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Glossary of Legal Terms
(Starting with "C")



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

hdahut[at]gottrouble.com
www.gottrouble.com








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capital offense

A crime which is punishable by the death penalty. This type of crime is referred to as a "capital" offense. The type of death sentence varies from state to state. Many states use lethal injection. The types of crimes punishable by death vary from state to state. In many states murder one is found where the killing was premeditated or where the murder occurred with special circumstances such as with an automatic gun, when the victim is an officer or state official, or in the case of treason. In almost all states, a capital offense results in confinement without bail.

certiorari

A legal order from a higher court to a lower court agreeing to review the lower court ruling as to issues of law. Certiorari is most commonly used by the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court selects only a small number of certiorari requests because it often results in a change of law. The Supreme Court makes a legal statement by denying a writ letting a lower court’s decision stand. This is also known as the doctrine of stare decisis.

challenge

Jury selection is a vital part of the right to a fair trial. In a criminal jury trial it is the right of either the prosecutor or the defense lawyer to remove a juror from sitting on the jury. When this is done for a justified reason such as prejudice, the basis of the challenge is for cause. If the juror is removed without cause it is called a peremptory challenge. Typically each side is given a set number of peremptory challenges. The objective is to select a jury which is fair to both sides; or as many jury trials go, unfair to both sides.

change of status

The procedure where a person is allowed to convert from one nonimmigrant status to another.

chapter 7

A group of bankruptcy laws that regulate "ordinary" bankruptcy.

chapter 13

A group of bankruptcy laws that regulate "wage earner plans."

character witness

In criminal trials a person who testifies on behalf of the defendant as to the defendant’s reputation for honesty and truthfulness is known as a character witness. This type of evidence is usually self-serving and results in a string of rebuttal witnesses showing the defendant has a bad character for truth and honesty.

charge

A specific allegation against the accused establishing that a crime was committed by the accused. It is usually contained in a written criminal information or by indictment. The essence of a charge requires that a factual allegation be clearly alleged and that the doing of the factual allegation by the accused constituted a crime.

churning

The illegal and criminal act of excessive buying and selling of shares of stock by a stockbroker for the purpose of obtaining more commissions. The act has both civil and criminal consequences. The rules governing illegal stock churning are governed by the blue sky laws of the states and by the Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States government.

circumstantial evidence

Any evidence in a trial which is not directly proved but which requires the inference of another fact to prove its existence. For example, "I did not see the dog eat the bone but I saw the dog and then the bone was gone." The jury may infer the dog ate the bone. This is circumstantial evidence. Such evidence is just as admissible as direct evidence.

citation

A formal notice to appear in court.

citizenship

A person's legal affiliation with a particular country that generally gives the right to enter that country as well as has certain obligations to it.

cleaning deposit

A security deposit that is limited to securing the landlord against the cost of cleaning the premises if the tenant fails to leave the premises in a clean condition when the tenant vacates.

cleaning fee

A fee charged by landlords to clean the premises either when the tenant takes possession or when the tenant vacates.

clear and convincing evidence

That degree of evidence that proves a fact by the "preponderance of evidence" required in civil cases and beyond the "reasonable doubt" needed to convict in a criminal case.

closing argument

The final argument by an attorney after all evidence has been presented by both sides. Unlike the opening statement, which is limited to what the attorney intends to prove, closing argument often includes emotional argument and appeals to the jury for justice, forgiveness and fairness.

collateral

Property that is pledged to the repayment of a loan. If the loan is not paid, the debtor must surrender the collateral to the creditor.

collection agency

An entity retained by a creditor to collect a debt.

commercial lease

A lease for property used for a commercial purpose: retail, office, or industrial.

commitment

A judicial decree ordering a term of imprisonment after the accused has been found guilty of a crime.

common law

This type of law dates back to Mother England. It evolved from the accepted behavior of English society as it related to their trade, custom and usage. The common law became the basic law for most states and evolved specific rules called codes.

commutation

The executive act of reducing a criminal sentence. It is also known as executive clemency. Commutation often suggests that the penalty was excessive or there has been substantial rehabilitation. However, commutation is more often used when there is evidence that the defendant was not guilty.

comparative negligence

A means of determining what fault, if any, the complaining party may have in relationship to the injury that has occurred.

complaint

The filing of a law suit by the plaintiff against the defendant.

competent

The state of mind of a criminal defendant wherein he or she understands the charges against him or her and can assist in his or her own defense. A court cannot try someone who is not competent to stand trial.

complaint

The document filed by the creditor in court that begins a lawsuit against the debtor. The complaint contains the creditor's factual allegations about the loan transaction.

compounding a felony

The act of being harmed by a felony, then reaching an agreement with the one causing the harm that the person harmed will not tell the authorities in exchange for money or other recompense. It is often equated to accepting a bribe for silence.

concealed weapon

A weapon which is hidden on one's person and which is not readily observable by another. Carrying a concealed weapon is a felony in most states. In most states the only defense is having a permit to carry a weapon. This is usually given only to law enforcement employees.

concealment

The intentional and bad faith failure to provide material information to someone with the felonious intent to commit a theft on that person. Examples include failure to disclose that a car is known to be a lemon or failing to disclose a bankruptcy in the hope of obtaining credit.

concurrent sentences

Two sentences for more than one crime which are to be served at one time, not consecutively. The defendant gets the benefit of not doubling up his or her terms as is the case with consecutive terms. Such a decision by the judge is usually the result of leniency or of a plea bargain.

confess

The voluntary admission of guilt made to law enforcement. It can be in the form of a written document or verbal confession captured on tape. A confession must be voluntary and knowing. It cannot be the product of coercion or threat. The Miranda warnings are designed to combat the tendency for law enforcement to extract forced confessions from suspects while in custody.

confession and avoidance

When a defendant admits the allegations in a criminal complaint but alleges other facts making up an affirmative defense offered to prove that the criminal allegations do not prove a case.

confidence game

The procurement of money by trick or deceit. This type of crime is usually perpetrated on the elderly.

confirmation hearing

A court hearing held about a month after the Chapter 13 plan is filed, at which the bankruptcy judge approves the plan.

confiscate

The act of government taking the property of a suspect by force of authority without legal process. Most seizure of property results from acts involving the illegal drug trade.

This act has been challenged as unconstitutional.

confrontation

The right of a criminal defendant to confront the witnesses against him or her. Confrontation includes the right to cross examination, which is said to be the great steam engine to the truth.

Consul

An official of the U.S. Department of State overseas, who may issue travel documents to someone seeking permission to come to the U.S. The Consul is charged with the responsibility of interpreting and enforcing U.S. immigration laws outside of the U.S. The U.S. Consul also has duties relating to the protection of its citizens in a foreign country.

conspiracy

A conspiracy is the criminal planning and carrying out of illegal activities by two or more people.

constitution

The U.S. Constitution was originally adopted in convention on September 17, 1787. It was thereafter ratified by the states and amended 27 times. It is the grounding for all decisions by our courts including the Supreme Court. It is the legal premise from which individual rights are given the force of law.

constitutional rights

The rights reserved by the people from the U.S. Constitution. These rights are better known as our Bill of Rights or the first ten amendments. These rights include: writ of habeas corpus; no bill of attainder; no unreasonable search and seizure; no double jeopardy; no self-incrimination; right to due process; and the right to a speedy and public trial.

constructive eviction

An act by the landlord that makes the premises unlivable, permitting the tenant to vacate the premises and end her lease obligation to pay rent.

consumer

A person who buys for personal, family, or household purposes.

consumer credit report

A document containing information about a debtor, including who the debtor borrowed money from, the amount of the debt, whether or not the promised payment was made on time and in full, and the identity of any creditor requesting information about the debtor.

cosign

To guarantee the repayment of someone else's debt. Although the debtor's obligation is dischargeable in bankruptcy, the cosigner's obligation is not discharged unless the cosigner declares bankruptcy.

contempt of court

The reckless or intentional disruption of a judicial proceeding such that the court concludes the conduct of that person in court is unlawful. Examples include being disrespectful to the judge or not following the court's instructions. The court's power to punish for contempt includes fines and jail.

co-tenant

A person who agrees to a lease or rental agreement together with one or more other persons who will also occupy the premises.

contingency fee

An agreement between a client and an attorney wherein payment to the attorney is based upon the monetary recovery by the client, and not on an hourly rate.

controlled substance

A drug which has been declared by federal or state law to be illegal for sale or use without a medical prescription.

conviction

The act of finding the defendant guilty of a crime after a trial.

corpus

Latin for the body of the accused.

corpus delicti

Latin for the substantial fact that a crime has been committed.

corpus juris

The total collection of the law. It is also known as a compendium of all laws, cases and interpretations.

corroborate

To substantiate testimony of another witness or a party in a trial.

count

A separate charging statement in a criminal complaint which states the factual basis which constitutes the exact crime for which the accused is charged.

credit counseling

Providing a debtor with advice about preparing a budget and paying debts.

credit rating

The conclusion a creditor makes about a debtor's credit-worthiness, based primarily on a consumer credit report.

creditor

A person or company to whom a debt is owed.

crime

A violation of a law perpetrated by a person against the interests of another person. The crime is considered to be a wrong against the people, not just the individual.

crime of passion

A mitigating factor in a crime said to be caused by passion rather than specific intent. To make this claim the defendant must prove he or she was provoked into a state of passion and without time for contemplation or cooling off.

criminal

Any person who has committed and been found guilty of a crime.

criminal attorney

An attorney that specializes in defending people charged with crimes.

criminal calendar

The presiding judge’s list of criminal cases to be called in court for some legal proceeding or purpose. Proceedings can include arraignments, pretrial hearings, preliminary hearings, bail settings, motions and sentencing.

criminal justice

The procedure by which criminal conduct is investigated, evidence gathered, arrests made, charges brought, defenses raised, trials conducted, sentences rendered and punishment carried out.

cross examination

After direct examination, the other party can cross examine the same witness. This usually entails questions that can be leading and aggressive.

cruel and unusual punishment

The constitutional prohibition against governmental penalties that shock our morality. They are specifically prohibited under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, no where are they specifically defined.

cumulative sentence

Where a defendant has been found guilty of more than one offense, the judge may sentence him to prison for successive terms for each crime.



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