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Glossary of Common Legal Terms
Terms in this set (78)
The doctrine under which the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts choose not to rule on state cases, even when empowered to do so, so as to allow the issue to be decided on the basis of state law.
A legal opinion rendered at the request of the government or another party indicating how the court would rule if the issue arose in an adversary context.
"Friend of the court." A person or group not directly involved in a particular case that volunteers or is requested by the court to supply its views on the case (usually through the submission of a brief).
The procedure whereby a case is brought from an inferior to a superior court. In the Supreme Court, certain cases are designated as appeals under federal law and must be heard formally by the Court.
The party who appeals a decision from a lower to a higher court.
The authority of a court to hear, determine, and render judgment in an action on appeal from an inferior court.
The party against whom an appeal to a superior court is taken and who has an interest in upholding the lower court's decision.
The formal process of charging a person with a crime, reading the charge, and asking for and entering the plea.
The security (cash or bail bond) given as a guarantee that a released prisoner will appear at trial.
Bill of Attainder
A legislative act declaring a person guilty or a crime and passing sentence without benefit of trial.
A document prepared by counsel as the basis for an argument in court. It sets forth the facts of the case and the legal arguments in support of the party's position.
The law as defined by previously decided cases.
A method of appeal whereby a lower court requests a higher court to rule on certain legal questions so that the lower court can make the correct decision in light of the answer given.
Certiorari, Writ of
An order from a superior court to an inferior court to forward the entire record of a case to the superior court for review. The U.S. Supreme Court can issue suck writs at its discretion.
A lawsuit, usually brought by a private party, seeking redress for a noncriminal act (e.g. a suit in negligence, contract, or defamation).
A lawsuit brought by one person or by a group on behalf of all persons similarly situated.
Courtesy and respect. In the legal sense, the respect federal courts give to the decisions of state courts.
Principles and rules of action, particularly from unwritten English law, whose authority stems from long-standing usage and custom or from judicial recognition and enforcement of those customs.
Powers that can be exercised by both the national government and state governments.
An opinion submitted by a member of a court who agrees with the result by the court in a case but either disagrees with the court's reasons for the decision or wishes to address matters not touched on in the opinion of the court.
Judicial pronouncement declaring the legal rights of the parties involved in an actual case of controversy but not ordering a specific action.
"In fact." The existence of something in fact or reality, as opposed to de jure (by right).
The person against whom a civil or criminal charge is brought.
"By right." Lawful, rightful, legitimate; as a result of official action, as opposed to de facto (in fact).
An opinion submitted by a member of a court who disagrees with the result reached by the court.
To point out why a previous opinion is not applicable.
The authority of federal courts to hear cases involving citizens of different states.
The view that national powers should be interpreted so as not to invade traditional spheres of state activity.
The administration of justice based upon principles of fairness rather than upon strictly applied rules found in the law.
Error, Writ of
A writ issued by a superior court directing a lower court to send to the superior court the record of a case in which the lower court has entered a final judgment, for the purpose of reviewing alleged errors made by the lower court.
The rule that evidence obtained by illegal means, such as unreasonable searches and seizures, cannot be introduced by the prosecution in a criminal trial.
"From (or on) one side." A hearing in the presence of only one of the parties to a case, such as a hearing to review a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
Ex Post Facto
"After the fact." A law that makes an action a crime after it has already been committed.
"By (or on) the information of." The designation of suit instituted by a state but at the instigation of a private individual interested in the matter.
A case that contains a major issue involving the U.S. Constitution, or U.S. laws or treaties. (The jurisdiction of the federal courts is limited to federal questions and diversity suits.)
"You have the body." A writ of inquiring of an official who has custody of a person whether that person is imprisoned or detained lawfully.
"In chambers." The hearing of a case or part of a case in private (without spectators).
The process by which provisions of the Bill og Rights were applied as limitations on state governments through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Forma Pauperis
"In the manner of a pauper." Permission for indigents to bring legal action without payment of the required fees.
A writ prohibiting the person to whom it is directed from performing some specified act.
"In the matter of; concerning." The designation of judicial proceedings in which there are no adversaries.
Judgment of the Court
The ruling og the court (independent of the reasons for the court's ruling).
The power of a court to review legislation or other governmental action in order to determine its validity with respect to the U.S. Constitution or state constitutions.
"Under the law of war." That part of the law of nations that defines the rights og belligerent and neutral nations during wartime.
The authority of a court to hear, determine, and render final judgment in an action, and to enforce its judgments by legal process.
The question of whether a matter is appropriate for judicial decision. A justiciable issue is one that appropriately can be decided by a court.
An active participant in a lawsuit.
Mandamus, Writ of
"We command." A court order directing an individual or organization to perform a particular act.
Unsettled, undecided. A moot question is one in which either the result sought by the lawsuit has occurred or the conditions have so changed as to render it impossible for the court to grant the relief sought.
(Also called dictum or dicta.) That part of the reasoning in a judicial opinion that is not necessary to resolve the case. Dicta are not necessarily binding in future cases.
Opinion of the Court
The opinion that announces the court's decision and is adhered to by a majority of the participating judges.
The authority of a court to hear, determine, and render judgment in an action as a trial court.
"By the court." An unsigned opinion by the court, or a collectively authored opinion.
The party who files a petition with a court seeking action.
The party who brings a civil action or sues to obtain a remedy for an injury to his or her rights.
Negotiations between the prosecution and defense aimed at exchanging a plea of guilty for concessions by the prosecution.
The power of the states to protect the health, safety, welfare, and morals of their citizens.
An issue that the court believes should be decided by a nonjudicial unit of government.
A prior case relied upon in deciding a present dispute.
The doctrine under which issues previously subject to state control are brought, through congressional action, within the primary or exclusive jurisdiction of the national government.
"At first sight." Evidence that, unless contradicted, is sufficient to establish a claim without investigation or evaluation.
"For the good." Legal services rendered without charge.
"Reason for the decision." The principle of the case.
To send back. In remanding a decision, a higher court sends it, for further action, back to the court from which it came.
The party against whom a legal action is taken.
A person designated by a court to hear evidence and submit findings and recommendations based on that evidence. The Supreme Court typically uses special masters in original jurisdiction cases.
The qualifications needed to bring or participate in a case. To have standing to sue, plaintiffs must demonstrate the existence of a controversy in which they personally have suffered or are about to suffer an injury or infringement of a legally protected right.
"Let the decision stand." The doctrine that a point settled in a previous case is a precedent that should be followed in subsequent cases with similar facts.
Action by the state or by a private entity closely associated with it ("under color of state law"). The basis for redress under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
To halt or suspend further judicial proceedings
An order to present oneself and to testify before a court, grand jury, or legislative hearing.
Subpoena Duces Tecum
An order by a court or other authorized body that specified documents or papers be produced.
Willful or negligent injury to the person, property, or reputation of another.
"Beyond power." An action beyond the legal authority of the person or body performing it.
To make void, annul, or rescind.
The jurisdiction in which a case is to be heard.
Long-established rights that government should recognize and protect and that a person cannot be deprived of without injustice.
A written court order commanding the recipient to perform or refrain from performing acts specified in the order.
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