12 Important Law Terms You Should Know

Law involves a lot of terminology that you probably won’t see anywhere else. Many of the words are derived from Latin and are unlikely to be part of your vocabulary unless you’re involved in a court case. However, it’s still vital to understand many of these words, since they’re likely to be used by the lawyers and judge who are involved in your case.

Explore our helpful guide and discover some of the most common legal terms that you may need to know as your court date approaches.

1. Affidavit

Affidavit may appear to be an unusual term, but all it means is a written statement made under oath. It’s derived from a Latin phrase meaning “he has declared under oath.” In order to be valid in court, an affidavit must be signed in the presence of a notary public or another official taker of oaths. If anything in the affidavit is determined to not be true, the witness can be charged with perjury and serve up to five years in prison.

2. Counsel

Counsel is a common word that has a unique meaning in the context of law. Both your lawyer and any legal advice they give you fall under the definition of counsel. In the U.S., counselor is often used interchangeably with the word lawyer.

3. De facto

De facto is Latin for “in fact.” It’s used in court to describe practices that exist but aren’t officially recognized by laws. For example, English is the de facto language in the US but there’s no official national language according to the law. When a practice is directly backed by the law, it’s known as de jure, which is Latin for “by law.”

4. Grand jury

A grand jury is comprised of 16 to 23 citizens who listen to the arguments made by both the prosecution and defense, as well as observe any evidence, to determine if the individual on trial is guilty of the crime they’re being charged with. In the U.S., this jury is made up of average citizens who are randomly selected and questioned before being assigned to a given case.

According to the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, no citizen can be charged with a crime unless they’re indicted by a grand jury.

5. Habeas Corpus

Habeas corpus is yet another Latin term, meaning “you have the body.” A writ of habeas corpus is used to force law enforcement authorities to justify why they’re holding a certain prisoner. It demands that a prisoner be brought to court so a judge can determine if the prisoner is being detained unlawfully.  

6. Litigation

Litigation is a broad term that refers to the process of settling any dispute in court. It can involve lawsuits, criminal proceedings, or any other action that’s resolved in a court of law.

7. Standard of Proof

The standard of proof is the degree of evidence necessary to charge a defendant in a given court case. There are three levels, depending on the specific type of case — preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing, and beyond a reasonable doubt. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof and the one that must be met to obtain a criminal conviction.

8. Pro Se

Pro se is a Latin term that means “for oneself.” It refers to your right to defend yourself in court, which is always an option. However, it’s generally ill-advised to take this approach and we highly recommend that you enlist an experienced attorney like Phillip Linder to help you with your case.

9. Testimony

A testimony is similar to an affidavit in that it’s a statement presented in court under oath, but the difference is that testimony is delivered through speech, as opposed to in writing. Witnesses can be called to the stand to provide testimony by either the prosecution or the defense, and they may be cross-examined. The evidence presented by witnesses in testimony often proves crucial to the outcome of a case.

10. Verdict

A verdict is the final decision reached by the jury in a given case. The verdict of a case determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Once it’s accepted by the presiding judge, a verdict is final and cannot be overturned unless an appeal is granted by the court.

11. Warrant

A warrant is a document issued by the court that grants the police permission to arrest a person or search their property. It’s crucial to understand your rights and verify that any police officer attempting to search or arrest you has a warrant before you comply with them. If it’s determined in court that any evidence was obtained without a warrant, it will have to be dismissed.

12. Writ

A writ is an order issued by the court to do or not do a particular act. For example, a writ of habeas corpus requires law enforcement officials to bring a prisoner into court and prove that they have the legal right to detain them.

Have More Questions? Ask Phillip A. Linder Today!

If you’ve been arrested, it’s likely you have several questions. If you hear a word that isn’t on this list or have any other inquiry about your case, don’t hesitate to call our Dallas criminal defense attorney today and let his experience work for you. With over 25 years in the courts of Texas, Phillip A. Linder is your best bet for a favorable verdict. Contact us today.


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