Legal Terminology and Definitions
A.R.S.• Arizona Revised Statutes.
Acquittal• Finding a criminal defendant not guilty of the charge against him/her.
Admissibility• The ability to legally and properly introduce relevant evidence.
Affidavit• A voluntary statement or declaration of facts which has been written
down or confirmed under oath. Affidavits can be administered by judges
and notary publics; by anyone allowed under oath to do so.
Allegation• An assertion, declaration, or statement made in a pleading by one of
the parties to the action, detailing the matters which the party intends
Answer• Written response in a civil case; in it the defendant
admits or denies allegations made by the plaintiff.
Arbitration• A process for deciding a legal dispute out of court.
In Maricopa County, all civil cases which seek a judgment
of $50,000 or less, must go to arbitration. Where arbitration
produces a settlement, there is no need for litigants
to incur the cost of trial.
Arraignment• Criminal proceeding in which the defendant, in open
court, must answer criminal charges by entering a plea
of guilty or not guilty. Defendant either must be represented
by a lawyer or waive his/her right to legal counsel.
Attorney of Record• Attorney whose name appears on the permanent records and files of a particular
case. Initially, the attorney must file a Notice of Appearance with the Court.
Bail• Monetary sum assessed by a judge to ensure that a
criminal defendant, who is being released prior to trial,
will appear in court on the trial date. Securities posted
are returned when court appearances are satisfied.
Bailiff• A Courtroom assistant to the judge who handles certain courtroom
functions including files, jurors, witnesses, and attorneys.
Bench Conference• A conference between a judge and attorney regarding a courtroom proceeding,
which is not necessarily part of the written court record.
Bifurcated Trial• Where the issues in a case are divided into
two or more hearings or trials. The second hearing/trial
does not necessarily use the same jury as the first.
In criminal cases, insanity issues may prompt a bifurcated
trial. Criminal DUI trials, where the defendant is alleged
to have a prior conviction, are often bifurcated trials.
In civil cases, you may see medical malpractice trials
bifurcated when the liability phase of the trial is separated
from the damages phase. And in Domestic Relations, child
custody issues may prompt a bifurcated trial.
Brief• Written statement explaining facts of case and laws
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Chambers• Private office suite of the judge and his/her staff.
Proceedings held in chambers are rarely open to the press,
and only by permission of the judge.
Civil Complaint• The first pleading in a civil case filed by the plaintiff.
It alleges the material facts and legal theories to support
the plaintiff's claim against the defendant.
Constable• Officer primarily responsible for processing services
and performing minor legal duties in Justice of the Peace
Conviction• Finding by a judge or jury that a person charged with
a criminal offense is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt
of committing the crime charged.
Court Commissioner• Authorized to perform limited judicial functions.
Commissioners are frequently full time judicial officers
appointed by the presiding judge.
Court Clerk• A member of a judge's staff in charge of keeping
the court records and exhibits. The clerk generates a
Minute Entry after each proceeding.
Court Reporter• A person who works with a judge's staff to transcribe
by shorthand or record stenographically the testimony
during court proceedings. Note: transcripts are not automatic;
they are generated when requested.
Criminal Complaint• A written criminal charge, usually filed
before a magistrate, that the defendant has committed
a specified criminal offense.
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Damages• Monetary compensation claimed by a person who has
suffered loss or injury to his/her person, property,
or rights as a result of the negligence or unlawful conduct
Decree• An order of the Court given in civil cases. A final
decree is one which fully disposes of the litigation;
an interlocutory decree is a preliminary order that often
disposes of only part of a lawsuit.
Default• In civil cases, the failure of the defendant to file
an answer or appear within a certain amount of time.
This will usually result in a default judgment against
Direct Complaint• The County Attorney files a criminal complaint directly
to the Superior Court instead of utilizing a Justice
of the Peace Court or Grand Jury. A Superior Court judge
then holds a probable cause hearing.
Discovery• The pretrial process by which one party discovers
the evidence that will be relied upon at trial by the
Due Process• The regular course of administration through the courts
of justice, under the protection of the law and the U.S.
Constitution, enabling every person to have a fair and
impartial trial or hearing.
Evidence• Proof presented in court through the testimony of
a witness, exhibits, records, objects or written documents
to persuade the judge or jury as to an alleged fact or
For Cause• Based upon some good reason.
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Grand Jury (County)• Group of 16 citizens drawn from Maricopa
County to investigate in private criminal matters pertaining
to Maricopa County when asked to do so by the County
Attorney. There may be more than one County Grand Jury
going at any time, each meeting twice a week. Evidence
is presented by a prosecutor and witness(es). County
Grand Juries typically hear cases involving drugs, murder,
rape, burglaries, and assaults. County Grand Jury must
decide by simple majority whether there is probable cause
to believe the defendant committed the crime. County
Grand Jury has the power to charge a crime by indictment;
also may have the power to issue a report or presentment
without charging a crime. A Grand Jury proceeding negates
the need for a Preliminary Hearing.
Grand Jury (State)• Group of 16 citizens which can meet in
the Superior Court of either Maricopa County (Phoenix)
or Pima County (Tucson) to investigate in private criminal
matters that pertain to the State when asked to do so
by the State Attorney General. State Grand Jury typically
hears white collar crimes, fraudulent schemes and artifices,
and forgeries. Typically, one State Grand Jury meets
once a month for four days. Nine members of the State
Grand Jury must vote a true bill, which is to say they
found probable cause that the defendant committed the
Impanel• The act of making up a list of jurors who have been
selected for the trial of a particular case.
In Camera• A Latin term meaning "in chambers."
Traditionally, the term meant a proceeding closed to
Information• A formal written accusation filed by a public officer,
such as a prosecuting attorney, charging that a person
or business committed a specific crime.
Initial Appearance (IA)• First appearance in court by defendant
in a criminal case. Under federal case law, an arrested
person must appear before a judicial officer to be advised
of charges and rights, including the right to have an
attorney. At this time, a public defender would be appointed
if the defendant cannot afford to hire counsel. Bond
may be set. Depending on the case, a person might have
his/her first appearance in any municipal or justice
of the peace court in Maricopa County.
Judge pro tem• Arizona is one of the few states that allows
an attorney to be appointed a judge with full powers
for the length of a case or series of proceedings. In
Maricopa County, pro tem judges are employed to keep
backlogs down and cover for vacation schedules.
Jurisdiction• The legal authority of the court to hear and decide
cases; the exercise of judicial power within certain
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Magistrate• Often used to refer to a Municipal Court judge, but
A.R.S. § 1-215 provides a broad definition which includes
all those judicial officers having power to issue a warrant
for arrest, i.e. a Supreme Court justice, Superior Court
judges, justice of the peace courts, and municipal courts.
Minute Entry• Usually a one or two page summary, always on pink
paper. It briefly summarizes what went on during a court
proceeding--everyone who appeared in court, names of
witnesses who testified, what kind of proceeding took
place, when the next court date is, and any orders of
the court that were issued. Minute entries are public
documents and are kept in the court files in the lower
level CCB file room. In Maricopa County, the courtroom
clerk generates the minute entry.
Misdemeanor• A classification for offenses which are less serious
than felonies; a misdemeanor is punishable by a sentence
other than being placed in the custody of Dept. of Corrections.
Motion• A written filing, usually from an attorney to the
Court, asking for a rule or order.
Motion in limine - A pretrial motion where a party requests
a ruling from the court that prohibits the opposing party
from raising a particular, highly prejudicial issue at
Negligence• Failure to exercise that degree of care which a reasonable
person would exercise under the same circumstances.
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Parole• A conditional release from prison, granted by the
Board of Executive Clemency.
Petit Jury• A jury, usually of 12, impaneled to hear a civil or
criminal proceeding in court.
Petition• Written application made to court asking for legal
Plaintiff• In a civil action, the party who files the lawsuit.
In a criminal case, the State is the plaintiff.
Plea• Response of a defendant to criminal charges. Note:
When writing copy, you would be in error to say, "John
Doe pled innocent today." The plea is guilty or
Pleading• Written documents stating the allegations and claims
of the opposing parties in a legal dispute.
Preliminary Hearing• Court proceeding which determines if the
criminal defendant should be held for trial. In Maricopa
County, preliminary hearings usually take place in justice
(JP) court in the precinct where the crime occurred.
Probation• A conditional suspension of imposition of the
court's sentence. If terms of probation are completed
successfully, sentence is not imposed. If terms of probation
are violated, probation may be revoked and the sentence
Pro se (pro per)• a person who is not represented by an attorney.
Quash• To vacate an order of the Court; for example, to cancel
an arrest warrant.
Remand• To send back. For example, the Court of Appeals may
remand a case to Superior Court for retrial or other
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Subpoena• Legal document issued by the courts to order a person
to appear as specified and give testimony and/or bring
Summons• Legal document issued by the court to notify defendant
that a complaint has been filed and that he/she is required
to appear and answer the complaint on or before the time
and date specified. A summons is a notice to appear for
a defendant who does not need to be arrested.
Supervening Indictment• A direct complaint has been filed,
requested by the County Attorney and by the Grand Jury.
If granted, the defendant bypasses the Preliminary Hearing
and goes to an arraignment.
Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)• An order to do or not
do something until a more complete hearing is held, usually
within 10 days, with both parties present. At that time,
a preliminary injunction may be granted until there is
a hearing for a permanent injunction.
Warrant• A warrant notifies law enforcement that a defendant
should be arrested when found.
With Prejudice• Most often means a case cannot be reopened or refiled.
Without Prejudice most often means a case can be reopened or refiled.
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