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.

Ex parte

On one side only. (EX: A judicial proceeding or order is said to be "ex parte" when it is taken or granted for the benefit of one party only, and without notice to any other person adversely affected. For example, you might have an "ex parte" hearing on your request for a restraining order during which a judge listens ONLY to your side and then can grant you the order without the defendant (your abuser) present. The order will be temporary until the judge can hold a full court hearing with the defendant present to tell his side of the story.)


The questioning of a witness by a lawyer at a trial or deposition. When the lawyer calls a witness for their case and questions the witness, the questioning is called direct examination. When the opposing lawyer questions the same witness, the questioning is called cross-examination.

False imprisonment

The unlawful detainment of another person. This happens when one person deprives another of freedom of movement by holding that person in a confined space or by physical restraint. Examples include being locked in a car without opportunity to get out, being tied to a chair, or being locked in a closet.


A serious criminal offense such as murder, for which the sentence can include imprisonment for more than a year.


A pleading or claim is frivolous if no rational or reasonable arguments can be made to support the claim, and its purpose was to delay the court or embarass the opponent.

Grand jury

A group of 23 citizens who decide whether there is "reasonable cause" to believe the defendant has committed a crime and whether an indictment should be issued

Guardian ad litem

The person assigned by the court to represent the interests of a minor child or incompetent person in legal proceedings. In some states, such as Massachusetts, guardian as litems are appointed by the court to perform investigations or evaluations in custody cases, and to make reports to the court, sometimes with recommendations.


To seize and take into custody of the law or of a court.

Indian tribe

The term ''Indian tribe'' means any Indian tribe, band, nation, pueblo, or other organized group or community which administers justice or plans to administer justice under its inherent authority or the authority of the United States and which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indian tribes because of their status as Indians.


A written accusation by a grand jury charging an individual with a crime, generally a felony.


A court order prohibiting someone from doing some specified act or commanding someone to undo some wrong or injury.


The person who is appointed to decide cases and to make sure that legal procedures are followed in the courtroom.


Authority of a court to listen to and decide cases. Each court has the authority to hear certain cases. State and federal laws determine which subjects courts may decide and whether the court's decision will be binding on someone who lives in another state.


A group of people who determine the guilt or non-guilt of the defendant. The lawyers screen the jury to make sure the people on it are neutral (impartial).


Legally responsible.


Any professional misconduct or unreasonable lack of skill in a professional duty.


Less serious type of crime that can lead to imprisonment for up to one year.


Carelessness or lack of care. A person is negligent if she or he fails to act reasonably or take reasonable precautions


The alleged perpetrator or criminal.