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Capital crime

A crime punishable by death.

Canons of ethics

Standards of ethical conduct for attorneys.

Capacity

Having legal authority or mental ability. Being of sound mind.

Caption

Heading or introductory party of a pleading.

Case law

Law established by previous decisions of appellate courts, particularly the United States Supreme Court. (See stare decisis in Foreign Words Glossary.)

Cases

General term for an action, cause, suit, or controversy, at law or in equity; questions contested before a court of justice.

Cause

A lawsuit, litigation, or action. Any question, civil or criminal, litigated or contested before a court of justice.

Cause of action

The fact or facts which give a person a right to relief in court.

Caveat

A warning; a note of caution.

Censure

An official reprimand or condemnation of an attorney. (See disbarment or suspension.)

Certificate of Title Document

issued by Registrar of Titles for real estate registered under the Torrens System, which is considered conclusive evidence of the present ownership and state of the title to the property described therein.

Certification

  1. Written attestation.
  2. Authorized declaration verifying that an instrument is a true and correct copy of the original.

Certiorari

A writ of review issued by a higher court to a lower court. A means of getting an appellate court to review a lower court’s decision. If an appellate court grants a writ of certiorari, it agrees to take the appeal. (Sometimes referred to as “granting cert.”)

Challenge

An objection, such as when an attorney objects at a hearing to the seating of a particular person on a civil or criminal jury.

Challenge for cause

A request from a party to a judge that a certain prospective juror not be allowed to be a member of a jury because of specified causes or reasons. (Also, see peremptory challenge.)

Chambers

A judge’s private office. A hearing in chambers takes place in the judge’s office outside of the presence of the jury and the public.

Change of venue

Moving a lawsuit or criminal trial to another place for trial. (See venue.)

Charge to the jury

The judge’s instructions to the jury concerning the law that applies to the facts of the case on trial.

Chief judge

Presiding or administrative judge in a court.

Chronological

Arranged in the order in which events happened; according to date.

Circumstantial evidence

All evidence except eyewitness testimony. One example is physical evidence, such as fingerprints, from which an inference can be drawn.

Citation

A writ or order issued by a court commanding the person named therein to appear at the time and place named; also the written reference to legal authorities, precedents, reported cases, etc., in briefs or other legal documents.

Civil

Relating to private rights and remedies sought by civil actions as contrasted with criminal proceedings.

Civil action

An action brought to enforce or protect private rights.

Civil law

Law based on a series of written codes or laws.

Civil procedure

The rules and process by which a civil case is tried and appealed, including the preparations for trial, the rules of evidence and trial conduct, and the procedure for pursuing appeals.

Claim

A debt owing by a debtor to another person or business. In probate parlance, the term used for debts of the decedent and a procedure that must be followed by a creditor to obtain payment from his estate.

Class action

A lawsuit brought by one or more persons on behalf of a larger group.

Clear and convincing evidence

Standard of proof commonly used in civil lawsuits and in regulatory agency cases. It governs the amount of proof that must be offered in order for the plaintiff to win the case.

Clemency or executive clemency

Act of grace or mercy by the president or governor to ease the consequences of a criminal act, accusation, or conviction. (Sometimes known as commutation or pardon.)

Clerk of Court

Administrator or chief clerical officer of the court.

Closing argument

The closing statement, by counsel, to the trier of facts after all parties have concluded their presentation of evidence.

Codicil

An amendment to a will.

Commit

To send a person to prison, asylum, or reformatory by a court order.

Common law

Also case law. Law established by subject matter heard in earlier cases.

Commutation

The reduction of a sentence, as from death to life imprisonment.

Comparative negligence

The rule under which negligence is measured by percentage, and damages are diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person seeking recovery.

Complainant

The party who complains or sues; one who applies to the court for legal redress. (See also plaintiff.)

Complaint

  1. The legal document that usually begins a civil lawsuit. It states the facts and identifies the action the court is asked to take.
  2. Formal written charge that a person has committed a criminal offense.

Conciliation

A form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party, who helps lower tensions, improve communications, and explore possible solutions. Conciliation is similar to mediation, but is may be less formal.

Concurrent sentences

Sentences for more than one crime that are to be served at the same time, rather than one after the other. (See also cumulative or consecutive sentences.)

Condemnation

The legal process by which the government takes private land for public use, paying the owners a fair price. (See eminent domain.)

Conformed copy

An exact copy of a document on which has been written things that could not or were not copied, i.e., a written signature is replaced on the conformed copy with a notation that it was signed by the parties.

Consecutive sentences

Successive sentences, one beginning at the expiration of another, imposed against a person convicted of two or more violations. (See also cumulative or concurrent sentences.)

Consent

Agreement; voluntary acceptance of the wish of another.

Conservatorship

Legal right given to a person to manage the property and financial affairs of a person deemed incapable of doing that for himself or herself. (See also guardianship.)

Consideration

The price bargained for and paid for a promise, goods, or real estate.

Constitution

The fundamental law of a nation or state which establishes the character and basic principles of the government.

Constitutional law

Law set forth in the Constitution of the United States and the state constitutions.

Consumer bankruptcy

A proceeding under the Bankruptcy Code filed by an individual (or husband and wife) who is not in business.

Contempt of court

Willful disobedience of a judge’s command or of an official court order.

Continuance

Postponement of a legal proceeding to a later date.

Contract

An agreement between two or more persons which creates an obligation to do or not to do a particular thing. A legally enforceable agreement between two or more competent parties made either orally or in writing.

Contributory negligence

The rule of law under which an act or omission of plaintiff is a contributing cause of injury and a bar to recovery.

Conveyance

Instrument transferring title of land for one person or group of persons to another.

Conviction

A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.

Corroborating evidence

Supplementary evidence that tends to strengthen or confirm the initial evidence.

Counsel

A legal adviser; a term used to refer to lawyers in a case.

Counterclaim

A claim made by the defendant in a civil lawsuit against the plaintiff. In essence, a counter lawsuit within a lawsuit.

Court

A body in government to which the administration of justice is delegated.

Court appointed attorney

Attorney appointed by the court to represent a defendant, usually with respect to criminal charges and without the defendant having to pay for the representation.

Court costs

The expenses of prosecuting or defending a lawsuit, other than the attorney fees. An amount of money may be awarded to the successful party (and may be recoverable from the losing party) as reimbursement for court costs.

Court of original jurisdiction

A court where a matter is initiated and heard in the first instance; a trial court.

Court reporter

A person who transcribes by shorthand or stenographically takes down testimony during court proceedings, a deposition, or other trial-related proceeding.

Court rules

Regulations governing practice and procedure in the various courts.

Creditor

A person to whom a debt is owed by another.

Crime

An act in violation of the penal laws of a state or the United States. A positive or negative act in violation of penal law.

Criminal justice system

The network of courts and tribunals which deal with criminal law and its enforcement.

Cross-claim

A pleading which asserts a claim arising out of the same subject action as the original complaint against a co-party, i.e., one co-defendant cross claims against another co-defendant for contribution for any damages assessed against him.

Cross-examination

The questioning of a witness produced by the other side.

Cumulative sentences

Sentences for two or more crimes to run consecutively, rather than concurrently.

Custody

Detaining of a person by lawful process or authority to assure his or her appearance to any hearing; the jailing or imprisonment of a person convicted of a crime.