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Glossary of Legal Terms
(Starting with "P")

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


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pain and suffering

An element of general damages which allows for monetary compensation for one's pain, suffering, and emotional distress.


Support or other financial awards made to a nonmarital partner. Palimony is similar to alimony, but is normally awarded only if the parties have agreed to it.


One who solicits for a prostitute.


The power of a governor or president to forgive an already convicted defendant from penalties or punishments arising out of that conviction. A pardon should be distinguished from getting a sentence commuted or reduced, both of which operate temporarily to halt a punishment pending an appeal.


A document allowing a person to be admitted to the U.S. on other than an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, usually to allow humanitarian admission to the U.S.

partial verdict

A jury verdict in which the defendant is found guilty of one or more charges but is acquitted, or the jury deadlocks on the remaining charges.



paternity action

A lawsuit brought to determine paternity. Paternity actions can be brought by the mother and, in many states, by the District Attorney of the county in which the mother lives.

payor spouse

The spouse who is ordered by the court to pay spousal or child support.


A sexual obsession for children. Many believe most pedophilia is a mental illness related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many others believe it is the worst form of criminal deviance and should carry the most severe penalties possible. Everyone agrees that the harm done to children who are molested is massive and life-shattering.

peeping tom

Traditionally limited to offenders who peek into windows and through restroom walls for sexual gratification. The term comes from the legendary story of a man named Tom who peeked when Lady Godiva rode her horse naked through the streets.

pendente lite

During the litigation. This term is generally used to describe an award of temporary support while the litigation is going on.

pension plan

A retirement plan that is set up by an employer for his employees.

percentage lease

A commercial lease that calls for a rent computed as a percentage of the tenant's sales.

periodic tenancy

A rental agreement that runs from week-to-week, month-to-month, or year-to-year.


The unlawful and intentional falsification of one’s testimony while under oath to tell the truth. Perjury can occur in court, administrative hearings, depositions, and even the formal acknowledgment of a written legal document such as an affidavit signed under declaration of perjury.

permanent residence

The status of being authorized to remain in the U.S. permanently.

personal injury award

A money judgment based on a civil wrong to an individual, such as an automobile accident. A portion of the personal injury award is exempt property that may be retained by a debtor who files bankruptcy.


The person who files the initial complaint in a divorce lawsuit.

physical custody

The parent-child relationship in which the child actually resides with the parent. Compare Legal Custody, Joint Legal Custody, Joint Physical Custody.


A person who sells the sexual services of another for profit.


A party who files a lawsuit.

plan document

A detailed written description of the terms and conditions of an employee benefit plan, such as a health benefit or retirement benefit plan.


A defendant's formal response to criminal charges brought against him or her in a court of law. The procedural response to these charges can be a plea of not guilty, guilty, or no contest. The initial plea is made at the defendant’s arraignment.

plea bargain

A negotiated settlement of a criminal matter between the defendant and his or her attorney on one side and the prosecutor on the other. It usually results in the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a reduction in the severity of the penalty. Courts favor plea bargains because they result in judicial expediency and predictability in the outcome of the matter.

political asylum

The term commonly used to refer to asylum status.


More commonly known as a lie detector, it is a device designed to measure physiological responses resulting from specific questions being asked of the subject. The theory being that when one lies the body reacts by increasing breath and heart rate. While polygraphs are not allowed as evidence of guilt or innocence in a court of law, law enforcement and prosecutors have been known to rely on them heavily in determining whether to pursue a defendant.


The visual and auditory display of sexual activity intended solely to excite sexually with no redeeming social or artistic value. The publication, sale and distribution of "hard core" child pornography can be a felony.

port of entry

An established or specifically designated location where a person may seek legal admission to the U.S. A port of entry may be at an airport, a sea port, or a land border crossing. All aliens are required to seek admission at a port of entry.

possession of stolen goods

The unlawful possession of goods known to have been stolen. It is generally considered a felony.

postmarital agreement

An agreement between a husband and wife made during the marriage dealing with issues of property, support, and other matters. Sometimes called a "post-nuptial" agreement.

post mortem

It usually refers to the physical condition of a person after death. In criminal investigations the medical examiner will perform an autopsy to determine not only the cause of death, but the time and likely conditions surrounding the death.


The slang term used to describe marijuana.

power of attorney

A legal document in which an individual designates another individual to act on his or her behalf. The power of attorney can be very broad, or can be restricted to one type of act (for example, signing checks).

pregnancy discrimination

Pregnancy discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee differently because she is pregnant.

preliminary hearing

A formal hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to hold the accused over to answer felony charges. The burden of proof is minimal. The prosecution normally presents only enough evidence and testimony to show the probability of guilt. The preliminary hearing is heard by a judge rather then a grand jury.

premarital agreement

Another term for "antenuptial" agreement.

premarital debts

Debts incurred by a spouse before marriage.

premises liability

An area of law defining the liability of an owner or operator of their property.

preponderance of evidence

What the plaintiff's burden is in a personal injury claim. Generally, this means proof, by more than 50%, that the defendant was legally responsible for an injury.


A rule of law that allows or requires a court to determine that a particular fact is true if another fact is proved. For example, a state may have a presumption of death if a person is missing for seven years. If it is proved that the person has been missing for seven years, then the court may declare that person legally dead.

presumption of innocence

The fundamental right of a person accused of a crime. The defendant is always presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise. The prosecution must carry the burden of proving a defendant guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty.

prima facie

A Latin term describing the bare minimum allowed to prove a case against a defendant. In a criminal prosecution all the elements of a crime must be proved by the prosecution. Also, a prima facie case presented to a Grand Jury will result in an indictment.


The customary phrase used by lawyers and judges describing someone with a record of prior criminal charges or convictions. A record of "priors" demonstrates a repeat offender. Judges usually use the priors to justify giving a longer sentence to the repeat offender.

privilege against self-incrimination

The constitutional right to refuse being compelled to testify in a court of law if that testimony can later be used against that person in a criminal proceeding.

privileges and immunities

In the U.S. Constitution it provides under Article IV that citizens of each state shall be entitled to the same privileges and protections provided to the citizens in that state. The 14th Amendment specifically provides: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

probable cause

That amount of proof necessary before law enforcement can stop, search or arrest a criminal suspect. It is that degree of belief necessary which will cause law enforcement to say that under the totality of the circumstances a crime has been or is about to be committed. Probable cause is often more subjective then objective.


Probation is totally discretionary and is granted by a judge to a person convicted of a crime. Probation allows that person to avoid incarceration in exchange for agreeing to comply with the terms and conditions of probation. Examples of probation terms can include making restitution to the victim and attending rehabilitation. Probation often requires that the person violate no law. A violation of probation can result in the person being sent to jail for the term the defendant would have received had probation not been granted.

product liability

An area of law which holds manufacturers, designers and other makers of products responsible for defective products.

professional employee

An employee who is exempt from laws requiring overtime pay because the employee has received high-level training (such as an advanced degree program) and makes important decisions without much supervision.

promissory note

A written promise to pay a sum certain at a definite time.


Evidence used in a criminal trial which tends to prove a fact in controversy. Proof can be testimony, expert opinion, and physical evidence.


All of a debtor's possessions, including the right to receive money from someone in the future.


The decision by a prosecutor to charge formally and convict a person believed to have committed a crime.


The attorney and resources that represent the government in bringing formal criminal charges against a person accused of a crime.


One who receives payment in exchange for sex.

protective custody

The placing of a person in government control so as to protect that person from threats of danger. Protective custody is sometimes used to help a child who has been threatened or abused by his parents.

public benefits

Public assistance programs of the federal or state governments.

public defender

The public official regularly assigned by the courts to defend people accused of crimes who cannot afford a private attorney.

public employee

Someone who works for a federal, state, or local government agency.

public employer

A federal, state, or local government agency that employs workers.

public housing

Housing owned by a local government agency (usually called a "housing authority") and rented out to low-income people at rents below market rates. This program is subsidized by the federal government, through HUD.

punitive damages

If the plaintiff in a lawsuit proves that the defendant acted "maliciously" or with fraud, the court might allow an award of "punitive" damages to punish the defendant and to set an example to other people who might be thinking of doing something similar. This is over and above compensation for the actual damages suffered by the defendant. Same as "exemplary" damages.

putative spouse

A person in an invalid marriage who believes in good faith that he or she is legally married.

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