Glossary for HamletDreams * 2007

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Legal Dictionary for Hamlet Trial

Hamlet: US Suprime Court

acquittal: Judgement that a criminal defendant has not been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

affidavit: A written statement of facts confirmed by the oath of the party making it, before a notary or officer having authority to administer oaths.

appeal: A request made after a trial, asking another court (usually the court of appeals) to decide whether the trial was conducted properly. To make such a request is "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." One who appeals is called the appellant.

arraignment: A proceeding in which an individual who is accused of committing a crime is brought into court, told of the charges, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

bench trial: Trial without a jury in which a judge decides the facts.

capital offense: A crime punishable by death.

circumstantial evidence: All evidence except eyewitness testimony.

conviction: A judgement of guilt against a criminal defendant.

counterclaim: A claim that a defendant makes against a plaintiff.

default judgement: A judgement rendered because of the defendant's failure to answer or appear.

defendant: In a civil suit, the person complained against; in a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

deposition: An oral statement made before an officer authorized by law to administer oaths. Such statements are often taken to examine potential witnesses, to obtain discovery, or to be used later in trial.

discovery: Lawyers' examination, before trial, of facts and documents in possession of the opponents to help the lawyers prepare for trial.

evidence: Information presented in testimony or in documents that is used to persuade the fact finder (judge or jury) to decide the case for one side or the other.

felony: A crime carrying a penalty of more than a year in prison.

hearsay: Statements by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. Hearsay is usually not admissible as evidence in court.

indictment: The formal charge issued by a grand jury stating that there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial; it is used primarily for felonies.

judgement: The official decision of a court finally determining the respective rights and claims of the parties to a suit.

jury: Persons selected according to law and sworn to inquire into and declare a verdict on matters of fact.

lawsuit: A legal action started by a plaintiff against a defendant based on a complaint that the defendant failed to perform a legal duty, resulting in harm to the plaintiff.

litigation: A case, controversy, or lawsuit. Participants (plaintiffs and defendants) in lawsuits are called litigants.

mistrial: An invalid trial, caused by fundamental error. When a mistrial is declared, the trial must start again from the selection of the jury.

oral argument: An opportunity for lawyers to summarize their position before the court and also to answer the judges' questions.

parties: Plaintiffs and defendants (petitioners and respondents) to lawsuits, also known as appellants and appellees in appeals, and their lawyers.

plaintiff: The person who files the complaint in a civil lawsuit.

plea: In a criminal case, the defendant's statement pleading "guilty" or "not guilty" in answer to the charges, a declaration made in open court.

pleadings: Written statements of the parties in a civil case of their positions. In the federal courts, the principal pleadings are the complaint and the answer.

precedent: A court decision in an earlier case with facts and law similar to a dispute currently before a court. Precedent will ordinarily govern the decision of a later similar case, unless a party can show that it was wrongly decided or that it differed in some significant way.

procedure: The rules for the conduct of a lawsuit; there are rules of civil, criminal, evidence, bankruptcy, and appellate procedure.

prosecute: To charge someone with a crime. A prosecutor tries a criminal case on behalf of the government.

sentence: The punishment ordered by a court for a defendant convicted of a crime.

settlement: Parties to a lawsuit resolve their difference without having a trial. Settlements often involve the payment of compensation by one party in satisfaction of the other party's claims.

sidebar: A conference between the judge and lawyers held out of earshot of the jury and spectators.

statute: A law passed by a legislature.statute of limitations: A law that sets the time within which parties must take action to enforce their rights.

subpoena: A command to a witness to appear and give testimony.

subpoena duces tecum: A command to a witness to produce documents.

summary judgement: A decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented for the record without a trial. It is used when there is no dispute as to the facts of the case, and one party is entitled to judgement as a matter of law.

testimony: Evidence presented orally by witnesses during trials or before grand juries.

transcript: A written, word-for-word record of what was said, either in a proceeding such as a trial or during some other conversation, as in a transcript of a hearing or oral deposition.

verdict: The decision of a petit jury or a judge.

witness: A person called upon by either side in a lawsuit to give testimony before the court or jury.


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