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GLOSSARY OF 
LEGAL TERMS

Legal Words You Might Need To Know

In order to navigate the legal system effectively, it is important that you understand the language and successfully communicate with system representatives. Here is a list of some common legal words and their meanings to use as you advocate for the safety of yourself and your children.

Affidavit: A written statement by someone who swears it is true. It can be used in court as evidence

Arraignment: A hearing where the defendant is formally told of the charge(s) and enters a plea; a plea of no contest (not contesting the facts), guilty (admitting to the charge), or not guilty (denying the charge). Usually within seventy-two hours of arrest. Defendant informed of charges; attorney obtained, plea entered, and bond set. If someone fails to appear when summoned, the judge could issue a warrant.

Arrest: Taking a person into custody and charging that person with a crime

Assault: Harming or threatening to harm someone in any way

Attorney: Lawyer

Bail/Bond: Sum of money from the defendant, left with the courts as a promise that if released, will return to court. There may also be some restrictions or guidelines for the person out on bond/bail.

Bail Bondsmen: Offenders pay a certain percentage to the bail bondsmen as a fee, and bondsmen promises the bail to the court.

Battering: An overall pattern of abusive behaviors used to establish and/or maintain power and control over another; includes, but is not limited to physical violence

Bond (Own Recognizance) (Unsecured Appearance): The release of an arrested person on his/her own promise that he/she will appear for every court hearing.

Civil Protection Order (CPO): Legal document to protect against an abuser; requires the abuser to stay away from the person being abused.

Cohabitation: Living together as spouses but not married

Complainant: The person who begins the case; may be same as plaintiff or petitioner

Continuance or Continued: A delay of a court hearing to another day; the case will be "continued"

Defendant: The person against whom a charge is brought

Economic Abuse: Making your partner dependent on you for money or resources, including the telephone and the car, so that the abuser can gain control over victim and victim's activities. Example: keeping victim from working or discouraging him/her from going to school, not letting him/her know how much the abuser makes, not letting him/her have access to the checkbook.

Emotional Abuse: Actions, statements or gestures which are attacks on the victim's self-esteem and sense of self-worth including acts to humiliate him/her. Example: name-calling, negative comparisons, putting victim down, not encouraging him/her, making him/her participate in sexually degrading acts, making him/her eat something against their will, humiliating him/her in front of others.

Evidence: Anything shown in court to support a case; can include testimony by you or another witness, documents, photographs, items of clothing, weapons, and police or medical records.

Ex Parte: In Latin, this means "from one side." A temporary protective order issued by a judge who hears only from the victim is an ex parte order.

Grand Jury: Within 60 days of preliminary hearing. Evidence is reviewed to determine which charges, if any, to prosecute. Prosecutor is present with the witness before the Grand Jury - no defendant, defense attorney, or judge.

Hearing General term used for an arraignment, pre-trial, trial, sentencing, or a court proceeding in which a judge listens to information presented and makes a decision, such as in a protection order or divorce hearing

Indictment: Formal charges against defendant

Indigent: Having no money; someone too poor to afford a lawyer or court fees

Intimidation: Actions, words or looks that might scare, frighten or bully a person. Example: angry looks, slamming doors, throwing things, punching or kicking walls or furniture, yelling and screaming, ruining something of value to the victim, moving toward him/her as if to hurt them, clenching fists, pounding fists, threats.

Isolation: Any attempt to control who the victim sees, what they does, what they want for themselves (goals), what he/she thinks, what he/she feels. Example: Keeping him/her from spending time with family and friends, monitoring phone calls, intense jealousy, keeping him/her economically dependent, limiting his/her use of the car.

Magistrate Person who can make decisions similar to a judge

Male Privilege: Refusing to recognize partner as an equal and as an adult. Assuming certain rights because of being the male and/or husband. Example: arbitrarily deciding his role and her role in the relationship, not negotiating family decisions, posing unequal responsibilities in household duties such as child care, arbitrarily setting house rules.

Notary or Notary Public: Someone who has the authority to show that you signed a statement or document. A notary may be found at the courthouse and many banks.

Party or PartiesA person or people involved in a legal action

Petition: an application or request asking the court to issue a protection order

Petitioner: The person making the request

Physical AbuseThe use of any physical force against another person; examples: shoving, kicking, pushing, restraining a person against their will, punching, attacking with a gun, knife, or other weapon or object, choking, pulling hair, pinching

Plaintiff: Person, company, or government unit that brings the charges or lawsuit against a defendant

Preliminary Hearing: Within 10 days of arrest (15 days if out on bond). Purpose is to determine whether there is PROBABLE CAUSE to believe a crime was committed and if their defendant probably committed that crime. If so, bound over to Grand Jury.

Pre-Sentence InvestigationThese are not always done. Input and opinion of victim(s) considered along with background of offender and facts in the case to determine sentence for specific charge within limits established by law. A suggestion for a sentence is issued by the individual doing the report, the individual is usually a probation officer.

Pre-Trial: A conference between both the attorneys on the case. In civil court, both parties usually attend. In criminal court, the defendant must be present; the victim may or may not need to be. Motions filed and/or plea agreement reached. In a plea bargain the prosecutor allows the defendant to plead guilty to reduced or different charges. Reasons to plea bargain for the prosecution include: (1) avoid the time, delay and expense of trial and/or, (2) Lack of evidence to clearly prove the charge. A plea of guilty to a lesser charge that the defendant will at least get some criminal record and sentence. The reasons to plea bargain for the defendant is to accept guilt on a lesser charge instead of the possibility of being found guilty on more serious charges, and/or avoid the time and expense of a trial.


Pro Bono: Free of charge

Pro Se: Acting as one's own lawyer. In Latin, this means "for oneself"

Process Server: The person who personally delivers legal documents ordering someone to appear in court

Prosecutor: A government lawyer who argues on behalf of the government in a criminal case. Same as district attorney; lawyer who represents the state of Ohio

Respondent: The person who responds to a petition

Sentence: The punishment imposed by a court

Sentencing: A hearing where the judge decides the punishment for the defendant

Service: Delivering court documents to one of the parties. Abusers must be "served" with the document telling them why they must come to court and when they must appear

Sexual Abuse: Actions or statements which sexually degrade or humiliate your partner; examples: constantly accusing them of sleeping with or coming on to other men/women, calling him/her names such as "slut" "whore" "cheater," forcing them into any sexual act against their will, including both natural or unnatural sex acts

Subpoena: A legal document ordering a witness to appear in court; a legal notification of the court requiring that the person appear and testify in court

Temporary Protection Order (TPO): A court order to protect the victim when the abuser is charged in criminal court. If ordered, these orders only last while the case is still going through the court system.

Testimony: The statement of a witness in court

Threats: Stating the intention to do something that will cause physical, emotional, or financial damage or humiliate the victim; examples: threatening to take the children, threatening to commit suicide, threaten bodily harm to a friend or relative, following them or watching them

Trial: A hearing in court to decide the outcome of the case after both sides have presented their evidence and witness testimony. Two types:

  1. Trial by the court — the judge decides whether or not the defendant is guilty.

  2. Jury trial — Jurors, who are registered voters of the county that the crime happened in, decide guilty or innocence. All jurors must agree that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict.


Vacate Order: An order to move someone out of their residence