Definitions of Legal Terms 

* As defined in Black's Law Dictionary (We advise the purchase of a legal dictionary in order to obtain a better understanding of the terms used in the profession. Click here for an online source of legal terms).

Action -
A court proceeding (a civil lawsuit, or a criminal trial); an act that involves intervention by the judiciary.

Adjudicate* [uh JOO dih kayt] -
To settle in the exercise of judicial authority; to determine finally; to adjudge {adjudication: the formal giving or pronouncing of a judgment or decree in a cause; the judgment that is given in a case before the court}

Affiant [uh FIY unt] -
A a person who swears to the truth of something that is written in an affidavit, certification, jurat, or verification.

Affidavit* - 
A written or printed declaration or statement of facts, made voluntarily, and confirmed by the oath or affirmation of the party making it, taken before a person having authority to administer such oath or affirmation. State v. Knight, 219 Kan. 863, 549P 2d. 1398, 1401 [see also Certification, Jurat, Verification].(example)

Agent - a person authorized by another to act in the latter's behalf; one who is intrusted with another's business.

P.O. Box 8040
Fort Worth, TX 76124

Alternate service
- delivering a legal document to a person or business, by using a method that is an alternative to personal service, as authorized by the Court under Rule 106, TRCP. For instance, by certified mail, by delivering to someone else in lieu of the person named, by posting the document to a door of a residence, etc. [see also Substitute Service].

Amended petition-
 an Original Petition starts a lawsuit, and is prepared by the Plaintiff or his attorney. At any time after the case is filed, the petition may be changed to correct the facts being pled, or to refine the allegations. This becomes an amended petition. 

Aristocracy* [air iss TOCK ruh see] -

A government in which a class of men, believed to be superior or best qualified, rules supreme; a privileged class of people that might include nobles, dignitaries, or people of wealth (distinguished from a republic, monarchy, democracy, or oligarchy).

Arrest* -
To deprive a person of his liberty by legal authority.

Attorney* -
In the most general sense, this term denotes an agent or substitute, or one who is appointed and authorized to act in the place of another. An agent. In its most common sense, the term signifies an "attorney at law," a "lawyer," or "counselor at law," someone who has been licensed to represent another in a legal matter [see also "attorney in fact," and "power of attorney"]

Attorney in fact* -
Any person who is authorized by another to act in his place and stead, either for some particular purpose, as to do a particular act, or for the transaction of business in general, but not of a legal nature. This authority is conferred by an instrument in writing, called a "letter of attorney," or more commonly as a "power of attorney." Accountants, stock-brokers, and guardians can be considered "attorneys-in-fact." 

Certification* - 
The formal assertion in writing of some fact. The act of certifying or state of being certified. (example)

Citation* -
A writ issued out of a court of competent jurisdiction, commanding a person therein named to appear on a day named and do something therein mentioned, or show cause why he should not. [criminal: an order issued by the police to a person who is suspected of having committed a minor violation, requiring that person to appear before a magistrate or judge at a later date].

Cite* - 
To summon; to command the presence of a person; to notify a person of legal proceedings against him and require his appearance thereto. {in case law: the reading or production of, or reference to legal authorities and precedents (such as constitutions, statutes, case-law, treatises) in arguments to courts, in legal text-books, briefs or the like to establish or fortify the propositions being advanced}

Civil* -
Pertaining to the citizens of the country, and to the private rights and remedies sought by civil actions (see following definition). 

Civil Action* -
legal proceeding brought to enforce, redress or protect private rights. In general, all types of actions other than criminal proceedings. Gilliken v. Gilliken, 248 N.C. 710, 104 S.E.2d 861, 863.

Code / Codified law [KAW dih fyd] -
A systematic collection of laws, regulations or rules then in force about a specific subject. The process by which the legislature compiles these laws into a single organized set is "codification".

Common law* -
As distinguished from law that is created by the enactment of legislatures, the common law comprises the body of those principles and rules of action, relating to the government and security of persons and property, which derive their authority solely from usages and customs of immemorial antiquity, or from the judgments of and decrees of the courts recognizing, affirming and enforcing such usages and customs. It is the ancient unwritten law of England and the American colonies before this country's revolutionary war; customs that have become law by their historical acceptance as an existing norm.

Corporation* -
An artificial entity created by or under the authority of the laws of a state or nation, composed, in some rare instances, of a single person, but ordinarily consisting of an association of numerous individuals. Ownership is generally in the form of shares of stock that may be publicly traded, or privately owned (closely held).

Corpus Juris Civilis [kor pus jyoor iss sih vih liss] -
"A body of civil law" that was developed by the Roman Emperor Justinian I in about 529AD. 

County -
A agency or political subdivision of the state for governmental purposes in regions that may include, but are not otherwise specifically controlled by the boundaries of a municipality

county court / County Court at Law -
A court whose powers and jurisdictions are governed by state constitution or statute; depending on the county, may have only civil, only criminal, or both civil and criminal jurisdiction. A county court is a county court, and not a state court, per se. In civil matters, a county court at law has jurisdiction in cases involving claims of up to a certain maximum dollar amount. Is statutorily prohibited from hearing cases involving divorce or family law [see also District Court].

Court / Court - 
wherever the judge sits in hearing a legal proceeding; the judge. 

crime / criminal action* -
An act that violates a penal law; an offense against the state or United States. A crime may be defined to be any act done in violation of those duties which an individual owes to the community or society as a whole, and for the breach of which the law has provided that the offender shall make satisfaction to the public. Punishments may include the forfeiture of one's life (execution) or liberty (imprisonment, and removal from society).

Defendant* - the person defending or denying; the party against whom relief is sought; the person being accused of a wrongdoing.

Democracy* - a form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of free citizens directly or indirectly through a system of representation (distinguished from a republic, monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy).

deponent* [dee PO nuhnt] -
A witness who testifies (deposes) to the truth of certain facts; one who gives under oath testimony which is reduced to writing; one who makes oath to a written statement; one whose deposition is taken.

District / District Court - 
A territorial area into which an entire state is divided for judicial, political, electoral, or administrative purposes. A District Court is a state court within a circuit or territory designated by a pre-determined geographic area. Depending on the District Court, may have jurisdiction over only civil, or only criminal matters, or, in some rural areas, both civil and criminal matters. In civil matters, a District Court has jurisdiction in cases involving claims of any dollar amount, without upper limit, and is statutorily required to hear all cases involving divorce or family law [see also County Court].

Duces tecum [dyu sis tee kuhm] -
literally, "bring with you", a term given to certain writs, the most common of which is the subpoena duces tecum, requiring a witness who is summoned to appear to bring with him some document, piece of evidence, or other thing to be inspected.

Due process of law* -
Law in its regular course of administration through courts of justice; the exercise of powers of the government as the settled maxims of law permit and sanction; a course of legal proceedings...for the enforcement and protection of private rights [see also due process rights]. 

Due process rights* -
All rights which are of such fundamental importance as to require compliance with due process standards of fairness and justice. The United States Constitution contains two specific "due process" protections: one in the 5th Amendment pertaining to the federal government, and one in the 14th Amendment which protects persons from state actions. There are two aspects to due process: (a) procedural, in which a person is guaranteed fair procedures, and (b) substantive, which protects a person's property from unfair governmental interference or taking. Protecting a person's "due process rights" is to ensure they receive proper notice (in the form of a warrant, citation, subpoena, or writ) of an impending hearing (a proceeding before a court of law) [see also "due process of law"].

Ethics* -
Professionally right or befitting; conforming to professional standards of conduct; containing precepts of morality. 

Felony -

A crime of a grave or serious nature that is punishable by a term of longer than one year in a state or federal correctional facility (contrast with misdemeanor)

Forcible entry and detainer* -
A summary proceeding for restoring possession of land to one who is wrongfully kept out, or who has been wrongfully deprived of its possession. Generally, it refers to the forcible taking of property against the will of the tenant, usually in an eviction proceeding.

In personam* -
(against the person) action seeking judgment against a person involving his personal rights and based on jurisdiction of his person, as distinguished from a judgment against property [see in rem]. 

In rem* [in rehm] -
Technical term used to designate proceedings or actions instituted "against the thing", in contradistinction to personal actions, which are said to be in personam. An action in rem is a proceeding that takes no cognizance of owner but determines right in specific property against all of the world, equally binding on everyone. 

Interrogatories *- A set of written questions drawn up for the purpose of being propounded to a party, witness, or other person having information of interest to the case.

Intervene / intervenor*-
To interpose one's self; a person who voluntarily interposes himself in an ongoing legal proceeding.

Joint stock association* -
An unincorporated business enterprise with ownership interests represented by shares of stock. It was recognized at common law, and by statute is generally treated as an entity for certain purposes. 

Judicial law / judge made law -
Indicates judicial decisions which construe away the meaning of statutes, or find meanings in them that the legislature never intended; the law established by judicial precedent and decisions; laws having their source in judicial decisions, as opposed to having their source in statutes or administrative regulations. 

Jurat* [JOOH raht] - 
Certificate of an officer or authorized person before whom the writing was sworn to. In common use, the term is employed to designate certificate of competent administering officer that the writing was sworn to by the person who signed it. (example)

Jurisdiction* - a legal authority by which a court takes cognizance of, and decides cases. The legal right by which judges exercise their authority. The power and authority of a court to hear and determine a judicial proceeding.

Jurisprudence* -
The philosophy of law.

Magna carta -
"The great charter, enacted in often thought of as the corner-stone of liberty and the chief defence against arbitrary and unjust rule in England. In fact, it contains few sweeping statements of principle, but is a series of concessions wrung from the unwilling King John by his rebellious barons in 1215. However, Magna Carta established for the first time a very significant constitutional principle, namely that the power of the king could be limited by a written grant." [The British Library] (text of the Magna Carta).

Mala prohibita* [mahleh pro HIB ih tah] -
Acts which are made offenses by positive laws, and prohibited as such. Acts or omissions which are made criminal by statute but which, of themselves, are not criminal. Generally, no criminal intent is required, and the mere accomplishment of the act or omission is sufficient for criminal liability. 

Male in se* [mahleh in say] -
Wrongs in themselves; acts that are morally wrong; offenses against conscience.

Misdemeanor - 
An less serious criminal offense that is punishable by a monetary fine, only, and/or by imprisonment in a municipal or county jail for a period less than one year (contrast with felony).

Monarchy* [MAH nar kee] -
A government in which the supreme power is vested in one person, like a king. If that person also retain absolute authority, it is deemed a despotic monarchy; if that person has ultimate authority, but the supreme power is in the laws, it is deemed a constitutional monarchy (distinguished from republic, democracy, oligarchy, or aristocracy).

Moral turpitude* -
The act of baseness, vileness, or the depravity in private and social duties which man owes to his fellow man, or to society in general, contrary to accepted and customary rule of right and duty. An act or behavior that gravely violates moral sentiment or accepted moral standards of community, and is a morally culpable quality held to be present in some criminal offense (generally includes crimes of a sexual nature, heinous crimes against the person, and fraud, but does not include murder, assault, or theft (which are male in se), or acts that are criminalized by statute (mala prohibita).

Motion* - 
An application made to the court for purpose of obtaining a ruling (order) directing some act to be done in favor of the appellant. A person presenting the request is "making a motion"; what is being done is to "move" the court to engage in a particular course that favors the person presenting the motion.

Municipality* -
A legally incorporated or duly authorized association of inhabitants of a limited area, for local governmental or other public purposes. A city, town, township or village. (see also county).

Notary public* -
A public officer authorized to administer oaths; to attest and certify, by his hand and official seal, certain classes of documents, in order to give them credit and authenticity; to take acknowledgments of deeds and other conveyances, and to certify same; in Texas, may issue subpoenas and take depositions (Gov't Code, §406). Such an officer performs his duty as he "notarizes" a document or statement.

Oligarchy* -
A form of government wherein the administration of affairs is lodged in the hands of a few select persons (distinguished from republic, democracy, monarchy, or aristocracy).

Order* - 
A mandate; precept; command or direction given by an authority; a rule or regulation. Commonly used in a court proceeding to mean a direction by the court that is entered in writing, and not included in a judgment. An application for an order is a motion.

Party* -
In a lawsuit, a person whose name is designated on record as plaintiff or defendant. 

Peace officer* -
Generally, any person whose official duty it is to enforce and preserve the public peace; a person who has been given general authority to make an arrest. For the state, a peace officer is a constable, sheriff, or marshal; for a municipality it is a police officer; and for the federal government, it is an agent of the FBI, DEA, ATF, or other federal authority that is mandated to enforce federal penal law.

Penal* -
Punishable; containing a penalty. Not necessarily criminal, but generally accepted to refer to crimes.

Penal action* -
In its broadest context, a criminal prosecution. A legal proceeding based upon a transgression by an accused who violated, or failed to abide by a penal law. A penalty is provided by statute, and may include the monetary payment of a fine, the loss of liberty (imprisonment), or, in capital offenses, the loss of life (execution) of the accused. 

Personal service -
The delivery of a document that is accompanied by a citation or order of the court, to a named individual or business in a manner that ensures that the person who has been named is actually given personal custody of the document being delivered. The "delivery" of the document is the "service" of the document, and when it is accompanied by a citation from the court, it is a "service of citation". 

Plaintiff* - 
A person who brings an action; the party who complains or sues in a civil action and is so named on the record; a person who seeks remedial relief for an injury to rights; a complainant.

Pleadings* - 
Formal allegations by the parties of their respective claims and defenses. Under the federal rules of civil procedure (Fed.R.Civ.P. 7(a) ), pleadings consist of a complaint, an answer, a reply to a counterclaim, an answer to a cross-claim, a third party complaint, and a third party answer. 

Precept* [PRE sept] -
(from the Latin "praecipe" {PREH suh piy}) Process that is not a citation, specific writ, or subpoena; an order or writ drawn up to command someone to appear, to do the thing required, or to show the reason why not. An order in writing, sent out by a judge, justice of the peace, or clerk, that commands the bringing of a person or record before him. May be a "notice" of a legal procedure being pursued by a party to the case, or a "notice" that is attached to a document to which the witness' attention is drawn, in either which case the precept is not "process", per se, but constitutes formal notice from the court about the procedure or document.

Pro se [pro say] -
For himself; acting on one's own behalf; in person. Someone who appears in court for one's self, without an attorney representing his position.

Power of attorney* -
The written instrument by which the authority of one person to act in matters of business and daily life, is set forth to place such authority in another as the attorney in fact.

Process* - 
In civil and criminal proceedings, it is defined as any means used by a court to acquire or exercise its jurisdiction over a person or over specific property. When actions were commenced by original writ, instead of (as at present) by a summons (or citation), the method of compelling the defendant to appear was by what was termed "original process", and which distinguished it from "intermediate" process, which was some writ or process which issued during the progress of the suit. The word "process" now is commonly understood to refer to the summons, or summons and complaint, and any writ during the proceeding.

Process server - 
A person authorized by law to serve process papers on another.

Process agent (or agent for process) - 
A person or business authorized to accept process on behalf of another person or business.

Quash -
"[t]o overthrow; to abate; to vacate; to annul; to make void" (NOTE: the word is not "squash")

Republic / republican government* - 
A form of government that is composed of representatives who are chosen by the people to manage the affairs of state (distinguished from a democracy, monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy)

Rogatory letters / letters rogatory [RAH guh toohr ee] -
A commission from one judge to another requesting him to examine a witness. 

Service of process -
The delivery of a complaint, citation, writ, summons, or other precept from a court, to a person who has been named as the person to receive it. Once the paper has been given to the person to whom it ought to be delivered, or who has been legally allowed or authorized to accept the paper, the person named is then said to have been served. The service must furnish reasonable notice to defendant of the proceedings to afford him an opportunity to appear and be heard. 

Skip trace -
The act of locating someone who has gone missing, or who has moved from a known location to an unknown location; the act is "to skip" someone, or "skipping" someone.

Standing order -
In the context of process servers, a "standing order" is an authorization (order) signed by a judge that permits a private process server to serve legal documents (for cases commencing in that court) pursuant to the provisions of Rule 103 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. It alleviates the necessity of the process server having to submit a new motion and order for each new case before that court. The "standing order" is generally good for from one to three years, depending on the county. Obtaining a "standing order" may require the process server to meet certain qualifications, and to submit a formal application to the Court before the Order is granted.

Statute / statutory law -
That body of law that is created by an act of the legislature, in contrast to law generated by judicial opinions and administrative bodies. A law becomes a "statute". 

Statute of limitations* -
A statue of repose; a law that prescribes the periods within which a civil claim may, or must be initiated; a declaration that no suit shall be maintained on any civil claim, unless it is brought within a specified period of time. In criminal matters, it is an act of grace, a time at which the sovereign power surrenders its right to prosecute.

Subpoena* [suh PEE nuh] -
A command to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony upon a certain matter (in Texas, a subpoena may be issued by a clerk of the court, an attorney, a court reporter, or a notary public). A subpoena duces tecum requires the production of books, papers, and other tangible objects (in Texas, a subpoena duces tecum may be issued only by a clerk of the court, or an attorney). 

Substitute service -
Substituting a private process server for a peace officer (constable or sheriff's deputy), as authorized under Rule 103, TRCP; often confused with "alternate" service under Rule 106, TRCP

Summons* -
An written instrument to commence a civil action or special proceeding in federal court, and many state courts. The summons (in Texas, a citation) is attached to the "original petition" of the Plaintiff, and the two documents are served together on a defendant. 

Third-party* -
One who is not a party to an agreement or a transaction, but who may have rights therein.

Texas Rules of Civil Procedure; rules that govern proceedings in court (as a game of sports has rules the teams must follow as the game is played, so the court has rules that regulate the procedures that must be followed by the parties to the suit).

Verification* -
Confirmation of the correctness, truth or authenticity, by affidavit, oath or deposition. An affidavit of truth of matter stated and object of verification is to assure good faith in averments or statements of party. Sheeley v. City of Santa Clara, 215 Cal.App.2d 83, 30 Cal.Rptr.121, 123.(example)

Warrant* -
For this definition, an "arrest warrant": a written order which is made on behalf of the state and is based upon a complaint issued pursuant to statute and/or court rule, and which commands a (law enforcement) peace officer to arrest a person and to bring him before a magistrate. Pillsbury v. State, 31 Wis.2d 87, 142 N.W. 2d 187, 190 (see Fed.R.Crim.P.4)

Witness* -
In general, one who, being present, personally sees or perceives something; a beholder, spectator of some event; a person with knowledge of a something that occurred.

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