Trouble with the Vocab? What does all this “lawyer language” mean?
If you are accused of a crime and have been to court you are most likely confused and don’t know where to start. Just like most professions, an outsider looking in may have difficulty understanding the words and phrases that are commonly thrown around in a particular setting. The law is no different. Below is a list of common phrases, acronyms and lawyer slang terms that get used frequently at court.
ADSAP – This is lawyer slang for a Drug and Alcohol Evaluation. For more information see, “When do I have to do a Drug and Alcohol Evaluation and counseling for drugs and alcohol?”
Affidavit – This is a sworn statement. In a criminal case an affidavit is submitted by a law enforcement officer concerning the facts of the case and is discoverable by the defendant in the criminal action.
Amendment – This means to change. It is common reference in traffic court to changing a moving violation to a non-moving violation.
Amended Complaint – This is a document that a prosecutor will file to change the original charges that a person is facing.
Attorney Plea – This is a common term for a specific type of court date in municipal court. An attorney Plea date is usually a day for attorneys to meet with the prosecutor about a case and try to resolve the case without going to trial.
Bond – This is a promise to appear in court to address a criminal matter. It may also include paying an amount of money to be held by the court as well as abiding by other bond conditions. For more information see, “How do Bail Bonds work in Criminal Cases?”
Bond Condition – These are orders by a judge that a person must abide by if they want to be released from custody when they have a pending criminal case.
Bond Supervision – This is a program in the District Court to monitor defendants when they are placed on bond. For more information see, “What is pretrial supervision or pretrial services and how does it work?”
Brief – This is a document that a lawyer will file to support his position on a certain legal issue.
Certified Record – A certified record is a document or series of documents that are certified by a court, agency, or the State. This is common when looking at someone’s driving record or verifying a person’s criminal history.
Complaint – This is the “charging document” in a criminal case. The complaint is filed by the prosecutor and lists out the charges that a defendant is facing.
Continuance – This is lawyer slang for moving a court date from one day to another or asking a judge for more time on a case.
Cross Examination – This is when a lawyer asks questions of a witness when the witness was not called to testify or present evidence on that lawyer’s client’s behalf. In a criminal case, it is common for a defense lawyer to cross examine a police officer.
CWIPS – This is a program for DUI offenders to stay out of jail in Kansas. For more information on CWIPs see, “What is a Community Weekend Intervention Program?”
Dismissal with prejudice – This is when a judge ends a case and the case cannot be filed again.
Dismissal without prejudice – This is when a judge ends a case and the case can be filed at a later date.
Diversion Conference – This is a meeting between a client, a defense lawyer and a representative from the district attorney’s office. This is almost exclusively used in the context of a district court case. This meeting can be a requirement of a client being granted a diversion on a criminal case.
Diversion Sign in – This is lawyer slang for a court date in which is dedicated only to people signing diversion paperwork. This “special” court date is common in both municipal and district court.
DC-27 – This is a “temporary driver’s license” issued to a person that has just received a DUI charge. For more information see, “What is a DC-27?”
DC-70 – This is a form that an officer will read to a person accused of a DUI. This form should be read to a person before a breath test is administered. For more information on the DC-70 see, “What is a DC-70 implied consent advisory?”
Direct Examination – This is the process of questioning a witness by the lawyer who produced the witness to testify.
District Attorney – This is the attorney that is charged with prosecuting crimes in a certain jurisdiction on behalf of the State of Kansas.
District Court – This is the court that has jurisdiction over persons within certain geographical boundaries that can hear cases brought by the district attorney for crimes committed within those geographical boundaries.
Discovery – This is the process of discovering facts and evidence that will be presented in a case. For more information on discovery see, “What is Discovery in the DUI context?”
Disposition – This is a term that references the status of a case or criminal charge. An example of a case’s disposition may be, “the charges were dismissed with prejudice.”
Drug Grid – This is lawyer slang for a document that lawyers will reference when they are determining the possible/presumptive sentence that a person is facing when charged with a felony drug crime.
DV Tag – This is a term used to describe a case that has been labelled as a Domestic Violence case. If a court makes a finding that a case is a DV case, then a person’s gun rights may be affected if found guilty of the offense.
Entry of Appearance – This is the legal document a lawyer files at the beginning of a case to indicate to the court that the lawyer is the attorney representing a certain party.
Expungement – This is the process of removing a record of a criminal record. For more information see, “What does the term expungement mean?”
Hearsay – This is an out of court statement that is being used for the truth of the matter asserted. Hearsay is generally not allowed into court unless it falls within an exception to the rule against hearsay.
HGN – This is lawyer slang for the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test. The HGN test is part of the battery of field sobriety tests that are administered to a person accused of DUI. For more information on the HGN see, “Can the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus eye test be beat?”
House Arrest – This is the process of being monitored by an agency while a defendant stays at their own residence. The person being monitored must abide by restrictions placed on them while on House Arrest. House Arrest can be either a punishment that a defendant is sentenced to or it can be a condition of bond. For more information on house arrest see, “How does House Arrest work in Johnson County?”
ICE – This is lawyer slang for, “U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” This is the agency of the government that deports people among other things.
Journal Entry – This is a document filed both in a criminal case and a civil case. It is simply an order of the court. If a court rules on a legal issue the lawyers will draft a journal entry to memorialize the findings of the court by filing a journal entry.
LSIR – This is lawyer slang for the Level of Service Inventory Score Revised. It is a process that court services completes to rank offenders for placement in the criminal corrections system.
Motion – This is what a lawyer files or speaks to the court when the lawyer wants the court to do something. If the lawyer wants evidence to be excluded at trial, he may file a motion to suppress evidence; if the lawyer needs more time to prepare a case he may file a motion for continuance. There are many types of motions.
Motion to Revoke Probation – This is a motion filed with the court by the prosecutor, asking the court to take away a person’s probation. Usually the motion will have the grounds listed in the motion as to why the prosecutor feels the court should take away the offender’s probation.
Municipal Court – This simply means city court. City court can hear cases involving violations of city ordinances.
No Contest Plea – (Nolo Contendere) – This is a plea that a person makes that is accused of a violation of the law in which the person is not accepting guilt for the violation but is not contesting the allegations against them. If you pled no contest the court will find you guilty. Before you ever pled no contest, you need to talk to a lawyer.
Non-Drug Grid – This is lawyer slang for a document that lawyers will reference when they are determining the possible/presumptive sentence that a person is facing when charged with a felony crime that is not a drug crime.
Ordinance Violation – Ordinance is just another word for law. It is usually in reference to a city law.
Pled – This simply means to speak with regards to the disposition of a case. If you pled not guilty, then you are not accepting that the city or state can meet their burden of proof on a case. If you pled guilty you are accepting that the state or city can meet their burden of proof that you have violated the law.
Pretrial Services – This is the part of the court that administers pretrial supervision. For more information on Pretrial Services see, “What is pretrial supervision or pretrial services and hose does it work?”
Probation Revocation – If a prosecutor believes that a person that was placed on probation at an earlier date has violated the terms of the probation the prosecutor will file a motion to revoke probation. If the court finds that sufficient evidence exists that the offender has violated the terms of probation, then the judge will revoke the offender’s probation and the offender may go to jail of face some other sanction.
Probation Reinstatement – If an offender’s probation has been revoked the offender or their lawyer can ask the judge to reinstate the offender’s probation. It is completely up to the judge as to if the judge will reinstate probation. If the offender wants to reinstate it is often best if the offender recommends they be subject to an appropriate sanction for the violation.
Probation Violation – This is simply an act that is alleged by a prosecutor that is contrary to the probation agreement an offender signs or is subject to when they are placed on probation for a crime.
Pro Se – This simply means a person that is not represented by a lawyer.
Prosecutor – This is the lawyer that represents the city or state that is trying to convict someone of a crime. They are the people that are against you if you are charged with a crime.
PSI – This is lawyer slang for a Pre-Sentence Investigation. A PSI is required if you are sentenced after being convicted of a felony crime. The PSI contains the offender’s criminal history and criminal history score. The judge must know the criminal history score before he or she can sentence an offender. Some municipal courts will use the term PSI in a similar fashion to the district court. In a municipal court a PSI is a lot less involved and will most likely be a short report on a person’s criminal history.
Record – This is the paper trail involved in a criminal case. It includes documents filed with the court as well as transcripts from any court hearings. The record becomes very important if there is an appeal of a judgment.
Review Date – This is a date to review a matter. It is mostly a municipal court term. It is often used when a person must have a certain task accomplished before their case can end, the judge will give a person time to complete the task and set a review date to make sure they have accomplished the task. It can also be used after a person is put into custody for a long period. I lawyer may ask that the judge set a review date so the lawyer can come back in and try to convince the judge to let their client out of jail.
Sanction – This generally comes up in the context of a bond violation or probation violation. If the violation is not a serious violation a defense lawyer will try to explain the violation and then ask that the judge do something less than revoke the client’s probation or bond. An example of a sanction for having a positive urine test while on probation might be to get the client into drug or alcohol counseling and ask the judge to order that the client complete the counselling as part of their probation. This sanction can fix the problem and keep the client out of jail.
Scheduling Conference – This is generally a district court term. It simply means a court date in the future that allows both parties to the case some more time to work on the case and be prepared to set the case for a meaningful hearing.
Scram – This is a type of monitoring system that a judge can order a person to be subjected to. It is common when a person is placed on bond but the judge wants to make sure the defendant is not using alcohol. The Scram bracelet is attached to the defendant and it monitors the sweat of the person and will alert the monitoring agency if the person has consumed alcohol.
Sentencing – This is the hearing in which a person is formally given their punishment for a crime.
Stipulate – This simply means, “to agree.”
Stipulate to a Violation – This generally is used in the context of a probation revocation hearing or a bond revocation hearing. This simply means that an offender is going to agree that they violated some term of probation or term of bond. This is common when there is a clear violation and the offender has some pre-arranged agreement with the prosecutor with regards to what recommendation the prosecutor will be giving the judge as an appropriate sanction for the violation.
Trial – This is the part of a criminal case in which an impartial third party (Judge or Jury) hears the facts of the case and determines if the prosecutor has met the burden of proof that a defendant violated the law.
Underlying Sentence – When someone is sentenced on a crime and granted probation that defendant has an underlying sentence. The underlying sentence is the amount of time the defendant is facing in custody if they do not complete the probation as directed. You can look at an underlying sentence like a hammer hanging over a defendant’s head. So long as the defendant doesn’t mess up on probation they never have to serve the underlying sentence. If the defendant messes up, then the judge can put the hammer down on the defendant and make them go to jail.
Victim Impact Panel – If a person is convicted of a DUI they will be required to attend a DUI victim impact panel. At this panel, people that have lost loved ones due to someone drunk driving will attend and tell the newly convicted person of the impact that drunk driving had on their life.
Waiver of Counsel – This is a form that a judge can provide to someone that wishes to proceed with their case without a lawyer representing their interests.
Witness – This is anyone that presents evidence at court.
Work Release – This term is used in two different ways depending on the court you are in. If you are in municipal court and someone uses this term they are talking about being able to work while a person is placed on house arrest to serve their sentence. If the term is used in district court the person is talking about being placed in jail but allowed to leave the jail to go to work.
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