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Glossary of Terms heard in Court

Action, Case, Suit, and Lawsuit

These words mean the same thing. They all refer to a legal dispute brought into court for trial.


The paper in which the defendant answers the claims of the plaintiff.


The bailiff is an officer of the court. Bailiffs will check the jurors in, assist the court during the selection process, will answer jurors’ questions if appropriate, and will assist the jurors selected to serve throughout the trial.

Civil Case

A lawsuit is called a “civil case” when it is between persons in their private capacities or relations, or when the government, whether federal, state or local, or some department thereof, sues an individual under the law, as distinguished from prosecuting a criminal charge. It results generally in a verdict for the plaintiff or the defendant and, in many cases, involves the giving or denying of damages.


The document or legal pleading in which the person bringing the lawsuit sets forth allegations, accusations or charges against another person.   

Court Monitor

The court monitor records the record for the case. The record is made should an appeal require it.

Court Reporter

The court reporter takes down in shorthand or on a machine everything that transpires which constitutes the stenographic record in the case. The notes so made are subject to transcription should occasion, such as an appeal, require it.

Criminal Case

A lawsuit is called a “criminal case” when it is between the state on one side, as plaintiff, and a person on the other side, as defendant, charging the defendant with committing a crime, the verdict usually being “guilty” or “not guilty”.

Cross Examination

The questions asked by a lawyer to the opposing party or witnesses of the opposing party.


In a civil case, the defendant is the person against whom the lawsuit is brought. In a criminal case, the defendant is the person charged with an offense.


Testimony taken under oath in the same manner as during a trial. This is ordinarily done because of illness or absence of a party, or to determine prior to trial how a witness will testify at trial.

Examination, Direct Examination

The questions which the lawyer asks the lawyer’s client or the client’s own witnesses.


Objects including pictures, books, letters and documents which are produced as evidence in a case. These are called “exhibits.” 

Instruction or “Charge” to the Jury

The outline of the rules of law which the jury must follow in their deliberations in deciding the factual issues submitted to them.


A disputed question of fact is referred to as an “issue”. It is sometimes spoken of as one of the “questions” which the jury must answer in order to reach a verdict.

Jury Panel

The whole number of prospective jurors from which the jury is chosen.


A reason or argument by a lawyer that a question asked or statement made was not proper or in accordance with the law.

Objection Overruled

This term means that, in the judge’s opinion, the lawyer’s objection is not proper or correct under the rules of the law. The judge’s ruling so far as a juror is concerned is final and may not be questioned.

Objection Sustained

When a lawyer objects to a question or the form of a question, the judge may say “objection sustained”. This means that the judge agrees that under the rules of the law, the lawyer’s objection to a statement or a question is proper. This ruling likewise is not subject to question by the jurors.

Opening Statement

Before introducing any evidence for their side of the case, lawyers are permitted to tell the jury what the case is about and with what evidence they intend to prove their side of the case. This is called the “opening statement”.


The plaintiff and defendant in the case. They are also sometimes called the “litigants”.


The person who starts a lawsuit.


The parties in a lawsuit must file in court papers stating their claims against each other. In a civil case, these usually consist of a complaint filed by the plaintiff and an answer filed by the defendant. These are called the “pleadings”.


This refers to the pleading, the exhibits and the word-for-word record made by the court of all the proceedings at the trial.


This is a legal phrase which means that the party has concluded the evidence he/she wants to introduce in the stage of the trial.

Striking Testimony

On some occasions, after a witness has testified, the judge will order that certain evidence be deleted from the record and will direct the jury to disregard it. When this is done, the jury will treat this evidence as though it had never been given and will wholly disregard it.


The document which is issued for service upon a witness to compel the witness to appear in court.