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Glossary of Legal Terms
(Starting with "A")

By Henry Dahut,,
Studio City, CA, U.S.A.


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To leave a jurisdiction to avoid being served with legal papers or being arrested. Leaving with funds that have been stolen, as in "he absconded with the money."


Someone who helps in the commission of a crime. Examples are driving a getaway car, carrying weapons, or assisting in the planning of a crime. The accessory does not have to be immediately present during the crime. Punishment for an accessory is usually less than for the main defendant.


Someone who assists in the commission of a crime. Unlike the accessory, the accomplice is almost always present or directly aids in the commission of the crime. The accomplice may be punished as the principal defendant.


The act of being charged with a crime either by indictment or by an official filing of charges by the District Attorney.


A person charged with a crime.


A jury or a judge at the end of a criminal trial renders a verdict for the defendant finding the accused not guilty.

See also: verdict


Abbreviation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace against workers who have disabilities, have a history of a disability, or are perceived as disabled. The ADA applies only to employers who have at least 15 employees.


Abbreviation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), the federal law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace against workers over the age of 40. The ADEA applies only to employers who have at least 20 employees.

adjustment of status

The procedure for converting status to that of a permanent resident.


Permission by an immigration officer admitting a person to the U.S.

administrative employee

An employee who is exempt from federal laws requiring overtime pay because he makes at least $250 per week, and whose main responsibilities include doing sophisticated work involving the company's policies or business operations, exercising "discretion and independent judgment".


A statement made by a defendant prior to trial. Admissions are usually construed as true statements of fact which are often used against the defendant at trial.

admission against interest

An admission of the truth of a fact by a defendant or by a witness such that the admission is made against the person's own interests. This is often used as an exception to the hearsay rule.

admission of evidence

The judge's order to accept evidence at trial. The admission of evidence is then considered officially in the case and the jury can then weigh its value.

See also: evidence

admission of guilt

A recorded or live statement made by the accused that the crime charged was in fact committed by the accused. An admission of guilt usually occurs after the police have conducted an interrogation of the accused. It is typically preceded by Miranda warnings.

admission to bail

A court order in a criminal case allowing the accused to be freed pending trial if the accused posts bail in an amount set by the court. The posting of bail is intended to insure that the defendant will in fact appear in court for all criminal proceedings. If the defendant fails to show up in court the bail is lost.


A legal procedure that ends the parent-child relationship between a child and his/her natural parent(s) and creates a parent-child relationship with the parent(s) who adopt the child.

affirmative defense

A defensive claim that, even if the plaintiff's grounds for judgements are true, the plaintiff should win anyway. Examples are the landlord's breach of the implied warranty of habitability (raised when the tenant has failed to pay the rent) and retaliatory eviction (raised when the tenant has failed to move even though a month-to-month tenancy has been terminated by a 30-day notice).

age discrimination

Treating employees differently because of their age.

age of majority

The age (set by state law) at which a parent is normally no longer responsible for the support of his or her child.

aggravated assault

The crime of physically harming another person which results in serious bodily injury.

This crime usually involves a deadly weapon such as a gun, knife or blunt instrument. Aggravated assault is usually charged as a felony.

aggravated felony

A serious crime that requires a non-citizen's removal from the U.S. and prohibits the person from seeking relief from removal and most immigration benefits.

aid and abet

The act of helping someone commit a crime. Depending on the jurisdiction, such an act occurs before the crime is committed.


A name used by someone other than his or her real name. It is usually used to reference that other name. It is often used to hide a person's true legal identity.


A person who is not a citizen of the hosting country. There are resident aliens officially permitted to live in the country and illegal aliens who have otherwise gained entry into the country.


Spousal support ordered by a divorce court. Family support obligations are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.


The official act of charging a defendant with a fact as true. In criminal complaints a charge is usually defined within the context of the commission of a crime.


A legal proceeding in which the judge declares a marriage void - i.e., that the marital status never existed. Annulment is different from divorce in that a divorce ends a valid marriage.


A document filed in court by the defendant in response to the creditor's "complaint."

antenuptial agreement

A written agreement made by people who intend to get married, in which property rights, support rights, and other rights and obligations are set out. An antenuptial agreement is sometimes referred to as a "prenuptial" or "premarital" agreement.


The written request usually by the defendant’s lawyer to a higher court asking that court to reverse the decision of the trial court because of a legal error or because the trial was conducted unfairly.


The process of deciding how much of the property acquired by the husband and wife is owned by them together, and how much is owned by only one of them. Apportionment is necessary when both marital and non-marital assets are used to buy property during the marriage.


A process for resolving disputes outside of court by using an impartial arbitrator instead of judges. An award made by arbitrators can normally be turned into a court judgment and enforced like any other court judgment.

arbitration clause

A provision in a contract that requires the parties to have any dispute decided by an "arbitrator" and not in court. An arbitrator is a type of private judge, and the arbitration hearing is much less formal than a court hearing. There is usually no right to appeal an arbitrator's ruling.


When a lawyer asks a question of a witness that does not seek a direct answer but rather challenges the credibility or truthfulness of the witness. Most courts do not allow this type of question. Questions that are argumentative usually have a sarcastic character and are insincere.


When a criminal defendant is formally charged with a crime. The defendant is given a choice to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. In some cases the court will grant a continuance for the defendant to seek counsel before pleading. This is usually the first court appearance.


The first formal hearing in which a person charged with a crime is asked to respond with a plea before a judge. This is the first appearance of a criminal defendant and his lawyer.


The act of taking custody of a suspect by a law enforcement officer. An arrest may be made by warrant issued by a court pursuant to probable cause that a crime was committed, or upon probable cause by a peace officer on information and belief that a crime is or was just committed.

arrest warrant

A judicial order to law enforcement to arrest a specific person. This person will be then formally charged with a crime.


The criminal act of intentionally burning a building, home or other structure. A death resulting from arson is considered a felony-murder in most states.


A physical act of threatening another with force or threat of force. The perpetrator usually must be capable of carrying through with the attack. It is important to note that the intended victim does not need to know of the peril. Aggravated assault is usually considered an attack connected with the commission of another crime.

assault and battery

The joint act of threat (assault) and actual unlawful touching intending to harm (battery). Both acts are criminal.


A person who receives an assignment of a lease or, other rights.


The transfer of an entire right, or set of rights to another person.


A person who assigns right to another.


A person granted asylum status.


A status given to someone who has established a well founded fear of persecution on account of political opinion, race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group.


A person who has been qualified by a state or federal court to provide legal services, including appearing in court. Graduation from law school does not make one an attorney. The person, usually, must pass a state bar examination and be accepted as morally fit to practice law.

attorney of record

The attorney who has appeared in court with the client. He or she remains the attorney of record and is the official legal representative for the defendant. An attorney must be relieved by the court before the attorney can stop working for the client.

attorney's work product

An attorney’s written materials, notes, conversations, investigations, and thoughts on a case made in preparation for defending a client in that case or legal proceeding. An attorney cannot be required to produce work product as evidence without a court order.

attorney-client privilege

The legal rule that an attorney may not reveal communications, conversations and written material between the attorney and his or her client. Lawyers are expected to speak freely with a client without fear of future disclosure. The communication between a client and his or her attorney is considered sacred.

at-will employment

An employment relationship in which either the employer or the employee may terminate the employment at any time for any reason.

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