injury that results in legal liability and may lead to a lawsuit seeking damages.

TRADE SECRET – Confidential and valuable information…

A “TRADE SECRET” is confidential and valuable information, such as business plans or formulas, protected from disclosure and use by others.

TRANSFER – The legal process of moving…

“TRANSFER” is the legal process of moving a case from one court or jurisdiction to another, often due to a change in circumstances or venue.

TRIAL – A formal examination of evidence…

A “TRIAL” is a formal examination of evidence and legal arguments in a court of law to determine the outcome of a case.

TRUST – A legal arrangement in which…

A “TRUST” is a legal arrangement in which one party (the trustee) holds and manages property or assets for the benefit of another (the beneficiary).

UNDER OATH – Making a statement or…

“UNDER OATH” means making a statement or providing testimony while swearing a solemn oath to tell the truth, often with the risk of perjury for false statements.

UNDISCLOSED – Not revealed or made known,…

“UNDISCLOSED” means not revealed or made known, often used to describe information or facts that have not been disclosed in a legal proceeding.

UNENFORCEABLE – Not capable of being enforced…

“UNENFORCEABLE” means not capable of being enforced or legally binding, often due to defects or violations of law.

USURY – The illegal charging of excessive…

“USURY” is the illegal charging of excessive interest rates on loans, often prohibited by law to protect borrowers from exploitation.

VENUE – The geographic location or jurisdiction…

“VENUE” is the geographic location or jurisdiction where a legal proceeding takes place or where a case is heard.

VERDICT – The formal decision or finding…

A “VERDICT” is the formal decision or finding of a judge or jury in a legal case, often determining a defendant’s guilt or innocence or awarding damages.

VETO – The power of a government…

“VETO” is the power of a government executive, such as a president or governor, to reject or block a proposed law or legislation.

WAIVER – The voluntary relinquishment or surrender…

A “WAIVER” is the voluntary relinquishment or surrender of a legal right or claim, often done knowingly and willingly.

WITNESS – A person who testifies under…

A “WITNESS” is a person who testifies under oath in a legal proceeding and provides evidence or information relevant to the case.

WRIT – A formal written order, command,…

A “WRIT” is a formal written order, command, or directive issued by a court or government authority, often used in legal processes.

I hope you find this list of legal terms help

What Is an Calendar?

An Calendar is often confused with a “docket.” In reality, it refers to a list of all pending cases in a court. Understanding this distinction is crucial for legal proceedings.

C and P – Care and Protection

C and P stands for “Care and Protection,” specifically regarding petitions in the Juvenile Court Department or the District Court Department. It alleges that a minor has been subjected to abuse or neglect by their parents or guardian.

Canons of Ethics – Rules for Legal Professionals

Legal professionals, including attorneys, judges, and clerk-magistrates, are bound by rules known as the Canons of Ethics. These rules govern their professional responsibilities and conduct.

Capias – A Warrant for Arrest

Capias, derived from Latin, means “that you take.” It’s a warrant for arrest issued by a judge when a defendant or witness does not appear in court as required, despite being served with a summons.

Care and Custody Affidavit

This term refers to an “Affidavit Disclosing Care and Custody Proceedings.” It plays a role in cases involving child custody.

Care and Protection Petition

Care and Protection Petition is a crucial part of child welfare cases. It’s a petition filed in the Juvenile Court Department or the District Court Department, alleging that a minor has suffered abuse or neglect from their parents or guardian.

Care and Protection Proceedings

These proceedings are conducted by the Juvenile Court Department to ensure the protection of minors against physical, mental, or emotional harm resulting from neglect or abuse.

Cari – Court Activity Record Information

Cari, short for “Court Activity Record Information,” is a database that records all criminal and some civil court actions related to an individual. It’s maintained by the Office of the Commissioner of Probation.

Case – Understanding the Legal Dispute

A case, often referred to as an “action,” “lawsuit,” or “cause,” is a legal dispute brought before a court.

Case Docket – Keeping Track of Cases

The case docket is a record-keeping term. It’s synonymous with “docket” and is used to maintain records of cases.

Case File – Where Legal Records Reside

The case file is where all legal records related to a case are stored. It includes pleadings, motions, and other important documents.

Caseflow – Navigating the Legal Process

Caseflow refers to the process by which a case moves through the court system, from filing to final judgment.

Case Law – Legal Precedents

Case law comprises published decisions in individual cases. These decisions set legal principles that lower courts must follow.

Caseload – Managing Cases

Caseload refers to the number of cases assigned to a judge or session. It’s a crucial factor in ensuring justice is served efficiently.

Cause of Action – The Basis for a Lawsuit

The cause of action is the legal issues underlying a case that allow a court to hear it.

Certificate of Service – Notifying Parties

A certificate of service is a statement by a party that notifies all parties involved in a case that a motion or pleading has been filed and served.

Certificate of Title – Ownership Proof

This document attests to the ownership of personal property, such as an automobile.

Certified Copy – Authenticated Documents

A certified copy is a duplicate of a document, order, or record that is vouched for as an exact duplicate by the person responsible for maintaining the original.

Certify – Attesting to Authenticity

To certify means to vouch for something in writing or attest to the authenticity and accuracy of a document or copy.

Certiorari – Seeking Appellate Review

Certiorari is an order by an appellate court directing a lower court to certify and forward the case record for review.

Chain of Custody – Preserving Evidence

Chain of custody is the documentation of the custody of real evidence, ensuring it hasn’t been altered during legal proceedings.

Challenges in Court

Challenges in court can take several forms:

  • Challenge for Cause: Requesting the excusal of a juror who is not legally qualified.
  • Peremptory Challenge: Exercising the right to eliminate potential jurors without providing a reason.
  • Challenge to the Array or Venire: Questioning the qualifications of an entire panel summoned for jury duty.

Change of Name – A Personal Choice

A change of name petition is heard in the Probate and Family Court, allowing individuals to change their names for honest purposes.

Change of Venue – Shifting Legal Proceedings

Changing the venue means transferring a case to a different court location, often for convenience or to ensure a fair trial.

Charge to the Jury – Explaining Jury Duties

The charge to the jury is the set of instructions given to jurors about their duties and responsibilities during a trial.

Charter – Establishing Local Government

A charter is a legislative grant that establishes the government of a city or town.

Chattels – Personal Property

Chattels refer to personal property, distinct from real estate.

Chief Justice – Court Department Leader

In each of the seven Trial Court Departments, one judge is selected as the Chief Justice, responsible for administering that department.

Chief Justice for Administration and Management (CJAM)

The CJAM oversees the operation and support services of the seven Trial Court Departments.

Chief Justice of the Trial Court (CJTC)

The CJTC, appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court, holds overall responsibility for Trial Court judicial policy.

Child Abandonment – Neglecting Responsibility

Child abandonment involves leaving a child without support or care, often leading to legal intervention.

Child Abuse – Harming a Minor

Child abuse encompasses intentional or neglectful physical or emotional injury to a child.

Child Born Out of Wedlock – Legal Status

Refers to children born to unmarried parents.

Child Custody – Managing Parental Responsibilities

Child custody involves the responsibility for and control over a child, which may be physical or legal.

Child in Need of Services Proceeding (CHINS)

Formerly known as “Child In Need of Services,” CHINS pertains to children habitually truant from school or not obeying rules.

Child Neglect – Failing to Provide

Child neglect is the failure to provide proper support, education, medical care, or a suitable home environment.

Child Support – Financial Responsibility

Child support entails payments made by one parent to meet a child’s financial needs, including medical, educational, and childcare expenses.

Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED)

CSED collects child support payments and represents custodial parents in court to obtain child support orders.

Child Support Guidelines – Calculating Support

Official guidelines, including a mathematical formula, are used by the court to determine appropriate child support amounts.

Chins – Addressing Juvenile Issues

CHINS, formerly known as “Child In Need of Services,” deals with issues involving children between six and eighteen years old.

Circumstantial Evidence – Inferences in Court

Circumstantial evidence is based on inferences drawn from other facts, rather than personal knowledge or observation.

Citation – Legal References

Citation refers to references to legal authorities in court decisions or legal documents, such as statutes, regulations, and case law.

Civil – Non-Criminal Legal Matters

Civil matters pertain to non-criminal cases involving private individuals or entities seeking civil remedies or protection of civil rights.

Civil Actions, Cases, or Lawsuits – Resolving Disputes

Civil actions involve resolving disputes between private individuals, entities, or the state through legal proceedings.

Civil Contempt – Violations of Court Orders

Civil contempt occurs when a party fails to comply with court orders, leading to legal consequences.

Civil Laws – Legal Rules for Private Matters

Civil laws encompass rules governing private and civil rights, as opposed to criminal laws that define offenses against the state.

Civil Motor Vehicle Infraction (CMVI)

CMVI relates to violations of motor vehicle laws, such as traffic tickets.

CJAM – Court Administration and Management

CJAM oversees court operations and support services in the Trial Court Departments.

CJTC – Trial Court Leadership

CJTC, appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court, is responsible for Trial Court judicial policy.

CJIS – Criminal Justice Information System

CJIS is a federal program collecting and distributing criminal justice information to law enforcement agencies.

Claim – Assertion of Legal Rights

A claim is an assertion of legal rights or a demand for compensation.

Claimant – The Party Making a Claim

A claimant is the party making a legal claim or demand.

Clear and Convincing Evidence – A High Standard

Clear and convincing evidence is a high standard of proof in legal proceedings, requiring a strong belief in its truth.

Clear Error – A Reviewing Standard

Clear error is a standard used in reviewing court decisions for obvious and significant mistakes.

Clerk-Magistrate – Court Officer with Multiple Roles

A clerk-magistrate serves as both a court officer, responsible for filing documents and issuing process, and as a public officer with limited judicial authority.

Clerk of Courts – Elected Court Official

The clerk of courts is an elected official responsible for maintaining court records and issuing process in the Superior Court Department.

Understanding these legal terms can enhance your comprehension of legal processes and documents. Remember, the legal world can be complex, but with the right knowledge, you can navigate it more confidently.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR)

CMR refers to the collection of regulations issued by the administrative agencies of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. These regulations cover various subject matters and provide detailed guidelines for compliance.


A codicil is a legally binding amendment to a will. It allows individuals to make changes to their will without completely rewriting it.

Collateral (Adjective)

In legal contexts, “collateral” means supplementary or related but not central to the main issue.

Collateral Consequences: These are indirect results of a criminal conviction but are not part of the punishment imposed by the court. For instance, deportation or loss of a driver’s license could be collateral consequences of certain convictions.

Collateral Estoppel: A legal principle stating that when an issue of fact has been determined by a judgment in one case, the same issue cannot be re-litigated in another case between the same parties. This is also known as “issue preclusion.”

Collateral Matters: These are issues related to but not legally relevant to the main question before the court.

Collateral (Noun)

In criminal cases, “collateral” refers to money or goods pledged to ensure a defendant’s appearance in court.

In civil cases, “collateral” refers to money or goods pledged to secure payment of a debt. It can also be related to issues of descent and inheritance.

Commission on Judicial Conduct

This is a nine-member commission responsible for considering allegations of misconduct by judges or concerns related to a judge’s mental or physical fitness to perform their duties. The commission includes judges, lawyers, and non-lawyers.


“Commit” refers to the act of sending a person to jail, prison, mental hospital, or another facility based on a court order.


This term can have two meanings:

It can refer to a court order directing a person to serve a prison or jail sentence.

It can also mean a court order directing a person to be hospitalized due to mental illness.

Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS)

CPCS is a state-funded organization in Massachusetts that provides legal representation to indigent defendants in criminal cases. They also represent parties in cases involving the Department of Children and Families (DCF), mental health commitment cases, and more. CPCS manages both private and staff attorneys.

Common Law

Common law is a legal system that originated in England and has evolved over time. It consists of customs, precedents, court decisions, and unwritten but accepted standards. It forms the foundation of the legal system in many states.


In the context of Massachusetts, “Commonwealth” refers to the state itself. Some U.S. states, including Massachusetts, identify themselves as Commonwealths.

Criminal prosecutions in Massachusetts are brought in the name of the Commonwealth (e.g., Commonwealth v. Smith).

Commutation of Sentence

Commutation of sentence involves reducing a criminal sentence, such as changing a first-degree murder conviction to second-degree murder. The Governor typically has the authority to commute a criminal sentence with the advice and consent of the Governor’s Council.

Competent (Adjective)

Competent Evidence: Evidence that meets all the requirements for admission into a legal proceeding.

Competent Witness: A witness who is legally qualified to testify in court.

Competent Court: A court that has lawful jurisdiction over a particular case. It’s also referred to as a “court of competent jurisdiction.”

Competent to Stand Trial: In criminal cases, a defendant is considered competent to stand trial if they can understand the proceedings, consult with an attorney, and assist in their defense. If found incompetent, they may be committed to a mental health facility.


In civil cases, a “complainant” is someone who files a complaint, typically referred to as the plaintiff.

In criminal cases, a “complainant” is someone who initiates a prosecution by filing an application for criminal charges.

Complaint (Civil)

In civil cases, a “complaint” is the initial pleading filed with the court by the plaintiff. It outlines the reasons for bringing the lawsuit.

Complaint for Modification

A “complaint for modification” is a legal filing used to request changes to an existing court order or judgment due to changed circumstances. For example, it’s often used in family law cases to revise child custody arrangements.

Concurrent Jurisdiction

“Concurrent jurisdiction” refers to the authority of multiple Trial Court Departments to hear the same type of case. For example, some crimes can be prosecuted in either the District Court or the Superior Court Departments.

Concurrent Sentences

In cases where a defendant is sentenced for multiple convictions, “concurrent sentences” mean that the sentences are served at the same time. The defendant serves the length of the longest sentence and is released afterward.

Concurring Opinion (Concurrence)

In appellate cases, a “concurring opinion” is a separate opinion written by a judge who agrees with the court’s decision but has different reasons for reaching that conclusion.


“Condemnation” can have two meanings:

It can refer to the legal process by which private real estate is taken for public use with compensation, often involving a court order. This is known as eminent domain.

It can also refer to the destruction of real estate or property ordered for public health or safety reasons, without compensation.


A “confession” is a voluntary statement, either oral or written, in which a person admits to committing a criminal offense. It must include all elements of the offense to be considered a confession.


“Consanguinity” refers to a family relationship by blood. It applies to people who descend from a common ancestor, such as siblings or cousins.

Consecutive Interpretation

“Consecutive interpretation” is a process of converting speech from one language to another, where the speaker of language A speaks, then pauses while the interpreter translates it to language B, and vice versa.

Consecutive Sentence

In cases where a defendant is sentenced for multiple convictions, a “consecutive sentence” means that one sentence must be completed before the next one begins. It’s also known as an “on and after” sentence.


A “conservator” is a person appointed by a court to manage the estate of a protected person, often someone who is unable to manage their own affairs due to incapacity.

Consideration (in Contracts)

In contract law, “consideration” refers to something of value exchanged between parties to a contract. It’s what each party gives or promises to give in return for the other party’s performance or promise to perform.


“Conspiracy” is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime or to engage in a lawful act in an illegal manner. It’s a crime in Massachusetts.


A “constable” is an officer of a municipality who serves summonses and other legal process documents.


A “constitution” is a fundamental law that establishes and organizes a national or state government. It typically outlines the rights of citizens and the duties and obligations of the government. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 is one of the world’s oldest written constitutions still in effect.


“Constitutional” refers to laws or government actions that are in alignment with the principles outlined in a constitution.

Consultation Fee

A “consultation fee” is a fee charged by a lawyer for meeting with a potential client to discuss the facts of their case. It provides an opportunity for both the lawyer and the potential client to evaluate whether they want to work together.


A “contemnor” is someone who is in contempt of court, meaning they have violated a court order, disrupted court proceedings, or shown disrespect to the court’s authority.

Contempt of Court

“Contempt of court” refers to an act or failure to act that violates a court order, disrupts court proceedings, or shows disrespect for the authority of the court. Contempt can be either civil or criminal, and it may result in fines or imprisonment.


A “contested” case or issue within a case is one in which the parties involved cannot reach an agreement.

Contingent Fee

A “contingent fee” arrangement is often used in personal injury cases. In this arrangement, a lawyer is paid a percentage of the money awarded to the client if the case is successful. If the case is not successful, the lawyer does not receive a fee. However, the client may still be responsible for other case-related expenses.


“Continuance” refers to the postponement of an action or proceeding pending in court. It delays the scheduled court activity to a future date.

Continuance Without a Finding (CWOF)

In criminal cases, a “continuance without a finding” (CWOF) occurs when a judge finds there is enough evidence to support a guilty finding but decides not to enter a guilty verdict immediately. Instead, the judge continues the case for a specific period without a finding of guilt. If the defendant complies with any conditions imposed during this period, the charges may be dismissed without a guilty finding.


A “contract” is an agreement between two or more parties that creates legal obligations. It can be oral or written and may involve the exchange of promises.

Contract Not to Compete

A “contract not to compete” is an agreement between an employer and an employee in which the employee agrees not to work for the employer’s competitors for a specified period after leaving their job.


“Conversion” refers to the wrongful exercise of ownership or control over goods or property that belong to another person.

Convey (Verb), Conveyance (Noun)

“Convey” as a verb refers to the transfer of title to property from one person to another. “Conveyance” as a noun can mean either the act of transferring property or the legal documents used for the transfer.

Convict (Verb), Convict (Noun)

As a verb, “convict” means to find someone guilty of a crime. As a noun, a “convict” is someone who has been found guilty of a crime.


“Copyright” refers to legal protection granted to creators of original works, such as authors, musicians, and artists. It prevents others from using or copying the original work without permission.

CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information)

“CORI” stands for Criminal Offender Record Information. It is a database maintained by the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS) that contains an individual’s criminal history, including charges and dispositions.


In Massachusetts, the term “coroner” is commonly replaced by “medical examiner.” A coroner or medical examiner investigates deaths to determine their cause, especially when they are sudden, unexplained, or due to unusual circumstances.


A “corporation” is a legal entity treated as a person under the law. It has the ability to own property, enter into contracts, sue and be sued, and be held responsible for its actions. Shareholders’ liability is generally limited to their investment in the corporation.

Corpus Delicti

“Corpus delicti,” a Latin term, means “the body of the crime.” Before introducing an admission or confession into evidence, prosecutors must establish the corpus delicti, proving that a crime has occurred.


In legal cases, “costs” refer to expenses incurred in addition to attorney’s fees. These may include filing fees, service of process, deposition costs, expert witness fees, investigator fees, and more.


“Counsel” is another term for an attorney. It refers to someone who provides legal advice and representation.


A “counterclaim” is a claim brought by a defendant against a plaintiff in a civil case. It asserts that the plaintiff is also responsible for some wrongdoing.


In Massachusetts, there are fourteen counties, each serving as a geographical or political unit within the state. County governments vary in significance.

County Court

The “county court” refers to the single justice session of the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). This court hears certain types of cases and appeals.

Court Action Record Information (CARI)

“CARI” stands for Court Action Record Information. It is a database containing detailed information about various court actions, including case details, dispositions, and other relevant data.

Court Administrator

The “court administrator” is a person appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) to head the Office of Court Management (OCM) in Massachusetts. They manage non-judicial administrative functions of the Trial Court and provide support to court personnel.

Court Officer

Court officers and associate court officers are responsible for maintaining order and safety within courthouses. They also assist judges and handle various tasks, such as managing jurors and security.

Court Recorder, Court Reporter, Court Stenographer

These terms all refer to professionals responsible for creating verbatim transcripts of court proceedings, including hearings, trials, and depositions.

Court Rules

“Court rules” are regulations adopted by a court to govern its procedures. In Massachusetts, these rules are issued by the Supreme Judicial Court, Appeals Court, Trial Court, and various Trial Court Departments.

Court Service Center

“Court service centers” provide information and assistance to self-represented litigants, attorneys, and the public. They aim to improve access to justice and help individuals navigate the court process.

This glossary covers a wide range of legal terms commonly encountered in Massachusetts law and general legal practice. It’s important to note that legal terminology can vary by jurisdiction, so specific definitions may differ slightly in other states or countries. However, these explanations should serve as a helpful guide to understanding the basics of these terms in a legal context.

Damages – Money paid to a person who has been injured or damaged by the actions of another person.

When someone suffers harm due to the actions of another party, they may be entitled to receive compensation, known as damages. These damages can be in the form of monetary payments to help the injured party recover from their losses.

Dangerousness Hearing – Understanding the Legal Aspects

A “Dangerousness Hearing” is a legal proceeding that concerns the pretrial detention of individuals charged with serious crimes. In such cases, the prosecution may argue that the accused is too dangerous to be released on bail while awaiting trial. This hearing can lead to the defendant being held without bail or being released under certain conditions, such as electronic monitoring or curfew.

DCF – Department of Children and Families

The DCF, or Department of Children and Families, is a Massachusetts administrative agency responsible for safeguarding minors from abuse and neglect. They have the authority to remove children from dangerous situations and can request custody of children through legal proceedings in the Juvenile Court Department or District Court Department.

Death Certificate – The Official Record

A death certificate is an official document prepared by the city or town where a deceased person resided. This document records essential information about the deceased, including the cause of death. It typically bears a raised seal and is a crucial record for legal and administrative purposes.

De Novo – Starting Over

The Latin term “De Novo” translates to “anew” in English. In a legal context, it signifies starting over from the beginning. For example, a trial de novo refers to a new trial, often ordered by an appellate court due to significant flaws in the previous trial. It can also apply to appeals from decisions made by clerks or magistrates.

Decedent – A Person Who Has Passed Away

A decedent is a term used to refer to a person who has died. In legal contexts, it is often associated with matters related to estates and inheritance.

Decedent’s Estate – Handling Posthumous Property

The decedent’s estate comprises the property owned by an individual at the time of their death. The legal process of managing and distributing this property is known as estate administration.

Declaratory Judgment – Clarifying Legal Rights

A declaratory judgment is a legal decision made by a court to determine the rights of the parties involved or to provide an opinion on a legal matter without mandating any specific actions. It is often sought to prevent potential legal disputes or claims for damages.

Decree – A Court Judgment

A decree is a formal and authoritative court judgment. It signifies the court’s final decision on a legal matter and is legally binding.

Deed – Transferring Ownership

A deed is a legal document signed by the owner (grantor) of real estate, transferring ownership or title to another party (grantee). It is a vital instrument in real estate transactions.

Defamation – Protecting Reputation

Defamation refers to the deliberate and malicious act of harming another person’s reputation. It can be a civil or criminal offense and takes two forms: libel (written) and slander (spoken).

Default – Failing to Meet Obligations

Default occurs when a party fails to fulfill its legal obligations or requirements. In civil cases, it can result from a defendant’s failure to file a required answer, while in criminal cases, it may involve a defendant’s failure to appear for a court hearing.

Default Judgment – Judgment Without a Defense

A default judgment is entered in favor of the plaintiff in a civil case when the defendant fails to respond or appear in court as required. It typically results from a defendant’s failure to file an answer.

Default Warrant – Pursuing Non-Appearance

A default warrant is issued for the arrest of a defendant who fails to appear for a hearing in a criminal case. Also known as a “capias,” it authorizes law enforcement to apprehend the non-appearing defendant.

Defendant – In Legal Contexts

In legal terms, a defendant is:

  • In civil cases, the individual or entity against whom a lawsuit is brought.
  • In criminal cases, the person accused of committing a criminal offense.

Defense Attorney – Legal Representation

A defense attorney is a lawyer who represents the defendant in legal proceedings, whether in civil or criminal cases. Their role is to provide legal counsel, build a defense strategy, and advocate on behalf of the defendant.

Deliberate and Deliberation – Weighing the Evidence

In criminal cases, “deliberate” refers to the process by which a jury carefully evaluates the evidence to determine a defendant’s guilt. In civil cases, it involves assessing liability and determining appropriate damages.

See also  17th Circuit Court

Delinquency Proceedings – Addressing Youth Offenses

Delinquency proceedings are legal proceedings that determine whether a child between the ages of seven and eighteen violated laws or ordinances. Juvenile delinquents receive legal protections similar to adults charged with the same offenses.

Denial – Rejection in Legal Contexts

Denial can refer to:

  • A court’s refusal to grant a request presented in a petition or motion.
  • An assertion in pleadings that the opposing party’s allegations are untrue.

Department of Children and Families (DCF) – Protecting Minors

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is a Massachusetts agency responsible for safeguarding minors from abuse and neglect. DCF can take immediate action to remove children from dangerous situations and seek custody through legal proceedings.

Department of Correction (DOC) – Managing State Prisons

The Department of Correction (DOC) in Massachusetts oversees the operation of state prisons and correctional facilities.

Department of Developmental Services (DDS) – Supporting Impaired Individuals

The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) establishes standards and procedures for individuals with impaired intelligence. It provides care and support to help them adapt to daily life.

Department of Mental Health (DMH) – Mental Health Services

The Department of Mental Health (DMH) sets standards for mental health facilities and provides clinical and rehabilitative services to adults and children with mental health conditions.

Department of Revenue (DOR) – Tax Collection and Child Support

The Department of Revenue (DOR) is responsible for tax collection and child support enforcement in Massachusetts.

Department of Social Services (DSS) – Former Name of DCF

The Department of Social Services (DSS) was the former name of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in Massachusetts.

Department of Youth Services (DYS) – Delinquency Prevention

The Department of Youth Services (DYS) in Massachusetts is responsible for providing delinquency prevention services and managing delinquent minors, including operating detention facilities.

Deponent and Deposition – Gathering Legal Testimony

In legal proceedings, a deponent is a person who provides sworn testimony during a deposition. Depositions involve questioning witnesses under oath, often outside the courtroom, to gather evidence.

Deputy Court Administrator – Court Management

Each department of the Trial Court in Massachusetts has a Deputy Court Administrator who assists in managing the department in collaboration with the Chief Justice and Court Administrator.

Descent – Inheritance and Ownership Transfer

Descent pertains to the transfer of ownership of an estate through inheritance rather than purchase. It can occur through lineal descent (direct lineage) or collateral descent (ancestors and cousins).

Devise and Devisee – Real Estate Gifts

To “devise” is to give real estate in a will, and a “devisee” is the person named in the will to receive the real estate.

Dictum/Dicta – Non-Essential Commentary

Dictum or dicta refers to commentary in a court opinion that is not strictly necessary to support the decision. While appellate courts and lower courts must adhere to the decision itself, they can disregard dicta in subsequent cases.

Dilatory Motion – Delaying Legal Proceedings

A dilatory motion is a legal motion made with the intent to delay legal proceedings.

Direct Examination – Questioning Witnesses

Direct examination is the process of questioning a witness during a trial by the party who called the witness to testify. It aims to elicit information supporting the party’s case.

Directed Verdict – Ending a Trial

In civil jury trials, a directed verdict may be granted by a judge when there is insufficient evidence to support the plaintiff’s claim. In criminal jury trials, it may result in a not guilty verdict if the prosecution fails to present enough evidence.

Disappeared Person – Absence and Legal Implications

A disappeared person is an individual whose whereabouts are unknown for an extended period, typically seven continuous years. This status is also known as an “absentee.”

Disbarment – Legal Profession Consequences

Disbarment involves the removal of a lawyer’s authorization to practice law due to professional misconduct or incompetence.

Discovery – Gathering Evidence

Discovery is the process of collecting and preserving evidence before trial. It includes methods like depositions, interrogatories, requests for admissions, and document production.

Discretion – Judicial Decision-Making

Discretion allows judges to make decisions within the bounds of legal rules and principles. Courts only overturn decisions if they are deemed arbitrary or capricious.

Disinterested Party – Unbiased Stakeholder

A disinterested party is someone with no vested interest in a particular legal matter or outcome.

Dismiss – Terminating a Case

To dismiss a case means to order its termination, often without further proceedings. It can be “with prejudice,” preventing future claims, or “without prejudice,” allowing potential future claims on the same matter.

Disposition – Legal Outcome

Disposition refers to the final outcome of a case, whether through dismissal, plea and sentence, settlement, verdict, or judgment.

Dispute Resolution Service – Alternative to Trials

Dispute resolution services provide alternative methods to settle cases without going to trial. Court-connected dispute resolution services aim to resolve disputes more amicably.

Disqualification – Legal or Judicial Impediments

Disqualification can refer to:

  • A judge recusing themselves from a case due to conflicts or bias.
  • Legal prohibitions on certain individuals testifying against each other based on their relationship, such as spouses.

Dissenting Opinion – Minority View

In appellate cases with multiple judges, a dissenting opinion represents the minority view of the judges who disagree with the majority’s decision.

Distinguish – Setting Legal Precedent Apart

In legal opinions, to distinguish means to explain why a prior legal precedent does not apply to the current case, often due to differences in facts or circumstances.

Division – Jurisdictional Unit

A division in the legal context typically refers to a geographical or political unit within which a court has jurisdiction over specific types of cases.

Division of Assets – Managing Marital Property

A division of assets is a legal judgment that allocates marital property during a divorce.

Divorce – Legal Marriage Termination

Divorce is the legal process of terminating a marriage.

DOC – Department of Correction

The Department of Correction (DOC) manages state prisons and correctional facilities in Massachusetts.

Docket – Legal Case Record

A docket is a written list of important events in a case, providing a record of the case’s history.

Domestic Abuse and Domestic Violence – Protecting Victims

Domestic abuse, also known as domestic violence or intimate partner violence, encompasses various forms of abuse within familial or intimate relationships. It includes physical, emotional, and financial abuse, as well as threats, stalking, property damage, or harm to pets.

Domestic Relations Action or Case – Family Law Matters

A domestic relations action or case involves legal matters related to family issues, such as divorce, paternity, child support, custody, spousal support, or visitation.

Domestic Relations Protective Order (DRPO) – Protection in Family Matters

A Domestic Relations Protective Order (DRPO) is a restraining order issued in domestic relations matters in Massachusetts, similar to a 209A restraining order.

Domestic Violence – Abusive Behavior

Domestic violence refers to a pattern of abusive behavior intended to control an intimate partner or family member. It encompasses various forms of abuse, both criminal and non-criminal.

Domicile – Legal Residence

Domicile represents a person’s legal home and primary residence, recognized for tax and legal purposes.

DOR – Department of Revenue

The Department of Revenue (DOR) is responsible for tax collection and child support enforcement in Massachusetts.

Double Jeopardy – Protection from Multiple Prosecutions

Double jeopardy prevents individuals from being prosecuted and sentenced multiple times for the same criminal offense, protecting against unfair legal proceedings.

DSS – Department of Social Services

The Department of Social Services (DSS) was the former name of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in Massachusetts.

DUCES TECUM – Subpoena for Documents

“DUCES TECUM” on a subpoena requires the recipient to bring specified records or materials to court or a deposition.

Due Process (of Law) – Fundamental Legal Rights

Due process (of law) encompasses fundamental legal rights ensuring fair treatment in legal proceedings. These rights include notice, a hearing, impartial judges, legal representation, and more.

Durable Power of Attorney – Legal Authority

A durable power of attorney is a legal document that grants someone the authority to act on another person’s behalf, even if the person becomes incapacitated.

DYS – Department of Youth Services

The Department of Youth Services (DYS) in Massachusetts provides delinquency prevention services and manages delinquent minors, including operating detention facilities.

Understanding legal jargon is essential for anyone dealing with legal matters. This comprehensive guide provides clarity on various legal terms, helping you navigate the complex world of law with confidence.

Easement: The Right to Use Another’s Land

Easement, a term often encountered in property law, refers to the right to use another person’s land for a specific limited purpose. For instance, an easement might allow one landowner to cross another’s property to access a road or permit a utility company to lay lines on private property. These rights are typically documented in a deed or a legal contract, ensuring clarity and legality in their execution.

Emancipation: Freedom from Control

Emancipation is the process by which an individual, typically a minor, is freed from the power and control of another, often a parent or guardian. This legal action grants the minor the status of an adult, empowering them to make decisions and take responsibility for their own affairs.

Eminent Domain: The Power of the State

Eminent Domain is a legal concept that grants the state, including cities and towns, the authority to take private property for public use. This right, protected by the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article X of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, comes with the crucial condition that the property owner receives adequate compensation for their loss.

En Banc: When All Justices Decide

Derived from the French phrase “en banc,” this term signifies an appellate court’s session where all justices on that court hear and decide a particular case. While in Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court typically convenes en banc with all seven justices for most cases, except murder appeals, which are heard by panels of five justices. However, a minimum of four justices is required to sit for an appeal.

Enjoin: To Forbid or Restrain

Enjoin is a legal term used when a court issues an order to forbid or restrain someone from taking a particular action. It is often employed to prevent parties from engaging in harmful or unlawful activities.

Equal Protection of the Law: Ensuring Fairness

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection of the law, ensuring that no person or class of persons shall be denied the same protection enjoyed by others in similar circumstances. In essence, this means that the law must treat all individuals in similar situations equally.

Equity: Beyond Just Monetary Value

Equity holds a dual meaning in the legal world. It refers to both the value of property minus total liens and encumbrances and a system of legal principles and remedies in civil cases. Historically, English courts had separate systems for law and equity. While law courts could award monetary damages, equity courts had the power to grant non-monetary relief, such as injunctions and divorces.

Escheat: Property Reverts to the State

When an individual passes away without any heirs, their estate undergoes a process known as escheat. During escheat, the decedent’s property is transferred to the state, ensuring it doesn’t remain ownerless.

Estate: A Broad Legal Concept

Estate has a multifaceted definition in law. It can refer to an individual’s interest in real estate or personal property. For instance, property owned by a deceased person is called a “decedent’s estate.” Additionally, it can denote the assets and affairs of a trust, a bankrupt individual or corporation, or a person subject to the Uniform Probate Code.

Estoppel: Consistency in Claims

Estoppel is a legal principle that prevents a party from making a claim or taking a position inconsistent with their prior conduct, claim, or position. For example, a person claiming the right to sell a piece of land cannot later deny that authority in a subsequent lawsuit.

Eviction: Termination of Tenancy

Eviction signifies the legal process through which a landlord terminates a tenancy and removes a tenant from rental property. This process is subject to specific legal procedures and regulations designed to protect the rights of both landlords and tenants.

Evidence: The Heart of Legal Proceedings

Evidence encompasses testimony, documents, physical objects, and other materials accepted by a court to prove or disprove facts relevant to a case. It plays a crucial role in determining the outcome of legal proceedings.

Evidentiary Hearing: Presentation of Evidence

An evidentiary hearing is a court session where evidence is presented. Unlike hearings that solely address matters of law, an evidentiary hearing focuses on presenting and evaluating evidence.

Ex Parte: When One Side Takes Action

Derived from Latin, ex parte means “one side only.” In legal contexts, it refers to actions involving only one party without prior notice to any other party. Ex parte actions are typically permitted only in emergency situations.

  • Ex Parte Communication: A communication between the court and one party to a case, made without prior notice to any other party.
  • Ex Parte Injunction: An injunction issued upon the request of one party to a case, without prior notice to any other party.
  • Ex Parte Motion: A motion made to the court by one party to a case without prior notice to any other party.
  • Ex Parte Order: A temporary order made by the court without notice to the other side. In Massachusetts, ex parte orders are often issued to prevent domestic violence under c. 209A.

Ex Post Facto: Retroactive Criminalization

Ex Post Facto is a Latin term meaning “after the fact.” It refers to a law that retroactively makes an act criminal, which is considered unconstitutional under both the U.S. and Massachusetts Constitutions.

Examine: Questioning a Witness

In a legal context, to examine means to question a witness. Effective examination is a crucial skill for attorneys in presenting their cases.

Exclusive Jurisdiction: Singular Legal Authority

Exclusive jurisdiction grants a court the sole power to handle a specific action or case to the exclusion of all other courts. It ensures that legal matters are dealt with comprehensively and consistently.

Exculpatory Evidence: Clearing the Accused

Exculpatory evidence is evidence that tends to prove a defendant’s innocence or lack of liability in a case. It plays a vital role in ensuring justice is served.

Execute: Carrying Out Legal Actions

Execute refers to the act of carrying out or completing actions in accordance with the law. It can apply to various legal contexts, from signing documents to enforcing judgments.

Execution: Enforcing a Judgment

Execution is the legal process that allows a judgment to be enforced. It involves obtaining possession of assets or property awarded in a court judgment.

Execution of an Instrument: Formal Document Signing

The execution of an instrument involves signing, sealing, and delivering a written document or instrument in a legally binding manner.

Execution of a Sentence: Carrying Out Punishment

In criminal cases, execution of a sentence refers to the enforcement of the punishment or sentence ordered by the court.

Executive Branch: Enforcing the Law

The executive branch of a government, including the Governor, is responsible for executing the law and implementing public policies.

Executive Council: Advising the Governor

The Executive Council, also known as the Governor’s Council, serves as an advisory body to the Governor, providing advice and consent on various government matters.

Executive Office of the Trial Court (EOTC): Legal Administration

The Executive Office of the Trial Court (EOTC) encompasses key figures like the Chief Justice of the Trial Court and the Court Administrator, along with their respective staff. This office plays a pivotal role in the administration and functioning of the judicial system.

Executor (Male), Executrix (Female): Managing Wills

In probate law, an executor (for males) or executrix (for females) is an individual named in a will to carry out its terms. With the adoption of the Uniform Probate Code in Massachusetts, these individuals are now referred to as “personal representatives.”

Exhaustion of Remedies: Using All Available Avenues

The legal principle of exhaustion of remedies mandates that a party must utilize all available procedures in a lower court or administrative agency before appealing a decision to a higher authority.

Exhibit: Presented Evidence

An exhibit is a document, object, or material admitted as evidence during a trial or hearing. It plays a crucial role in establishing facts and arguments.

Exonerate: Clearing of Suspicion

Exonerate signifies the act of freeing someone from suspicion and demonstrating their innocence or lack of guilt.

Expert Witness: Specialized Testimony

An expert witness is an individual with specialized knowledge and qualifications in a particular subject area. Their testimony is considered admissible evidence in court, and their expertise aids in clarifying complex issues.

Expunge: Erasing Records

To expunge means to destroy or obliterate records, including criminal records, in all types of files, including digital files. Records that have been expunged are treated as if they never existed.

Extradition: Transferring Accused Persons

Extradition is the formal process of delivering a person found in one jurisdiction to the authorities of another jurisdiction where they have been accused or convicted of a crime. It’s also known as “rendition.”

Extraordinary Medical Treatment: Highly Intrusive Procedures

This term refers to extraordinary medical treatment, which encompasses highly intrusive medical procedures that often require special legal considerations and approvals.

Family Service Officer: Supporting Families

In some contexts, a Family Service Officer is synonymous with a Probation Officer, responsible for managing cases and providing support to families in legal matters.

Fault: Responsibility and Liability

Fault can refer to responsibility in various legal contexts, such as being at fault in a car accident or divorce proceedings. In some cases, fault may impact insurance surcharges or be a factor in divorce decisions.

Fee-Generating Appointment: Earning Fees in Legal Roles

A fee-generating appointment is a legal role or appointment that generates a fee for the person appointed. These fees can be paid by the court or the involved parties, such as when someone is appointed as a guardian ad litem.

Felony: Serious Criminal Offense

A felony is any crime punishable by imprisonment in a state prison. In Massachusetts, only the Superior Court Department has the authority to order imprisonment in a state prison, while the District Court Department can handle certain felony cases with shorter sentences.

FID Card: Firearms Identification

A Firearms Identification Card or FID card is issued by a chief of police, authorizing the holder to own and possess firearms.

Fiduciary: Responsible for Others’ Interests

A fiduciary is an individual or institution entrusted with managing money or property for the benefit of another. They are held to a high standard of care in carrying out this responsibility. Common examples include personal representatives, administrators, conservators, executors, guardians, and trustees.

File (v.): Submitting Legal Documents

To file means the act of submitting legal documents related to a lawsuit to the Clerk-Magistrate, Recorder, or Register of the court.

File, Filing (n.): Legal Documents

An original document submitted to the court is often referred to as a “filing.” The collection of documents related to a case is called the “case file.”

Filing Fee: Costs of Legal Actions

A filing fee is a fee paid to the office of the Clerk-Magistrate, Recorder, or Register when initiating a civil action. In many cases, these fees can be waived for indigent individuals.

Final Account: Closing Estate Matters

A final account is a comprehensive report detailing the assets, distribution of assets, and liabilities of an estate after all distributions have been made. It marks the closure of estate proceedings, with the court eventually issuing a decree approving the distribution.

Final Decree: Settling Legal Matters

A final decree is a court order that resolves all pending issues in a case, bringing legal matters to a conclusion. It is often used interchangeably with the term “judgment.”

Financial Statement: Summarizing Finances

A financial statement is a form summarizing a party’s income, expenses, assets, liabilities, and health insurance. It is typically signed by the party under the penalties of perjury and may require certification by an attorney if the party is represented.

Foreclosure: The Mortgage Process

In the context of property and mortgages, foreclosure refers to the legal process by which a lender or financial institution takes possession of a property due to non-payment by the borrower.

Foreign Judgment: Legal Decisions from Other Jurisdictions

A foreign judgment is a judgment issued by a court outside of Massachusetts. It raises unique legal considerations, especially when attempting to enforce it within the state.

Foreign Personal Representative: Appointed by Non-Massachusetts Courts

A foreign personal representative is a personal representative appointed by a court outside of Massachusetts. Their role may involve managing the affairs of a decedent’s estate located in Massachusetts.

Foreign Support Order: Support Orders from Other Jurisdictions

A foreign support order is a support order issued by a court outside of Massachusetts. These orders may need to be recognized and enforced within the state.

Foreign Will: Wills from Outside Massachusetts

A foreign will is a last will and testament created by a decedent whose residence is outside of Massachusetts. Legal proceedings may differ when dealing with foreign wills.

Fraud: Deception with Intent

Fraud involves the intentional communication of an untruth with the intent to deceive others, often leading to property loss, deprivation of legal rights, or other forms of harm.

Fugitive: Evading Legal Consequences

A fugitive is an individual who flees in an attempt to evade the legal consequences of a crime they are accused of.

Full Faith and Credit: Recognizing Legal Acts

A court’s constitutional obligation to recognize and enforce orders, decrees, legislative acts, public records, and judgments issued by the courts of other U.S. jurisdictions is known as full faith and credit. This ensures the seamless recognition and enforcement of legal actions across state lines.

These legal terms represent just a portion of the vast legal lexicon. Understanding them is crucial for anyone involved in legal matters, from attorneys and judges to individuals navigating the legal system.

What is Garnishment?

Garnishment is a court order designed to intercept a portion of a debtor’s wages or other income before they receive it. This intercepted money is directed towards paying off an unpaid judgment obtained by a creditor. While garnishment can encompass various situations, one of the most common scenarios involves a custodial parent seeking child support from a non-custodial parent. This process is also referred to as a “wage assignment.”

The Mechanics of Garnishment

To fully comprehend garnishment, it’s essential to delve into its mechanics. When a court orders garnishment, the debtor’s employer is legally obliged to withhold a portion of the debtor’s income and redirect it to the creditor. This ensures that the debtor fulfills their financial obligations as mandated by the court.

General Court: The Legislative Arm of the State

The term “General Court” refers to the constitutional title of a state’s legislative branch. This branch is composed of two bodies: the Senate, typically consisting of 40 elected members, and the House of Representatives, usually comprising 160 elected members. Together, they form the backbone of the state’s legislative framework.

The Role of the General Court

The General Court plays a pivotal role in shaping the laws and policies of a state. It is responsible for drafting, debating, and passing legislation that impacts various aspects of life within the state’s jurisdiction. This includes matters related to education, healthcare, transportation, and much more.

Genetic Marker Test: Unveiling Paternity

Genetic Marker Test is a scientific examination that is often conducted using a swab from the inside of a person’s cheek. Its primary purpose is to determine genetic similarities between a child, their mother, and an alleged father. This information is crucial in helping the court establish paternity.

The Significance of Genetic Marker Tests

In cases where paternity is in question, genetic marker tests serve as a vital tool for resolving disputes. The results of these tests can provide irrefutable evidence of biological relationships, aiding courts in making informed decisions about child custody, support, and related matters.

The Role of the Governor

A state’s executive branch is headed by the Governor, who is elected by the people. In the event of the Governor’s absence, the Lieutenant Governor assumes the role of Acting Governor. The Governor’s duties encompass overseeing the administration of the state, implementing policies, and making critical decisions that affect the well-being of its citizens.

The Governor’s Council

Eight councilors elected by districts form the Governor’s Council. This body serves as an advisory board to the Governor, assisting in the execution of specific executive functions. Among its key responsibilities are approving or rejecting the Governor’s appointments for judgeships and certain court clerkships. Additionally, the Council considers the Governor’s recommendations for pardons or the commutation of sentences. It’s also known as the Executive Council.

Legal Pursuits: From Grand Juries to Grandparents

Grand Jury: The Silent Arbiters

A Grand Jury is a group of citizens that convenes to hear evidence related to criminal complaints and accusations. This process is conducted secretly, with only the prosecutor presenting evidence. The Grand Jury’s primary role is to determine if there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and whether the accused is responsible. Typically, a Grand Jury consists of twenty-three members, and it requires at least thirteen members present and twelve votes to return an indictment.

Grandparent Visitation Rights

Grandparent Visitation is a court-ordered right that allows grandparents to visit their grandchildren when the custodial parent is not their son or daughter. This legal provision recognizes the importance of the bond between grandparents and grandchildren, ensuring that it remains intact even in challenging family circumstances.

Decoding Legal Jargon

Grant and Grantee

In the realm of real estate and legal transactions, the term “Grant” signifies the transfer of property from one party to another, often involving real estate. The recipient of this transfer is referred to as the “Grantee.” This transaction plays a pivotal role in property ownership and real estate dealings.

Grantor: The Giver of Rights

On the other side of the transaction is the Grantor, the individual who initiates the grant. They are responsible for giving or selling title to real estate through a deed, facilitating the transfer of property rights to the Grantee.

The Foundation of Divorce: Grounds for Separation

In Massachusetts, divorce is governed by specific grounds. These grounds include adultery, impotency, utter desertion, gross and confirmed habits of intoxication, cruel and abusive treatment, a prison sentence of five or more years, and nonsupport. Understanding these grounds is crucial when navigating the intricacies of divorce proceedings in the state.

Providing a Home: Group Homes

Group Homes serve as licensed facilities for various purposes, including the temporary board and care of children under the Office for Child Care Services, mentally ill individuals under the Department of Mental Health, mentally retarded individuals under the Department of Mental Retardation, and delinquent children under the Department of Youth Services. These homes provide essential care and support to those in need within a structured environment.

Guarantor: A Safety Net for Financial Obligations

A Guarantor is an individual who assumes financial responsibility for another person’s obligations in the event that the primary party fails to fulfill them. The party in need of financial support is known as the Principal. This arrangement offers an added layer of security in various financial transactions.

Guardian: Caretaker and Protector

A Guardian is an individual vested with the legal duty and authority to care for a minor or someone legally incapacitated due to mental retardation, mental illness, or physical incapacity. Guardians can be court-appointed or designated in a will, with the court ultimately confirming their status.

Guardian Ad Litem: Advocating for the Vulnerable

A Guardian ad Litem is appointed by the court to advocate for the interests of individuals affected by legal proceedings. This includes minors or incompetent individuals involved in civil actions, domestic relations cases, or juvenile court proceedings. They also investigate specific case details and report back to the court.

The Verdict: Guilty

In the legal context, being “Guilty” means being legally responsible for a crime. A guilty verdict indicates that the court has determined that the accused party committed the crime in question. Legal consequences and penalties follow such a finding.


In some regions, the term “CLERK-MAGISTRATE” is used to describe a unique position within the legal system. A clerk-magistrate is an individual who combines the responsibilities of a court clerk with those of a magistrate. They are often responsible for managing court records, processing legal documents, and assisting in the administration of justice. This dual role requires a deep understanding of legal procedures and administrative tasks.

MAJORITY: Beyond Half

“MAJORITY” is a term that extends beyond the realm of law and into various aspects of decision-making. In a legal context, it refers to a situation where more than half of a group or body of individuals agrees on a particular course of action or decision. For example, in a court with seven justices, a majority decision would require the agreement of at least four justices.

The Significance of MAJORITY OPINION

When multiple judges preside over a case, their opinions on the matter can vary. The “MAJORITY OPINION” is a written statement that represents the collective reasoning and decision of the majority of judges involved in a case. This opinion holds significant weight and serves as a precedent for future cases in lower courts.

MAKE WHOLE: A Path to Restitution

The concept of “MAKE WHOLE” is closely related to the idea of restitution. It refers to the process of compensating a victim or injured party for losses or damages suffered due to a wrongful act. Restitution aims to restore the individual to the position they were in before the harm occurred.


In the realm of government and public service, “MAL-ADMINISTRATION” and “MISCONDUCT IN OFFICE” are terms that refer to grounds for the removal of a state officer, which may include judges, through the impeachment process. These terms encompass actions or behaviors that violate the principles of responsible and ethical governance.


“MALFEASANCE” and “MISFEASANCE” are terms used to describe improper performance of duties or actions. While they share similarities, “MALFEASANCE” specifically refers to intentionally improper actions or misconduct, while “MISFEASANCE” pertains to negligent or improper performance without deliberate intent.

Exploring the Depths of MALICE

The term “MALICE” holds different meanings in various legal contexts. It can refer to deliberate and knowing violations of the law without legal justification. In slander and libel cases, it involves making false statements about another with evil intent or reckless disregard for their truthfulness. The application of “MALICE” varies depending on the nature of the case and the parties involved.

Mandamus: The Command of the Law

Derived from Latin, “MANDAMUS” translates to “we command.” In legal terms, it represents a written order issued by a court, often directed at a public official, compelling them to perform a specific act related to their official duty. “MANDAMUS” serves as a mechanism to ensure compliance with legal obligations.

Mandatory Reporting: The Role of Mandated Reporters

“MANDATED REPORTERS” are individuals required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the relevant authorities, such as the Department of Children and Families. This legal obligation applies to professionals who regularly come into contact with children, such as medical personnel, teachers, and law enforcement personnel.

Demystifying MANDATORY MINIMUM Sentences

In cases where individuals are convicted of certain crimes specified by statute, “MANDATORY MINIMUM” sentences come into play. These sentences, mandated by law, require judges to impose a specific minimum sentence, limiting their discretion in determining the punishment for the convicted individual.

Mandatory Retirement Amendment: A Historical Perspective

The “MANDATORY RETIREMENT AMENDMENT” is a constitutional provision that mandates the retirement of judges at a specific age. In Massachusetts, this amendment, implemented in 1972, requires all judges to retire at age seventy. Prior to this amendment, judges held their positions for life during good behavior.

Marginally Indigent: A Legal Dilemma

“Marginally Indigent” refers to a criminal defendant who cannot afford the complete cost of legal representation but can contribute some amount toward their defense. In such cases, a judge must make a determination regarding the defendant’s contribution to their legal representation.

MARITAL PROPERTY: Division During Divorce

During divorce proceedings, the division of assets and property is a critical aspect. “MARITAL PROPERTY” encompasses assets acquired by spouses during their marriage, and its equitable division is a key component of the divorce process.

Neutral Person

At its core, a neutral person is an individual who steps into a conflict situation without any bias or preconceived notions. Their primary objective is to help the conflicting parties reach a mutually acceptable resolution. Here are some key aspects to understand:

1. Mediator

One of the primary roles of a neutral person is that of a mediator. Mediators are skilled professionals trained in conflict resolution techniques. They act as facilitators, guiding the parties involved in a dispute towards a resolution through open communication and negotiation.

2. Arbitrator

In certain cases, a neutral person takes on the role of an arbitrator. Arbitrators have the authority to make binding decisions, often in situations where the parties have agreed to submit to arbitration rather than go through a lengthy court process.

3. Case Evaluator

Case evaluators are neutral individuals who assess the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case. They provide an impartial evaluation, aiding the parties in understanding their positions better and potentially leading to a settlement.

4. Conciliator

A conciliator is similar to a mediator but may have a more proactive role in proposing solutions and encouraging compromise. They work closely with the conflicting parties to find common ground.

5. Court Employee as a Neutral Person

Interestingly, a neutral person can also be a court employee, such as a master, clerk, clerk-magistrate, register, recorder, family service officer, housing specialist, or probation officer. When these individuals are engaged as impartial third parties, they facilitate dispute resolution within the framework of the court.

Navigating Legal Terminology

To understand the roles and responsibilities of a neutral person fully, it’s essential to grasp some legal terms associated with dispute resolution. Here are a few key terms:


“NE EXEAT” is Latin for “you may not exit.” It refers to an order that forbids an individual from leaving the country, state, or jurisdiction of the court. This order is typically issued in situations where a person’s departure could impact legal proceedings.


“NISI” is a term that often appears in legal contexts. It’s closely related to “Judgment Nisi,” which signifies a provisional judgment that becomes final unless certain conditions are met.


A “no contact order” is a legal order that prohibits an individual from having any form of contact with another person, often the victim or a witness of a crime. These orders are crucial for maintaining the safety and well-being of the parties involved.


In family law, the non-custodial parent is the one who does not have physical custody of a child. While they may not live with the child, they may still share legal custody.

Exploring Legal Concepts

In the realm of law, certain terms and concepts hold significant importance:


“No fault” refers to cases decided without assigning blame to either party. For example, a “no-fault divorce” can be granted without requiring one party to prove wrongdoing. This approach simplifies the divorce process.


“No fault insurance” is a type of automobile insurance that covers damage regardless of who is at fault in an accident. It ensures that individuals receive compensation for their losses, regardless of liability.


“Not guilty” is a plea entered by a defendant in a criminal case, indicating a denial of the charges. It places the burden of proof on the prosecution to demonstrate guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


A notary, or notary public, is an individual authorized to administer oaths and certify signatures’ authenticity. They play a crucial role in legal document verification.

Taking an Oath – A Sacred Commitment

OATH – A declaration of the truth of a statement, made under penalties of perjury and generally invoking the Deity’s name.

The act of taking an oath is a cornerstone of the legal system. It involves a solemn promise, backed by the fear of legal repercussions, and sometimes, invoking a divine presence. Oaths are administered in various legal proceedings, and they hold a significant role in maintaining the integrity of testimonies and statements.

The Parties Involved

OBLIGOR and OBLIGEE – Bound by Court Orders

OBLIGOR – A person required by court order to make a payment to another.

OBLIGEE – A person who receives a payment from another pursuant to a court order.

Court orders often compel individuals to perform certain actions or fulfill specific financial obligations. The obligor is the party who is mandated by the court to make payments, while the obligee is the recipient of those payments. This legal framework ensures that court-ordered commitments are upheld.

Legal Entities and Functions

OFFICE and OFFICER – Pillars of Authority

OFFICE – A person’s right and accompanying duty to exercise a public function.

OFFICER – A person holding an office of trust, command, or authority in a corporation, government, or other institution or organization.

The concept of an office in the legal context extends beyond a physical space. It represents the right and duty to carry out specific public functions. An officer, on the other hand, is an individual entrusted with authority, whether it’s within a governmental body or a corporate entity. Both terms are integral to the proper functioning of institutions.


OFFICE OF COURT MANAGEMENT – The office headed by the Court Administrator responsible for managing many aspects of Trial Court operations, providing services to all Trial Court departments in the following areas: Court Capital Projects, Facilities Management, Fiscal, Human Resources, Information Services, Support Services, and Security. See EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE TRIAL COURT.

OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF PROBATION – The office responsible for administering the probation system in the Commonwealth.

These two offices play pivotal roles in the Massachusetts legal system. The Office of Court Management oversees various operational aspects of the Trial Court, ensuring its smooth functioning. Conversely, the Office of the Commissioner of Probation is responsible for administering probationary measures in the Commonwealth.


OFFICE OF THE JURY COMMISSIONER – The office responsible for administering the jury system in the Commonwealth, including scheduling jurors and prosecuting people who fail to serve on jury duty as required by law.

This office takes charge of the crucial task of managing the jury system. It ensures the fair and efficient selection of jurors and addresses issues related to jury duty non-compliance.

Legal Procedures and Advocacy

ORAL ARGUMENT and ORDER – Advocacy in Action

ORAL ARGUMENT – Time allotted by a court for the parties to argue their side of the case orally, directly to the judge(s.) Oral argument could be regarding a motion or regarding an appeal. At trial, the attorneys often make closing arguments, summarizing the evidence and arguing to the judge and/or the jury for a particular outcome. In an appellate court, oral argument is usually fifteen minutes per side. In first degree murder cases, each side is given thirty minutes. Many motions and appeals are decided without oral argument, based on the written arguments (briefs or memoranda) submitted by the parties.

ORDER – A command or directive of the court.

In the legal arena, oral arguments are a means for parties involved in a case to present their viewpoints directly to the judge. These arguments can pertain to various aspects of a case, from motions to appeals. In contrast, court orders are official directives issued by the court to ensure compliance with its decisions.


ORDINANCE – A local law or regulation enacted by a city, having no effect outside that city.

OUT OF WEDLOCK CHILD – A child born to parents who are not married to each other. Formerly referred to as an “illegitimate child.”

Local jurisdictions often enact ordinances to address specific issues within their communities. These laws have limited jurisdiction and typically pertain to local matters. On the other hand, the term “out of wedlock child” refers to a child born to parents who are not married to each other, a concept that has evolved over time with changing social norms

PANEL – A Closer Look

Jury Panel

When dealing with legal proceedings, the term “jury panel” often arises. A jury panel is a group of potential jurors summoned to the court for jury duty. These individuals play a critical role in the justice system, as they are selected to serve on a jury during a trial. The composition of a jury panel is a vital part of ensuring a fair and impartial trial.


The term “venire” is closely related to the jury system. It refers to the pool of potential jurors from which the jury panel is selected. Venire members are randomly chosen from the community to ensure a diverse and unbiased jury.

PARDON – A Second Chance


“Pardon” is a legal term that carries significant weight. It refers to the act of excusing someone from the consequences of a criminal act. Typically, the chief executive, such as a governor or president, holds the authority to grant a pardon. In some cases, this may require the consent of another governing body, such as the Governor’s Council.

PARENS PATRIAE DOCTRINE – Protecting Vulnerable Individuals

Parens Patriae Doctrine

The “parens patriae doctrine” is a Latin term meaning “parent of the country.” It embodies the inherent power and authority of the state to protect individuals who are legally unable to manage their own affairs. This often includes minors and individuals found to be legally incompetent.

PARENTING PLAN – Navigating Co-Parenting

Parenting Plan

Co-parenting can be challenging, especially when parents live separately. A “parenting plan” is a comprehensive agreement designed by two parents who do not reside together. This plan outlines various aspects of parenting, including the allocation of time spent with the child and decision-making responsibilities.

PAROLE – Early Release


“Parole” is a term that signifies conditional release from prison before the completion of a sentence. If a parolee adheres to the specified conditions, they may avoid serving the remainder of their sentence. The process of granting parole is overseen by a state agency known as the Parole Board and supervised by parole officers.

PAROLE BOARD – Granting Parole

Parole Board

The “Parole Board” is the state agency responsible for hearing and deciding requests from prisoners seeking parole. Their role is crucial in evaluating an inmate’s readiness for reintegration into society.

PARTITION – Dividing Real Estate


When it comes to real estate, “partition” refers to the division of property among two or more interested parties. This legal process is often necessary when co-owners of a property cannot agree on its use or disposition.

PARTNERSHIP – Collaborative Business


A “partnership” represents an association between two or more individuals who jointly own and operate a business for profit. Partners in such arrangements share both profits and losses, as well as control and management responsibilities.

PARTY – Legal Involvement


In legal contexts, the term “party” can have dual meanings:

  1. A person involved in a matter or transaction, such as a party to a contract.
  2. A person against whom a lawsuit is filed, either as the plaintiff or defendant.

PATENT – Protecting Inventions


Innovation is protected through a “patent,” which provides inventors with the exclusive right to prevent unauthorized use or duplication of their inventions.

PATERNITY – Establishing Fatherhood


“Paternity” refers to the legal recognition of fatherhood. A “paternity suit” is a legal action initiated to determine whether a specific individual is the biological father of a child.

PENDENTE LITE – During Litigation

Pendente Lite

The Latin term “pendente lite” translates to “during litigation.” It signifies actions and decisions taken while a legal dispute is pending.

PER CAPITA and PER STIRPES – Dividing an Estate

Per Capita and Per Stirpes

These Latin terms relate to the division of an estate:

  • “Per Capita” means dividing an estate equally among a specified number of individuals.
  • “Per Stirpes” involves dividing an estate by the right of representation, allowing descendants to inherit a deceased ancestor’s share.


Peremptory Challenge

In the context of jury selection, a “peremptory challenge” permits an attorney to reject a potential juror without providing a specific reason.

PERJURY – False Statements


“Perjury” entails deliberately making false statements in a judicial proceeding or legal document while under an obligation to tell the truth. False statements made “under penalty of perjury” can lead to criminal prosecution.


Permanency Hearing

A “permanency hearing” is conducted to determine and monitor the implementation of a permanency plan for a child under the custody of the Department of Children and Families. These hearings aim to provide stability and a long-term plan for the child’s well-being.

PERMANENCY PLAN – Securing a Child’s Future

Permanency Plan

In child welfare cases, a “permanency plan” outlines the future of a child under the care of the Department of Children and Families. It addresses key questions, including whether the child will be returned to their parents, placed for adoption, appointed a legal guardian, or put in another permanent living arrangement.


Permanent Injunction

A “permanent injunction” is a legal order that prohibits certain actions or requires specific behaviors to be maintained indefinitely.

PERSONAL PROPERTY – Beyond Real Estate

Personal Property

“Personal property” encompasses all property except real estate. It includes tangible and intangible assets such as vehicles, furniture, and financial holdings.


Personal Recognizance

“Personal recognizance” refers to the release of an individual from custody based on their promise to appear in court when required, without the need for bail.


Personal Representative

In the realm of estate administration, a “personal representative” is an individual authorized to manage the estate of a deceased person. This role may include an executor, administrator, or another person with similar responsibilities.

PETIT JURY – Trial Juries

Petit Jury

A “petit jury” is a trial jury responsible for determining the verdict in a criminal or civil case. It plays a pivotal role in the adjudication of cases.

PETITION – Legal Requests


A “petition” is a written request submitted to the court, often initiating a legal action. It serves as the document through which individuals or entities seek legal remedies.

PETITION FOR DEPOSIT – Fiduciary Matters

Petition for Deposit

In fiduciary matters, a “petition for deposit” is a request to authorize the deposit of funds in a bank account under the name of the First Justice of the Probate and Family Court, intended for the benefit of a minor or an heir whose whereabouts are unknown.


Petition for Removal of Fiduciary

A “petition for removal of fiduciary” is filed by an heir or next of kin to request the removal of a fiduciary (an individual entrusted with managing assets) deemed unsuitable.


Physical Custody

When discussing child custody arrangements, “physical custody” pertains to where and with whom a child resides. It plays a crucial role in determining parental responsibilities.

PLAINTIFF – Initiating Legal Actions


The “plaintiff” is the party who initiates a civil case by filing a complaint. They are responsible for bringing the case to court, seeking legal remedies or redress.

PLEA – Defendant’s Response


A “plea” represents a defendant’s response to a criminal charge. It includes options such as guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere (no contest).

PLEA-BARGAINING – Negotiating Resolutions


In criminal cases, “plea-bargaining” is a negotiation process between the prosecutor and the defendant. It results in the resolution of a case without proceeding to trial, often involving a recommended sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

PLEADINGS – Legal Documents


In civil actions, “pleadings” are legal documents that outline the claims and defenses of the parties involved. They include the plaintiff’s claims and the defendant’s defenses and counterclaims, providing the foundation for the legal proceedings.

POLICE PROSECUTOR – Prosecution by Officers

Police Prosecutor

A “police prosecutor” is a police officer assigned to prosecute criminal cases. While common in some court departments, they have generally been replaced by assistant district attorneys in many jurisdictions.


Post-Adoption Contact or Communication Agreement

In adoption cases, a “post-adoption contact or communication agreement” allows birth parents and adoptive parents to exchange information regarding the adopted child and potentially arrange visitation after the adoption is finalized. These agreements must adhere to statutory provisions to be enforceable.

POWER OF ATTORNEY – Authorized Representation

Power of Attorney

A “power of attorney” is a written instrument that appoints and authorizes an individual to act on behalf of another. This appointed person, known as an “attorney-in-fact,” may or may not be an attorney. A “durable power of attorney” remains effective even if the individual granting it becomes incapacitated or passes away.

PRECEDENT – Legal Authority


“Precedent” refers to earlier appellate decisions that serve as authoritative references for similar issues in current cases. Precedents provide guidance for courts in handling legal matters.

PRECLUSION – Legal Doctrine


“Preclusion” encompasses legal doctrines such as “res judicata” and “collateral estoppel,” which prevent the re-litigation of issues that have already been decided in a prior case.

PREJUDICIAL ERROR – Reversible Mistakes

Prejudicial Error

A “prejudicial error” is a significant mistake made during a trial that warrants an appellate court’s reversal of the judgment. Such errors can impact the outcome of the case.

PRENUPTIAL – Before Marriage


“Prenuptial” refers to actions or agreements made before marriage. Often, it involves arrangements concerning the distribution of marital assets in the event of death or divorce.


Preponderance of the Evidence

The term “preponderance of the evidence” pertains to the standard of proof in civil cases. It means that the evidence presented must establish the facts in question as more likely than not.


Preliminary Injunction

A “preliminary injunction” is a temporary legal order that restrains certain actions or maintains specific conditions pending a full trial. It aims to preserve the status quo until the legal issues are resolved.

PRESIDING JUDGE – Leading Legal Proceedings

Presiding Judge

The “presiding judge” is the judge responsible for conducting a hearing or trial and overseeing the proceedings in a particular case.

PRETRIAL CONFERENCE – Case Resolution Discussions

Pretrial Conference

A “pretrial conference” is a meeting held with attorneys, litigants, and sometimes the judge or clerk-magistrate to resolve, narrow, or simplify the issues to be addressed during a trial.

PRETRIAL DETAINEE – Detained Before Trial

Pretrial Detainee

A “pretrial detainee” is a criminal defendant who has been denied bail or is unable to post the set bail amount, resulting in detention until their trial.

PRETRIAL HEARING – Preliminary Hearings

Pretrial Hearing

A “pretrial hearing” is a legal proceeding that takes place before a trial. It can serve various purposes, including addressing motions and setting the stage for the trial itself.

PRIMA FACIE – Evidential Basis

Prima Facie

“Prima facie” is a Latin term meaning “at first sight” or “on the face of it.” It signifies an initial evidential basis that, if unopposed, establishes a party’s right to relief.

PRINCIPAL – Diverse Meanings


The term “principal” has diverse meanings in legal contexts:

  1. It can refer to a person who has authorized another (an agent) to act on their behalf.
  2. In financial matters, it signifies the amount of a loan, excluding interest.
  3. It may also denote property, particularly when placed in a trust.

PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION – Protected Communications

Privileged Communication

“Privileged communication” refers to protected communications that are shielded from compelled disclosure in legal proceedings. These communications are often confidential and shared within a specific legal or professional context.

PRO BONO – Legal Services for the Public Good

Pro Bono

“Pro bono” is a term derived from Latin, meaning “for the public good.” It describes legal services provided to clients free of charge, typically as a charitable act by attorneys.

PRO SE – Self-Representation

Pro Se

“Pro se” is another Latin term, translating to “for oneself.” It is used to describe individuals who represent themselves in court without legal representation.

PROBABLE CAUSE – Legal Grounds

Probable Cause

“Probable cause” refers to reasonable grounds for believing that facts justify taking legal action, such as issuing an arrest or search warrant or filing a criminal complaint.

PROBABLE CAUSE HEARING – Assessing Legal Grounds

Probable Cause Hearing

A “probable cause hearing” assesses whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a criminal defendant for trial in a higher court. It must occur promptly, typically within ten days of arraignment.

PROBATE – Estate Administration


“Probate” is the legal process through which the assets of a deceased person’s estate are transferred to their heirs or beneficiaries. This process ensures the lawful distribution of assets.

PROBATE AND FAMILY COURT – Family-Related Matters

Probate and Family Court

The “Probate and Family Court” is a specialized court department with jurisdiction over a wide range of family-related matters. These include divorce, child custody, adoption, guardianship, and probate cases.

PROBATE ASSETS – Estate Property

Probate Assets

“Probate assets” encompass all property owned by a deceased person at the time of their death, except those assets subject to other transfer mechanisms. These assets must go through the probate process for distribution.

PROBATION – Alternative to Incarceration


“Probation” offers an alternative to incarceration for individuals convicted of a criminal offense. It allows the individual to remain free under specific conditions and supervision.

PROBATION OFFICER – Supervising Probationers

Probation Officer

A “probation officer” plays a crucial role in supervising individuals on probation, ensuring they adhere to the specified conditions and supporting their rehabilitation.


Probation Revocation

“Probation revocation” is the process by which a probationer is brought back to court for violating the terms of their probation. Such violations can result in the revocation of probation and potential incarceration.

PROBATION SURRENDER – Surrender Hearings

Probation Surrender

A “probation surrender” or “surrender hearing” is conducted to address probation violations and determine the appropriate course of action.

PROBATIONER – Individuals on Probation


A “probationer” is an individual placed on probation, subject to specific conditions and supervision as an alternative to incarceration.

PROBLEM-SOLVING COURT – Specialized Courts

Problem-Solving Court

“Problem-solving courts” are specialized courts that aim to address underlying issues behind criminal behavior, such as drug addiction or mental health problems. They emphasize rehabilitation and support rather than punitive measures.

PROCEEDING – Legal Proceedings


A “proceeding” encompasses any legal hearing or court appearance related to the adjudication of a case. It represents the formal process of resolving legal disputes.

PROCESS – Legal Orders


“Process” refers to a court order that compels individuals to appear in court or enforces a judgment. Common examples include subpoenas and summonses.

PROCESS SERVER – Serving Legal Documents

Process Server

A “process server” is an authorized individual, often a constable or deputy sheriff, responsible for delivering legal documents, such as summonses or complaints, to parties involved in legal proceedings.


Production of Documents

The “production of documents” is a component of the discovery process in legal cases. It requires one party to provide relevant documents and items for review by the opposing party.

PROPERTY – Ownership and Possession


“Property” encompasses anything that can be owned, whether tangible or intangible. This includes assets, real estate, and personal belongings.

PROSECUTOR – Representing the Commonwealth


A “prosecutor” is an attorney who represents the government (commonly referred to as the Commonwealth in criminal cases) in a legal proceeding. They present the case against the defendant and seek to prove guilt.

PROTECTED PERSON – Under Conservatorship

Protected Person

A “protected person” is an individual for whom a conservator has been appointed to manage their affairs. This legal arrangement is typically necessary when someone is unable to make decisions independently.

PROTECTIVE PROCEEDINGS – Appointing Conservators

Protective Proceedings

“Protective proceedings” involve legal actions aimed at appointing a conservator to manage the estate of a protected person, ensuring their financial and personal well-being.

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATOR – Managing Intestate Estates

Public Administrator

A “public administrator” is appointed to temporarily administer the estate of a deceased person who died intestate (without a will) and has no known next of kin within the state. They are responsible for overseeing the decedent’s property until a personal administrator is appointed.

PUBLIC DEFENDER – Legal Representation for the Indigent

Public Defender

A “public defender” is an attorney paid by the government to represent indigent defendants (those unable to afford legal representation) in criminal cases. They play a crucial role in ensuring fair legal representation for all.

PUBLIC DOMAIN – Open to the Public

Public Domain

“Public domain” refers to works or materials that belong to the public and are not subject to copyright protection. Such materials are freely accessible and usable by anyone.

PURCHASE-MONEY MORTGAGE – Mortgage for Property Purchase

Purchase-Money Mortgage

A “purchase-money mortgage” is a mortgage on property given by the buyer to the seller at the time of purchase. It serves as collateral for the unpaid balance of the purchase price.

PUTATIVE – Alleged or Supposed


The term “putative” is used to describe something as alleged or supposed. For example, in a paternity case, the “putative father” is the alleged or supposed father until proven otherwise.

In conclusion, the legal landscape is rich and multifaceted, with a multitude of terms and concepts. Understanding these legal terminologies is essential for both legal professionals and individuals seeking to navigate the complexities of the legal system.

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