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Court Case Terminology

There are a lot of weird words that you may come across while studying court cases. Here is a quick list of the most common ones and their definitions.




Docket number- a tracking number assigned to a case. Usually made up of two digits (signifies year) followed by case type (Civ -> civic Cr -> criminal) followed by four digit case number.


Petitioner - The party that is petitioning for the Supreme Court to review the outcome of a case.


Respondent - The party that is responding to the petition for the Supreme Court to review the outcome of the case. This is usually the party who was ruled in favor of in lower courts.


Advocate - The lawyer who argues either the petitioner or the respondent side.


Majority Opinion- Also known as “opinion,” the majority opinion refers to the winning argument. This is what the majority of the judges voted on.


Dissenting Opinion - An opinion that disagrees with the majority option.


Concurring Opinion - An opinion that supports the majority opinion, but has some nuanced thoughts/disagreements.


Remand- the process of sending a case back to a lower court. This allows lower courts to reexamine the case before throwing it back up to the big boys in Washington.


Vacate- when the court cancels the ruling of a lower court. Usually this is to force it into review later. In rare situations, this is because of fraud or lack of jurisdiction over parties.


Acquittal - When a jury decides that the defendant is not guilty.


Bench Trial - A trial in front of a judge. No jury is used.


Conviction - A guilty verdict given to the criminal defendant in a case.


Habeas Corpus - the legal right for all convicted people to go through judicial processes.


  • Writ of Habeas Corpus - An order that forces law enforcement to present a prisoner and justify their imprisonment. Usually, prisoners who feel as though their rights were violated during a trial will request a writ of Habeas Corpus.


De facto - A term used to describe something that is a fact but not necessarily stated as a law.


Writ of Certiorari - A mandate requesting that a lower court provide the supreme court with all files relating to a case.


 

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