Case Types | Case Management | Trial Process | Sentencing | Glossary
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acquit - To find a defendant not guilty in a criminal trial.
action - Proceeding taken in a court of law. Synonymous with case. suit. lawsuit.
adjudication - A judgment of decree.
administrator - 1. One who administers the estate of a person who dies without leaving a will. 2. A court official.
advance sheets - Initial. temporary publications of decisions of appellate courts. Sheets are published weekly. See reporter of decisions.
adversary system - Basic U.S. trial system in which each of the opposing parties has an opportunity to state his viewpoint before the court. Plaintiff argues for defendant's guilt (criminal) or liability (civil). Defense argues for defendant's innocence (criminal) or against liability (civil).
affidavit - A written or printed declaration or statement under oath. See certificate under penalty, of perjury.
affidavit of prejudice - A written motion by a party to a judge, requesting that the judge excuse himself from a case.
affirm - The assertion of an appellate court that the judgment of the court below is correct and should stand.
allegation - An assertion, declaration or statement of a party to an action made in a pleading, stating what he expects to prove.
alleged - (allegation) Stated: recited; claimed; asserted; charged.
answer - A formal response to a claim admitting or denying the allegations in the claim.
appeal - Review of a case by a higher court.
appeal on the record - Refers to a review by the Florida Supreme Court, District Court of Appeal or the Circuit Court, of a lower court decision, through an examination of the lower court's transcript, tape recording or other official documentation of the proceeding.
appearance - I. The formal proceeding by which a defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the court. 2. A written notification to the plaintiff by an attorney stating that he is representing the defendant.
appellant - Party appealing a decision or .judgment to a higher court.
appellate court - A court having jurisdiction over an appeal and review.
appellee - The party against whom an appeal is taken. See respondent.
arbitration - The hearing and settlement of a dispute between opposing parties by a third party whose decision the parties have agreed to accept.
arraignment - In criminal cases, a court hearing where a defendant is advised of the charges and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.
at issue - The time in a lawsuit when the complaining party has stated his claim and the other side has responded with a denial and the matter is ready to be tried.
attachment - Taking a person's property to satisfy a court ordered debt.
attorney at law - A lawyer, one who is licensed to act as a representative for another in a legal matter or proceeding.
attorney of record - An attorney, named in the records of a case. Who is responsible for handling the case on behalf of the party they represent.
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bail - An amount of money determined by the judge and posted with the court clerk as security to ensure the defendant's appearance in court at a specific time.
bail bond - An agreement by a third party to pay' a certain sum of money if the defendant fails to appear in court.
bailiff - A court employee who, among other duties, maintains order in the courtroom and is responsible for custody of the jury.
bankruptcy - A legal proceeding where a person or business is relieved of paying certain debts.
bench warrant - Process issued by the court itself or "from the bench" for the attachment or arrest of a person.
best evidence - Primary evidence; the best evidence which is available; any evidence falling short of this standard is secondary; i.e. an original letter is best evidence compared to a copy.
brief - A legal document, prepared by an attorney, which presents the law and facts supporting his client's case.
burden of proof - Measure of proof required to prove a fact. Obligation of a party to prove facts at issue in the trial of a case.
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calendar - List of cases arranged for hearing in court.
caption - The caption of a pleading or other papers connected with a case in court is the heading or introductory clause which shows the names of the parties, name of the court, number of the case, etc.
case - Any proceeding, action, cause, lawsuit or controversy initiated through the court system by filing a complaint, petition, indictment or information.
caseload- The number of cases a judge handles in a specific time period.
cause of action - A legal claim.
certificate under penalty of perjury - A written statement, certified by the maker as being under penalty of perjury. In many circumstances, it may be used in lieu of an affidavit. See affidavit.
certiorari - Procedure for removing a case from a lower court or administrative agency to a higher court for review.
challenge for cause - A request by a party that the court excuse a specific juror on the basis that the juror is biased.
chamber - A judge's private office.
change of venue - The removal of a case begun in one court, to another. See venue.
charge - Formal accusation of having committed a criminal offense.
chief judge - Presiding or administrative judge in a court.
chief justice - Presiding justice of the Supreme Court.
circumstantial evidence - All evidence of indirect nature; the processes of decision by which judge or jury may reason from circumstances known or proved to establish by inference the principal fact.
citation - 1. Summons to appear in court. 2. Reference to authorities in support of a legal argument.
civil action - All law that is not criminal law. Usually pertains to the settlement of disputes between individuals, organizations, or groups and having to do with the establishment, recovery or redress of private and civil rights.
claim - The assertion of a right to money or property.
clerk of court - An officer of a court whose principal duty is to maintain court records and preserve evidence presented during a trial.
closing argument - The closing statement by counsel to the trier of facts after all parties have concluded their presentation of evidence.
code - A collection, compendium or revision of laws, systematically arranged into chapters, table of contents and index, and promulgated by legislative authority.
commit - To lawfully send a person to prison, a reformatory or an asylum.
common law - Law which derives its authority from usages and customs of immemorial antiquity or from the judgments and decrees of courts. Also called "case law."
community service - A sentencing alternative usually used in lieu of a monetary penalty or fine.
commutation - Change of punishment from a greater to a lesser degree, such as from death to life imprisonment or ending a sentence that has been partially served.
comparative negligence - Negligence of a plaintiff in a civil suit which decreases his recovery by his percentage of negligence compared to a defendant's negligence.
competency - In the law of evidence, the presence of those characteristics which render a witness legally fit and qualified to give testimony.
complaint - 1. (criminal) Formal written charge that a person has committed a criminal offense. 2. (civil) Initial document entered by the plaintiff which states the claims against the defendant.
condemnation - The legal process by which real estate of a private owner is taken for public use without his consent but upon the award and payment of just compensation.
constitutional officer - An office established by the Florida Constitution.
contempt of court - Any act that is meant to embarrass, hinder or obstruct a court in the administration of justice. Direct contempt is committed in the presence of the court; indirect contempt is committed when a lawful order is not carried out or is refused.
contested hearing - A hearing held in courts of limited jurisdiction for the purpose of allowing a person to dispute the determination that an infraction has been committed. The person may subpoena and examine witnesses and present evidence. Such hearings are held without a jury.
continuance - Adjournment of the proceedings in a case from one day to another.
contributory negligence - Negligence of a plaintiff in a civil suit which helped to produce the injury that he received.
convict - 1. To find a person guilty of a charge (verb). 2. One who has been found guilty of a crime or misdemeanor; usually refers to convicted felons or prisoners in penitentiaries (noun).
corpus delicti - The body or material substance upon which a crime has been committed; e.g. the corpse of a murdered person, the charred remains of a burned house.
corroborating evidence - Evidence supplementary to that already given and tending to strengthen or confirm it.
costs - An allowance for expenses in prosecuting or defending a suit. Ordinarily does not include attorney's fees.
counterclaim - Claim presented by a defendant in opposition to or deduction from the claim of the plaintiff.
court - 1. Place where justice is administered. 2. Judge or judges sitting in the court administering justice.
court administrator - Manager of administrative, non-judicial affairs of the court.
court, circuit - In Florida, the highest trial court has jurisdiction of felony violation of law, appeals from county court, juvenile matters, civil suit of over $15,000 and estate settlements.
court, county - Court of limited jurisdiction where civil cases up to $15,000 and small claims can be heard. Criminal misdemeanors and traffic citations are also heard in county court.
court, juvenile - Division of circuit court that deals with the conduct and circumstances of children under the age of 18.
court reporter - Person who records and transcribes the verbatim testimony and all other oral statements made during court sessions.
court, small claims - A division of county court where parties can bring claims for under $5,000 and procedures are simplified.
court, supreme - "Court of last resort." Highest court in the state and final appellate court.
crime - Conduct declared unlawful by a legislative body and for which there is a punishment of a jail or prison term, a fine, or both.
criminal insanity - Lack of mental capacity to do or abstain from doing a particular act; inability to distinguish right from wrong.
criminal law - Body of law pertaining to crimes against the state or conduct detrimental to society as a whole. Violation of criminal statutes are punishable by law.
cross-examination - The questioning of a witness by the party opposed to the one who produced the witness.
custody - Detaining of a person by lawful process or authority to assure his appearance to any hearing; the jailing or imprisonment of a person convicted of a crime.
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damages - Compensation recovered in the courts by a person who has suffered loss, detriment or injury to his person, property or rights, through the unlawful act or negligence of another.
de novo - "Anew." A trial de novo is a completely new trial held in a higher or appellate court as if the original trial had never taken place.
declaratory judgment - A judgment that declares the rights of the parties on a question of law.
decree - Decision or order of the court. A final decree completes the suit; an interlocutory decree is a provisional or preliminary decree which is not final.
default - A failure of a party to respond in a timely manner to a pleading: a failure to appear for trial.
defendant - 1. (criminal) Person charged with a crime. 2. (civil) Person against whom a civil action is brought.
defense attorney - The attorney who represents the defendant.
deferred sentence - See sentence, deferred.
deposition - Sworn testimony taken and recorded in an authorized place outside of the courtroom, according to the rules of the court.
determinate sentence - See sentence, determinate.
direct examination - The questioning of a witness by the party who produced the witness.
discovery - A pretrial proceeding where a party to an action may be informed about (or "discover") the facts known by the other parties or witnesses.
dismissal with prejudice - Dismissal of a case by a judge which bars the losing party from raising the issue again in another lawsuit.
dismissal without prejudice - The losing party is permitted to sue again with the same cause of action.
disposition - I. Determination of a charge; termination of any legal action. 2. A sentence of a juvenile offender.
dissent - The disagreement of one or more judges of a court with the decision of the majority.
dissolution - Legal ending of a marriage. Formerly called divorce.
District Court of Appeal - Intermediate appellate court to which most appeals are taken from the circuit court.
divorce - See dissolution.
docket - Book containing entries of' all proceedings in a court.
domicile - Place considered to be a person's permanent home.
double jeopardy -Prohibition against more than one prosecution for the same crime.
due process - Constitutional guarantee that an accused person receive a fair and impartial trial.
DUI - Driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.
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eminent domain - The power to take private property for public use by condemnation. See condemnation.
en banc - "On the bench." All judges of a court sitting together to hear a case.
enjoin - To require a person to perform or abstain or desist from some act.
entrapment - The act of officers or agents of a government in inducing a person to commit a crime not contemplated by him, for the purpose of instituting a criminal prosecution against him.
et al. - "And others."
evidence - Any form of proof legally presented at a trial through witnesses, records, documents, etc. See expert evidence.
exception - A formal objection of an action of the court, during the trial of a case, in refusing a request or overruling an objection; implying that the party excepting does not acquiesce in the decision of the court and will seek to obtain its reversal.
exhibit - Paper, document or other object received by the court as evidence during a trial or hearing.
expert evidence - Testimony given by those qualified to speak with authority regarding scientific, technical, or professional matters.
extradition - The surrender by one state to another of an individual accused or convicted of an offense outside its own territory and within the territorial jurisdiction of the other.
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fact finding hearing - A proceeding where facts relevant to deciding a controversy are determined.
fair preponderance - Evidence sufficient to create in the minds of the triers of fact the belief that the party which bears the burden of proof has established its case.
felony - A crime of graver nature than a misdemeanor.
fine - A sum of money imposed upon a convicted person as punishment for a criminal offense.
first appearance - An arrested person's first formal court hearing for a reading of the charges and a setting of bond.
fraud - An intentional perversion of truth; deceitful practice or device resorted to with intent to deprive another of property or other right or in some manner to do him injury.
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garnishment - Proceeding whereby property, money or credits of a debtor in the possession of another, are applied to the debts of the debtor, as in the garnishment of a person's wages.
general jurisdiction - Refers to courts that have no limit on the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear. Circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction.
grand jury - A body of persons sworn to inquire into crime and, if appropriate, bring accusations (indictments) against the suspected criminals.
guardian ad litem - A person appointed by a court to manage the interests of a minor or incompetent person who is involved in litigation.
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habeas corpus - "You have the body." A writ of habeas corpus requires a person be brought before a judge. It is usually used to direct an official to produce a prisoner so that the court may determine if such person has been denied his or her liberty without due process.
hearing - An in-court proceeding before a judge, generally open to the public.
hearsay - Evidence based on what the witness has heard someone else say, rather than what the witness has personally experienced or observed.
hung jury - A jury whose members cannot agree on a verdict.
hypothetical question - A combination of facts and circumstances, assumed or proved, stated in such a form as to constitute a coherent state of facts upon which the opinion of an expert can be asked by way of evidence in a trial.
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immunity - Freedom from duty or penalty.
impeachment of a witness - An attack on the credibility of a witness by the testimony of other witnesses.
inadmissible - That which, under the established rules of evidence, cannot be admitted or received.
incarceration - Imprisonment; confinement in a jail or penitentiary.
indeterminate sentence - See sentence, indeterminate.
indictment - Written accusation of a grand jury, charging that a person or business has committed a crime.
indigent - Needy; poor; impoverished. A defendant who can demonstrate his indigence to the court may be assigned a court-appointed attorney at public expense.
information - An accusation of some criminal offense, in the nature of an indictment, but which is presented by a competent public officer instead of a Grand Jury.
infraction - An act which is prohibited by law but which is not legally defined as a crime. Many traffic violations are classified as infractions.
injunction - Writ or order by a court prohibiting a specific action from being carried out by a person or group.
instruction - Direction given by a judge to the jury regarding the applicable law in a given case.
interrogatories - Written questions developed by one party's attorney for the opposing party, interrogatories must be answered under oath within a specific period of time.
intervention - Proceeding in a suit where a third person is allowed, with the court's permission, to join the suit as a party.
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judge - An elected or appointed public official with authority to hear and decide cases in a court of law.
judgment - Final determination by a court of the rights and claims of the parties in an action.
judge, pro term - Temporary judge.
jurisdiction - Authority of a court to exercise judicial power.
jurisprudence - The science of law.
juror - Member of a jury.
jury - Specific number of people (usually 6 or 12), selected as prescribed by law to render a decision (verdict) in a trial. See trier of facts.
juvenile court - See court, juvenile.
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law - The combination of those rules and principles of conduct promulgated by legislative authority, derived from court decisions and established by local custom.
leading question - One which suggest to a witness the answer desired. Prohibited on direct examination.
limited jurisdiction - Refers to courts that are limited in the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear. County courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.
litigant - One who is engaged in a lawsuit.
litigation - Contest in court; a law suit.
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mandate - Command from a court directing the enforcement of a judgment, sentence or decree.
misdemeanor - Criminal offenses less than felonies: generally those punishable by tine and/or imprisonment of less than one year.
mistrial - Erroneous or invalid trial. Usually declared because of prejudicial error in the proceeding or when there was a hung jury.
mitigating circumstances - Those which do not constitute a justification or excuse for an offense but which may be considered as reasons for reducing the degree of blame.
mitigation hearing - A hearing held in courts of limited jurisdiction for the purpose of allowing a person to explain the circumstances surrounding his commission of an infraction. The determination that an infraction has been committed may not be contested.
modify - In the appellate process, to change the terms off rather than revise, a judgment of a trial court, administrative agency or intermediate appellate court.
monetary penalty - A penalty levied against a person convicted of a traffic infraction.
motion - Oral or written request made by a party to an action before, during or after a trial upon which a court issues a ruling or order.
moot - Unsettled; undecided. A moot point is one not settled by judicial decisions.
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negligence - The absence of ordinary care.
nolo contendere - The plea given when a defendant does not contest the charge. Has the effect of a guilty plea in a criminal matter.
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oath - Written or oral pledge by a person to keep a promise or speak the truth.
objection - Statement by an attorney taking exception to testimony or the attempted admission of evidence and opposing its consideration as evidence.
of counsel - Phrase used to identify attorneys that are employed by a party to assist in the preparation and management of a case but who are not the principal attorneys of record in the case.
offender - A person who has committed a crime, either felony or misdemeanor.
omnibus hearing - A pretrial hearing normally scheduled at the same time the trial date is established. Purpose of the hearing is to ensure each party receives (or "discovers") vital information concerning the case held by the other. In addition, the judge may rule on the scope of discovery or on the admissibility of challenged evidence.
opening statement - The initial statement made by counsel for each side, outlining the facts each intends to establish during the trial.
opinion - Statement of decision by a judge or court regarding a case tried before it. Published opinions are printed because they contain new legal interpretations. Unpublished opinions, based on legal precedent, are not printed.
opinion, per curlam - Phrase used to distinguish an opinion of the whole court from an opinion written by only one judge.
overrule - 1. Court's denial of any motion or point raised to the court. 2. To overturn or void a decision made in a prior case.
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parties - Persons, corporations, or associations who have commenced a law suit or who are defendants.
penalty assessment - An assessment or fee added to a monetary penalty or fine. Such fees are earmarked for the support of specific state programs such as traffic safety, criminal justice training, etc.
peremptory challenge - Procedure which parties in an action may use to reject prospective, jurors without giving reason. Each side is allowed a limited number of such challenges.
petition - Written application to a court requesting a remedy available under law.
petition for review - A document filed in a higher court asking for review of a decision made by a lower court.
petitioner - See plaintiff
perjury - Making intentionally false statements under oath. Perjury is a criminal offense.
personal recognizance - In criminal proceedings, the pretrial release of a defendant without bail upon his promise to return to court.
plaintiff - The party who begins an action; the party who complains or sues in an action and is named as such in the court's records. Also called a petitioner.
plea - A defendant's official statement of "guilty" or "not guilty" to the charge(s) made against him.
plea bargaining - In a criminal case, the process in which the accused and the prosecutor negotiate a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case. Such bargains are not binding on the court.
pleadings - Formal written allegations than the evidence presented by the opposing side.
polling the jury - A practice whereby the jurors are asked individually whether they agreed, and still agree, with the verdict.
power of attorney - Document authorizing another to act as one's agent or attorney in fact (not an attorney at law).
precedent - Previously decided case which is recognized as an authority for determining future cases.
pre-sentence report - A report to the sentencing judge containing background information about the crime and the defendant to assist the judge in making his sentencing decision.
presiding judge - Chief or administrative judge of a court. See chief judge.
probable cause - Reasonable cause: having more evidence for than against: a reasonable belief that a crime has or is being committed, the basis for all lawful searches, seizures, and arrests.
probate - The legal process of establishing the validity of a will and settling an estate.
probation - Set of conditions and regulations under which a person found guilty of a criminal offense is allowed to remain in the community, usually under the supervision of a probation officer.
proceeding - Any hearing or court appearance related to the adjudication of a case.
prosecution - 1. Act of pursuing a law suit or criminal trial. 2. The State of Florida, the party that initiates a criminal case.
prosecutor - The public officer in each circuit who is a lawyer and who represents the interest of the state in criminal trials. In criminal cases, the prosecutor has the responsibility of deciding who and when to prosecute. Also known as prosecuting attorney, or state attorney.
pro term - "Temporary." See judge, pro tem.
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record - 1. To preserve in writing, print or by film, tape, etc. 2. History of a case. 3. The word-for-word (verbatim) written or tape recorded account of all proceedings of a trial. See transcript.
record on appeal - The portion of the record of a court of limited jurisdiction necessary to allow a superior court to review the case.
reasonable doubt - An accused person is entitled to acquittal if, in the minds of the jury, his guilt has not been proved beyond a "reasonable doubt"; that state of mind of jurors in which they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction as to the truth of the charge.
rebuttal - The introduction of contradicting or opposing evidence showing that what witnesses said occurred is not true; the stage of a trial at which such evidence may be introduced.
redirect examination - Follows cross-examination and is carried out by the party who first examined the witness.
remand - To send back. A disposition by an appellate court that results in sending the case back to the original court from which it came for further proceedings.
reply - Pleading by the plaintiff in response to the defendant's written answer.
respondent - 1. Party against whom an appeal is brought in an appellate court; the prevailing party in the trial court case. 2. A juvenile offender.
restitution - Act of giving the equivalent for any loss, damage or injury.
rest the case - When a party concludes his presentation of evidence.
reversal – Setting aside, annulling, vacating or changing to the contrary the decision of a lower court or other body.
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search and seizure, unreasonable - In general, an examination without authority of law, of one's premises or person for the purpose of discovering stolen or illegal property or some other evidence of guilt to be used in prosecuting a crime.
search warrant - A written order, issued by a judge or magistrate in the name of the state, directing an officer to search a specified house or other place for stolen property. Usually required as a condition for a legal search and seizure.
sentence - Judgment formally pronounced by a judge upon a defendant after his conviction in a criminal prosecution.
sentence, concurrent - Two or more sentences which run at the same time.
sentence, consecutive - Two or more sentences which run one after another.
sentence, deferred - A sentence, the execution of which is postponed until a future time.
sentence, determinate - A sentence that states exactly the number of actual years, months, or days of total confinement, partial confinement or community supervision, or the number of actual hours or days of community service work or dollars or terms of a fine or restitution. The fact that an offender can, through "earned early release," reduce the actual period of confinement does not affect the classification of the sentence as a determinate sentence.
sentence, suspended - Execution of the sentence has been withheld by the court based on certain terms and conditions.
separation (jury) - Recessing the jury for meals.
sequester - To separate or isolate; e.g. to sequester jurors is to isolate them from contact with the public.
service - Delivery of a legal document to the opposite party.
set aside - Annul or void as in "setting aside" a judgment.
settlement - 1. Conclusion of a legal matter. 2. Compromise agreement by opposing parties in a civil suit before judgment is made, eliminating the need for the judge to resolve the controversy.
settlement conference - A meeting between parties of a lawsuit, their counsel and a judge to attempt a resolution of the dispute without trial.
small claims - See court, small claims.
speedy trial - Right of a defendant to be tried promptly.
statute - A law created by the Legislature.
statute of limitations - Law which specifies the time within which parties must take judicial action to enforce their rights.
stay - Halting of a judicial proceeding by order of the court.
stipulation - Agreement by the attorneys and parties on opposite sides of a case regarding any matter in the trial proceedings.
subpoena - Document issued by the authority of the court to compel a witness to appear and give testimony or produce documentary evidence in a proceeding. Failure to appear or produce is punishable by contempt of court.
subpoena duces tecum - "Under penalty you shall take it with you." A process by which the court commands a witness to produce specific documents or records in a trial.
suit - Any court proceeding in which an individual seeks a decision. See case.
summons - Document or writ directing the sheriff or other officer to notify a person that an action has been commenced against him in court and that he is required to appear, on a certain day and answer the complaint in such action.
suspended sentence - See sentence, suspended.
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testimony - Any statement made by a witness under oath in a legal proceeding. tort - An injury or wrong committed, with or without force, to the person or property of another, which gives rise to a claim for damages.
transcript - The official record of proceedings in a trial or hearing which is kept by the clerk.
trial - The presentation of evidence in court to a trier of facts who applies the applicable law to those facts and then decides the case.
trial de novo - See de novo.
trier of facts - The jury or in a non-jury trial, the judge.
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venue - The specific county, city or geographical area in which a court has jurisdiction. See change of venue.
verdict - Formal decision made by a judge or jury (trier of facts).
voir dire (pronounced "vwar-deer") - "To speak the truth." The process of preliminary examination of prospective jurors, by the court or attorneys, regarding their qualifications.
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willful act - An intentional act carried out without justifiable cause.
witness - Person who testifies under oath before a court, regarding what he has seen, heard, or otherwise observed.
writ - A special, written court order directing a person to perform, or refrain from performing, a specific act.
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