Legal Terms I – N

Legal Terms I - Nimpeachment — (1) the process of charging government officials with serious misconduct in office that can lead to their removal; (2) the process of calling the credibility of a witness into question, as in “impeaching the testimony of a witness.”

imprisonment — a term in prison served by an offender as part of a federal criminal sentence.

indictment — the formal charge issued by a grand jury stating that there is enough evidence that the defendant committed a crime to justify having a trial. Indictments are used primarily for felonies. An indictment may contain allegations that the defendant committed more than one crime. The separate allegations are referred to as the counts of the indictment. Compare with information.

indigent defendant — a defendant who does not have the financial resources to hire an attorney and qualifies for a court-appointed attorney under the Criminal Justice Act.

in forma pauperis — a Latin phrase meaning “as a pauper.” A party unable to pay the filing fees and other costs involved in an appeal may file a motion in the district court asking to proceed in forma pauperis. If the motion is granted the party may proceed with the appeal without paying any fees or costs.

information — a formal accusation by a government attorney that the defendant committed a misdemeanor. Compare with indictment.

initial appearance — following an arrest, the appearance of a defendant before a magistrate judge, who informs the defendant of the nature of the charges against him or her. The defendant is also informed of his or her rights to be represented by counsel, to remain silent, and to have a preliminary examination. The magistrate judge then decides whether to detain the defendant or release him or her on bail.

injunction — a judge’s order that a party take or refrain from taking certain action. An injunction may be preliminary, until the outcome of a case is determined, or permanent.

interim trustee — in bankruptcy liquidations, a person who takes “possession of, preserves, and protects” the debtor’s nonexempt property (the property that will be divided among creditors) until the creditors elect a case trustee. See also case trustee.

interlocutory appeal — an appeal from a nonfinal, or interlocutory, district court order, such as an injunction. An interlocutory order is issued during litigation of the case in the district court, not at the end of it. Interlocutory appeals are permitted by statute as an exception to the general policy requiring a final district court decision or order before an appeal is permitted.

interrogatories — a form of discovery consisting of written questions to be answered in writing and under oath. Interrogatories are submitted to a party in the case by the party seeking discovery.

involuntary filing — a bankruptcy case that a creditor or group of creditors initiates, rather than the debtor. Compare with voluntary filing.

judge — a governmental official with authority to preside over and decide lawsuits brought to courts.

judgment — a final order of the court that resolves the case and states the rights and liabilities of the parties.

judgment as a matter of law — a ruling that not enough credible evidence has been introduced on a particular claim to allow the jury to consider it. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure give any party the right, at the end of the presentation of an opponent’s evidence, to ask the court to enter judgment against the opponent.

Judicial Conference of the United States — the federal courts’ administrative governing body. The Chief Justice of the United States chairs the Conference, and it meets twice a year. Much of the Conference’s work is done through some twenty committees of judges, which make recommendations to the Conference on various issues.

Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation — the federal agency responsible for considering the transfer of civil cases that are pending in different districts but involve common questions of fact to a single district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. The panel consists of seven court of appeals and district court judges designated by the Chief Justice.

judicial review — (1) the authority of a court, in a case involving either a law passed by a legislature or an action by an executive branch officer or employee, to determine whether the law or action is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution, and to declare the law or action invalid if it is inconsistent; although judicial review is usually associated with the U.S. Supreme Court, it can be, and is, exercised by lower courts; (2) a form of appeal to the courts for review of an administrative body’s findings of fact or of law.

jurisdiction — (1) the legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case; (2) the geographic area over which the court has authority to decide cases.

jury — a group of citizens whose duty is to weigh evidence fairly and impartially and decide the facts in a trial (see petit jury) or to decide whether evidence against a defendant is sufficient to file an indictment charging him or her with a crime (see grand jury).

jury instructions — instructions given by the judge to the jury after all the evidence in a case has been presented, either before or after closing arguments, and before the jury begins deliberations. The instructions cover such matters as the responsibilities of the jurors, how the jurors are to go about deciding the case, and the law applicable to the case.

jury trial — a trial in which a jury decides the facts. Compare with bench trial.

Justice Department — the agency of the federal executive branch with responsibilities in a wide range of areas bearing on the administration of justice and enforcement of laws passed by Congress. The Justice Department is responsible for investigating alleged criminal conduct, deciding which cases merit prosecution in the federal courts, and prosecuting those cases. It also represents the U.S. government in many civil actions.

lawsuit — any one of various proceedings in a court of law.

leading question — a question an attorney asks a witness in a trial which, by its very wording, suggests how the attorney would like the witness to answer. Leading questions are permissible during cross-examination but not during direct examination.

liquidation — the more traditional type of bankruptcy filing, in which the debtor gives up most of its assets in return for not having to pay most of its debts.

litigants — see parties.

local rules — rules that govern practice and proceedings in a specific federal court. Local rules can supplement but not contradict the federal rules.

magistrate judge — a judge appointed by a federal district court for an eight-year term. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing cases for trial. They may also conduct trials in misdemeanor cases when a defendant agrees to allow a magistrate judge instead of a district judge to preside, and they may conduct civil trials when the parties agree to it.

mandatory minimum sentence — a statutorily defined minimum term of imprisonment that the court is required to impose on a defendant at sentencing. For example, a defendant convicted of distributing one kilogram or more of a substance containing a detectable amount of heroin must be sentenced to “a term of imprisonment which may not be less than 10 years or more than life” under federal law.

Marshals Service — see U.S. Marshals Service.

master wheel — the list of registered voters in a district, supplemented in some districts with other sources, which is used as a source of prospective jurors. The clerk’s office sends a questionnaire to each person on the master wheel.

mediation — the alternative dispute resolution method most commonly used in the district courts. Mediation is an informal process in which a mediator facilitates negotiations between the parties to help them resolve their dispute.

misdemeanor — a criminal offense less severe than a felony, generally punishable by a fine only or by imprisonment of less than one year.

mistrial — a trial that has been terminated because of some extraordinary event, a fundamental error prejudicial to the defendant, or a jury that is unable to reach a verdict.

motion — an application to the court for an order of some kind. Some kinds of motions may be filed only within certain time limits, and others may be filed at any stage of a case.

nolo contendere plea — a plea in which the defendant does not admit guilt, but does waive the right to trial and authorize the court to impose punishment at sentencing. Nolo contendere is a Latin term that means “it is not contested.” This type of plea is rarely entered. The motivation for entering a nolo plea is that unlike a plea of guilty, a nolo plea may not be used against the defendant as an admission in a related civil case.