Glossary of Legal Terms

A picture of Black's Law Dictionary

The following list contains commonly used legal words and terms followed by a brief definition. Information on laws of the state of Florida is contained in the Florida Statutes.

[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K]
[L] [M] [N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]

Absentia
Absent; proceeding without defendant being present.

Acquittal
A finding of not guilty by judge or jury.

Adjudication
A judgment rendered by the court after a finding of guilt.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
A mediation program for certain misdemeanor offenders.

Affidavit of Insolvency
A form signed by the defendant under oath attesting to inability to pay.

Answer to Demand
A document filed by the State Attorney’s Office responding to a demand for discovery by a defense attorney, setting forth witnesses in the case, information about the case, and allowing duplication of case information/reports.

Appeal
An application, lodged by the defendant or the State Attorney’s Office, requesting a review of the case by the court of appeal.

Arraignment
Appearance of the defendant in court to enter his/her plea to charges.

Assistant State Attorney
State employee designated by the State Attorney to prosecute defendants.

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Asylum State
The state holding the fugitive.

Attorney of Record
The attorney retained/assigned to represent a client.

Bail
Cash or surety posted to procure the release of a defendant and to ensure his or her future appearance in court, compelling him/her to remain in the jurisdiction of the court.

Bench Warrant
Warrant issued by the judge when a defendant fails to appear for a scheduled court appearance.

Bond Amounts
Cash or surety to be posted for release on bail.

Bond - Surety
A certificate posted by a bonding company to the sheriff releasing defendant.

Bond - Supersedeas
The bond set by court during the appeal procedure posted with the Clerk of Court.

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Capias
A writ to the Sheriff to arrest an accused person.

Capias - Instanter
Issuance of the arrest order with court direction to bring the accused before court immediately with no bond.

Certified Copy
A document that is authenticated, signed, and sealed by the Clerk of Court.

Challenge
Term used in a jury trial when attempting to excuse a juror.

Charges - Multiple
A case with more than one count of offense listed in the Information or charging document.

Charging Document
A Citation, Information, Indictment, Petition, 923.01, or Notice to Appear indicating that the named person is accused of committing a specific criminal offense or civil infraction.

Circuit Court
Court that hears felony cases.

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Citation
The summons handed to defendant indicating the offense committed.

Civil
This type of case involves private rights and remedies of citizens.

Clerk of Court
County office that receives all original paperwork on each criminal case.

Codefendant
Person accused of committing the same criminal incident with other defendant(s).

Community Control
Form of probation restricting defendant’s movements.

Companion Cases
Cases involving more than one defendant arrested on the same criminal incident. (Codefendant cases.)

Conflict Attorney
One of a pool of attorneys who is appointed on a rotation basis when the public defender has a conflict of interest such as representing a codefendant.

Contempt of Court
Act of disrespect to the court; willful disregard of court’s authority.

Continuance
Postponing a trial or hearing to a later date.

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Court Date Notice
A written form used to bring the accused to court.

County Court
Court that hears misdemeanor, traffic cases, municipal ordinance violations, etc.

Court Reporter
Maintains a verbatim record of court events.

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Defendant
Person accused of a crime.

Deferred Payment
Court grants additional time to pay a fine.

Demand for Discovery
Demand by the defense attorney to the State Attorney to furnish material information on a case.

Demanding State
The state seeking return of a fugitive.

Deposition
Questioning of a witness before a court reporter by an opposing counsel as part of pretrial discovery process.

Demurrer
A legal attack on a document as to sufficiency.

Directed Verdict
Dismissed by a judge.

Dismissed
Dismissed by a judge.

Dispositions
The final action of a case.

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Discharge of Bond
A court order to release bond, usually once the case is disposed.

Docket
A list of cases pending before the court.

D. O. C.
Department of Corrections/State Prison facility.

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Estreature of Bond
A court order to forfeit bond to the county.

Evidence Log
A list of all items entered as evidence in trial (exhibits).

Exhibits
Any paper or object offered in court that is marked for identification or evidence.

Expert Witness
Experts in medicine, forensics, etc., who testify at trial.

Expungement
Destroy, obliterate and wholly strike out the criminal history record of a person's case.

Extradition
Surrender by one state to another of a person accused or convicted of an offense outside its own territory and within territorial jurisdiction of the other, with the other state which is competent to try him/her demanding his/her surrender.

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Felony
Crime carrying a penalty of possible incarceration in state prison.

File/Record
The Clerk’s office’s official recording of minutes and all documents signed by the judge.

First Appearance
Accused’s right to see a judge within 24 hours of arrest.

Florida Statutes
A listing or book of the laws of the state of Florida.

Fugitive
A person who flees from one state to another to avoid prosecution.

Grand Jury
A group of people drawn/selected to serve as a constituent part of the court of criminal jurisdiction. Purpose of the Grand Jury is to investigate and be informed on crimes committed. The Grand Jury has 18 members, with not less than 15 for a quorum, and at least 12 concurring before an indictment may be found.

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Habeas Corpus
A means to bring the defendant before the court to determine whether he/she is being detained unlawfully.

Hearing Proceedings
Record of testimony/evidence entered.

Implied Consent
Requirement to take a chemical test when arrested for driving under the influence.

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Incarceration
Confinement in prison/jail.

Indictment
A formal charging document issued by a Grand Jury to the Court wherein the named person(s) is accused of committing a specific crime.

Indigent
A defendant unable to afford a private defense attorney. These clients are represented by the public defender or a conflict attorney.

Information
A formal charging document issued by the State Attorney wherein the named person is accused of committing a specific offense.

Infraction
A non-criminal traffic/marine offense.

Initial Proceedings
The first court appearance of a defendant on a charge.

Intake
Process by which the State Attorney makes up a criminal file, files upon the case, etc.

Invoke the Rule (of sequestration)
Separation and exclusion of witnesses from the courtroom while testimony is being offered from other witnesses.

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Judgment/Sentence
The official document of a judge’s disposition (decision) of a case and sentence of a defendant.

Jurisdiction
The authority/power to hear a case.

Jury Trial
A trial in which a jury decides the facts at issue.

Juvenile
A child under the age of 18 years.

Lesser Included
Any less serious offense whose definition is included within the definition of the original charge.

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Mandate
The official decree by a court of appeal.

Minutes
A written accounting of what took place in court.

Misdemeanor
An offense punishable by not more than one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Motion
A document filed with the court requesting an order or ruling in favor of the applicant.

Motion in Limine
Motion for order against admission of prejudicial statements or questions.

Motion to Mitigate Sentence
A motion to reduce sentence.

Motion to Seal
A motion to close a record to public inspection.

Motion to Suppress
A motion to prevent admission of evidence in a case.

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No Contest/Nolo Contendere
A defendant neither admits nor denies the charges, letting them stand as is.

No File/Unfiled Disposed
State Attorney's Office does not file on a case.

No Information
Document indicating formal charges will not be filed by the State Attorney’s Office.

No Probable Cause
Insufficient grounds to hold the person who was arrested.

No True Bill
A finding by a Grand Jury that there is no probable cause to decide that a crime has been committed.

Nol-Pros
To drop prosecution of by entering a nolle prosequi on the courts records.

Nolle Prosequi (Nol-Pros)
A declaration that the plaintiff in a civil case or the prosecutor in a criminal case will drop prosecution of all or part of a suit or indictment.

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Nolo Contendere/No Contest
A defendant neither admits nor denies the charges, letting them stand as is.

Non-Jury Trial
A case tried by a judge.

Nunc Pro Tunc
An entry made now for an act done previously and to have the effect as if it were done on a prior date.

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Oaths
Sworn attestations required in court.

Oath of Indigency and Order Appointing Counsel
A document signed by the defendant under oath before the judge stating he/she is without funds to retain an attorney. The judge may then declare the defendant indigent and sign an order appointing counsel.

Order
A document signed by the judge making an award or ruling.

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PAD
Prosecutor’s Alternative Division (not in Brevard Co.); settlement of a case without prosecution.

PDP
Pretrial Diversion Program for certain misdemeanor offenders.

Parole
A conditional release from a correctional facility of a prisoner who has served part of the term/sentence to which he/she was sentenced.

Petition
A formal charging document issued by the State Attorney wherein the named juvenile is accused of committing a specific offense.

Plaintiff
The one bringing the charges against the accused.

Plea
Defendant’s answer to the charge.

Plea Negotiations
Negotiations between the State and the defense for a fair disposition of the case, and requiring approval of the court.

Praecipe
A writ commanding the Clerk of Court to issue a subpoena or summons.

Pre-Sentence Investigation
A background investigation of the defendant by Probation and Parole Services which is provided to the sentencing judge, State Attorney, and defense attorney.

Pre-Trial Intervention
A county program to aid certain qualified defendants by diverting them from court proceedings upon successful completion of the program.

Probable Cause
Reasonable belief that a crime was committed and that the named person committed the crime.

Pre-Trial Release
Release of a defendant after arrest and before any court appearance date.

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Prima Facie
On the face of it; factually.

Probation
Suspension of a sentence, with or without adjudication of guilt, and placing the defendant under supervision of the Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Services for a specified period of time, and with conditions of behavior.

Public Defender
A court appointed attorney for those defendants who are declared indigent.

Public Defender Lien
Upon order of the Judge, a fee paid to the county by the defendant for legal services rendered by the Public Defender.

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Quickie Order (Short form order)
A form used by a judge directing that some action be taken.

Release on Own Recognizance (ROR)
Release of a prisoner with no bond by a judge.

Recusal
A judge excuses himself from hearing/considering a case due to some conflict.

Rendition
The transfer of a fugitive from the asylum state to the demanding state.

Recall Order
Order recalling a Warrant/Capias.

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Record/File
The Clerk’s office’s official recording of minutes and all documents signed by the judge.

Scoresheet
A form used for sentencing utilizing the points system mandated by the legislature.

Seal
Clerk of the Court symbol of authenticity.

Sealing a criminal record
To close a criminal record, make unavailable, confidential, or exempt from public record.

Second Appearance
Court appearance after initial proceedings in which the state may file an Information, the defendant is discharged, or continuance for another appearance.

Sentence/Judgment
The official document of a judge’s disposition (decision) of a case and sentence of a defendant.

Show Cause Order
An order issued by the court requiring a person to appear and show why some action should not be taken.

Signature Bond
A signature bond sometimes secured by a mortgage or real property but usually unsecured.

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Speedy Trial
A rule of law wherein the defendant must be brought to trial within 90 days for misdemeanor and 175 days for felony.

Statement of Particulars
A detailed statement of the offense charged, sufficient to enable the defendant to properly prepare his/her defense.

Subpoena Duces Tecum
Court process requiring a witness to produce requested documents or other materials, at a specific time/date.

Summons
A document signed by a deputy clerk ordering a person to appear before the court.

Sworn Complaint Affidavit
A sworn, witnessed complaint filed with the Clerk of Court initiating a criminal case.

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Time Served
Actual number of days served in jail.

Traverse
A formal denial of allegations.

True Copy
An exact copy of a written document.

Unfiled Disposed/No File
State Attorney's Office does not file on a case.

Vacate Estreature
A court order that cancels the bond forfeiture.

Verdict
The findings of a judge or jury at the end of a trial.

Voir Dire
Examination of a jury panel by the judge, defense counsel, and the State Attorney for selection to serve on a case.

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Waiver of Extradition
A form signed before a judge in which the defendant voluntarily submits to be picked up by a foreign jurisdiction waiving his rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

Warrant
A writ issued by a judge authorizing an officer to make an arrest, a seizure, or a search, or to do other acts incident to the administration of justice.

Withhold of Adjudication
The judge withholds the judgment of guilt/conviction on an offense.

Writ
A written document/order requiring the performance of a specified act, or giving authority and commission to have it done.

Writ of Certiorari
An order by the appellate court used when the court has the discretion on whether or not to hear an appeal.

Writ of Habeas Corpus Ad Prosequendum
A writ of the court ordering that a prisoner be brought before the court to be prosecuted.

Writ of Habeas Corpus Ad Testificandum
A writ of the court ordering that a prisoner be brought before the court to testify.

Written Plea of Not Guilty
A defendant’s plea in writing to the court. In the felony court, this plea may only be filed by counsel.

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