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April 2019 - Understanding Common Legal Terms

Open Book Many professions have their own jargon and the legal field is no exception. Some legal terms are also used in everyday conversation, but they carry slightly different meanings in the courtroom. Here are some common legal terms and their definitions as used in court.

Adjournment – when a Court postpones a case to be resumed at another time and/or place.

Deposition – oral testimony given outside the courtroom – usually in a lawyer’s or judge’s office – and used later at trial as written evidence.

Exhibit – an object or document used as evidence in a trial.

Grounds – reasons a matter or issue is being brought before Court.

Hearing – a formal examination to allow a Court to decide a particular issue, such as whether a person should be charged and tried for a crime and if there’s enough evidence supporting the charges.

Objection – a protest by a lawyer to statements made in Court based on numerous factors: e.g., relevancy of material; whether the statement is hearsay; if the opposing attorney is leading the witness, if the questioning calls for a conclusion on the part of the witness; and if there’s a lack of foundation for the statement.

Overruled / Sustained – an objection is overruled when the judge disagrees with the lawyer and denies his objection; an objection is sustained when the judge agrees with the lawyer and instructs the other lawyer and jury accordingly.

Plea Bargain – an agreement where the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge and the more serious charge is dropped, reducing the penalty and avoiding a trial.

Pretrial – proceedings that take place prior to a trial for clarification of facts and legal points; pleas may be changed at this time.

Rebuttal – statements or evidence used to contradict evidence presented by the opposing side.

Subpoena – a request for someone other than the defendant to produce certain evidence or appear in court, usually as a witness. Refusing to honor a subpoena is a punishable offense.

Summons – a court order requesting someone, including the defendant, to appear in court.

Appearing in court can be unnerving; understanding what is being said can help reduce some stress.

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