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Glossary of Legal Terms
(Starting with "S")

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


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safety sensitive position

A job with duties that include responsibility for the employee's own or other people's safety, where it would be especially dangerous if the employee is using drugs or alcohol on the job.


The compensation paid by an employer to an employee for work performed for the employer - usually a set amount of money for a certain period of time. Sometimes known as "wages".


Latin for "willful" conduct. The focus is on whether the defendant actually had criminal intent. Criminal intent is a necessary element for all crime.


This term is commonly used to describe the weight of evidence as small and barely enough to make a factual finding.

search and seizure

An intrusive search of a person’s residence, business, person or vehicle by law enforcement. A legal search and seizure must be based on probable cause that a crime was committed or is in the process of being committed. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution provides: "The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…". Evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution will be excluded from evidence as a matter of law.

search warrant

A judicial declaration in writing granting permission to law enforcement to search and seize identifiable evidence at a specific time and place. The search warrant must be supported by probable cause. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution specifies: "…no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized." Evidence seized without legal cause cannot be used in court as evidence against the defendant.

second degree murder

The killing of a human being without malice or premeditation. Most states have specific statutory distinctions between murder in the first degree and second degree. Murder in the first degree is usually a killing that was premeditated and was particularly malicious.

secured debt

A promise to allow a creditor to take a specified item of property if the debt is not paid.

security deposit

An amount of money given to the landlord by the tenant at the outset of the tenancy, to secure the tenant's performance of certain legal obligations specified in the lease or rental agreement - such as payment of rent and cleaning the premises at termination of the tenancy.


Similar to treason, sedition is intentional insurrection and rebellion against the government. Sedition also applies to actions which support and aid the enemy in times of war.


Self-defense is a common defense to assault, battery or homicide. It is interpreted to mean that degree of reasonable force necessary to protect oneself from physical harm. Self-defense cannot include killing or great bodily harm to defend property, unless it also threatens to harm that person. A common example is self-defense during the commission of a burglary.

self-help eviction

Acts by a landlord to evict a tenant, other than through an eviction lawsuit. Such acts might consist of changing locks, turning off utilities, or removing doors or windows. In most instances, self-help evictions are illegal.


The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that one cannot "be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself…". It is unlawful for law enforcement or government to compel a person to testify against his or her legal interest under oath or force another to produce evidence which tends to prove his or her guilt.


The judicial pronouncement of the defendant’s punishment for being found guilty of a crime. Sentencing usually follows a separate hearing where the judge considers argument from counsel. A sentence usually refers to state prison time but could also include restitution or other punishment. A sentence could also include the terms of probation. For misdemeanors the maximum sentence is usually one year in county jail.

seperate property

Nonmarital property. Generally, separate property includes property owned before marriage as well as property acquired during the marriage by gift or inheritance to only one spouse. "Separate property" can also refer to the system of marital property ownership that is followed by non-community property states.


To keep separate or apart. In so-called "high-profile" criminal prosecutions (involving major crimes, events or persons given wide publicity) the jury is sometimes "sequestered" in a hotel without access to news media, the general public or their families except under supervision, in order to prevent the jury from being "tainted" by information or opinions about the trial outside of the evidence in the courtroom. A witness may be sequestered from hearing the testimony of other witnesses, commonly called being "excluded," until after he/she has testified, supposedly to prevent that witness from being influenced by other evidence or tailoring his/her testimony to fit the stories of others.

serious medical condition

An illness that qualifies a worker to take time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. A "serious medical condition" might include hospitalization of at least one night or "continuing treatment" - such as incapacity for more than three days with at least one visit to the doctor and additional treatment, or a pregnancy-related condition so serious that it prevented the worker from working.

service of process

Notification to a party that a lawsuit has been brought against him or her, normally by personally delivering a summons and a copy of the complaint.


A resolution of a lawsuit or claim prior to trial.

severance package

Money and/or other benefits that an employer may offer to a terminated employee to temporarily offset the employee's job loss. Also known as a "separation package".

sex discrimination

Sex discrimination (also known as "gender discrimination") occurs when an employer treats an employee differently because of the employee's sex or because of a characteristic that is related to the employee's sex.

sexual harassment

Sexual harassment occurs when there is a "hostile work environment" - which is "severe or pervasive" unwelcome sexual conduct related to the workplace, such as sex jokes, posters or flyers that make fun of women, unwanted touching, requests for sexual favors, comments about a person's body or sexuality, or actual sexual assault or rape. Sex harassment also occurs when an employer denies an employee a promotion or fires an employee if the employee doesn't engage in sex with him or her.

sex offender

Generic term for all persons convicted of crimes involving sex, including rape, molestation, and pornography.

sexual orientation discrimination

Sexual orientation discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee differently because the employee is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Although there is no federal law that protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, some states and cities have laws that prohibit discrimination because an employee is gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

shopping center lease

A lease for space in a shopping center. Most shopping center leases are "percentage" leases.

sick time

Paid or unpaid time off from work for employees who are ill or injured.

sine qua non

Latin for "without which it could not be…" It usually refers to a physical condition from which something must logically follow.


Latin for "location." This usually refers to where the crime occurred. Situs can often determine where the court allows jurisdiction of the matter.


When someone verbally lies about you to another person.

Small Claims Court

The trial court for cases with relatively modest sums in dispute. Attorneys are not allowed to appear in small claims court.


Anal copulation by force and without consent.

Social Security Benefits

Compensation from the federal government for retirement, death, or disability. It is exempt property in bankruptcy.


In family law, the performance of some formal act or ceremony by which a man and woman marry and become husband and wife.


The unlawful act of inducing another to commit a crime.

special appearance

The representation by an attorney at court that he or she appears specially for the defendant for this appearance only. A special appearance will not obligate the attorney past that one appearance. A special appearance is different from a "general appearance" in which the attorney is committed to represent the client in all future proceedings in that matter.

speedy trial

In criminal prosecutions, the right of a defendant to demand that trial commence within a specified time from the date of incarceration. To hold a defendant in jail without trial is a violation of the "due process" provision of the Fifth Amendment. Charges must be dismissed and the defendant released if the period expires without trial.

spousal support order

A court order that one spouse pay money to the other spouse for his or her support either during the divorce proceeding or after the divorce has been granted.


The situation of having no citizenship or right to enter any country.

status conference

A pre-trial meeting before a judge in which the prosecutor and the defense lawyer meet to confer about the evidence, exchange exhibits and schedule the structure of the upcoming trial.


A law enacted by a state legislature or by Congress.

statute of limitations

A law prescribing time limitations on the right to bring a lawsuit.

statutory rape

The sexual intercourse of an adult with another below the legal age of majority. In almost all states the age of majority is 18 or older.


A court order delaying a court eviction order for some limited period of time.

stay of execution

A court order delaying the execution of a convicted felon.

stepparent adoption

An adoption of a parent's child by a new spouse of that parent. Generally, stepparent adoptions are much less complicated than other adoptions.


An agreement between the parties (and usually their lawyers) made in court and presented to the judge, who will make an order based on the matters agreed to. For example, if the parties stipulate to a certain amount of spousal support, the court will make an order consistent with that stipulation.

stop and frisk

The lawful search for a concealed weapon by patting down a person who is suspected of a crime. The objective is to protect the officer from concealed weapons. Outside of a "pat down," any further search by law enforcement requires a warrant or sufficient probable cause.

strict liability

A theory of law which holds certain sellers and manufacturers liable for products that cause harm without requiring the plaintiff to prove negligence on the part of the seller or manufacturer.

structured settlement

An agreement wherein one party agrees to pay a sum of money over a period of time to settle a case as opposed to a lump sum payment.

subornation of perjury

The crime of encouraging, influencing or assisting another to commit perjury.


A tenant who subleases his or her tenancy to someone else.


A person who subleases a tenancy from a sublessor.


A court order demanding a witness to appear in court to testify. A subpoena can also include a demand to produce documents and records at the time of trial.


To bring a lawsuit against another person.

summary plan description

A written summary, usually in pamphlet form, of the terms and conditions of an employee benefit plan, such as a health benefit or retirement benefit plan.

summary judgement

A motion during litigation and prior to trial, where one party asks the court to rule in its favor based upon facts which are undisputed.


A document issued by a court informing a person that he has been sued and has a stated number of days to file response papers to avoid a default judgment.


A person hired by the employer to supervise the work performed by employees at the workplace. Sometimes known as a "manager".

Superior Court

The name used to describe a county trial court.

support guidelines

Guidelines used by a judge to determine how much child and/or spousal support to award. Support guidelines will generally take into account the money earned by each spouse and, in the case of child support, the amount of time the child spends with each spouse.

Supreme Court

The highest court in the United States. The court is empowered to be the final judge of state and federal law. The court has the power to hear constitutional questions and appeals from state constitution matters.


The act of giving oneself over to law enforcement. A surrender is usually arranged by the defendant’s attorney.

suspended sentence

Usually refers to a jail sentence which is ordered by a court to be stayed pending the completion of probation or some further action to be taken by the court.

suspension of deportation

An application which no longer exists under the immigration laws. It granted a person permanent residency because of the person's long standing residency and exceptional hardship which would result if he were required to leave. This immigration benefit is now referred to as "cancellation of removal".

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