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LEGAL TERMS

DISCOVERY

A formal investigation -- governed by court rules -- that is conducted before trial. Discovery allows one party to question other parties, and sometimes witness... (more...)
A formal investigation -- governed by court rules -- that is conducted before trial. Discovery allows one party to question other parties, and sometimes witnesses. It also allows one party to force the others to produce requested documents or other physical evidence. The most common types of discovery are interrogatories, consisting of written questions the other party must answer under penalty of perjury, and depositions, which involve an in-person session at which one party to a lawsuit has the opportunity to ask oral questions of the other party or her witnesses under oath while a written transcript is made by a court reporter. Other types of pretrial discovery consist of written requests to produce documents and requests for admissions, by which one party asks the other to admit or deny key facts in the case. One major purpose of discovery is to assess the strength or weakness of an opponent's case, with the idea of opening settlement talks. Another is to gather information to use at trial. Discovery is also present in criminal cases, in which by law the prosecutor must turn over to the defense any witness statements and any evidence that might tend to exonerate the defendant. Depending on the rules of the court, the defendant may also be obliged to share evidence with the prosecutor.

BAIL

The money paid to the court, usually at arraignment or shortly thereafter, to ensure that an arrested person who is released from jail will show up at all requi... (more...)
The money paid to the court, usually at arraignment or shortly thereafter, to ensure that an arrested person who is released from jail will show up at all required court appearances. The amount of bail is determined by the local bail schedule, which is based on the seriousness of the offense. The judge can increase the bail if the prosecutor convinces him that the defendant is likely to flee (for example, if he has failed to show up in court in the past), or he can decrease it if the defense attorney shows that the defendant is unlikely to run (for example, he has strong ties to the community by way of a steady job and a family).

INTENTIONAL TORT

A deliberate act that causes harm to another, for which the victim may sue the wrongdoer for damages. Acts of domestic violence, such as assault and battery, ar... (more...)
A deliberate act that causes harm to another, for which the victim may sue the wrongdoer for damages. Acts of domestic violence, such as assault and battery, are intentional torts (as well as crimes).

FEDERAL COURT

A branch of the United States government with power derived directly from the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts decide cases involving the U.S. Constitution, fe... (more...)
A branch of the United States government with power derived directly from the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts decide cases involving the U.S. Constitution, federal law--for example, patents, federal taxes, labor law and federal crimes, such as robbing a federally chartered bank--and cases where the parties are from different states and are involved in a dispute for $75,000 or more.

ACCESSORY

Someone who intentionally helps another person commit a felony by giving advice before the crime or helping to conceal the evidence or the perpetrator. An acces... (more...)
Someone who intentionally helps another person commit a felony by giving advice before the crime or helping to conceal the evidence or the perpetrator. An accessory is usually not physically present during the crime. For example, hiding a robber who is being sought by the police might make you an 'accessory after the fact' to a robbery. Compare accomplice.

AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES

Circumstances that increase the seriousness or outrageousness of a given crime, and that in turn increase the wrongdoer's penalty or punishment. For example, th... (more...)
Circumstances that increase the seriousness or outrageousness of a given crime, and that in turn increase the wrongdoer's penalty or punishment. For example, the crime of aggravated assault is a physical attack made worse because it is committed with a dangerous weapon, results in severe bodily injury or is made in conjunction with another serious crime. Aggravated assault is usually considered a felony, punishable by a prison sentence.

CONTINGENCY FEE

A method of paying a lawyer for legal representation by which, instead of an hourly or per job fee, the lawyer receives a percentage of the money her client obt... (more...)
A method of paying a lawyer for legal representation by which, instead of an hourly or per job fee, the lawyer receives a percentage of the money her client obtains after settling or winning the case. Often contingency fee agreements -- which are most commonly used in personal injury cases -- award the successful lawyer between 20% and 50% of the amount recovered. Lawyers representing defendants charged with crimes may not charge contingency fees. In most states, contingency fee agreements must be in writing.

BURGLARY

The crime of breaking into and entering a building with the intention to commit a felony. The breaking and entering need not be by force, and the felony need no... (more...)
The crime of breaking into and entering a building with the intention to commit a felony. The breaking and entering need not be by force, and the felony need not be theft. For instance, someone would be guilty of burglary if he entered a house through an unlocked door in order to commit a murder.

CHARGE

A formal accusation of criminal activity. The prosecuting attorney decides on the charges, after reviewing police reports, witness statements and any other evid... (more...)
A formal accusation of criminal activity. The prosecuting attorney decides on the charges, after reviewing police reports, witness statements and any other evidence of wrongdoing. Formal charges are announced at an arrested person's arraignment.