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.


An award of money to the winning party in a lawsuit. Actual damages are out-of-pocket expenses such as lost wages or hospital bills. Actual damages in some cases may include an award for psychological harm. Punitive damages are an award to punish the wrongful party for willful improper action.

Default judgment

A judgment made against someone who did not defend himself/herself against a claim. For example, someone asking the Court for a restraining order may get one by default judgment if the accused abuser does not come to court.


Person with charges or a lawsuit against him or her. This term is used in both criminal and civil cases. (The defendant is also sometimes called the "respondent.")

Defense attorney

The lawyer who represents the defendant.


To cheat or steal by false representation.


Person under 16 years old who commits a crime.

District attorney

The attorney(s) employed by the state to prosecute people for state criminal offenses. Also known as prosecutors, they represent the state. A city government may also have attorneys assigned to prosecute city charges. These people function like district attorneys on a local level.


The place where you live.