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Glossary of Legal Terms
(Starting with "D")

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


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District Attorney. Every county has an elected or appointed Prosecutor or District Attorney who manages the criminal filings and prosecutions for that county. Many states refer to the attorneys that work under the DA as deputies.


Driving under the influence. Most states make it illegal to drive while you are impaired by alcohol or drugs.


Driving while intoxicated. Most states make it illegal to drive while you are impaired by alcohol or drugs.


Losses for which the law allows compensation.

dangerous weapon

Any weapon which has the actual potential of causing great bodily harm to another.

death penalty

The judicial decree ordering the execution of a convicted defendant. All death penalty cases are automatically reviewed by the highest court in the state.

death row

The term used for where prisoners are incarcerated awaiting their execution.


A money obligation owed to another.


Someone who owes money to another.


A judicial decree or decision based on a legal and factual analysis of a case that was reviewed or litigated.


A portion of an employee's paycheck that is "withheld" or "held back" by an employer. "Normal" deductions include payments for federal and state taxes, health insurance premiums, and union dues.


A document that transfers ownership of property from one person to another.

deed of trust

A document that a lender (often a bank) receives from someone who owns property. If the owner fails to make payments on the loan, the deed of trust gives the lender the right to sell the property to get the loan repaid. Similar to a mortgage.


When someone lies about you to another person. Spoken lies are called "slander" and written or printed lies are called "libel".


Failure to fulfill a contractual obligation, such as timely repayment of a debt.

default judgment

A judgment obtained by a person who files a lawsuit against a person who fails to file papers defending the lawsuit.

defective product

Generally indicating a product whose performance does not meet consumer standards, or is dangerous in some aspect.


A party who is sued or, criminally charged.


The legal representation by an attorney on behalf of a client who has been charged with a crime or, a lawsuit against whom it was filed. A criminal defense includes the sum total of all actions taken on behalf of the accused by a criminal defense attorney.

deficiency judgment

A court judgment entitling the creditor to collect the balance of the secured debt remaining after sale of the collateral.

defined benefit plan

A pension plan in which the benefit to the retiree is some portion of the salary paid during the employment. For example, a plan that provides 50% of the average of the three highest earning years is a defined benefit plan. Compare "Defined Contribution Plan."

defined contribution plan

A pension plan in which the employee and employer contribute to a plan in prescribed amounts, but whose benefits to the retiree will depend upon how much the plan earns. For example, a plan in which the employee and employer each contribute 5% of the employee's wages, but which has no obligation to provide any specific amount on retirement, is a Defined Contribution Plan. Compare "Defined Benefit Plan."

demonstrative evidence

Evidence which demonstrates a quality or truth about a relevant part of the case. Examples of demonstrative evidence are: models, diagrams, photos and maps. This form of evidence is meant to clarify the facts that are otherwise considered hard to explain verbally. Such evidence assists the fact finders in their determination of the weight of the evidence.


A formal, legal challenge to a complaint stating that the complaint does not allege facts that would give rise to a cause of action. A demurrer asks for the complaint to be dismissed.


The procedure for taking away a person's citizenship, where it was obtained through naturalization.

department of Labor

The federal agency that enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act. The DOL investigates claims filed by employees for unpaid minimum wage and overtime pay.


Having a potential of being found to be ineligible to remain in the U.S.


The process of ejecting someone from the U.S.


After a lawsuit is filed, the lawyer for either party may require the other party or independent witnesses to come to the lawyer's office and submit to a "deposition". The lawyer will ask the "deponent" questions about the case, which the deponent must answer. A court reporter will be present and write down all questions and answers. At trial, the lawyer might introduce the questions and answers into evidence, perhaps to show that a witness has changed his story from the story he told at the deposition.


A drunk driving charge. The term is slang usually used by law enforcement and attorneys.

diminished capacity

A mitigating defense used to establish the absence of malice by the defendant when he or she committed the violent act. It is not considered a form of insanity but rather a suspended mental state where passion and emotional stress dominated the defendants actions and thoughts such that he or she could not act rationally or be aware of the reasonable consequences of his or her actions. Many states no longer permit this defense.

direct evidence

Evidence which is directly perceived in fact without the need of having to infer anything from its presence.

direct examination

Questions asked of one's own witness. The questions cannot be leading.

dischargeable in bankruptcy

Debts that a debtor will not be required to pay at the conclusion of a bankruptcy proceeding are "dischargeable." Spousal and child support obligations are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

disability benefits

Compensation from the government for an injury or medical condition that impairs a person's ability to work. These benefits are exempt property in bankruptcy.

disability discrimination

Disability discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee differently because the employee has a disability, has a history of a disability, or is perceived by the employer as disabled.


The legal release of the obligation to pay a debt. In bankruptcy, a debtor receives a discharge and is therefore freed of the obligation to repay most debts.

discharge hearing

A court hearing held several months after the bankruptcy filing, at which the bankruptcy judge grants the formal forgiveness of debts.

dischargeable debt

A debt that a debtor will no longer be required to pay, because of a bankruptcy filing.


Physical things - including buildings - deteriorate over time. This loss in value is called "depreciation." A landlord is allowed to consider this loss a cost of doing business and deduct a certain portion of this loss from his income every year. This will reduce his taxable income. And this will reduce the amount of federal and state income taxes he pays.


After a lawsuit is filed, each party is allowed to obtain information in the possession of the opposing party. This process is called "discovery". Discovery devices include the deposition, requests for admission, written interrogatories, and a request for production of documents.


"Discrimination" occurs when an employer treats some workers differently from other workers. Discriminatory acts include making employees work under unequal working conditions (such as lower pay or benefits), failing to promote the employees, or firing the employees. Not all "discrimination" is illegal discrimination. Discrimination is illegal if it occurs because the employee is in a certain "protected" class of people, such as a racial or religious minority.

disposable income

Income remaining after payment of non-discretionary items (such as taxes).

dispossess lawsuit

A special lawsuit filed by a landlord to evict the tenant. This lawsuit is designed to give the landlord a speedy remedy. In some states, it is called an "unlawful detainer" suit.

disorderly conduct

Specific actions that disturb the quiet enjoyment of others. A typical example of such conduct is being drunk in public and causing a disturbance. Most states consider this the same as disturbing the peace.

District Attorney (DA)

District Attorney. Every county has an elected or appointed Prosecutor or District Attorney who manages the criminal filings and prosecutions for that county. Many states refer to the attorneys that work under DA as deputies.

district court

The federal trial court where federal crimes are tried. District courts are exclusively for federal jurisdiction matters.


In many jurisdictions the court will offer diversion rather then custody. Diversion is a program for first-time criminal defendants of minor crimes allowing them to attend classes and/or perform community service rather then face incarceration and a permanent criminal record.

divisible divorce

A procedure by which a judge may grant a divorce and, at a later time, determine the property and support rights of the parties. This procedure is used if one or both of the spouses wants to remarry, but they have not yet resolved their economic or child support issues.


The legal procedure by which a marriage is terminated. Divorce is sometimes referred to as "dissolution."


The initials for deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecular code of human life. As with fingerprints, each person possesses a unique chromosomal identity based on hereditary characteristics. DNA can be found in each living cell including blood, sperm, skin and hair follicles. DNA testing can result in absolute proof as to the existence of a physical presence at a crime scene. DNA testing is very expensive.

domestic partnership

A status created by some state or local governments that gives unmarried couples who comply with the necessary requirements some of the same benefits available to married couples - such as insurance coverage, visitation rights in hospitals or jails, and bereavement leave if a partner dies.

document production

A type of discovery, during the litigation process, where one party requests documents from the other party.

domestic violence

The physical beating of a spouse or child. Prosecutors often face the dilemma that a battered woman will not testify against the spouse out of fear or intimidation. Domestic violence is very common in inner cities.


The state in which one maintains a permanent home to which he or she intends to return (even though residing in another state). A Californian who is temporarily working for the federal government in Washington, D.C. may intend to return to California when his job ends. He resides in Washington, D.C., but his domicile is California.


The right of a widow to a certain percentage of her deceased spouse's property - regardless of the spouse's attempt to will the property to others.

drug test

A test to see if an employee is "under the influence" of illegal narcotics while on the job. The employer usually requires the employee to provide a urine sample, which is sent to a laboratory that tests the sample and reports back to the employer regarding what drugs were found in the urine.

dual citizenship

Having citizenship in more than one country.


Severe pressure, force, or threats that cause a person to act against his own interest. An extreme example would be a threat against a person's life if that person does not sign a property settlement agreement. Agreements signed under duress are usually voidable by the party who was subject to duress.

duty of fair representation

A union's legal obligation to treat the members of its bargaining unit fairly. The duty of fair representation ("DFR") specifically requires that the union not treat the workers arbitrarily, discriminatorily, or in bad faith.

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