Glossary of Common Legal Terms

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Acquittal – A legal finding by a judge or jury that a person accused of a crime is not guilty.

Action – A lawsuit may also be called the action, or the case.

Adjourn – In the context of court proceedings, adjourn means to end the proceedings. The judge determines when to adjourn a court proceeding.

Admissible evidence – Admissible evidence is evidence that the court allows to be introduced at trial. The Federal Rules of Evidence govern the admissibility of evidence in federal court.

Admission of Service – An admission that acknowledges that the Summons and Complaint was received by the defendant.

Affidavit – An affidavit is a statement of facts written by a witness, made under oath before a Notary Public.

Affidavit of Indigency – a sworn statement used to determine if someone meets the income guidelines so that they are not required to pay court fees.

Affidavit of Publication – a sworn written statement made in the presence of a notary public or a person who is authorized to administer an oath, attesting that the publication took place on a specified day(s).

Affidavit of Service – A document asserting how and when service of a summons and complaint or other legal document was made on the other parties to a lawsuit.

Affirm – A ruling of an appellate court confirming a decision or order of a lower court.

Agent – A person authorized to act on behalf of another person.

Agreement – an oral or written promise to do something.

Alimony – Allowance for support when divorce is granted. The court may compel one party to make such suitable allowance to the other party as the court deems just.

Allegation – A statement of claimed fact. A statement is only an allegation until it is proven.

Amending a document – Making changes to a document that has already been filed with the court is called amending the document.

The change itself is called an amendment.

Amount in controversy – The amount in controversy is a term used in the diversity of jurisdiction statute. The term refers to the dollar value of what the plaintiff asks the court for in his or her complaint. For a federal court to have diversity jurisdiction, the amount in controversy must exceed $75,000.00. See United States Code, 28 U.S.C. 1332, the diversity jurisdiction statue, for more information.

Answer – The defendant's formal written response to allegations within the complaint.

Appeal – An appeal is a higher court's review of a lower court's decision.

Appellant– A party appealing a lower court's decision, usually seeking reversal of the decision.

Appellee – A party against whom an appeal is filed.

Arbitration – Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution; in other words, an alternative means to resolve a dispute without filing a lawsuit. An arbitrator, or group of arbitrators, hears the dispute in a less formal setting and manner than a court trial and renders a decision. There are different types of arbitration, each with their own procedural rules.

Arraignment – A proceeding held in the early stages of a criminal case after the filing of the Information or Indictment. The purpose is to allow the defendant to hear the charges in court and to enter a plea.

Attorney – A person who is licensed to give legal advice or to act as a representative for another in a court proceeding; a lawyer.

Authentication of evidence – Before evidence is admissible in court, the party submitting it must demonstrate that it is authentic, meaning that it is true or genuine.

Automatic Stay – An injunction that automatically stops lawsuits, foreclosures, garnishments, and all collection activity against the debtor the moment a bankruptcy petition is filed, also called a bankruptcy stay.


BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) – the percentage of alcohol contained in a person's blood.

Bail – Security, such as cash or bond, required to release a person being held in jail on criminal charges. The purpose is to secure the presence of the individual in court at future court appearances. A person who posts bail forfeits it if the defendant fails to appear in court as directed.

Bankruptcy discharge – a release of the debtor from personal liability for certain types of debt.

Bankruptcy stay – An injunction that automatically stops lawsuits, foreclosures, garnishments, and all collection activity against the debtor the moment a bankruptcy petition is filed, also called an automatic stay.

Bench – The large desk area, usually located at the front of the courtroom, where the judge sits.

Bench trial – At a bench trial, there is no jury and the judge determines the law, the facts and the winner of the lawsuit.

"Best Interest of the Child" - When parenting issues are decided, "the court shall be guided by consideration of what appears to be for the best interests of the child in respect to the child’s temporal and mental and moral welfare." SDCL 25-4-45. See also Fuerstenberg v. Fuerstenberg, 1999 SD 35, 591 NW2d 798.

Beyond a reasonable doubt – the standard of evidence required to convict a defendant of a crime.

Bond – In a criminal case, an obligation, sometimes referred to as a bail bond, assumed by a surety on behalf of a criminal defendant to ensure the appearance of the defendant in court at a future date.

Breach – When individuals fail to perform as they have agreed, or contracted to do, they commit a breach of the agreement or contract.

Brief – A written document filed in a case by a party in which the party presents facts, law, and an argument of how the facts may be applied to the law either for or against a particular motion.

Burden of Proof – A party's burden to establish a disputed assertion or charge. The term can mean either the burden of producing certain evidence or the burden of persuading a judge or jury of a certain proposition.


Caption – The caption is on the front of every pleading or motion paper filed in a case and lists the parties, the name of the court, the case number and other identifying information.

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) – a national association in the United States that supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children in order to provide children with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes.

Certificate of Service – A document or the portion of a document showing that a copy of a particular document has been served on all the other persons who are named as parties in the lawsuit.

Certified transcript of a court reporter – A certified transcript of a court reporter is a transcript to which the court reporter has attached his or her official certificate and, when filed in a case, becomes the official record of that proceeding.

Chambers – The private office of an individual judge is called his or her chambers.

Child Support – court-ordered payments, usually made by the noncustodial divorced parent, to support one's minor child or children.

Citation – A reference to a law, rule or case is called a citation.

Circuit Court – Original jurisdiction in most actions, appellate jurisdiction over Magistrate Court decisions, except small claims decisions. South Dakota's 66 counties are divided into 7 circuits.

Civil Case – an action brought by a person, company, or other entity to protect some private right or to help recover money or property from another person or company.

Claim – A claim is a statement made in a complaint, in which the plaintiff argues how he/she believes the defendant violated a specific law. Claims are sometimes also referred to as counts.

Clerk's Office – The Clerk's Office is the administrative part of the Court that maintains the Court's records. All documents that are required to be filed in a case are filed in the Clerk's Office.

Closing Argument – A verbal summary of evidence presented to the judge or jury at the end of the trial.

Complaint – the initial pleading, also called a Petition, beginning a civil lawsuit and containing a plaintiff's basis for a claim and demand for relief.

Confidentiality - Private information that cannot be shared with anyone else, except as required by law.

Contempt of court – Contempt of court refers to acts found by the court to have been committed in willful violation of the court's authority or dignity, or to interfere with or obstruct its administration of justice.

Contract – An agreement between 2 or more parties, in which each party gives up something of value in return for another thing of value and creates by its terms enforceable obligations.

Conviction – A legal finding or determination that a person is guilty of a crime.

Co-Parenting - Parents working together to raise a child, even when they are not married and do not live together. This is not a legal term and not to be confused with shared parenting.

Counterclaim – a claim filed by the Defendant or Respondent against the Plaintiff that is based on the same events or transactions as the plaintiff's claim against the defendant.

Court Order - A written order made by a judge that must be followed.

Court Records – the official written document of what occurred at trial.

Court Services Officer – a person appointed to supervise offenders, when sustenance includes supervised release.

Continuance – A continuance is a grant by the court of an extension of time to another date and time.

Counsel – lawyers are sometimes referred to as counsel; for example, the lawyers for an opposing party may be referred to as opposing counsel.

Count – A count is a statement made in a complaint, in which the plaintiff argues that the defendant violated a specific law. Counts are sometimes also referred to as claims.

Court reporter – A person authorized by law to record testimony, whether in the courtroom or outside it (for example, at depositions) is called a court reporter.

Courtroom deputy – A courtroom deputy is a person who assists the judge in the courtroom and usually sits at a desk or stands in front of or to the side of the judge.

Creditor – One to whom the debtor owes money or who claims to be owed money by the debtor.

Criminal Case - a criminal lawsuit filed by the State of South Dakota against a defendant for violation of a criminal law.

Cross examination – At trial, after a party's direct examination of his or her witness, the opposing party may ask the witness additional questions about the topics that were covered during direct examination. This process is called cross-examination of the witness.


Damages – The money that can be recovered in the courts by plaintiffs for their loss or injury due to the defendants' violation of law is referred to as damages. Actual damages means an amount to compensate for an actual loss. Liquidated damages means an amount contractually stipulated as a reasonable estimation for damages fixed for breach of the contract. Punitive damages means damages assessed in addition to actual damages as a form of punishment when a defendant has acted with actual or legal malice rather than mere negligence, which is established by showing wrongful conduct committed with the willful or reckless disregard for the rights of another; also exemplary damages.

Debtor – The person who owes money to a creditor.

Declarant – A declarant is a person making a declaration.

Declaration – A declaration is a written statement, signed under penalty of perjury, by a person who has personal knowledge that what he or she states in the declaration is true. Declarations may contain only facts, and may not contain law or argument.

Declaratory Judgment – An action in which a court, at the request of a party, declares the rights, duties, status, or other legal relationship of parties. A court may refuse to grant a declaratory judgment where it would not, if rendered, terminate the uncertainty or controversy giving rise to the proceeding.

Decree – A judicial decision or order.

Default – failure to act, appear or perform an act or obligation that is legally required.

Default Judgment – If the defendant does not file an answer or other response to the complaint, there is a procedure by which the court may enter a default judgment against the defendant, which means the plaintiff has won the case.

Defendant – A person sued in a civil lawsuit or accused in a criminal proceeding.

Defenses – The reasons defendants give for why plaintiffs' claims against them should be dismissed are referred to as defenses.

Deliberation – A commonly used term used to describe the process of a jury discussing the facts of a case prior to reaching a verdict.

Demand for Jury Trial – A party may demand a jury trial but this must be done in the initial pleadings (Complaint or Answer).

Deponent – The person who answers the questions in a deposition is referred to as the deponent or witness. A deponent can be any person who may have information about the lawsuit, including a party to the lawsuit.

Deposing – The process of taking a deposition is called deposing the witness.

Deposition – A deposition is a question and answer session that occurs before trial and outside the courtroom, in which one party to the lawsuit asks another person who is under oath questions about the issues raised in the lawsuit. Deposition testimony may be introduced as evidence in a court proceeding.

Direct examination – At trial, when a party calls witnesses and asks them all of his or her questions, this process is called direct examination.

Discovery – a pretrial process where a party asks other parties or non-parties for information about the issues in the lawsuit. Discovery methods include depositions, interrogatories, requests for document production, requests for admission and physical or mental examinations.

Dispositive – If a motion is dispositive, it may end a case or end certain claims within a case.

Dismissal with Prejudice – Court action that prevents an identical lawsuit from being filed later.

Dismissal without Prejudice – Court action that allows the later filing.

Divorce Packet - a series of forms and instructions developed by the South Dakota Unified Judicial System to assist persons filing for divorce.

Docket – The docket is the computer file maintained by the Clerk of Court for each case, which lists the title of every document filed, the date each document was filed, and the date each document was entered into the docket.

Drug Court – a specialty court designed to target felony offenders with problems stemming from chemical addition. Drug Court promotes sobriety, recovery, and stability through a coordinated response that involves collaboration with the courts, treatment, and community partners.

Due Process – A term that means the conduct of legal proceedings in a manner that protects and enforces the rights of individuals, including notice to all parties and the right to a fair hearing before an impartial decision maker.


Elements (of a claim or defense) – The individual components of a plaintiff's claim or a defendant's defense, each of which must be proved or the claim or defense fails, are referred to as the elements of the claim or defense.

Enforcement – the act of compelling compliance with a law.

Equity – A word meaning fairness or even handedness. Denotes rights, remedies and common law principles recognized by a court in equity. South Dakota law designates a number of civil actions as equitable, including, but not limited to divorces, probate matters, and foreclosures.

Eviction – the act of expelling someone from a property.

Evidence – Any demonstration of a fact that tends to prove or disprove the existence of an alleged fact. Evidence can take many forms such as a statement of a witness, an object, etc., that bears on or establishes a point in question. Admissible evidence refers to evidence that is relevant to a case and is of the character of evidence eligible to be received into the record. Rules of evidence designed to ensure reliability and fairness govern the admissibility of evidence in court.

Ex parte – On or for one party only, for the benefit of that party, without notice to or argument from the opposing party. An ex parte communication is an exchange of information, orally or in writing, between the court and a lawyer or party without the opposing lawyer or party present. To maintain the court's impartiality, judicial ethics prohibit a judge from considering ex parte communications concerning a pending proceeding. An ex parte motion is a motion that is filed without giving notice to the opposing party.

Exhibits – Exhibits are documents or other materials that are presented as evidence at trial or as attachments to motions, affidavits, or declarations.

Expert witness – An expert witness is a person who has scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge that can help the court or the jury understand the evidence.

Extradition – When one state or country surrenders to another jurisdiction a person accused of a crime or convicted of an offense.


Fair Credit Report Act – a United States federal law that regulates the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer information, including consumer credit information.

Family Law - The laws relating to family relationships. They include laws about divorce, paternity, parenting, property and debt division, child support, spousal support (AKA "alimony") and other topics. The laws are based on statutes, rules and reported court decisions.

Felony – A crime considered to be of a grave nature and subject to severe penalties. For example, felonies include murder, kidnapping, manslaughter, burglary, robbery, 3rd offense DUI and higher, many drug related crimes, and other grievous crimes.

Filing – Filing your pleadings, motions, briefs, and supporting documents means bringing (or otherwise sending) them to the Clerk's Office at the courthouse and asking that they be filed. Depending on your jurisdiction, documents can be filed in one of two ways: (1) conventionally, which means mailing or delivering a paper copy; or (2) electronically, which means using the Court's electronic case filing system.

Filing Fee – The courts charge money, called a filing fee, to process and file a complaint.

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law – In a bench trial, after hearing all the evidence, the closing arguments and adjourning the trial, the judge writes findings of fact and conclusions of law to be issued with his or her written judgment, explaining what facts he or she found to be true and the legal consequences of those facts.

Foster home, foster care – a household in which an orphaned, neglected, or delinquent child is placed for care.

Frivolous – Frivolous means unworthy of serious consideration.

Full Faith and Credit – the obligation under the United States Constitution of one state to recognize and give effect to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of other states.


Good faith – Acting in good faith means having honesty of intentions; for example, negotiating in good faith is negotiating with an open mind and a sincere desire to reach an agreement.

Grand Jury – A group of citizens whose duty it is to inquire into a crime to determine if a criminal indictment against a person is warranted. In South Dakota, the grand jury meets upon the request of the state's lawyer. The state's lawyer is allowed to appear before a grand jury for the purpose of presenting information and examining witnesses; the defendant is not allowed to appear. Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public.

Gross Wages – the total income calculated prior to any tax deductions or adjustments.

Grounds – The reason for a claim is sometimes referred to in legal documents as the grounds for that claim; for example, if you present the reasons you object to another party's discovery requests, you are giving the grounds for your objections.

Grounds for Divorce – the reasons you are seeking a divorce. In South Dakota there are seven legally acceptable reasons including: (1) Adultery, (2) Extreme Cruelty, (3) Willful Desertion, (4) Willful Neglect, (5) Habitual Intemperance, (6) Irreconcilable Differences, (7) Your Spouse has been convicted of a felony.

Guardian – One who has legal authority and the duty to care for another person because of the person's age, incapacity or disability.

Guardian Ad Litem – A person, usually a lawyer, appointed by the court to represent the interests of another person, usually a child, in court. Sometimes the court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of a child when the child's parents are dissolving their marriage. Note: At least in South Dakota, the appointment of a guardian ad litem does not necessarily mean the government will cover the expense.


Habeas corpus – Latin for "you have the body." A petition to bring a person before a court or a judge, most frequently used to ensure that a person's imprisonment, detention, or commitment is legal.

Habitual offender – a person who is convicted of a crime, who has had prior convictions for other crimes.

Halfway house – a center or house to assist former drug addicts, prisoners, or others to adjust to life in general society.

Hearing – A hearing is a formal meeting of the parties to a lawsuit before a judge, for the purpose of resolving some issue. Hearings are typically open to the public and held in a courtroom.

Hearsay – Hearsay is a statement made by someone other than the person repeating it, which is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. For example, a person testifying that he was told that the defendant purchased a gun a month before the murder would be hearsay. Such evidence is generally inadmissible under the rules of evidence because the person who actually made the statement is not under oath and not subject to cross examination.

Holiday Schedule - A part of the parenting time schedule that specifies how children will spend holidays with each parent and defines each holiday so both parents know when the holiday begins and ends.


Incompetent person – An incompetent person is a person who lacks legal capacity to do something, such as testify, due to age or mental deficiency.

Indictment – A formal accusation of a crime issued by a grand jury, charging that a person has committed a criminal offense. An indictment is a plain, concise and definite statement of the offense charge.

Indigent – a level of poverty in which hardship and deprivation are suffered and comforts or life are wholly lacking, also known as Indigency.

Information – A formal accusation of a criminal offense filed by the prosecuting lawyer.

Individual capacity – Individual capacity means the person was acting for himself or herself rather than as an agent for an employer or someone else.

Injunction – A court order requiring a party to do or to refrain from doing a certain act. An injunction may be granted as part of a final judgment; or at any prior stage of the proceedings, in which case it is a preliminary, or temporary, injunction. A preliminary injunction is to be issued only with extreme caution where it is likely a petitioner would suffer irreparable injury if the injunction is not granted, or in any case specially authorized by statute.

Interrogatories – Written questions about the subject of the lawsuit that are served on another party to the lawsuit, which must be responded to (either by answering or objecting to) in writing and under oath. This is a discovery procedure in preparation for a trial.


Judgment – At the conclusion of a case, the Judge or jury renders a final decision, which is reduced to writing and the document is sometimes captioned as a Judgment.

Jurisdiction – The extent of the authority and power of a court to preside over a case and interpret and apply the law.

Jury box – The rows of chairs, usually located against a side wall near the front of the courtroom, where the jury sits during a trial are referred to as the jury box.

Jury deliberations – At trial, after having heard all the evidence, closing arguments and instructions from the judge, the jurors go to the jury room to talk in secret and decide who will win the case. This process is referred to as jury deliberations.

Jury Instructions – The judge's written direction to a jury concerning the laws pertinent to the case under consideration. A set of jury instructions is given to the jury just prior to its deliberations.

Jury selection – Jury selection is the process by which the jury is chosen. Usually jury selection includes a type of questioning referred to as voir dire. Once selected, the jury is sworn to inquire of certain matters of fact and declare the truth upon evidence presented to them.

Jury trial – A jury trial is where a group of citizens decides the factual issues in a lawsuit. This means that the jury will weigh the evidence presented by the parties, decide which evidence to believe, and determine what they believe happened. In addition, the court will instruct the jury on the law, and the jury will apply the law to the facts that they have found, and determine who wins the lawsuit.


Lien – A legal right or interest a creditor has in a debtor's property for the purpose of securing the payment of a debt.

Litigants – A party to a lawsuit.

Litigation – The process of bringing and proceeding with a lawsuit; a lawsuit.

Lawyer – a person licensed and authorized to practice law and give legal advice.


Magistrate Judge – a judge who exercises jurisdiction over matters delegated to them by statute or delegated to them by the district court judge.

Magistrate Court – may hear small claims and uncontested civil cases and minor misdemeanor criminal cases.

Malicious – Malicious means intentionally harmful or spiteful.

Material fact – A material fact is a fact that is significant or important in a case.

Mediator – An individual who conducts a mediation.

Mediation – A process in which a mediator facilitates communication and negotiation between parties to assist them in reaching a voluntary agreement between themselves regarding their dispute.

Minor – A minor is a person who has not reached full legal age. For most purposes, a minor is someone under age eighteen.

Misdemeanor – Offenses considered less grievous than felonies. There are two classes of misdemeanors in South Dakota – Class 1 and Class 2. A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable.

Modification of Parenting Plan - Changes to an existing parenting court order. Changes can be enforced only if they are stated in a court order.

Motion – A motion is a request to the Court to issue a specific order in a pending case.

Motion in limine – A motion in limine asks the Court to decide whether specific evidence can be used at trial.

Motion to compel – A party may file a motion to ask the Court to order a person to make disclosures or respond to a discovery request, or provide more detailed response to a discovery request.

Motion to dismiss – A motion to dismiss is typically filed by the defendant to ask the Court to dismiss part or all of the complaint if there are legal problems with the way the complaint was written, filed or served.

Motion to strike – A party may move to strike certain parts of a complaint or other pleading because it is redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous.

Moving party – The party who files a motion is referred to as the moving party.


Negligence – Generally defined as conduct that falls below a standard established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm.

Nondispositive – Nondispositive motions are motions that, if granted, will not end the lawsuit.

Notice of appeal – A filing required to appeal a ruling made by a lower court. The notice of appeal is filed with the clerk of court in the county where the decision being appealed from is entered, a copy must be served on the other parties, and the clerk of court sends a copy to the clerk of the Supreme Court.

Notice of deposition – A notice of deposition must be served on all parties in the lawsuit before the deposition may take place. The notice is used to inform all parties that a deposition will be taking place and provides the necessary information for them to attend.

Notary public – A notary public is a public officer who is authorized by the state or federal government to administer oaths and to attest to the authenticity of signatures.

Notice of Hearing – A notice of hearing must be filed with all motions. The notice of hearing informs all parties in the lawsuit what kind of motion is being filed and the hearing date and location of the hearing.


Oath – A pledge to speak the truth.

Obligee – The person to whom child support is owed.

Obligor – The person who owes child support.

Objection – A statement made by a lawyer when he/she opposes specific testimony or admission of evidence.

Opening Statements – At the beginning of a trial, the parties have an opportunity to make individual opening statements. The opening statement generally describes the issues in the case and states what the party expects to prove during the trial. It is not argument.

Opposing party – Generally, the party you are either suing or defending against is referred to as the opposing party. When a motion is filed, the party against whom the motion is filed is called the opposing party.

Opinion – A formal written statement or decision by a judge or justice on a case.

Oral Argument – spoken arguments to a judge or appellate court by a lawyer of the legal reasons why their party should prevail.

Order Regarding Filing Fee and Service of Process Fee – This document is a court order signed by a Judge ordering that either the filing fees or sheriff's service fees (or both) not be charged to the plaintiff. In order to get this Order, a Motion and Affidavit to Waive Fees must be filed first.

Order to Show Cause – an order which requires one or more parties to justify, explain, or prove something to the court.

Ordinance – A law passed by a city, town or county legislative body.

Overrule – The court's denial of a motion or objection.


Parenting Plan – a detailed schedule of the minimum parenting time for each parent, which must be part of a separation agreement.

Parenting Time – the amount of time each parent spends with their children once they are separated.

Parole – the release of a prison inmate after the inmate has complete part of his or her sentence in a prison.

Parties – The plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) are referred to as the parties or the litigants in the lawsuit.

Paternity Action - A legal action whereby parents who were never married to one another can establish custody, parenting time, child support and determine the child’s legal father.

Perjury – A person is guilty of perjury if he or she makes a false statement under oath, meaning the person does not believe the statement to be true or knows that it is untrue.

Personal service – Personal service is delivery of the summons and complaint (or other court document) directly to a party named on the summons and complaint (or other court document). This can be done by hand-delivery by one party to the other with the receiving party signing an Admission of Service or by having the Sheriff or private process server delivers the documents to the party.

Petition – A written application to a court, usually the first pleading in a lawsuit, requesting a remedy available under law; also, called a complaint.

Petitioner – The person who files a civil lawsuit in court against another party; may be called Plaintiff depending on the type of action.

Plaintiff – A plaintiff is the person who files a civil lawsuit in a court.

Pleading – A written legal document setting out the facts supporting a legal claim or defense. The most common pleadings in a lawsuit are the complaint and the answer.

Preliminary Hearing – A court hearing that occurs in the initial stages of a criminal prosecution; generally, after the arrest and initial appearance. A defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing unless the defendant has been indicted by a grand jury or information, or has waived the hearing. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine if there is probably cause to believe the defendant committed a crime.

Pre-sentence Investigation Report – A report, generally prepared by a court services officer, which presents pertinent information needed by a judge to sentence a person convicted on a crime. The report includes such information as the defendant's criminal history, characteristics, family and financial circumstances, harm to the victim, the victim's family and the community, and any mitigating circumstances relating to the defendant's potential for probation. This report is confidential.

Pretrial conference – the court will schedule a pretrial conference to set a schedule by which certain things must be done.

Pro bono – If a lawyer represents a client without charge, the lawyer is said to be representing the client pro bono.

Pro se – A party to a lawsuit who represents himself or herself is said to be proceeding pro se, in other words, proceeding without representation by a lawyer. Also termed as a self-represented litigant.

Probable Cause – In criminal law, probable cause is a constitutionally prescribed standard of proof – a requirement of a reasonable ground to suspect that a person is committing or has committed a crime, or there is a fair probability that evidence of a crime would be found in a certain location that is the subject of a search warrant. In torts, probable cause means a reasonable belief in the existence of certain facts on which a claim is based.

Probation – A criminal sentence in which a person convicted a crime is released by the court subject to certain conditions imposed by the court and supervision by a court services officer (aka probation officer). Conditions of probation may include, but not limited to, payment of restitution, fines and court costs, community service, substance abuse treatment, regular drug testing, 24/7 program, payment of child support obligation, travel restrictions, association restrictions, curfews, and other requirements intended to promote rehabilitation of a defendant.

Probation Officer – See "Court Services Officer".

Process server – A process server must be at least eighteen years of age and not a party to the lawsuit for which service is being made. Parties to a lawsuit often engage the Sheriff's Office to serve documents on the opposing party or they may hire a professional process server.

Proof of service – A document asserting how and when service of a summons and complaint or other legal document was made on the other parties to a lawsuit is called the proof of service.

Proposed jury instructions – Before the trial begins, the parties are required to submit proposed jury instructions that the judge may read, in whole or part, or in modified form, to instruct the jury on the law relevant to the lawsuit.

Proposed order – A proposed order is an order written by a party to a lawsuit for a judge to sign if the judge wishes to grant the party's motion in the manner described in the proposed order.

Protection Order - An order issued by the court to protect a person(s) from certain acts like physical violence or stalking. There are the person receiving the order and named the children or other household members from physical violence.

Protective Order – A protective order is a court order limiting discovery or requiring discovery to proceed in certain way. A protective order may also consist ofan order allowing the parties to file certain documents under seal or otherwise restricted from public access.

Public Defender – A lawyer employed by the government to represent persons who cannot afford to hire a lawyer on their own. This, however, is not a gift. You will be expected to pay back the amount billed on your case.


Quash – To vacate, annul or terminate.


Rebuttal – Often the party asserting an argument or offering evidence to the court is provided time for a rebuttal to respond to the opposing party's counterargument or counter-evidence.

Rebuttal testimony – At trial, after defendants have completed examining each of their witnesses, plaintiffs can call additional witnesses solely to challenge or "rebut" testimony given by the defendants' witnesses, that is, to give rebuttal testimony. Defendants also have an opportunity to present rebuttal witnesses to rebut testimony of plaintiffs' witnesses.

Remedies – In the context of a civil lawsuit, remedies are actions the court can take to redress or compensate a party for a violation of rights under the law.

Reply – Both the answer to a counterclaim and the response to the opposition of a motion are referred to as a reply.

Reply Brief – A party who filed a motion with the court usually will file a reply brief – sometimes called a reply, for short – responding to the opposing party's opposition brief.

Requests for admission – A request for admission is a discovery tool in which one party may ask another party in writing to admit the truth of any statement, or to admit the application of any law to any fact.

Requests for Production of Documents – In order to obtain copies of documents that are relevant to a lawsuit from other parties to the lawsuit, the party sends them a request for production of documents.

Restitution – An equitable remedy under which a person is restored to his or her original position prior to loss or injury. Restitution is commonly used to describe full or partial compensation owed by a criminal to a victim or a crime as part of a criminal sentence.

Restraining Order – a temporary court order issue to prohibit an individual from carrying out a particular action, such as approaching or contacting a specified person.

Ruling from the bench – If the judge announces his decision on a motion during the hearing on the motion, the judge is said to be ruling from the bench.


Sanction – A sanction is a punishment the court may impose on a person in certain circumstances; for example, if a person refuses to obey a court order, or refuses to respond to discovery requests. Sanctions can be monetary or can preclude certain evidence from being admitted, or even dismiss the lawsuit.

Self-authenticating – Certain documents do not need any proof of authentication to be admissible evidence under Rule 902 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. These documents are said to be self-authenticating.

Self-represented litigant – A party to a lawsuit who represents himself or herself, without the representation of a lawyer, is proceeding pro se or as a self-represented litigant.

Serve – When one party provides a document to another party in accord with the requirements found in S.D. Codified Laws §15-6-5, the party is said to have served or provided service to the other party; also known as Service.

Service of Process – the delivery of writs or summonses to the appropriate party; see also "Serve".

Settlement - Parties to a lawsuit resolve their dispute without having a trial. Settlements often involve the payment of compensation by one party in at least partial satisfaction of the other party's claims, but usually do not include the admission of fault.

Shared Parenting - Both parents share making major decisions for their children and spend a substantial amount of parenting time with their children.

Shared Parenting Plan - The document that states how the parents will make decisions for their children and the parenting time schedule. This document must also address how the parties will share the expenses of the children.

Side bar – A side bar is when the judge calls the lawyers (or the parties if they do not have lawyers) to one side of the bench to discuss an issue without the jury being able to hear the discussion.

Small Claims – small dollar value claim, currently in South Dakota a small claim is any claim under $12,000.

Status hearing – A hearing in which the judge assesses the progress of the case or addresses problems the parties are having.

Statute – A statute is a formal written law. Federal statutes are found in the United Stated Code. South Dakota statutes are found in South Dakota Codified Laws.

Statute of limitations – The statute of limitations is the amount of time a person has to file a complaint after the person was injured, or, in some cases, after the person became aware of the cause of the injury.

Stipulation – A formal written agreement between the parties that is signed by both parties. It does not become a court order until it is approved by a judge.

Subpoena – A document issued by the court which requires a person to appear for a court proceeding at a specific time and place, and/or to make available at a specific time and place documents specified in the subpoena.

Subpoena duces tecum – A form of subpoena used to require a non-party deponent to bring specific documents to the deposition. The same form is used for a subpoena duces tecum as for a deposition subpoena.

Summons – A document that must be served with the complaint to start a lawsuit.

Sustain (an objection) – During examination of witnesses at trial, if a party objects to evidence being admitted or a question being asked, the judge may sustain the objection, which means that the evidence will not be admitted or the question will not be asked.


TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) – a program to provide temporary financial assistance for pregnant women and families with one or more dependent children.

Teen Court – a justice program run by teens for teens aged 12 to 17 who have committed a misdemeanor crime.

Termination of Parental Rights – when the rights of a parent are terminated by the state.

Testify – to give evidence as a witness in a court of law; also known as Testimony.

Time-barred – When the time limit has passed by which a person must make a particular legal claim or it is too late (i.e. the statute of limitations has run); the claim is said to be time-barred.

Tort – a civil, not criminal, wrong. A negligent or intentional injury against a person or property, with the exception of breach of contract.

Transcript – The written record taken down by a court reporter of what was said in a deposition or court proceeding is called a transcript.

Transition - The adjustment time for parents and the children immediately before, during and after the exchange of the children between the parents or other caregivers.

Trial subpoena – A trial subpoena is a type of subpoena that requires a witness to appear at trail on a certain date.


Undisputed fact – A fact which all the parties can agree to.

United States Code (U.S.C.) – The United States Code is the published, codified collection of federal laws.


Vacate – When a court sets aside an order it previously made so that the order has no further effect, it is said to have vacated the order.

Venue – The place where the lawsuit is filed.

Verdict – When the jury – or in a bench trial, the judge – decides who wins the trial, the decision is called a verdict.

Verified Complaint – a sworn complaint filed by a plaintiff that is signed under oath, under penalty of perjury.

Verification – to declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of a state, that the information provided is the truth.

Virtual Parenting Time - Parenting time facilitated by electronic means to supplement, not replace, in-person parenting time. Examples include telephone calls, Web cam, videoconferencing, instant messaging, online chatting, texting, etc.

Voir dire – A jury selection process in which each potential juror is asked a series of questions designed to show any biases that the juror may have that would prevent him or her from being fair and impartial.


Warrant – Court authorization, most often for law enforcement officers, to conduct a search or make an arrest.

With prejudice – If a court dismisses a claim with prejudice, the claim is lost and may not be asserted again in another complaint.

Without prejudice – If a court dismisses a claim in a complaint without prejudice, the claim may be asserted again in another complaint. Dismissal without prejudice is sometimes also referred to as dismissal, with leave to amend, because the party is permitted to file an amended complaint based on the same facts and law as the dismissed claim.

Witness – A person who has personal knowledge regarding facts relevant to the lawsuit.

Witness box – The chair where witnesses sit when they are testifying in court, usually located in front of the courtroom and to the side of the judge's bench, is referred to as the witness box.

Writ – a written court order directing a person to take, or refrain from taking, a certain act.


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