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Acquittal on a criminal charge means that a prosecutor was not able to convince a jury or judge beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the offense.

The effect of acquittal is that the accused will not face criminal consequences (such as imprisonment or fine) for the crime. It does not necessarily mean the person was found to be innocent.

Amicus Curiae

A brief in a court case filed by someone who is not a party to the case, but who believes...

o They may be affected by the court's decision

o They have relevant information that might not be brought up by the parties involved, yet might help the court arrive at a decision.

The term amicus curiae is Latin, which translates to Friend of the Court.


A means of resolving a dispute between two parties.

Arbitration decisions typically are arrived at by a panel of three people (arbitrators) - one picked by each of the parties and a third picked by those two.

An arbitration clause in a contract is one that requires the parties to agree to resolve future disputes through arbitration - essentially giving up their right to use courts and the legal system. This is referred to as pre-dispute arbitration.

Arbitration clauses also may prohibit class actions.

Referenced by...
Court says legal system not guaranteed for workers (2018-May-21)

Class Action

A legal action (such as a lawsuit) filed on behalf of a group of people. Many of the plaintiffs will not participate in the action itself. In fact, they may not even be aware of it.

A common use of a class action lawsuit is when a company has engaged in a fraudulent or dangerous practice that affects a large number of its customers. Each consumer might have been affected in a tiny way (for example, adding a penny to a utility bill), yet when combined over all customers the practice resulted in a large profit for the company.

Class actions typically result in a settlement - where the company agrees to pay a certain amount that will be divided (after taking out fees charged by the attorneys) among all affected customers (referred to as members of the class).

You may receive a letter or email informing you that you are a member of the class. As a member of the class, you agree to accept the settlement, and give up your right to sue the company at a later date. The letter will inform you of your options, which typically include...

o You can do nothing. If you do nothing, you still will be included in the class. However, you might not receive your share of the settlement.

o If you must file a claim to receive your share of the settlement, you'll be told how to do that.

o You can challenge the settlement if you do not believe it is fair.

You also can request to be removed from the class. If you do this, you will not receive any part of the settlement. However, you will retain your right to sue the company.

Referenced by...
Judge supports relief for defrauded federal student loan borrowers (2018-Oct-01)
Court says legal system not guaranteed for workers (2018-May-21)

Clemency / Pardon

A show of mercy toward someone who committed a crime.

Executive clemency is a power granted to the president in Article 2 Section 2 of the Constitution. It gives the president the power to "grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment."

The U.S. president can grant clemency only for federal offenses. A state's governor can grant clemency for violations of that state's laws.

Clemency can take several forms, according to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. They include...

o Pardon
o Commutation of sentence
o Remission of a fine or restitution that was paid
o Reprieve

Referenced by...
Court case could extend presidential pardon power (2018-Oct-30)

Consent Decree

A agreement between disputing parties that does not involve an admission of guilt or liability.



Double Jeopardy

The Constitution's Fifth Amendment states that no person shall "be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."

It protects a person from being prosecuted for an offense after being acquitted or convicted for the same offense. Nor can the person be punished more than once for the same offense.

Referenced by...
Court case could extend presidential pardon power (2018-Oct-30)

Ejusdem generis

Legal canon meaning where general words follow specific words in a statutory enumeration, the general words are construed to embrace only objects similar in nature to those objects enumerated by the preceding specific words.

En Banc

A decision by all of the judges in a particular Court of Appeals.

Grand Jury

A body of 12 to 23 people that investigates whether there is enough evidence to indict someone for a crime.

A grand jury examines evidence presented by a prosecutor. It also can issue subpoenas - for evidence or for a person to testify.

Referenced by...
Lawsuit could keep Mueller from sharing Trump-Russia findings (2018-Aug-30)


A formal accusation of a felony, issued by a grand jury.

If an indictment is sealed, it has been filed in a court but its contents are unknown until the accused is in custody. This may be done to maintain the secrecy of an investigation, or to keep the accused from fleeing until they are apprehended.

Referenced by...
Senators sue to reverse Trump's AG appointment (2018-Nov-19)


A court order prohibiting a person or organization (such as a government agency) from taking certain actions.

A preliminary injunction is a temporary injunction intended to maintain the status quo until the disputed issue is resolved.

Law Clerk

An attorney who assists a judge.

Depending on the level of the judge, law clerks assist with everything from assisting the judge with court proceedings to performing research and helping draft the court's opinion in cases.

Magistrage Judge

Temporary federal judges that perform most duties of permanently-appointed judges.

As opposed to permanent judges appointed by the president to a lifetime term, magistrate judges are appointed to 4- or 8-year terms by a panel of judges.


An order from a court ordering a lower judge or government official to properly fulfill their official duties or correct a mistake.

Nolo Contendere

Latin for "no contest".
>br> A person charged with a crime can plead nolo contendere, meaning they are not admitting to the crime, but are not contesting the charge.

Though the use of nolo contendere varies by jurisdiction, the effect generally is identical to a plea of guilty.

Noscitur a sociis

Legal doctrine meaning which is that a word is known by the company it keeps.

It has been used in court decisions in determining how to interpret a catchall phrase at the end of list of conditions.

Per Curium

An unsigned opinion, written for the court as a whole by an unidentified justice. Per curium opinions are not necessarily unanimous. Written dissents are signed.

The term comes from Latin meaning by the court.

Plea Bargain

An agreement between a defendant and a prosecutor, in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty or nolo contendere in exchange for a concession by the prosecutor.

The concession can include dropping one or more charges, reducing a charge to a less serious one, or recommending a reduced sentence to the judge.

Referenced by...
Lawyer: Trump offered Putin $50M penthouse in Moscow tower (2018-Nov-29)


When a court dismisses a lawsuit with prejudice, it is saying it has made a final determination on the merits of the case, and the plaintiff may not file another lawsuit on the same grounds.

Public Defender



When a judge excuses himself from a case because of a possible conflict of interest or lack of impartiality.




The authority of a government to enact and enforce laws.

The United States recognizes several levels of sovereignty, from the federal government to state governments to local governments.

Special Counsel



The connection a party has to a lawsuit they file.

In order to have standing to bring a lawsuit, a party must show they suffered a valid consequence as a result of the defendant's conduct.

Stare Decisis

Latin for "to stand by a decision", it is the legal principle that court rulings should be on precedent (prior decisions).

Under Oath

When someone testifies under oath, they affirm that they legally are required to be truthful. If their testimony is false, they can be charged with perjury.

Writ of Certiorari

A request for the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a lower court decision.

Appeals typically are from federal courts, though the Supreme Court could review a state's court ruling if it is a Constitutional issue. At least 4 of the 9 justices must vote to accept a case. Of the thousands of requests the Court receives each year, it typically accepts fewer than 150.

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