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 is an example of one such dictionary.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

Clerk: Court official who keeps court records, official files, and administers the oath to jurors and witnesses.

Clerk's Record: The papers and motions filed in the trial court as well as orders issued by the judge.

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.

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

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

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

Emancipation: To release (a child) from the control of parents or a guardian.

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.

Ex Parte Communication: Generally a private communication with a judge regarding a disputed matter without the other party being present or copied with correspondence.

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.

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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

Notice of Appeal: A document filed in the trial court that lets the court know that you intend to appeal the decision the court made. This document also asks the trial court to prepare the clerk's record and the transcript, if necessary.

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.

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.

Petition: A formal written request made to a court.

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

Petitioner: The party who starts a lawsuit.

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

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

Respondent: A defendant in a lawsuit, especially one in an appeals or divorce case.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.