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Glossary of Legal Terms & Definitions

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  • Canons of ethics  Canons of ethics are the ethical standards attorneys must follow in the practice of law.  
  • Capital offense  A capital offense is a crime which can result in someone being sentenced to death, such as treason or first-degree murder.  
  • Case law  Is law established from previous decisions by appellate courts or the Supreme Court of the United States that are used in writing an argument in a brief or answer.  
  • Case number  The number assigned by the court to identify one case from another.   
  • Cause of action  The factual situation which provides a legal right to bring a claim in court for damages and compensation.  
  • Certified copy  A certified copy is a copy of a document that is authenticated and certified as a true copy of the original document by the person who is in possession of the original.  
  • Certiorari  Granting a writ of certiorari is the legal equivalent of agreeing to do something. A higher court, such as the Supreme Court of the United States, grants a writ of certiorari to review a lower court’s procedure and decision.  
  • Charge  In a criminal case, the Defendant gets charged with committing a crime. The charge is the law the defendant is accused of breaking.  
  • Circumstantial evidence  Is when a principal fact is inferred from one or more circumstantial facts. For example, a judge or jury can infer a person committed a crime if they are seen running away from the scene of the crime.  
  • Civil law or civil case  A civil case involves private parties or businesses suing each other under law not regulated by a state or federal government.  
  • Class action  A class action is a case brought by an individual or two on behalf of a larger group of people.  
  • Clearinghouse  An organization located in one spot that monitors, receives, and disburses child support-IV-D payments.  
  • Client security/protection fund  Is a fund established by the Supreme Court of Arizona to help people hurt by the dishonest conduct of licensed Arizona attorneys by reimbursing them for loses they have sustained.  
  • Closing  Usually refers to purchasing and selling of real estate. It is the final exchange where the parties exchange the agreed on amount for the title and deed.  
  • Code of Professional Responsibility  The ethical rules attorneys are required to follow when practicing law.  
  • Common law  is the original legal system, based on court decisions, that originated in England and was brought over to the United States when it was first forming. United States common law varies by state, the three types are: English; French; and Spanish.  
  • Compensatory damages  Is money awarded to compensate someone for losses suffered. Typically, it is for damages that can be measured, such as medical bills or replacing property, but can also include harder to measure damages, such as pain and suffering.  
  • Complainant  In a civil case, the complainant is the party alleging the offense and brining the lawsuit.  
  • Complaint  The complaint is the initial document filed to begin a case. It lists the facts of the case, the relevant law, and the action the filing party is asking the court to take.  
  • Conciliation  A conciliation is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which a neutral third party tries to help resolve a case without proceeding through the court system, similar to a mediation.  
  • Constable  A constable is an elected official directed by the Justice of the Peace to deliver and return legal notices/documents.  
  • Contempt of court  A person is found in contempt of court when they willfully disobey or disrespect the court or a judge’s command and interfere with the administration of justice. Someone found in contempt of court can face financial sanctions and, potentially, jail time.  
  • Contingency fee  A contingency fee is the amount a lawyer agrees to be paid out of the damages awarded to their client. Typically, filing fees and other costs associated with working the case are not considered part of the contingency fee amount.  
  • Continuance  A continuance is a request by a party for the court to postpone a legal proceeding to a later date.  
  • Contract  A contract is a legally enforceable agreement made either orally or in writing between two or more parties creating an obligation to do or not to do a particular thing. A contract can be formed by orally agreeing to do something, signing an agreement, or by performing your part of the(...)
  • Conviction  In a criminal case, a conviction is when someone has been found guilty of committing a crime.  
  • Copyright  A copyright is a legally enforceable authority someone was given to prevent other people or businesses from copying things they have written, authored, or created.  
  • Corporation  A corporation is a legal entity authorized by a state to conduct business or other activities within the state. Similar to an individual person, a corporation can perform actions necessary to carry on business, such as enter into contracts or sue/be sued. Typically, those who own a(...)
  • Counsel  Is another word for attorney or lawyer in a case, a person who can give legal advice.  
  • Counterclaim  In a civil case, a counterclaim is made by the Defendant against the Plaintiff alleging they did something to cause or aggravate the issue.  
  • Court  A court is an entity established by the federal or state government to resolve legal disputes.  
  • Court costs  Are the costs associated with arguing or defending a court case, not including attorney fees. For example, the costs associated with filing the complaint or the costs for hiring a process server.  
  • Court reporter  A court reporter is a person who works for the court who transcribes word-for-word what is said in a court proceeding or deposition and produces a transcript of the proceedings upon request.  
  • Crime  Someone commits a crime when they do an action forbidden by a state or federal statute or regulation.  
  • Criminal justice system  All the courts and tribunals established to handle enforcement of criminal law.  
  • Cross-examine  When a witness has finished being questioned by the attorney who asked them to testify and the opposing attorney starts questioning them.  

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