The ABC’s of Attorney Talk: A Basic Glossary of Legal Terms

I thought it would be helpful to provide a short basic glossary of legal terms A-Z.  Attorneys like to talk a lot and often times their talk is filled with legal terms that can sound like another language.  Hopefully after reading through this basic glossary of legal terms you will have a better grasp of attorney talk!

The ABC’s of Attorney Talk: A Basic Glossary of Legal Terms

A – Arraignment: The first court hearing in which a criminal defendant is told of the crimes they are being charged with.  The defendant will plead guilty or not guilty at this hearing.

B – Bail: The release of an individual accused of a crime, under specified conditions, designed to assure that individual will appear in court when ordered. Also can refer to the money posted for the release of an accused individual.

C – Conviction: A judgement of guilt against a criminal defendant.

D – Defendant: The person that is accused of a crime.

E – Evidence: Information presented in the form of document, objects, and/or testimony.  This information is used to verify or discredit the circumstances of the case. Often used to persuade the judge or jury to rule in favor of one side or the other.

F – Felony: A serious crime, usually punishable by at least one year in prison.

G – Grand Jury: A group of 16-23 U.S. citizens who attend a trial to listen to case evidence presented by the prosecutor and defense attorney, to decide if there is probable cause to believe the defendant on trial committed a crime or not. The grand jury will make a ruling of guilty or not guilty.

H – Hearsay: Evidence presented by a witness who did not hear or see the incident in question, but learned of it from somewhere or someone else. Hearsay is generally not allowed as evidence in a trial.

I – Indictment: A formal charge stating there is enough evidence demonstrating the defendant committed the crime and justifies going to trial.

J – Jury: A sworn body of people selected by the prosecuting attorney and defense attorney.  These selected citizens will hear the evidence of a trial and then render a verdict of guilty or not guilty.

L – Litigation: A case or lawsuit. Criminal cases may also be referred to as litigation.

M – Motion: A request presented to a judge for a decision on a legal issue relating to the case.

N – No Contest: A criminal sentencing plea that has the same effect as a plea of guilty.

O – Oral Argument: The individual opportunity for the prosecutor and defense attorney to summarize their position before the court.

P – Plea: A defendant’s formal statement of “guilty” or “not guilty” to the criminal charge.

Q –Quorum:the minimum number of members of an assembly or society that must be present at any of its meetings to make the proceedings of that meeting valid.

R – Record: A written account of all case happenings while in a court of law; including pleadings, evidence, and exhibits.

S – Sentence: The punishment assigned by a Judge to a defendant found guilty of a crime.

T – Testimony: Oral evidence presented by witnesses, plaintiffs, and/or defendants during trials.

U – U.S. Attorney: A lawyer appointed by the President in each judicial district to prosecute and defend federal cases.

V – Verdict: The decision of a judge or jury that determines the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant. The verdict is presented in the form of “guilty” or “not guilty”.

W – Warrant: Court authorization for law enforcement officers to make an arrest or conduct a search.



For a more extensive glossary of legal terms click here!