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The following definitions will make it easier for you to understand these common legal words and phrases which will occur frequently during the course of the trial:

  • Action, Case, Suit, Lawsuit: These words refer to a legal dispute brought into court for a hearing or trial.
  • Answer: A pleading filed by the defendant before the trial in a civil case in which the defendant answers or denies the claims of the plaintiff.
  • Argument: After all the evidence on both sides of a lawsuit has been presented, the lawyers are permitted to tell the jury what they think the evidence proves and why they think their side should win. This is usually called an “argument’ or ‘summing up.’ It is not evidence.
  • Cause of Action: The legal grounds on which a party to a lawsuit relies to get a verdict against his opponent.
  • Complaint: The first pleading in a civil case stating facts and demanding relief.
  • Counterclaim: A counterclaim results when the defendant, in his answer to the complaint, claims that he or she is entitled to damages or other relief from the plaintiff.
  • Cross Examination: The questions which a lawyer puts to the party or a witness on the opposing side. This is designed to test whether the witness is telling the truth.
  • Deliberations: The discussions of the jury which occur after the judge has instructed the jury to retire to the jury room and consider the verdict.
  • Deposition: if a party to a lawsuit or a witness cannot be in court because of illness or other inability, his or her testimony maybe written out in question-and-answer form just as it would have been given in court. This testimony, called a deposition, is then read at the trial. Attorneys for both sides are present when a deposition is taken. A deposition may also be used to deny or contradict a witness’s testimony or for the purpose of refreshing a witness’s recollection.
  • Examination, Direct Examination, Examination-in-chief: The questions which the lawyer asks his or her own client and witnesses.
  • Exhibit: Articles such as pictures, books, letters, and documents are called exhibits and are given to the jury to take to the jury room while deliberating.
  • Indictment: The written document used to inform the defendant that he or she is charged with committing a crime.
  • Instructions: After all the evidence is in, and the lawyers have made their arguments, the judge will outline the questions the jury must decide. The judge will outline the rules of law which must guide the deliberations and control the verdict. This is called either the judge’s “charge” to the jury or “instructions”. A judge may, and sometimes must, give an instruction to the jury on some point of law while the trial is in progress.
  • Issue: A disputed question of fact which the jury must decide.
  • Jury Panel: The whole number of all prospective jurors from which the trial jury is chosen.
  • “Objection Overruled” or “Overruled”: This term means that the judge ruled that the lawyer’s objection is
    not well taken under the rules for the conduct of the trial. The judge’s ruling, so far as you are concerned, is final and may not be questioned.
  • “Objection Sustained” or “Sustained”: When a lawyer objects to the form of a question or the answer a question calls for, the judge may say “Objection sustained” or “sustained”. This means the evidence sought cannot be admitted or accepted as evidence.
  • Opening Statement: Before introducing any evidence in the case, each lawyer is permitted to tell the jury what the case is about and what evidence is expected to prove his or her side of the case. The opening statement is not evidence.
  • Parties: The plaintiff and defendant in the case – also called the “litigants.”
  • Pleadings: All the documents filed by the parties before the trial to establish what issues must be decided by the jury.
  • Record: The record is the official copy of the proceedings, taken in shorthand, steno type, or audio-transcription by an official court reporter. Often the judge or the lawyers may declare that something is, or is not, “for the record” or “in the record”.
  • Rest: This is the legal phrase which means that the lawyer has concluded the evidence he or she wants to introduce at that stage of the trial.