Legal Terms S – W

Legal Terms S - Wsearch warrant — a written court order authorizing a law enforcement officer to search certain premises for specified items and to seize the items described.

secured claim — in bankruptcy, a creditor’s interest in specific property of the debtor as assurance of payment.

senior judge — a judge who has retired from active duty but continues to perform some judicial duties, usually maintaining a reduced caseload. Compare with active judge.

sentence — a judgment of the court imposing punishment upon a defendant for criminal conduct.

Sentencing Commission — see U.S. Sentencing Commission.

sentencing guidelines — uniform policies established by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) to guide federal judges as they sentence criminal offenders. The first set of sentencing guidelines took effect in 1987, and the USSC amends the guidelines annually.

sentencing hearing — a court hearing at which a defendant who is convicted of a crime is sentenced. At the hearing, the judge considers the probation officer’s recommendations for sentencing, allows the attorneys to state their positions, and gives the defendant an opportunity to make a statement before imposing sentence.

sequestration — (1) the court’s exclusion of witnesses from the courtroom until they testify, so that their testimony will not be influenced by the testimony of prior witnesses; this practice is normally available if counsel request it, but does not apply to parties, who have the right to be present in court throughout the trial; (2) the court’s requirement that jurors remain isolated while deliberating on a case because justice requires that they be protected from outside influences.

service of process — bringing a judicial proceeding to the notice of a person affected by it by delivering to him or her a summons, or notice of the proceeding. See summons.

settlement — an agreement between the parties to a lawsuit to resolve their differences among themselves without having a trial or before the judge or jury renders a verdict in a trial.

settlement week — a type of alternative dispute resolution in which a court suspends normal trial activity for a week and, aided by volunteer mediators, sends trial-ready cases to mediation sessions held at the courthouse. Cases unresolved during settlement week are returned to the court’s regular docket for further pretrial or trial proceedings as needed.

sidebar (or sidebar conference) — a discussion between the judge and lawyers held out of earshot of the jury and spectators.

Speedy Trial Act — a statute that imposes a series of time limits upon a court and prosecutors for carrying out the major events in a criminal case to ensure that the defendant receives a speedy trial.

staff attorney — a member of the central legal staff of the court of appeals.

standard of proof — see burden of proof.

standing trustee — in bankruptcy, a private citizen appointed by the U.S. trustee to handle the administration of a large block of Chapter 13 cases.

state courts — courts established by various state governments, including county and local courts.

statute — a law passed by a legislature. Compare with case law.

statute of limitations — a law setting a fixed time period (for example, one year) after which a person may not sue someone for an alleged injury or a government may not prosecute someone for a crime. It prevents legal proceedings from taking place long after the injury or crime occurred, when evidence and witnesses may be hard to find.

stay — the postponement or halting of a judicial proceeding or judgment. A motion for a stay pending appeal seeks to delay the effect of a district court order or agency order until a U.S. court of appeals decides whether that order is valid.

stipulate — to enter into a binding agreement on an issue that is not genuinely in dispute. Matters stipulated to in a court case are considered proven, so neither side is required to present evidence on them.

sua sponte — a Latin term meaning “on its own responsibility or motion.” A sua sponte order is an order issued by a court without prior motion by either party.

subpoena — a court order that requires that a person produce documents or appear at a trial, hearing, or deposition for the purpose of testifying as a witness.

summary judgment — under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court’s judgment as a matter of law when the court determines that, after looking at all the evidence in the case, there is no dispute as to the facts. A party may file a motion asking the court to order summary judgment on some or all claims in the case.

summary jury trial — a form of alternative dispute resolution used late in the pretrial proceedings of cases headed for lengthy jury trials. It provides for a short hearing at which counsel present the evidence to a jury in summary form, with no witnesses, and the jury delivers a nonbinding advisory verdict to be used as a basis for subsequent settlement negotiations.

summons — a document the plaintiff in a lawsuit must file with the court and serve on the defendant, along with a copy of the complaint, to give the defendant notice of a lawsuit. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 governs the form and content of a summons and explains the different methods that can be used to serve a summons on a defendant, so that the defendant learns of the lawsuit.

superdischarge — in bankruptcy, the discharge a debtor receives in a Chapter 13 case. It is generally broader than the discharge a debtor receives under Chapter 7. It discharges all debts under the bankruptcy plan except certain long-term debts, such as mortgages, alimony and child support, certain education loans, restitution based on criminal convictions, and debts for death or personal injury caused by drunken driving.

supervised release — a criminal sentence in which the offender is placed under court supervision for a specified period of time, but is allowed to remain in the community. Like offenders placed on probation, offenders placed on supervised release are supervised by probation officers and are required to observe certain conditions of release. The court must order a term of supervised release when it is required to do so by statute and when it orders a sentence of more than one year in prison.

Supreme Court of the United States — the highest federal court in the United States. Its primary function is to clarify the law when lower courts disagree. Its members are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate.

sustain — to rule at trial that a lawyer’s objection to questioning or testimony is valid. When the judge sustains an objection, the questioning or testimony objected to must stop or be modified.

term — the time during which the U.S. Supreme Court sits for the transaction of business, also referred to as a session. Each year’s term begins on the first Monday in October and ends when the Court has announced its decisions in all the cases it has heard during the term, usually in late June or early July.

testimony — evidence presented orally by witnesses during trials or depositions or before grand juries.

third-party claim — a claim that a defendant can include in its answer to a complaint, stating that a breach of duty by an entity not a party to the lawsuit gave rise to all or part of the plaintiff’s claim. Service of the third-party complaint brings the entity into the suit as a third-party defendant, and the filing defendant becomes a third-party plaintiff.

transcript — a written, word-for-word record of what was said either in a proceeding, such as a trial, or during some other exchange, such as a telephone conversation.

trial — the proceeding at which parties in a civil case, or the government and the defense in a criminal case, produce evidence for consideration by a fact finder in court. The fact finder, who may be a judge or a jury, applies the law to the facts as it finds them and decides whether the defendant is guilty in a criminal case or which party should win in a civil case.

trial court — see U.S. district court.

trial jury — see petit jury.

unsecured claim — in bankruptcy, a claim that does not give the creditor an interest in any specific property of the debtor as assurance of payment.

unsecured creditors’ committee — in bankruptcy, a committee that negotiates the reorganization plan and protects the interests of unsecured creditors in a Chapter 11 reorganization. The committee usually consists of the holders of the seven largest unsecured claims willing to serve.

uphold — to allow a lower court’s decision to stand as is. After reviewing the lower court’s decision, an appellate court may uphold or reverse it. Compare with reverse.

U.S. attorney — a lawyer appointed by the President, in each judicial district, to prosecute cases for the federal government and represent the government in civil actions.

U.S. bankruptcy court — a federal court that hears and administers matters that arise under the Bankruptcy Code. Although it is a unit of the district court and technically hears cases referred to it by the district court, for most practical purposes it functions as a separate administrative unit.

U.S. Constitution — the document written by the founders of this country, which establishes the basic structure and functions of the federal government, grants certain specified rights (often called constitutional rights), to the American people, and places limits on the powers and activities of our federal and state governments. The term U.S. Constitution also includes its amendments. The first ten amendments to the Constitution are referred to as the Bill of Rights.

U.S. court of appeals — a federal court that reviews decisions of the district court when a party in a case asks it to. Some use circuit court to refer to the court of appeals, although technically circuit court refers to a federal trial court that functioned from 1789 to the early twentieth century.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit — a federal court of appeals located in Washington, D.C., whose jurisdiction is defined by subject matter rather than geography. It hears appeals only in certain types of cases, including those involving patent laws and those decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

U.S. court of appeals judge — a judge of one of the thirteen U.S. courts of appeals. When a party appeals a district court decision in a case, appeals judges review what happened in the district court to see if the district judge made any mistakes that would require them to change or modify the decision or to order that the case be retried. Court of appeals judges are among the group often referred to as Article III judges, because their power to hear and decide cases stems from Article III of the Constitution, and they thus have irreducible salaries and tenure during good behavior.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims — a special trial court with nationwide jurisdiction which hears cases involving money damages in excess of $10,000 against the United States, including disputes over federal contracts, federal takings of private property for public use, and rights of military personnel. With the approval of the Senate, the President appoints U.S. Court of Federal Claims judges for fifteen-year terms.

U.S. district court — a federal court with general trial jurisdiction. It is the court in which the parties in a lawsuit file motions, petitions, and other documents and take part in pretrial and other types of status conferences. If there is a trial, it takes

Vacate – To set aside.

Venire – A writ summoning persons to court to act as jurors. (See venire facias in Foreign Words Glossary.)

Venue – Authority of a court to hear a matter based on geographical location.

Verdict – A conclusion, as to fact or law, that forms the basis for the court’s judgment. (See directed verdict.)

Veterans’ Administration (VA) – The federal agency which administers a system of benefits for veterans and their dependents.

Visa – An official endorsement on a document or passport denoting that the bearer may proceed.

Void – Invalid; a void agreement is one for which there is no remedy.

Voidable – Capable of being declared invalid; a voidable contract is one where a person may avoid his obligation, as a contract between an adult and a minor.

Voir dire – The preliminary examination made in court of a witness or juror to determine his competency or interest in a matter. Literally, to speak the truth.

Voluntary bankruptcy – A proceeding by which a debtor voluntarily asks for a discharge of his debts under the Bankruptcy Code.

Wage Earner’s Plan – Also, Chapter 13. A chapter of the Bankruptcy Code which allows a debtor to file a wage earner’s plan for payment of a percentage of his debts from future earnings.

Waiver – Intentionally given up a right.

Waiver of immunity – A means authorized by statute by which a witness, before testifying or producing evidence, may relinquish the right to refuse to testify against himself or herself, thereby making it possible for his or her testimony to be used against him or her in future proceedings.

Warrant – Most commonly, a court order authorizing law enforcement officers to make an arrest or conduct a search. An application seeking a warrant must be accompanied by an affidavit which establishes probable cause by detailing the facts upon which the request is based.

Warranty – A promise that a proposition of fact is true.

Warranty deed – A deed which guarantees that the title conveyed is good and its transfer rightful.

Water rights – The right to use water.

Will – A legal declaration that disposes of a person’s property when that person dies.

Withholding – A tax deducted from a salary, wage, or other income on behalf of the government at the time of payment of wages to the person who pays it.

With prejudice – A declaration which dismisses all rights. A judgment barring the right to bring or maintain an action on the same claim or cause.

Without prejudice – A declaration that no rights or privileges of the party concerned are waived or lost. In a dismissal these words maintain the right to bring a subsequent suit on the same claim.

Witness – One who personally sees or perceives a thing; one who testifies as to what he has seen, heard, or otherwise observed.

Words and Phrases Legally Defined – A set of books in dictionary form which lists judicial determinations of a word or phrase.

Worker’s compensation – A state agency which handles claims of workers injured on their jobs.

Writ – A judicial order directing a person to do something.

Writ of certiorari – An order issued by the Supreme Court directing the lower court to transmit records for a case for which it will hear on appeal. (See certiorari in Foreign Words Glossary.)

Writ of execution – An order of the court evidencing debt of one party to another and commanding the court officer to take property in satisfaction of the debt.

Writ of garnishment – An order of the court whereby property, money, or credits int he possession of another person may be seized and applied to pay a debtor’s debt. It is used as an incident to or auxiliary of a judgment rendered in a principal action.