Defining Legal Terminology

Statue of lady justice

If you aren’t familiar with legal terminology, it can be tough to understand. Most of the language is highly specialized. You might know some of the more common terms, like “innocent until proven guilty” or “jail sentence”. But other, less-commonly used words and phrases have precise and technical meanings. 

Attending a trial can be bewildering enough as it is; the last thing you want is for technical legal terminology to make things more confusing. We’ve assembled a glossary of common legal terms that you may come across in court: 

Definitions of Legal Terminology

Plaintiff: An individual who brings charges against the defendant.

Defendant: An individual or enterprise that is accused of committing a crime. Defendants are sometimes referred to as the accused. 

Client: This term refers to someone who seeks legal advice or representation from a lawyer regarding a criminal case. 

Evidence: A piece of information (such as a document, DNA sample, video footage, or photograph) that is used to prove facts and claims at a trial. 

Verdict: When a trial concludes, the judge or jury will arrive at a verdict; it’s a final decision that determines whether or not the accused is guilty of a crime.

Acquittal: This is a type of verdict that means the judge finds the accused/defendant not guilty. When someone is “acquitted” of all charges, it means the charges have been dismissed and dropped. 

Damages: Finances paid to the plaintiff when the judge finds the defendant guilty. Some damages are intended to compensate for harm or property damage, while others are meant to punish the defendant and deter them from repeating the behaviour. 

Beyond a reasonable doubt: To convict someone of a crime, the prosecutor must prove that all claims are true beyond a reasonable doubt. They must provide proof and evidence of their arguments. It’s as close to the absolute certainty of the truth as the court can get.

Witness: Someone who claims to have firsthand knowledge about the incident that occurred. They are often called to appear in court and testify their account.

Victim: An individual that was affected by the events of the trial.

Paralegal: Someone who assists a lawyer with a case, but does not represent their client in court. 

Judge: An appointed official who uses all facts of the trial to determine whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty. They also determine the sentence for the defendant if found guilty. 

Jury: A group of citizens (up to 12) who are called in to hear the evidence of a case, and vote whether they find the defendant guilty or not guilty. 

Just cause: This refers to having a reasonable basis for making a decision. If an employee is fired, their employer must have just cause for terminating their position.

Prosecutor: A lawyer who aims to prove that the defendant is guilty of the charges brought against them.

Criminal lawyer/Defence lawyer: A lawyer who represents the defendant in a criminal case. A defence lawyer uses their experience and training in criminal law to defend those who are accused of crimes. 

At Brodsky Amy & Gould, our criminal lawyers can help you understand the facts of your case. With our experienced legal representation, we will guide you through the court process, and ensure that your rights are protected. To schedule an appointment, contact us today.