Words You Need to Know

Glossary of Terms

Because your path to freedom involves legal processes, you will hear a lot of new words, as well as familiar words being used in new ways.

Use this list to help you understand some of the key terms that will be used during the process.

Remember to ask questions. Whenever there are terms or parts of the process you don’t understand, ask someone to explain it to you.


The court official who keeps court records and files.

Commonwealth's attorney

Equivalent of state's attorney who prosecutes felony crimes in their respective counties within the commonwealth of Kentucky. It is possible that this term is also used in other states that are also known as Commonwealths.


To give one party money or other benefits to make up for a loss or problem.


Able to make decisions. The court may decide if a person is competent or incompetent. If someone is incompetent, the court may appoint a legal guardian.


Free and willing agreement. (eg., A "consent order" is made when both parties agree to the terms of the order and then the judge signs off on it.)


The services of a spouse. Services include household tasks one spouse performs for another and/or in addition to sexual services. (Term is used in law suits for "loss of consortium" where one spouse loses the services of the other and can sue for damages. Available only in some states.)

Contempt of court

Committed by a person who intentionally disobeys a court order, acts in a way that does not respect the authority and dignity of the court, or fails to follow a court order.


The postponing (rescheduling for later) of a court hearing. If you ask a judge for a continuance, s/he may or may not give it to you.


To give, sell, or transfer to another person


Place where civil and criminal trials are held.

Court officer

An officer of the court who protects the judge; is in charge of the accused person while he is in the courtroom; and looks after the jurors.

Court reporter

A legal stenographer who records what happens during official court proceedings.

Criminal case

A legal proceeding brought by the state, county, or city against someone, charging the person with a crime.