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LEGAL TERMS AND DEFINITIONS
The following definitions will make it easier for you to understand these common legal words and phrases which will occur frequently during the course of the trial:
Action, Case, Suit, Lawsuit:
These words refer to a legal dispute brought into court for a hearing or trial.
Answer:
A pleading filed by the defendant before the trial in a civil case in which the defendantanswers or denies the claims of the plaintiff.
Argument:
After all the evidence on both sides of a lawsuit has been presented, the lawyers are permitted to tell the jury what they think the evidence proves and why they think their side should win.This is usually called an "argument' or 'summing up.' It is not evidence.
Cause of Action:
The legal grounds on which a party to a lawsuit relies to get a verdict against hisopponent.
Complaint:
The first pleading in a civil case stating facts and demanding relief.
Counterclaim:
A counterclaim results when the defendant, in his answer to the complaint, claimsthat he or she is entitled to damages or other relief from the plaintiff.
Cross Examination:
The questions which a lawyer puts to the party or a witness on the opposing side.This is designed to test whether the witness is telling the truth.
Deliberations:
The discussions of the jury which occur after the judge has instructed the jury to retireto the jury room and consider the verdict.
Deposition:
if a party to a lawsuit or a witness cannot be in court because of illness or other inability,his or her testimony maybe written out in question-and-answer form just as it would have been given incourt. This testimony, called a deposition, is then read at the trial. Attorneys for both sides are presentwhen a deposition is taken. A deposition may also be used to deny or contradict a witness's testimonyor for the purpose of refreshing a witness's recollection.
Examination, Direct Examination, Examination-in-chief:
The questions which the lawyer asks hisor her own client and witnesses.
Exhibit:
Articles such as pictures, books, letters, and documents are called exhibits and are given to the jury to take to the jury room while deliberating.
Indictment:
The written document used to inform the defendant that he or she is charged withcommitting a crime.
Instructions:
After all the evidence is in, and the lawyers have made their arguments, the judge willoutline the questions the jury must decide. The judge will outline the rules of law which must guide thedeliberations and control the verdict. This is called either the judge's “charge" to the jury or “instructions". A judge may, and sometimes must, give an instruction to the jury on some point of lawwhile the trial is in progress.
Issue:
A disputed question of fact which the jury must decide.
Jury Panel:
The whole number of all prospective jurors from which the trial jury is chosen."Objection Overruled" or "Overruled": This term means that the judge ruled that the lawyer's objectionisnot well taken under the rules for the conduct of the trial. The judge's ruling, so far as you areconcerned, is final and may not be questioned.
 
"Objection Sustained" or "Sustained":
When a lawyer objects to the form of a question or theanswer a question calls for, the judge may say “Objection sustained” or “sustained”. This means theevidence sought cannot be admitted or accepted as evidence.
Opening Statement:
Before introducing any evidence in the case, each lawyer is permitted to tell the jury what the case is about and what evidence is expected to prove his or her side of the case. Theopening statement is not evidence.
Parties:
The plaintiff and defendant in the case - also called the “litigants.”
Pleadings:
All the documents filed by the parties before the trial to establish what issues must bedecided by the jury.
Record:
The record is the official copy of the proceedings, taken in shorthand, steno type, or audio-transcription by an official court reporter. Often the judge or the lawyers may declare that something is,or is not, "for the record" or "in the record".
Rest:
This is the legal phrase which means that the lawyer has concluded the evidence he or she wantsto introduce at that stage of the trial.
INTRODUCTION
The Handbook of Legal Terms is produced by the Michigan Judicial Institute to meet the needs of thoseemployees of the court system who are not legally trained, yet work with the law and court procedures.Since this Handbook is designed for non-legal personnel, the definitions are written in plain Englishrather than in complicated legal terms.It is the product of hundreds of interviews and the analysis of survey questionnaires completed bymany court employees in 1976, and has been periodically updated with the assistance of judges, SCAOstaff and other court officials. It has been prepared at the request of judges, court administrators andother court supervisory personnel.The Michigan Judicial Institute wishes to thank the countless court employees who participated in the preparation of this booklet, and hopes that the Handbook will be a useful reference.This project was initially supported by a grant awarded by the Michigan Office of Criminal JusticePrograms under the Crime Control Act of 1976. It was updated and revised prior to the third printing in1989. Additional revisions were made prior to the seventh printing.A
Abate
— To reduce, or diminish or defer a cause of action.
Abrogate
— To annul, repeal, or destroy a former law, rule, or order.
Abstract of Conviction
— Summary of the court's finding on a moving violation. This termcommonly refers to the form that the courts prepare and send to the Michigan Department of State.
Abstract of Record
— An abbreviated or partial record.
Abstract of Title
— A condensed history of the chain of title to land, used to determine or establish present ownership.
Accessory
— One who knowingly and intentionally contributes to or aids in the commission of acrime, before or after, but not necessarily during, the commission of a crime.
 
Accomplice
— One who participates in the commission of a crime, other than the person actuallydoing the act constituting the crime.
Acquit
— To find not guilty and set free.
Acquittal
— A judgment of not guilty in a criminal case.
Action
— A legal dispute brought before a court. An "action" is also referred to as a "case," "lawsuit,""cause of action," or "cause."
Active Case
 — Pending case; not disposed of.
Ad Damnum
— The amount of the plaintiff's claim of damages in a civil case.
Ad Valorem
 — According to the value. For example, an ad valorem tax on an automobile is one wherethe amount of tax depends on the automobile's value.
Additur
 — The power of the trial court to increase the amount of an award made by jury verdict as analternative to granting a new trial.
Adjourn
— To suspend indefinitely, or until a later stated time.
Adjournment
 — The postponing or putting off of a case or session of court until another time or place.
Adjudicate
 — To determine judicially.
Adjudication
 — The final judicial determination of a case by a finding of guilt or innocence by a trialcourt in a criminal case or the giving of a judgment or a decree in a civil case.
Administrative Agency Regulations
— Rules adopted by an administrative agency (such as theDepartment of State or the Department of Natural Resources) to govern matters under the jurisdictionof the agency.
Administrative Orders
— Orders issued by the Michigan Supreme Court to regulate court procedures.
Administrator
— 1.The chief administrative officer of a court (usually "court administrator").2.A person appointed by a court to administer the estate of a deceased person. Under theMichigan Revised Probate Code, this person is referred to as a "personal representative" (if acting with court supervision), or an "independent personal representative" (if acting withoutcourt supervision). A female administrator is called an "administratrix." See also Fiduciary,Independent Personal Representative, Michigan Revised Probate Code, PersonalRepresentative.
Administrator De Bonis Non
— In cases where the administration of a decedent's estate is leftunfinished due to the death, removal, or resignation of the personal representative, a court may appointa new personal representative to complete the administration of the estate. In some jurisdictions, thenew personal representative is called the "administrator de bonis non." Under the Michigan RevisedProbate Code, this person is referred to as a "successor personal representative." See also MichiganRevised Probate Code.
Adoption
 — The act by which a person takes the child of another into his or her family and makes thechild, for all legal purposes, his or her own child.
Adult
— Someone who is no longer a minor. In criminal cases, an adult is someone age 17 or older.See MCL 712A.2(a). In most other proceedings, an adult is someone age 18 or older. See MCL700.8(5). See also Minor.

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