Legal Terms A – B

Legals Term A - B

acquittal — a finding that the defendant is not guilty of the charges brought by the government. This finding may be reached by the trial judge either in a case tried before the judge or on a motion for judgment of acquittal made by a defendant or the judge in a jury trial. The jury may make such a finding in a case tried before it.

active judge — a judge in the full-time service of the court. Compare with senior judge.

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) — the federal agency responsible for collecting court statistics, administering the federal courts’ budget, processing the federal courts’ payroll, and performing other administrative functions, under the direction and supervision of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

admissible — a term used to describe evidence that may be heard by a jury and considered by a judge or a jury in federal civil and criminal cases.

adversary proceeding — in bankruptcy, a method of handling disputes that may arise during the course of a case. It is literally a lawsuit within a case and is generally initiated by a complaint and requires a filing fee. The Bankruptcy Rules establish the types of disputes that are considered adversary proceedings. Compare with contested matter.

adversary process — the method courts use to resolve disputes. Through the adversary process, each side in a dispute has the right to present its case as persuasively as possible, subject to the rules of evidence, and an independent fact finder, either judge or jury, decides in favor of one side or the other.

alternate juror — a juror who is selected in the same manner as a regular juror and hears the evidence in a case along with the regular jurors, but does not help decide the case unless called upon to replace a regular juror.

alternative dispute resolution (ADR) — a procedure for settling a dispute outside the courtroom or helping to make the trial more efficient, such as mediation, arbitration, or minitrial. Most forms of ADR are usually not binding on the parties and involve referral of the case to a neutral party. ADR is becoming more common in the federal courts.

amicus curiae — a Latin term meaning “friend of the court.” An amicus curiae is a person or organization that is not a party in the case on appeal, has a strong interest in the outcome of the case, and files a brief with the court of appeals called an “amicus brief.” This brief may call important legal or factual matters to the court’s attention and thus help the court reach a proper decision in the case.

answer — the formal written statement by a defendant in a civil case that responds to a complaint and sets forth the grounds for defense.

appeal — a request, usually made after a trial, asking another court (usually the court of appeals) to decide whether the trial court proceeding was conducted properly. To make such a request is “to appeal” or “to take an appeal.”

appellant — the party who appeals a lower court’s decision, usually seeking reversal of that decision. Compare with appellee.

appellate court — a court that reviews decisions of lower courts. In the federal courts, the primary appellate courts are the U.S. courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

appellee — the party against whom an appeal is taken and who seeks to protect the judgment or order of the lower court. Compare with appellant.

arbitration — a form of alternative dispute resolution in which an arbitrator (a neutral decision maker) issues a judgment on the legal issues involved in a case after listening to presentations by each party. Arbitration can be binding or nonbinding, depending on the agreement among the parties before the proceeding.

arraignment — a proceeding in which a person accused of committing a crime is brought into court, told of the charges, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

arrest — a law enforcement officer’s detaining a person or otherwise leading that person to reasonably believe that he or she is not free to leave.

Article III — the section of the U.S. Constitution that places “the judicial power of the United States” in the federal courts.

Article III judges — judges who exercise “the judicial power of the United States” under Article III of the Constitution. They are appointed by the President, subject to the approval of the Senate. Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges, district court judges, and Court of International Trade judges are Article III judges; bankruptcy and magistrate judges are not.

assistant U.S. attorney (AUSA) — a federal prosecutor who assists the U.S. attorney in the judicial district by prosecuting criminal cases for the federal government and representing the government in civil actions. It is important to distinguish a U.S. attorney from a district attorney (DA), who prosecutes criminal cases for a state, county, or city.

attorney-client privilege — the doctrine that ensures that communications between an attorney and his or her client remain confidential and that the attorney cannot be compelled to disclose them.

Attorney General — the executive branch official appointed by the President to head the Justice Department.

automatic stay — a provision that goes into effect as soon as a bankruptcy case is filed and that stops most creditors from suing or foreclosing against a debtor without prior permission of the bankruptcy court.

bail — the release of a person charged with an offense prior to trial under specified financial or nonfinancial conditions designed to ensure the person’s appearance in court when required.

bankruptcy — federal statutes and judicial proceedings involving persons or businesses that cannot pay their debts and thus seek the assistance of the court in getting a “fresh start.” Under the protection of the bankruptcy court and the laws of the Bankruptcy Code, debtors may “discharge” their debts, perhaps by paying a portion of each debt.

bankruptcy appellate panel (BAP) — in the circuits that have them, a panel of three bankruptcy judges that shares the appellate role of the district court in bankruptcy filings.

bankruptcy court — see U.S. bankruptcy court.

bankruptcy estate — a debtor’s assets (money or property) that, unless exempt, must be used to pay creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding.

bankruptcy judge — a federal judge, appointed by the court of appeals for a fourteen-year term, who has authority to hear matters that arise under the Bankruptcy Code.

bench trial — a trial without a jury, in which the judge decides the facts. Compare with jury trial.

brief — a written statement submitted by the lawyer for each side in a case that explains the legal and factual arguments why the court should decide the case in favor of that lawyer’s client.

burden of proof — the level or quality of proof that a party needs to prove his or her case. In civil cases, the plaintiff has the burden of proving his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means the plaintiff’s proof must outweigh the defendant’s at least slightly for the plaintiff to win; if the two sides are equal, the defendant wins. In criminal cases, the government has the burden of proof, and that burden is much higher: A verdict of guilty requires the government to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.