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Glossary of Legal Terms
(Starting with "B")

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


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back-to-back life sentences

A term used to describe consecutive life terms imposed by a judge when there were two crimes committed by the defendant, both of which can result in punishment of a life term.


The money put up to secure the release of a person who has been charged and jailed for a crime. The idea behind bail is that it guarantees the appearance of the defendant in court for further legal proceedings. There is a constitutional right to a fair bail amount. This will vary depending on the severity of the crime.

bail bond

A bond provided by a bond company through a bail bondsman to secure the release from jail of a defendant prior to trial. Typically, 10 percent of the amount of the bond is charged by the bail service. In most cases the bail service will also ask the defendant to pledge collateral such as real property. If the person who has been bailed out flees the jurisdiction and does not appear for his or her criminal proceedings, the bond is forfeit. A warrant for his or her immediate arrest will be issued by the court.

bail bondsman

A bond agent who specializes in providing bail bonds for people charged with crimes. Bail bondsmen usually charge a fee of 10 percent of the amount of the bond.


1) A court official, usually a deputy sheriff, who keeps order in the courtroom and handles various errands for the judge and clerk. 2) In some jurisdictions, a person appointed by the court to handle the affairs of an incompetent person or to be a "keeper" of goods or money pending further order of the court. "Bailiff" has its origin in Old French and Middle English for custodian, and in the Middle Ages it was a significant position in the English court system. The word "bailiwick" originally meant the jurisdictional territory of a bailiff.


The federal law that allows a debtor to give up his non-exempt property for the benefit of his creditors and be discharged from his debts.


The intentional and unlawful touching of another with intent to harm that person. Battery is a crime as well as a civil wrong. Most battery charges are filed with an allegation for assault which does not require the actual touching of another.

bench warrant

An order issued by a judge commanding a suspect or witness to appear before the court in a criminal matter. Failure to obey a bench warrant is also a crime punishable by jail.


"Benefits" are job-related "perks," such as health, dental, vision, life, and disability insurance - often with the insurance premiums paid partly or entirely by the employer - as well as pension and retirement benefits.

best interests of child

The legal standard a judge applies in deciding issues of adoption, custody, visitation rights or other matters affecting a child.

beyond a reasonable doubt

Known as the prosecutor’s "burden of proof," the jury are instructed by the judge that a defendant can only be found guilty if they are convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt" of the defendant’s guilt. In criminal matters, a conviction under this burden of proof must be made by each of the twelve jurors.


The act of having more then one spouse. Such a marriage is considered legally void. A person who knowingly enters into a bigamous marriage is guilty of the crime of bigamy. These types of cases are rarely prosecuted.

Bill of Rights

The first ten amendments to the federal Constitution. The bill of rights was first adopted and ratified in 1794. The bill of rights guarantees people charged with crimes with certain fundamental rights. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizures and requires that warrants be based on probable cause. The Fifth Amendment prohibits criminal charges for death penalty ("capital punishment") or any other "infamous" crime (felony) without indictment by a Grand Jury. It also provides that no person may be tried twice for the same offense; no one may be compelled to be a witness against himself or herself ("taking the Fifth"); no one can be deprived of life, liberty or property without "due process of law." The Sixth Amendment insures that criminal defendants have a right to a speedy and public trial, impartial local jury, information on the nature and cause of accusation, to confront witnesses against him, to subpoena witnesses, and to have counsel.


Money given to the immigration service to assure that a person will appear at any hearing. Bonds are also used to assure that someone will remain in legal status or to make sure that certain that conditions of admission are met.


A failure to perform a contractual obligation, such as a promise to pay a debt.

breach of the peace

A violent act or an act likely to lead to violence.

breaking and entering

The criminal act of entering a dwelling of another without legal permission and with the intent to commit a crime inside that dwelling. Today, breaking and entering can apply to a vehicle or any other enclosed structure.


The giving or taking of money or something other of value in order to influence a public official in the performance of his duties. One example is the secret payments to officials to secure government construction contracts.


A legal argument, usually in a written form and specifically prescribed by the courts. A brief makes factual statements supported by an argument of law. A brief is submitted to the court for a legal determination of the issues and in some cases, of factual findings.


A plan for the expenditure of income.

burden of proof

In a criminal trial the burden of proof required of the prosecutor is to prove the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. Each of the twelve jurors must make his or her finding to convict or acquit the defendant. Any other option is considered a hung jury and is declared a mistrial.In civil case the plaintiff carries the burden to prove her case by the preponderence of the evidence. This is often viewed as winning 51% or more.


The crime of breaking and entering a dwelling for the purpose of committing a crime. No specific degree of force is required. A burglary is not necessarily larceny or theft. It can apply to any crime such as battery or rape. Today, it does not have to be a dwelling that is entered, but may be any enclosed structure.

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