Legal Terms and Definitions

Legal Terms and Definitions

  • Action, Case, Suit, Lawsuit

    A legal dispute brought into court for a hearing or trial.


  • Complaint

    The first pleading in a civil case stating facts and demanding relief.


  • Cause of Action

    The legal grounds on which a party to a lawsuit relies to get a verdict against an opponent.


  • Parties

    The plaintiff and defendant in the case - also called the "litigants."


  • Examination, Examination-in-Chief, Direct Examination

    Questions which a lawyer asks their own clients or witnesses called.


  • Indictment

    The document informing the defendant of the crime charged.


  • "Objection Sustained" or "Sustained"

    The judge's ruling that a lawyer's objection is well taken under the rules for conducting the trial. The judge's ruling, so far as you are concerned, is final and may not be questioned.


  • Deposition

    If a party to a lawsuit or a witness cannot be in court because of illness or other inability, that person's testimony may be written using a question-and-answer form. This testimony is then read at the trial. Attorneys for both sides are present when a deposition is taken. It may also be used to deny or contradict a witness' testimony or for the purpose of refreshing a witness' recollection.


  • Opening Statement

    Before introducing any evidence in the case, a lawyer tells the jury what the case is about and what evidence is expected to be brought in to prove that side of the case. It is not evidence.


  • Counterclaim

    An answer to the complaint, in which the defendant claims to be entitled to damages or other relief from the plaintiff.


  • Pleadings

    All the documents filed by the parties before the trial to establish what issues must be decided by the jury.


  • Rest

    The lawyer concludes the evidence to be introduced at that stage of the trial.


  • Cross-Examination

    Questions which a lawyer asks the opposing party or witness to test whether the person is telling the truth.


  • Answer

    A pleading filed with the court before the trial by the defendant in a civil case to answer or deny the plaintiff's claims.


  • Issue

    A disputed question of fact which you must decide.


  • Deliberations

    The discussions of the jury which occur after the judge has instructed you to retire to the jury room and consider your verdict.


  • Exhibits

    Articles such as objects, pictures, books, letters and documents which are given to the jury to take to the jury room while deliberating.


  • Argument

    After all the evidence of a lawsuit is heard on both sides, the lawyers tell the jury what they think the evidence proves and why they think their side should win. This is an "argument" or "summing up." It is not evidence.


  • Record

    The official word-for-word copy of the proceedings, taken in shorthand, stenotype, or audio-transcription by an official court reporter. Often the judge or the lawyers state that something is - or is not - "for the record" or "in the record."


  • Jury Panel

    All prospective jurors from which the trial jury is chosen.


  • Instructions

    After all the evidence is in, and the lawyers have made their arguments, the judge outlines the question to be decided and states the issues you must decide. The judge outlines the rules of law which must guide your deliberations and control your verdict. These are the judge's "charge" or "instructions" to the jury. A judge may, and sometimes must, instruct the jury on some point of law while the trial is in process.


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