New York Court Help

Click on a letter below to go to words or terms that start with that letter or scroll through the list using the scroll bar.

Glossary of Common Legal Terms

A  ACQUIT
A decision by the trial jury or judge that a person is not guilty of an offense.
ACTION
A legal demand for a right asserted by instituting a case in court.
ADJOURNMENT
To temporarily postpone or reschedule the proceedings of a case until a future time.
ADJUDICATION
A judgment or decree.
AFFIDAVIT
A sworn or affirmed statement made in writing and signed.
AFFIRM
(a) An appellate court’s act of upholding as correct a judgment or decision of a lower court; (b) An act of declaring something to be true under the penalty of perjury.
ALLEGATION
The act of a party to a legal action of stating what he/she intends to prove.
ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR)
Ways of helping people resolve legal problems out of court. Collaborative law and mediation are types of ADR.
ANSWER
A pleading submitted by a defendant or respondent in response to allegations asserted by the plaintiff or petitioner.
APPEAL
A proceeding to have a case examined by a higher court to see if a lower court’s proceedings and decisions were made correctly.
APPEARANCE
When a defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the court.
APPELLATE
The party appealing a judgment or decision to a higher court.
APPELLEE
The victorious party against whom an appeal is brought.
ARTICLE 78
A special proceeding brought to challenge the activities of an administrative agency.
ARTICLE 81
A special proceeding under the Mental Hygiene Law to name a person as the guardian of another. Once appointed, the guardian is invested with the power and charged with the duty of taking care of the person and managing the property and rights of that person, who is considered incapable of administering his or her own affairs.
ARRAIGNMENT
Formal proceeding where a defendant appears in court and is apprized of the allegations against him or her.
ARREST WARRANT
A court order directing a peace officer to arrest/seize a named person to bring her or him before the court for arraignment.
ASSIGNED COUNSEL
An attorney assigned by the court to represent a defendant without charge.
B  BAIL
Cash, bond or other security deposited with the court in order to obtain the release of a defendant. The Surety, who is the party posting bail, undertakes an obligation to produce the defendant as required before the court.
BENCH WARRANT
An order issued by the court for the arrest of a defendant who has failed to appear in court as directed.
BRIEF
A written document submitted by a party to an action setting forth relevant facts and law.

back to top

C  CAPTION
The heading of a pleading or case file, indicating the parties, the court, case number and other pertinent information.
CAUSE
An action.
CHAMBERS
A judge’s office.
CHANGE OF VENUE
The removal of an action to another jurisdiction for legal reasons.
CITATION OR CITE
A group of numbers and letters used to locate a previously decided case in a law casebook. Ex. 15 N.Y. 2d 500 - Look to Volume 15 of the New York Reports Second Series, page 500.
COLLABORATIVE LAW
A way to solve legal problems without going to court. Both sides have a lawyer but they agree not to go to court.
COMMIT
The power of a court to order a person to a correctional institution, mental hospital or juvenile reformatory.
COMPETENCY
A determination by the court that a person is legally fit and qualified to give evidence.
COMPLAINANT
A plaintiff.
COMPLAINT
The initial pleading in an action formally setting forth the allegations in issue.
CONCUR
Opinion of a judge or justice of an appellate court which is in agreement with the decision rendered by another judge for the same or different reasons.
CONCURRENT SENTENCE
When a court order permits two or more sentences to be served at the same time as opposed to consecutively.
CONTEMPT OF COURT
An act done with the intent to embarrass, hinder or obstruct a court from the administration of justice. Direct contempt is an act done in the presence of the court. Indirect contempt is the wilful disobedience of a court order.
CONVICTION
A finding of guilt by plea or trial.
COUNTERCLAIM
Claim presented by a defendant in opposition to those claims asserted by the plaintiff.
CRIME
An offense which is enumerated in any law governing conduct as a misdemeanor or a felony. (Note: infractions and violations are not crimes.)
CROSS-EXAMINATION
The questioning by a party or his/her attorney of another party or a witness called by another party.

back to top

D  DECEDENT
A deceased person.
DEFENDANT
1) Civil case - the party being sued; (2) Criminal case - the party accused of committing the offense charged.
DE NOVO
From the Latin for “anew”; usually used to mean a new trial.
DECREE
Decision or order of the court.
DEFAULT
When a party fails to answer or appear in the proscribed time period.
DEPOSITION
Written testimony of a witness who may not be present in court.
DISCOVERY
Where one party obtains information or facts about the action pursuant to statutory rules.
DISMISSAL
An order by the court ending an action for a specified reason. A dismissal permits a party to institute the same action again.
DUE PROCESS
Law in its regular course of administration through courts of justice. Due process means that no person may be deprived of life liberty or property or of any right granted by statute, unless the matter involved shall first be adjudicated upon a trial conducted according to established rules regulating judicial proceedings, and it forbids condemnation without a hearing.
E  ENJOIN
To require an individual to refrain or to perform an act.
ENTRAPMENT
The acts by agents of the government to induce a person to perform a criminal act for the purpose of prosecuting that individual.
ESCHEAT
The right of the state to property in the absence of anyone to inherit it.
ESCROW
A deed, writing or fund delivered to one person to be held until specified acts are performed or certain conditions are met.
ESTOP
To bar or impede
EX PARTE
By or for one party done outside the presence of the other party.
F  FALSE ARREST
An unlawful physical restraint of an individual.
FELONY
A serious crime, punishable by a term of incarceration greater then one year.
FIDUCIARY
One who is authorized to act for another concerning the subject matter of the trust.
FORECLOSURE
A proceeding whereby a mortgagee (usually a bank) seeks to take title to or forces the sale of the mortgagor’s (for example, a homeowner) property in satisfaction of a debt.
FRAUD
An intentional misrepresentation, deceit or perversion of the truth.

back to top

G  GARNISHMENT
A method of satisfying an outstanding debt or judgment by seizing property or credits of the debtor held by a third party.
GUARDIANSHIP
A legal arrangement by which one person (a guardian) has the legal right and duty to care for another and his or her property.
GRAND JURY
A group of sixteen to twenty-three individuals impaneled to hear evidence to decide if probable cause exists that a crime has been committed and an indictment should be returned.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM
A person appointed by the court to look after the interests of an infant or an incompetent.
H  HABEAS CORPUS
The name given to a variety of writs or court orders whose primary purpose is to bring a party before a court or judge to determine if that person is being unlawfully deprived of his or her liberty.
HEARSAY
An out of court statement being offered for the truth of its contents.

back to top

I  INCOME EXECUTION
A method to satisfy a judgment by levying a portion of the defendant's wages.
INDETERMINATE SENTENCE
A sentence without a definite term. For example a sentence of "x to y years” or a sentence of “not more then x but not less than y years.”
INDICTMENT
A written accusation voted by a grand jury.
INJUNCTION
A order issued by the court directing a person to do or refrain from certain action.
INSTRUCTION
Direction given by the judge to the jury.
INTERROGATORIES
Written questions proffered by one side which must be answered in writing by the other side as part of the discovery process in an action.
INTESTATE
When an individual dies without leaving a will.
J  JUDGMENT
Final decision of a court, resolving the matter in dispute.
JURISDICTION
The geographical and "type of actions" limitations of a court. For example Westchester County Family Court has jurisdiction over family matters within the limits of Westchester County.
JURY
A certain number of individuals determined by law who are sworn to inquire into certain matters of fact.
JUVENILE OFFENDER
A 13, 14 or 15 year old charged with acts constituting murder in the second degree or a 14 or 15 year old charged with acts constituting certain serious offenses enumerated in the criminal code.

back to top

K  
L  LIEN
A claim, encumbrance, or charge on property for payment of some debt obligation or duty.
LIS PENDENS
A pending suit. Jurisdiction, power or control which courts acquire over property in suit pending action and until final judgment. A notice of lis pendens is filed on public records for the purpose of warning all persons that title to certain property is in litigation, and that they may be bound by an adverse judgment.

back to top

M  MARSHAL
A law enforcement official who is authorized, pursuant to a warrant of eviction, to remove one party from a premises and to turn over possession to the other party.
MEDIATION
Where you and the other side meet with a neutral person called a mediator who is specially trained to help people resolve their disputes without having to go in front of a judge.
MISDEMEANOR
A lesser level of crime punishable by a term of incarceration of one year or less.
MISTRIAL
An invalid trial.
MOTION
An oral or written request made by a party to the court for specific relief.

back to top

N  NEGLIGENCE
The failure to do something that a reasonable person guided by ordinary considerations would do, or something a reasonably prudent person would not do.
NO TRUE BILL
A decision by a grand jury not to return an indictment.
NOLO CONTENDERE
From the Latin meaning “no contest.

back to top

O  OBJECTION
The act of taking exception to a statement or ruling in a trial.
OFFENSE
Conduct for which a sentence to a term of imprisonment or to a fine is provided by any law, statute, or rule governing conduct.
ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE
A court order to appear as directed and present to the court such reasons why a particular decree should not be made.
P  PAROLE
The conditional release of a prisoner under supervision before the termination of the sentence of imprisonment.
PEREMPTORY CHALLENGE
The right of a party to dismiss a prospective juror without citing a reason.
PETITIONER
The party initiating a proceeding or the party bringing an appeal to a higher court.
PLAINTIFF
An individual who brings a civil action.
PLEA
A criminal defendant's response to the charges, i.e. guilty, not guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity.
PLEADING
The process by which the parties in an action present their causes of action and arguments.
POLLING THE JURY
Asking individual jurors whether they assent to a reported verdict.
POOR PERSONS ORDER
An order of a court finding a person unable to pay the costs, fees and expenses necessary to prosecute or defend an action or appeal. Once the status is granted, the poor person is not liable for the costs or fees in the action.
POWER OF ATTORNEY
Authorization for one person to act as the agent of another.
PRELIMINARY HEARING
A pretrial hearing conducted by a judge to determine if an individual should be held to answer for criminal charges.
PROSECUTOR
A district attorney, attorney general, their assistants or any other public official who represents the people in a criminal action.
PRESENTENCE REPORT
A report filed with the court by the Department of Probation, which contains information about the defendants prior criminal history and background, as well as a summary of the instant case. The report may also contain a statement by the victim and prosecutor. This report is made to aid the judge in formulating a just sentence.
PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATIONS OR INFORMATION
Made between persons in a particular relationship which is not subject to disclosure without the permission of the individual benefitting from the privilege (i.e., attorney-client; husband-wife; doctor-patient.)
PRO SE
Appearing on one’s own behalf without an attorney.
PRO BONO
Legal services provided without cost.
PROBATE
The process of proving a will.
PROBATION
In criminal law a sentence served outside of prison under direct supervision according to a specified set of conditions.

back to top

Q  
R  REASONABLE DOUBT
A doubt as to the guilt of an individual that a reasonable person would have at the conclusion of a trial.
REPLY
A plaintiff’s response to a defendant’s answer containing a counterclaim.
RESPONDENT
(a) The defending party in a proceeding; (b) the party against whom an appeal is taken.
REST
A party rests when he or she has no other evidence to offer.

back to top

S  SEAL ORDER
A court order mandating that a record be closed from public view.
SEARCH WARRANT
An order issued by a court upon a finding of probable cause directing the search of a particular location for a particular item(s).
SELF-DEFENSE
The protection of one’s property or person against some injury attempted by another. The law of self-defense justifies an act done in reasonable belief of immediate danger.
STATUTE
A formal rule of law enacted by a governmental body.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The time period in which an action must be commenced. Failure to file the action within the statute of limitations bars the action
.
STAY
A court order that suspends a case or some designated proceedings within it. To "stay" an order or decree means to hold it in abeyance or refrain from enforcing it.
STIPULATION
An agreement by adversaries as to any matter pertaining to the proceedings or trial. Must be assented to by the parties and in writing.
SUBPOENA
A process by which a witness is compelled to appear and give testimony before a court.
SUBPOENA DUCES TECUM
Process by which a person is compelled to produce records or other documents.
SUMMONS
A process issued by a local court directing a person to appear before it at a designated future time in connection with a particular proceeding.
SUPPRESSION HEARING
A pretrial hearing in a criminal matter upon a motion to exclude evidence in which the judge must decide whether or not improper procedures were used to obtain evidence.
T  TESTATOR
The maker of a will.
TORT
An injury or wrong against a person.
TRANSCRIPT
The official record of a proceeding.

back to top

U  
V  VACATE
To set aside a previous action.
VENUE
The county or geographical area in which a case may be heard.
VOIR DIRE
The examination of jurors or a witness as to their qualifications.

back to top

W  WARRANT OF EVICTION
Issued when a judgment orders a transfer of possession of property from one party to another. Such a warrant authorizes and orders the sheriff or marshal to remove one party from the premises and to turn over possession to the other party
.
WITNESS
One who testifies as to what they have observed.
WRIT
Order from a court requiring a certain act to be done.
X  

back to top

Y  YOUTHFUL OFFENDER (Y.O.)
A person who is sentenced for an offense that occurred when the person was 14, 15, 16, 17 or 18 years old.
Z


 New York State Unified Court System