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Glossary of Legal Terms

This glossary is provided to help citizens, teachers, and students gain a working knowledge of some of the terms used on this website; it is not intended to be a comprehensive legal dictionary. Online Legal Dictionaries may provide a more comprehensive listing of legal terms. Findlaw Legal Dictionary

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Adversary: The opponent in a case or the other party to a case.

Affirm: To support the decision or actions of a lower court.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Ways to settle a case without going to court; sometimes ADR is court ordered. Mediation and arbitration are examples of alternative dispute resolution.

Appeal: A review, initiated by one of the parties to a case, by an appellate court of what happened in a trial court or administrative agency to determine if errors occurred and if the errors are significant enough to require some form of relief to the party that raised the error or errors.

Appellate Court: A court that hears appeals from a lower court (trial court) of record.

Appellant: The party appealing a decision. This is the party who lost in the trial court and wants the appellate court to reverse or modify the judgment of the trial court.

Appellant's Brief: A written document explaining the legal errors the appellant believes were made during the trial that justify overturning the decision of the trial court.

Appellate Rules: Rules, or official instructions, developed by the Indiana Supreme Court that tell how the appellate process must work. These include timelines for filing appeals.

Appellee: The party who won in the trial court. This party generally wants the Court of Appeals to agree with the decision of the trial court.

Appellee's Brief: A written document responding to the appeal of an appellant, seeking affirmance or confirmation of the lower court's decision.

Arbitration: A way to settle a dispute, instead of going to trial, in which an impartial party called an "arbitrator" hears the arguments and makes a sometimes binding decision for the parties.

Arrest: The restraint and seizure of a person by a police officer in connection with a crime, in which the person is not free to leave.

Attorney/Lawyer: A person who has been trained and licensed to represent others in legal matters.


Bail: A sum of money deposited with the court by a defendant who is awaiting trial to guarantee his or her appearance in court after being released from jail.

Bailiff: A court official who keeps order in the courtroom and assist the jury.

Bench Trial: A trial without a jury in which the judge makes the final decision about the case.

Binding: To be required legally. Court decisions are binding or require submission to a higher authority.

Brief: A written presentation of arguments. The Appellant argues why the decision by the trial court was made in error; the Appellee argues why the trial court's decision was correct.


Certificate of Service: A statement saying how and when you served a party a document. The rules require that you send a copy of any document or brief that you file with the court to each opposing party. This is sometimes called a Proof of Service. Both terms mean the same thing.

Certified Question: A request from a federal court to the Indiana Supreme Court asking for the Court's opinion on a specific matter of the Indiana law that the federal court is considering in a pending matter.

Circuits: Designated regions within Indiana where the Indiana Constitution says certain courts are to be established.

Citation: A reference to legal authority such as cases that have already been decided by a Court, statutes, or the state or federal constitution. This can also be a reference to the appendix or the transcript in the case.

Civil Case/Civil Suit: A lawsuit to enforce a right or to gain repayment for a wrong (other than a criminal offense) done to a person or party by another person or party. These cases usually involve money damages or equitable relief (e.g., injunction or specific performance).

Clerk: Court official who keeps court records, official files, and administers the oath to jurors and witnesses.  Each county has a clerk and the appellate courts have a clerk.

Clerk's Record: The record maintained by the clerk of the trial court or the Administrative Agency and shall consist of the Chronological Case Summary (CCS) and all papers, pleadings, documents, orders, judgments, and other materials filed in the trial court or Administrative Agency or listed in the CCS.

Complaint: A document filed to begin a civil case.

Compensatory Damages: Damages awarded to compensate an injured person for the actual (proven) injury or loss. Punitive damages are awarded in addition to actual damages when the intent is to punish the guilty or liable party for an action.

Concurrent Jurisdiction: When two or more courts share the authority to hear a certain kind of case. Example: Circuit and Superior courts have concurrent jurisdiction to hear small claims cases.

Concurring Opinion: A written opinion of an appellate court in which the writing judge agrees with the decision reached by the majority of the judges, but uses different legal reasoning to reach that decision, and writes a separate opinion describing that reasoning.

Contract: A legally enforceable agreement between two parties.

Court of Appeals: The intermediate-level appellate court in Indiana. The Court of Appeals hears appeals of cases that have taken place in the trial court or administrative agencies.

Criminal Case: A case brought by the government against a person accused of violating Indiana's criminal laws.


Damages: Money that must be paid by the loser in a civil case to the winner to compensate him or her for the harm the loser caused.

Defendant: In a criminal case, the person who is charged with a crime; in a civil case, the person against whom damages are sought.

Defense Attorney: The lawyer who defends the defendant or the accused person.

Deliberation: The process where the jury determines in private whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty, or liable or not liable after the evidence has been given and the witnesses have been questioned.

Denial of Transfer: The Supreme Court's refusal to grant a request for a Motion or Petition to Transfer or take a case from a lower court.

De novo: To begin anew; for example, to have a new trial.

Detain: To keep in custody or temporary confinement, such as in jail.

Direct Appeal: A case that, if appealed, moves directly from the trial court to the supreme court; it bypasses intermediate appellate courts. (Effective January 1, 2001, the court must take death penalty cases on direct appeal, and they have chosen to allow direct appeals if the sentence was life without parole.)

Discretionary Jurisdiction: When a court is not required to hear a case but may if it chooses.

Dispositive Order: Presents the decision of the court in a case, but does not typically include a detailed explanation of legal reasoning as do opinions. Examples of dispositive orders include orders resolving attorney or judicial discipline cases and orders denying transfer of cases.

Dissenting Opinion: A written opinion of an appellate court in which the writing judge disagrees with the decision reached by the majority of the judges, and writes a separate opinion describing the reasoning that led to disagreement.

Docket: List of documents in a case that have been filed with the Clerk's office and the date on which they were filed.

Double Jeopardy: The name for putting a criminal on trial again after he or she has been found not guilty once. This is unconstitutional. (Indiana Constitution article 1, section 14; U.S. Constitution, Fifth Amendment).


Evidence: Legally relevant pieces of proof presented at the trial through witnesses, documents, physical objects, etc., for the purpose of convincing the court or jury.

Expedited Appeals: The court will expedite (speed up) cases involving issues of child custody, support, visitation, adoption, paternity, determination that a child is in need of services, termination of parental rights, and all other appeals entitled to priority by rule or statute.


Felony: A major crime usually punishable by a fine and/or a prison sentence. In Indiana, examples of felonies are assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, murder, and possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell.

File-stamped: A document that has the official stamp of a clerk's office indicating the date on which a document was accepted for filing.

Final Judgment: Final decision by the trial court. This judgment resolves all of the issues that were presented in the trial court or administrative agency.

Fully briefed information: All briefs have been received by the Appellate Clerk's Office (or the time period for filing briefs has expired) and are awaiting transmittal to the court on appeal.


Grand Jury: A group of citizens who decide whether or not there is enough evidence to charge a suspect with a crime.

Guilty: A person can enter a plea of "guilty" by admitting in court that he or she committed the offense for which he/she is charged. The jury can render a verdict of "guilty" if it finds beyond a reasonable doubt, based on the evidence, that the defendant committed the offense.


Hung Jury: A jury unable to reach a verdict because not all the jurors could agree.


Incarceration: Imprisonment; being locked up in a jail, prison, or penitentiary.

Indigent: Someone who is unable to afford to pay the fees and costs related to a case. A party must make a motion in the trial court or administrative agency asking to be declared indigent. Any questions about this motion should be directed to the trial court or administrative agency. (See also Pauper Status)

Interlocutory Appeal: An appeal that occurs during the course of a trial, before the trial court reaches a decision. During the interlocutory appeal, the trial is placed on hold.


Jail: A building designated by law, or regularly used, for the confinement of persons held in lawful custody.

Judgment: A final appealable order in a civil or criminal case.

Jurisdiction: The authority or power the court has to act or hear a case and make a decision.

Jury: A group of citizens, called jurors, randomly selected and chosen by law to hear a case and render a verdict based on the facts presented to them. Sometimes referred to as a "petit jury."

Jury Trial: Often referred to as "trial by jury," this is a trial in which a jury hears the facts of a case and renders a verdict based on the facts presented to them.

Note: The U.S. and Indiana Constitutions are not identical on this issue. The Indiana Constitution (Article 1 section 19) provides for a trial by jury in all criminal cases. Under the U.S. Constitution, however, "The right to a jury trial is established...but it is not an absolute right. The Supreme Court has stated that petty crimes (as those carrying a sentence of up to 6 months) do not require trial by jury. The right to a jury trial in a criminal case may be waived by the ``express and intelligent consent'' of the defendant...There is no right to a jury trial in equity cases. When a civil case involves both legal and equitable issues or procedure, either party may demand a jury trial (and failure to do so is taken as a waiver), but the judge may find that there is no right to jury trial because of equitable issues or claims." []

Justice(s): The term used for judges of the Supreme Court.


Lawyer: see Attorney.

Liable/Liability: A legal responsibility, obligation, or debt.

Libel: Harmful remarks, made in writing, that might injure a person's reputation (could also be in a picture, sign, etc.). Slander refers to the same type of remarks that are made verbally. In both cases, the remarks must be false and the person who makes the oral or written remarks must know those remarks are untrue.

Litigants: Parties to a case; the persons involved in a lawsuit.

Litigation: To contest in a legal proceeding; a case is tried in court.

Lower court: The county or city court where a case starts. The proper name for this is the"trial court."


Majority opinion: An opinion that is signed by more than half of the judges considering a case. Sometimes it is called the "main opinion."

Mandamus: A command. A party may file a Petition for Writ of Mandamus asking the Indiana Supreme Court to order a judge or trial court to do something.

Mandate of Funds: The Supreme Court reviews an order by a special judge that requires the county commissioners to fund court operations or other court related functions. Mandate of funds are typically ordered when a county executive branch does not provide adequate funding to its local judicial branch.

Mandatory Jurisdiction: When a court MUST hear a case brought before it on appeal.

Mediation: A way to settle a dispute instead of going to trial in which an impartial party called a mediator helps the parties reach a compromise or common ground.

Medical malpractice: A case involving a doctor's alleged failure to provide care at an acceptable level.

Memorandum Decision: The written decision of the court including the reasons for the decision and the facts on which the decision was based. This type of decision is binding on the parties involved; however, it cannot be cited as authority in other cases.

Misdemeanor: In Indiana, a minor offense punishable by a jail term of not more than one year and/or a fine of no more than $5,000.

Motion: The procedure by which a party asks the appellate court to do something or to permit one of the parties to do something. For example, a party may ask the court for an extension of time to prepare a brief.

Movant: The party asking the court for something. This is usually done in the form of a motion to the Court.


Non-Majority Opinion: An opinion attached to a majority opinion or dispositive order and may be concurring or dissenting.

Not Liable: Where a person is not responsible or legally obligated.

Notice of Appeal: A document that initiates an appeal and is filed with the Clerk of the appellate courts (and served on the trial court and opposing parties) within 30 days after the final judgment is noted in the Chronological Case Summary.


Opinion: A court's written discussion of the legal issues raised by a court case and the court's decision about those issues. Memorandum decisions, also known as "not for publication" decisions, may be published online but do not establish precedent. Opinions for recent Indiana Tax Court, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court cases can be found online at There are different types of opinions issued by the court, see also concurring, dissenting and majority opinion.

Oral argument: The presentation of information before an appellate court that states a party's position and the reasoning behind it. Either the appellants or the appellees may request to make oral arguments before the court. The court does not have to agree to hear oral arguments; they may feel that the written record is sufficient. On the other hand, they may request that the representatives of each party present oral arguments.

Order: A written or oral decision by a court or administrative agency that resolves a matter and/or directs the parties to do something.

Original Action: A request by a party asking the Supreme Court to order a lower state court to perform an act required by law or to stop acting in a way the law does not allow.

Ordinances: Laws passed by the legislative body of a municipal (city) corporation; ie., city laws.


Party: One side in a lawsuit.

Pauper Status: A party without the financial resources to pay all of the court fees and costs, and to whom the court grants permission to proceed without paying all the fees and costs. See also Indigent.

Peremptory Challenge: A request by an attorney for either side to disqualify a juror; the attorney does not have to give a reason for his request. The number of peremptory challenges varies depending on the kind of case. Attorneys are also allowed to request that a juror be dismissed for cause. In a challenge for cause the attorney argues that the juror would not be able carry out his/her duties for some reason specified by the attorney.

Petition: A formal written request made to a court.

Petition for a Writ of Certiorari: A document filed to request that the United States Supreme Court review a decision made by a state supreme court or a U.S. Court of Appeals.

Petition for Rehearing: A document filed that points out errors in an appellate court opinion and requests that the same court that issued the opinion reconsider its decision.

Petition to Transfer: A document file to request that the court accept jurisdiction over a case.

Petit Jury: see jury

Plaintiff: The party who starts a lawsuit, or in criminal cases, the prosecutor acting on behalf of the State of Indiana.

Plea: Defendant's response to a criminal charge (for example: "guilty" or "not guilty").

Plea Bargaining: Negotiations between a defense attorney and a prosecutor in which a guilty plea is exchanged for either a lesser charge or a lesser sentence.

Post-Conviction Relief: The procedure where a defendant in a criminal case can argue that the conviction or sentence was made in violation of the Constitution, that the court which sentenced him was without the authority to do so, or that the sentence imposed exceeds the maximum sentence in the statute, among other things. A Petition for Post-Conviction Relief is filed in the trial court and the final judgment can be appealed to the appropriate appellate court.

Precedent: A previously decided case that is recognized as binding on future cases that have similar facts and/or legal issues.

Probate Court: A trial court that handles cases involving the administration of the estates of people who have passed away, guardianships, and mental health hearings.

Pro se: A Latin term to describe a person, not represented by an attorney, who is representing himself or herself in a case.

Prosecution: In criminal cases, it is the state (government) that initiates the case; they are referred to as the prosecution. In a civil case the person who initiates the case is called the plaintiff.

Prosecutor: The public official elected in each county to conduct criminal prosecutions on behalf of the state or people.

Public Defender: An attorney appointed by and paid by the government to represent people accused of crimes who cannot afford to hire their own lawyers.

Punitive damages: Punitive damages are awarded in addition to actual damages when the intent is to punish the guilty or liable party for an action. They are generally awarded when it has been determined that the defendant acted with recklessness, malice, or deceit.


Question of Fact: A question that depends on an examination of factual matters. Such questions are usually decided by a jury, and are generally NOT considered on appeal.

Question of Law: A question that depends on an examination of law rather than fact. Such questions are decided by a judge rather than by a jury, and are often examined on appeal.


Remand: To return a case from an appellate court back to the lower court that made the first decision in order to correct an error or modify the decision.

Remit: The court's reduction of the damages awarded in a jury trial.

Reply Brief: In an appeal, a second brief filed by the appellant in response to the legal arguments made in the brief of the appellee.

Relator: The party in whose behalf writs are filed, issued, or ordered.

Reverse: To set aside or cancel a judgment or decision by making a contrary decision.


Show Cause Order: An order from the Court requiring a party to explain why a certain thing should or should not be permitted. An example would be if a Notice of Appeal was not timely filed, the Court may issue a show cause order asking the Appellant to show why the case should not be dismissed for failure to file a timely Notice of Appeal.

Slander: Harmful remarks that might injure a person's reputation that are made verbally. Libel refers to similar remarks that are made in writing, pictures, etc. In both cases, the remarks must be false and the person who makes the oral or written remarks must know those remarks are untrue.

Stare Decisis: Latin for "let the decision stand." This is the doctrine under which courts follow previous court decisions or precedents on questions of law in order to insure certainty, consistency, and stability in the way the law is applied.

Statute of Limitations: a legally established time limit (based on the date of the claim for civil cases or the crime for criminal cases) for entering a suit (civil) or beginning a prosecution (criminal). A reasonable time limit is established so that the defendant may still be able to find witnesses, evidence, etc. pertinent to the case.

Stay: A court order which temporarily suspends court proceedings or the effect of a judgment. Initiating an appeal does not stay enforcement of a trial court judgment.

Summary Judgment: A judgment issued by a judge where there is agreement about a set of relevant facts. It is a procedural device that allows for the speedy resolution of some controversies without the need for a trial.

Supreme Court: The highest court in the State of Indiana. The Supreme Court consists of five justices. The Supreme Court hears criminal cases where the defendant was sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole. The Court also hears all cases involving attorney admission and discipline and original actions. Once a case has been decided by the Court of Appeals, parties may file a Petition to Transfer asking the Supreme Court to hear the case. The Court has the discretion to decide whether or not to take these cases.


Table of Authorities: A listing of all the legal cases, statutes, and secondary authority used in the brief and the page(s) on which each authority was cited.

Toll: To stop the running of time, especially regarding time allowed before filing a lawsuit. See Statute of Limitations.

Tort: A private or civil wrong or injury where there is no contract (for example: trespass); the remedy that is sought is usually a monetary award for damages.

Transcript: The written version of everything that was said at the trial or hearings in the case. The transcript is prepared by the court reporter assigned to the trial court.

Transmitted appeals: the "fully briefed" case, including all briefs and transcripts, has been submitted to the court on appeal.

Trial: Proceedings in open court after the pleadings are finished, from jury selection to presentation of evidence and arguments, concluding with a verdict or judgment.

Trial Court: The city or county court where a case starts; the court that decides the facts and law in the case.

Trial Record: A written copy of the trial court proceeding and other documents that are filed with an appeal to an appellate court.


Verdict: A formal decision or finding made by a jury.

Verified Complaint: An attorney discipline case is the charging document in which the Disciplinary Commission alleges misconduct by the attorney being charged and asks the Supreme Court to impose appropriate discipline for the misconduct.

Voir Dire: The act or process of questioning prospective jurors, by the trial counsel or the trial judge, to determine which are qualified for service on a jury.


Witness: One who testifies under oath to what he/she saw, heard, or otherwise.

With prejudice: In a way that finally ends a party's claim and prevents any future action on the claim.

Without prejudice: In a way that does not harm or cancel the legal rights or privileges of a party.

Writ: An extraordinary remedy that can be sought from the Indiana Supreme Court. A writ can be sought to compel a person to do something or to stop doing something. Writs are usually sought to compel the trial court to perform a duty or obligation that it is required to do. This option should be used when there is no other legal remedy to solve the problem.