Legal Terms


PLAINTIFF - The Plaintiff is the person initiating a claim in a civil case.

DEFENDANT - The Defendant is the person being sued in a civil case, or the person who has been charged with a crime/driving offense in a criminal case.

ARRAIGNMENT - First appearance before the Court in which the Defendant is advised of the charges, possible penalties if found guilty, his/her rights in court, bond if any, the right to court appointed counsel.

BAIL/BOND - Something of value given by the Defendant to the Court to guarantee the Defendant’s future appearances in Court. Bond can be personal, cash/surety/10%, or cash only.

PERSONAL BOND - Sometimes called “personal recognizance”, when given a personal bond the Defendant is not required to put up any money, the Defendant’s signature is his/her promise to appear at future hearings.

CASH/SURETY BOND - The Defendant has the choice of depositing the amount of the bond with the Court, or utilizing the services of a bail bondsman who deposit the full bond with the Court for a non-refundable fee.

CASH BOND - The Defendant must place the full amount of the bond with the Court. Assuming the Defendant makes all scheduled court appearances, the bond will be returned at the conclusion of the case.

COURT APPOINTED ATTORNEY - Is an attorney who represents criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Eligibility is based upon financial information provided by the Defendant in a document called an “Affidavit of Indigency”, and is up to the sole discretion of the Court. Court appointed attorneys may be compensated for some cases by the State, but cannot request payment from the Defendant unless the “Affidavit of Indigency” is withdrawn, thus rendering the Defendant also responsible for fines and court costs.

BENCH TRIAL - Trial to a Judge or Magistrate, without a jury. The Judge or Magistrate is the trier of fact and issue the verdict of either guilty or not guilty, as well as any applicable sentence.

CHANGE OF PLEA - A hearing in front of the Judge wherein the Defendant actually withdraws a previously entered plea of “ not guilty” and enters a plea of either “guilty” or “no contest”.

TIME WAIVER - In criminal cases, the Defendant has the right to be brought to trial within a certain number of days, depending on the level of offense charged. In many cases, the Defendant agrees to waive the right to be brought to trial within that time period to allow the case to be scheduled for a pre-trial conference.

PRE-TRIAL - A pre-trial is a conference conducted by the Court to Determine whether or not the matter can be resolved without The need for trial. A criminal pre-trial is held with the Prosecutor, Defense Attorney and a Court Magistrate. This is an opportunity for the defense attorney to review evidence contained in the prosecution’s file, including witness statements, photographs, etc. Typically, some type of plea-bargain is offered by the Prosecutor and if accepted by the Defendant, the case will not need to be scheduled for trial. A civil pre-trial is similarly an opportunity for the Plaintiff and Defendant to attempt to negotiate a settlement, discuss evidence and ultimately for the Court to schedule the matter for trial in the event settlement is not possible.

MAGISTRATE - A Magistrate is an Attorney appointed by the Court to handle certain types of hearings.

COMPLAINT - A Complaint is generally the initial pleading filed in a civil case which spells out why the Plaintiff is suing the Defendant, and the amount of money which is being demanded. A complaint is filed with the Court, accompanied by the appropriate filing fee, and will be served upon the Defendant by the Court.

DEFAULT JUDGMENT - Ohio law indicates that upon being served with a Complaint, the Defendant (or person being sued) must file an Answer within 28 days or the allegations contained in Plaintiff’s Complaint are taken to be true. Once the allegations in the Complaint are deemed to be true, the Plaintiff is usually entitled to a Judgment in the amount requested.

ANSWER - An Answer is a pleading filed with the Court and served upon the opposing party that responds to the allegations contained in the Plaintiff’s Complaint. An Answer may admit certain facts, or deny certain allegations.

DISCOVERY - Discovery is an all encompassing term for a process by which either side in a litigation asks questions in writing that are answered under oath by the opposing party; discovery also encompasses the requesting of certain documentary evidence, for example, copies of written estimates, correspondence, photographs, receipts, contracts, etc. Depositions, which involve oral testimony taken before a court reporter, are also considered part of discovery.

SUBPOENA - A subpoena is essentially an Order of the Court for a certain person to appear at Court on a certain date and time. A subpoena may be issued for a witness in either a civil or criminal case, and may also be used to force a witness to bring certain documents with him/her to the court hearing. Failure to comply with a subpoena may result in a warrant being issued for the non-appearing person’s arrest.

EXECUTION - Execution in a municipal court typically means the way a person attempts to collect on a judgment. There are several forms of execution, the most common being wage garnishment, bank attachment, judgment debtor’s examination. These execution methods require certain paperwork be filed with the Court, and accompanied by the current filing fee. The filing fee is typically recoverable, assuming any funds are collected from the judgment debtor.

CONTEMPT OF COURT - Any act calculated to embarrass, hinder, or obstruct a aourt in the administration of justice, or calculated to lessen its authority or dignity.

COUNTERCLAIM - An answer to the complaint, in which the Defendant claims to be entitled to damages or other relief from the Plaintiff.

DEPOSITION - Testimony of a witness, under oath, given prior to trial in the presence of a court reporter who types up a transcript.

EVIDENCE - Testimony or exhibits offered in a judicial proceeding for the purpose of establishing the truth or falsity of an alleged matter of fact.

EVIDENCE - Testimony or exhibits offered in a judicial proceeding for the purpose of establishing the truth or falsity of an alleged matter of fact.

DIRECT EXAMINATION - Questions which the attorneys ask their own clients or witnesses.

CROSS-EXAMINATION - Questions which a lawyer asks the opposing party or witness to test whether the person is telling the truth.

EXHIBITS - Objects, pictures, books, letters and documents which are admitted in evidence.

FINAL ARGUMENT, SUMMATION - After all the evidence is presented by the parties, the attorneys tell the jury what they think the evidence proves and why they think their side should win. It is not evidence.

INDICTMENT - The document informing the Defendant that he or she has been charged with a crime.

INSTRUCTIONS - During the trial the Judge "instructs" the jury as to its duty and responsibility.

JURY PANEL - All prosective jurors from which the trial jury is chosen.

OPENING STATEMENT - Before introducing any evidence in the case, a lawyer tells the jury what the case is about and what evidence is expected to be brought in to prove that side of the case. It is not evidence.

PLEADINGS - All the documents filed by the parties before the trial to establish what issues must be decided by the jury.

RECORD - The official word-for-word copy of the court proceedings.

REST - A party "rests" when that party has presented all of its evidence.

SEPARATION OF WITNESSES - An order of the court requiring all witnesses to remain outside the courtroom until each is called to testify, except the Plaintiff or Defendant.

STIPULATION - An agreement by attorneys on opposite sides of a case as to any matter pertaining to the proceedings or trial.

TESTIMONY - Evidence given by a competent witness, under oath.

WITNESS - One who testifies under oath to what he or she saw, heard, or otherwise observed.