Have you ever heard legal jargon and wondered what it meant? Unless you are a lawyer or a professional along those lines, we all have! Fortunately, some people are paid to learn those words and phrases, so we don’t have to. Still, there might be a time when you are watching a legal TV show (Suits comes to mind) or film and would love to know what a character meant. Or, perhaps you have a real-life court issue that would have been nice to understand what the attorneys are talking about. Regardless of why you need to know, here are some common courtroom/legal jargon and what they mean.

Bench Warrant

A bench warrant is a type of warrant given by a judge for an arrest or detainment of a person. This usually happens if the accused individual is in contempt.


During a hearing, a party can present its facts and evidence. If an opposing counsel objects, the judge can sustain it, meaning the objection is allowed so the evidence can’t be entered. The opposite of sustained is overruled.


An affidavit is a sworn statement that has been put in writing. People who use it claim the information provided is accurate according to their knowledge.


A mistrial can happen in two instances: if a jury cannot reach a verdict, necessitating a new trial with a different jury, and if a judge adjourns a case without a decision, awarding a new trial.


An injunction is a court order requiring someone or an organization to start or stop doing a specific action.

Voir Dire

Voir Dire is the process by which jury members are accepted or rejected before the hearing of a specific case. It is a test for the juror’s suitability.

Case Law

Often used interchangeably with common law, case law refers to judicial decisions made based on the outcome of past similar cases rather than what the legislative law stipulates.

Cause of Action

Also known as right of action, cause of action refers to facts that justify suing a person or entity to obtain money, property, or whatever the law allows.


A deposition is a witness’s sworn testimony, usually taken out of court before trial. The person being deposed is known as the “deponent.”


Discovery is when both the plaintiff and the defendant share information on what they intend to present as evidence in court. It’s usually to prevent “trial by ambush.”


Annulment is when a judge rules that a marriage institution is void and declares it was null from when it started. It differs from divorce in that the court indicates the marriage never existed. Divorce acknowledges the validity of the marriage.


Extradition is when one jurisdiction sends a person to another jurisdiction where they are accused of wrongdoing, usually to answer charges against them.


The process where two parties seek an out-of-court settlement through a common arbitrator/s is called arbitration. The parties agree to accept the decision made by another person who isn’t a judge but equally as effective.


Malfeasance is a wrongdoing or illegal act to sabotage another party, especially by a public official or employee. Medical malpractice is an example of malfeasance. It is sometimes confused with misfeasance and nonfeasance.

Attorney of Record

A law firm or lawyer who appears in a court’s official documents as a party’s representative is called an attorney of record.

Mens rea

Means rea refers to the intention to commit a criminal activity. It is literally translated from Latin, meaning “guilty mind.” Most common law jurisdictions require proof of mens rea.

Approach the Bench

Approach the bench is an order that requires an attorney to move from the council table to the front bench where the judge usually sits. This typically happens when the judge and the lawyer/s want a private conversation.


Recusal is when a prosecutor, judge, or juror removes themselves from handling their legal duties, citing impartiality or possible conflict of interest.

Move to Strike

This is a formal request by, say, a lawyer to a judge to remove a part of a party’s evidence from an official court record.

Subpoena and Summon

A subpoena is a process that demands a person to provide evidence or testimony pertaining to an ongoing case. On the other hand, a summon is a document requiring a person to appear in court to answer or respond to a complaint.

Subpoena Duces Tecum

A subpoena duces tecum is a type of subpoena that requires the subpoenaed individual/entity to provide relevant documents to a court of law.

Capias Mittimus

Capias mittimus is a civil arrest warrant. The court usually gives it to a State Marshall, Town Constable, or any other relevant party, requesting that someone be arrested and brought before the court.

Civil Case and Criminal Case

Civil cases usually only result in injunctions (monetary damages or an order to do or not do something). Examples of civil cases include financial debts, contract breaches, and landlord/tenant issues. On the other hand, criminal cases may result in both jail terms and/or monetary punishment. They include murder, armed robbery, and physical assault.


Perjury is the offense resulting from willfully giving a false statement or a misrepresentation under oath in court.


Visitation is primarily typical in divorce cases. When one parent becomes the custodian of the kid/s, the other receives a visitation order, explaining and directing how much time they can visit the other party and children.


Continuance is the time requested to appear in court to comply with an order. It may also be given by a judge to delay the proceedings of a case to a specific date.


Dissolution is the same as divorce. It is the official termination of a legal relationship between two parties. It includes partnerships, contracts, and marriages.


In a legal context, quash means the termination or voiding of a process. It’s also called to set aside or annul.

No Contest

No contest is when a defendant agrees to a criminal conviction without admission of guilt or taking a plea. It is also known as “nolo contendere.”

Plea Bargain

A plea bargain is when the defendant negotiates with the prosecution for a smaller/lenient sentencing or recommendations in exchange for admission of guilt. It saves the prosecution time, while the defendant probably avoids harsher punishment.


Clemency is showing leniency or mercy to a defendant by a judge or jury. It may also include commutation of sentence, reprieve, and pardon.


Restitution is the order given to the offender to pay back the affected party for the damage caused. This can be both to the state and the victim/s. It is usually read aloud together with the sentence to prison if applicable.

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Last Update: December 7, 2023