Common legal jargon explained A-E

Lawyers use big words. Let’s dive in and figure out what the heck some of them mean!


A finding by a judge or jury that a defendant is not guilty. An acquittal signifies that a prosecutor failed to prove his or her case beyond a reasonable doubt, not that a defendant is innocent.


A written account of someone’s evidence or statement of facts. The term “affidavit” comes from medieval Latin which means “he has stated on oath”.


The resort to a higher court to review the decision of a lower court, or to a court to review the order of an administrative agency. In varying forms, all legal systems provide for some type of appeal. One who appeals is called the “appellant;” the other party is the “appellee.”


The procedure by which a judge or magistrate sets at liberty one who has been arrested or imprisoned, upon receipt of security to ensure the released prisoner’s later appearance in court for further proceedings. Release from custody is ordinarily effected by posting a sum of money or bond money posted as a financial condition of pretrial release.

Bench trial

A trial in which there is no jury and the judge decides the case.

Burden of proof

The obligation to offer evidence that the court or jury could reasonably believe, in support of a contention, failing which the case will be lost. Burden of proof is a big subject. Find out more here

Capital offense

A crime that is treated so seriously that death may be considered as appropriate punishment.


The offices of a judge and the legal staff.

Class action

A class action is a procedural device that permits one or more plaintiffs to file and prosecute a lawsuit on behalf of a larger group, or “class”. Generally, the device allows courts to manage lawsuits that would otherwise be unmanageable if each class member (individuals who have suffered the same wrong at the hands of the defendant) were required to be joined in the lawsuit as a named plaintiff.


Money compensation for loss or injury caused by the wrongful act of another. Such may be punitive (to punish and deter future misconduct) or compensatory (for loss or injury).

Declaratory judgment

A declaratory judgment is a binding judgment from a court defining the legal relationship between parties and their rights in a matter before the court.


A person or group against whom a criminal or civil action is brought or someone who is being sued or accused of committing a crime.


Equitable refers to something characterized by fairness, impartiality, or lack of bias. “Equity”’ is the name given to the whole area of the legal system in countries following the English common law tradition that resolves disputes between persons by applying principles of fairness and justness.

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