GLOSSARY OF LEGAL TERMS AS USED IN
THE JUSTICE OF THE PEACE COURT
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Acquit - to clear a person of a criminal
charge which has been made against them
Admissible evidence - evidence which the Court may
hear in deciding the case. To be admissible, evidence must be relevant
(helpful in deciding the case) and not unfairly prejudicial or based on
Affidavit - a written statement of facts sworn to
by someone authorized to administer oaths such as a notary or Delaware
Affirm - to pledge similarly to taking an oath but
without reference to "swearing to". Witnesses may either take an oath
or affirm that they will tell the truth.
Alias Request for Service - the second attempt of
service (often to a different address) after the first attempt was unsuccessful.
Answer - the written response to the complaint in
a civil action.Answers (using Civil Form No. 7) are required only in debt
and trespass actions. In these actions, the Defendant must file the answer
within 15 days of the date of receiving the complaint.
Appeal - to seek review of a Justice of the Peace
Court ruling. Appeals in civil cases other than landlord-tenant cases
are made to the Court of Common Pleas. In landlord-tenant cases, appeals
are made to a special panel composed of 3 justices of the peace, in the
same court in which the case was originally heard. All civil appeals,
except landlord-tenant cases which were originally heard by a jury, consist
of a new trial. In landlord-tenant jury cases, the special panel reviews
the record of the case. In criminal cases, the defendant may appeal to
the Court of Common Pleas, where a new trial will be held. The prosecution
may appeal a decision in a criminal case only in limited circumstances.
Appellant - the party who appeals the Justice of
the Peace Court decision.
Appellee - the party against whom an appeal is taken.
Arrest Warrant - a written order of the court which
is made on behalf of the State which commands a law enforcement officer
to arrest a person and bring him before a justice of the peace.
Arraignment - an appearance before the Court when
a defendant tells the Court whether he or she wishes to plead guilty,
not guilty or nolo contendere to a criminal charge.
Attachment - the seizing of a person's property to
be held as security for a judgment or to be sold to satisfy a judgment.
Authentication - proof that evidence is what the
person introducing it claims to be. Most often, evidence will be authenticated
by testimony of a witness that they recognize the item they want admitted
or have marked it in some way, or have kept it separate and secure to
ensure that it was not changed. Some types of evidence, such as public
documents under seal from a government agency or a court, or certified
copies of public records, newspapers and periodicals, and inscriptions,
do not need to be authenticated.
Bail - security by which a criminal
defendant is released for a future appearance before the Court. The security
may consist of the defendant's signature agreeing to appear (this is known
as "OR" or "on own recognizance", cash, property, or a bail bond, as determined
by the Court.
Bench - the raised area where the judge sits in the
courtroom. The term "bench" may also be used to refer to the Court in
its official capacity.
Bill of Particulars - a statement prepared by the
Plaintiff giving specifics as to the basis for the Plaintiff's claim and
how the amount claimed was determined. A bill of particulars may be demanded
by the Defendant in debt actions only.
Brief - a written statement prepared by a lawyer
or party to explain to the Court the facts and law relating to the case.
Burden of Proof - when facts are in dispute in a
case, one party has the responsibility for providing evidence to persuade
the Court to believe their version of the facts. Usually, the party who
brought the case into court has the burden of proof. The burden of proof
usually applied in a civil case is called "the preponderance of the evidence".
This means that it is more probable than not that something happened.
In a criminal case, the burden of proof is greater and the prosecution
must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the
Case Law - the law which develops
from court decisions. Such law is in addition to statutes enacted by the
Delaware General Assembly or by the United States Congress.
Capias - an order to bring a person before the Court,
similar to an arrest warrant, except that a capias is issued when a person
has failed to appear in Court as required or has violated a condition
of probation or a condition of release.
Civil Action - Generally, an action for a private
right and remedy, as distinct from a criminal proceeding. (In some situations,
civil actions may be brought by the State.)
Civil Contempt - A type of contempt of court (see
definition of contempt of court below) which generally arises form a willful
failure to comply with an order of court. A fine or imprisonment may be
imposed with the object of obtaining compliance with the court's order.
In civil contempt, a fine may be purged or imprisonment ended upon the
compliance with the court's order of the person charged with contempt.
Complaint - in a civil action, the initial paperwork
which begins the action when filed; in a criminal action, a charge against
a person accused of an offense.
Constable - an officer who is authorized to serve
court papers, execute on civil judgments, transport prisoners, maintain
court security, and perform other similar functions for the Justice of
the Peace Court.
Constable Sale - a sale of personal property of a
person against whom a money judgment was entered and who has not paid
the judgment, made at the request of the judgment creditor.
Contempt of Court - Conduct which defies the authority
of the court, such as disobeying a court order or unruly behavior in the
Continuance - a rescheduling of a court proceeding.
Conviction - a finding of guilty made by the Court
or a plea of guilty or nolo contendere accepted by the Court.
Counterclaim - a claim made against an opposing party
after an original claim has been made.
Court Costs - fees and charges required by law to
be paid to the court.
Court of Common Pleas - the Delaware court having
jurisdiction of up to $50,000 in civil cases and all misdemeanors except
certain drug-related offenses and traffic cases. The Court of Common pleas
is also responsible for all preliminary hearings in felony cases and is
the appellate court for Justice of the Peace Court civil (other than Landlord-Tenant
cases) and criminal cases.
Crime - an act or failure to act in violation of
Criminal Action - generally, an action brought by
the State to punish offenses against the law as contained in the Delaware
Criminal Contempt - a contempt of court (see definition
above) that occurs either in front of the court (direct) or outside the
presence of the court (indirect), which is defined as a crime in the Delaware
statutes and which is punished by a fine and/or imprisonment. Unlike a
civil contempt, the punishment for a criminal contempt cannot be avoided
or lessened by subsequently following the court's order.
Cross Examination - questioning of a witness by the
party opposed to the one who called the witness to testify. Generally,
the questioning must be limited to matters covered in the previous testimony
of the witness (direct examination).
Damages - money claimed, or ordered
by the Court to be paid to a person as compensation for loss or injury.
The Justice of the Peace Court has jurisdiction to award damages in a
civil case of up to $15,000.
Debt Action - A debt action is a civil claim for
a sum of money. Examples of debt actions include money claimed on a loan,
money claimed for purchases made, money claimed because work for which
payment has been made was not completed or properly done, money claimed
of unpaid rent, and security deposits not returned. The Justice of the
Peace Court has jurisdiction to award damages of up to $15,000 in a debt
Default Judgment - a judgment which may be entered,
in a civil case, when no answer is received by the Court from the Defendant
within the proper time period or when the Defendant fails to appear as
Defendant - the party being sued in a civil case
or the accused in a criminal proceeding.
Defendant History - a form filled out or updated
by a defendant, which provides the court with information needed for court
Deferred Payment - payment of fines and/or costs
postponed to a future time; installment payments of fines and costs.
Direct Examination - the first questioning of a witness
at a trial; this is done by the party who called the witness to testify.
Dismissal - the termination of an action prior to
trial or conviction.
Elements of a Crime - the individual
parts of an act (or failure to act) which make it a crime. For example,
the elements of Menacing as an unclassified misdemeanor are: 1) by some
movement of body or any instrument; 2) the person intentionally; 3) places
another person in fear of imminent physical injury. The prosecution must
prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt.
Evidence - any form of proof presented to the Court
to show the existence or nonexistence of a fact. Evidence may include
testimony (what a person says under oath during a trial), documents, photographs,
recordings, or objects.
Execution - court enforcement of a money judgment
by seizing and selling the property of the judgment debtor or by garnishing
the wages of the judgment debtor.
Expert Witness - a witness who has been shown to
the Court to be qualified by their special knowledge skill or experience
(scientific, technical, or other) and who can testify as an expert in
a specific field. Expert witnesses can give opinions based on their special
knowledge or skill.
Family Court - The court which has
jurisdiction of civil and criminal matters involving family members and
juveniles (except minor traffic offenses of juveniles ages 16 and 17,
which are handled by the Justice of the Peace Court.)
Felony - a crime of a more serious nature than a
crime designated as a misdemeanor or violation. Although a person accused
of a felony may be brought before a justice of the peace for the setting
of bail, the Justice of the Peace Court may not try or accept pleas in
File - to submit a legal document to the Court.
Fine - a sentence to pay a penalty in money.
Form 50 - a Justice of the Peace Court Civil Form
used by an artificial entity (such as a corporation) or a public body
seeking to appear in a civil case in the Justice of the Peace Court without
Forthwith - immediately; without delay.
Garnish - to attach (see definition
of attachment above) property held by a third party to satisfy a debt.
Hearsay - a statement, other than
one made by a person while testifying at trial, that is used to prove
the truth of what was said in the statement. As a general rule, hearsay
is not admissible in court - however, there are a number of exceptions
to this rule which are contained in the Delaware Rules of Evidence.
Impeach - to challenge the credibility
of a witness or to challenge the accuracy or authenticity of a document.
Indigent - one who is without sufficient income
or property to enable them to pay court costs. Such persons may apply
to the court to file "in forma pauperis" so that court costs may be waived.
Injunction - a court order to take or prevent a certain
action. The Justice of the Peace Court has authority to issue injunctions
only in Landlord-Tenant cases.
Injury - damage to a person's property or the violations
of a person's legal right.
Jurisdiction - the power of a court
to hear and decide cases based on the type of case and geographical considerations.
In criminal cases, the Justice of the Peace Court has jurisdiction to
try those misdemeanors and violations (including those of local governments)
which the General Assembly has specifically authorized it to hear and
usually, the crime must have been committed in Delaware. In civil cases,
the Justice of the Peace Court has jurisdiction to award money damages
of up to $15,000 and may handle debt, trespass, replevin, and landlord-tenant
Judgment - the final decision of the Court on a matter
Justice of the Peace - a judge in the Justice of
the Peace Court. Justice of the Peace, unlike judges in the higher courts,
are not required to be lawyers.
Landlord-Tenant Code - Delaware statutes,
contained in Title 25 of the Delaware Code, which regulate the rights,
remedies and obligations of landlords and tenants in residential rental
Landlord-Tenant Action - an action filed for possession
of a rental unit, including both residential and commercial units and
mobile homes lots and leases. (This is also referred to as an action for
Summary Possession.) The action may be filed by the landlord for possession
of a rented property because of unpaid rent or abuse and misuse of the
rented property. Tenants may also file if the landlord has violated the
landlord-tenant code by wrongfully keeping them out of the rented property.
Levy - the seizure of property by the constable (physical
custody by the constable is not usually taken) when a defendant has not
paid a judgment awarded against him by the Court.
Lien - a right in the property of another until a
debt owed is satisfied.
Misdemeanor - a crime which is less
serious than a felony but more serious than a violation. Misdemeanors
are categorized as misdemeanor A, misdemeanor B, or unclassified. The
Justice of the Peace Court has jurisdiction over all violations , but
only of those misdemeanors which the General Assembly has specifically
authorized it to hear.
Motion - An application made to the Court, usually
by a party to the case, requesting that some action be taken.
Nolle Prosequi - the abandonment
of a criminal prosecution by the State.
Nolo Contendere - a plea of no contest in a criminal
case. This plea is treated as a guilty plea for purposes of sentencing,
but does not function as an admission of guilt in a later civil case based
on the same facts.
Non Est - this means that the person who was to be
summoned to receive other court documents could not be served. If service
is returned "non est", a JP Civil Form. No. 9 is given to the plaintiff,
stating the reason the service could not be made. An "alias" request for
service may be filed once more information as to the person's location
Non-Suit - a non-suit judgment occurs when a plaintiff,
after proper notice, fails to appear at the designated trial date and
Notarized - signed by someone authorized to administer
oaths, certify documents, and attest to the authenticity of signatures
such as a notary public or Delaware attorney.
Nulla Bona - a return of an execution meaning that
the Court was unable to find any goods upon which to levy.
Oath - a swearing to tell the truth.
Opinion - a decision of the Court in which the Court's
decision in the case is explained.
Parole - a release from prison, upon
certain conditions, of a person who has served some of a sentence in prison.
Party - one bringing or being sued in a legal action.
Perjury - a statement made under oath or affirmation
known by the maker of the statement to be false.
Perpetrator - the person who has allegedly committed
Personal Property - any property which is movable
and not classified as real property.
Plaintiff - the person who brings a civil case to
Plea - the answer of the defendant in a criminal
case to the charge(s) brought against him or her. The plea is generally
not guilty, guilty, or nolo contendere.
Plea Agreement or Plea Bargain - an agreement between
a criminal defendant and the prosecution in which the defendant pleads
guilty to a lesser offense and/or to fewer than all of the charges in
exchange for a lesser sentence and/or dismissal of some charges.
Pleading - the stating of the facts and legal arguments
which support the party's position. The main pleadings are the complaint
( in a civil case, J.P. Civ. Form No. 1) and the answer. ( In a civil
case, a written answer is required only in debt and trespass actions using
Civil Form No. 7 - in replevin and landlord-tenant cases, the answer is
made in court; in a criminal case, no written answer is required.)
Preliminary Hearing - the hearing by a judge, held
in felony cases, to determine whether there is probable cause to hold
a person charged with a crime for trial.
Probable Cause - reasonable cause; having more evidence
for than against in a criminal case that the accused person had committed
the crime charged for purposes of issuing a warrant.
Probation - a criminal sentence, subject to certain
conditions which permits a convicted person to be released into the community
instead of being sent to prison.
Probation Before Judgment - a procedure whereby the
defendant enters a plea of guilty or nolo contendere and the Court defers
entry of a judgment of conviction and places the defendant on probation
under the terms and conditions that the Court decides are appropriate.
If the terms and conditions are met, no conviction is ever entered on
the defendant's criminal record. If the terms and conditions are violated,
the Court may enter judgment and proceed as if the person had not been
placed on Probation Before Judgment. The program applies only to specified
misdemeanors and violations. The prosecuting agency must consent to placing
a defendant on probation before judgment and there are a number of additional
eligibility criteria which apply.
Pro Se - acting on one's own behalf in court (not
using an attorney).
Prosecution - the representative of the State who
pursues the criminal charges in court. In the Justice of the Peace Court
the prosecution may be a police officer, deputy attorney general, or other
representative of the State authorized by law to prosecute cases.
Public Defender - an attorney appointed by a court
or employed by a government agency who defends accused persons in criminal
cases who cannot afford an attorney.
Real Property - generally, land and
anything growing on, attached to, or built on the land.
Release on Own Recognizance - release of a criminal
defendant without setting bail; the accused is merely bound by their word
to appear before the Court at the appointed time.
Replevin - an action filed to get back an item of
personal property that is being withheld from them by another person.
The Justice of the Peace Court has jurisdiction to award damages of up
to $15,000 in a replevin action.
Satisfaction of Judgment - the discharge
of all obligations of the judgment. Once the Defendant has satisfied the
Judgment, it is the Plaintiff's responsibility to notify the Court in
writing. If the Plaintiff does not do so, 90 days after payment in full,
the Defendant may sue the Plaintiff for an amount not to exceed half the
Secured Bail - when bail is secured, this means that
a dollar amount is set and some type of security must be posted. If the
accused fails to appear before the Court, the person providing the security
may forfeit the security posted. There are three types of secured bail:
1) cash - the total amount of the bail must be posted in cash or by certified
check; 2) secured by property - property is posted as security; and secured
by money - the accused pays a percentage of the bail to a bail bondsman
who secures the bail.
Sentence - the judgment formally pronounced by the
judge upon the defendant after conviction in a criminal prosecution, imposing
the punishment which is usually in the form of a fine, incarceration,
Sentencing Order - a document completed and signed
by the judge or court showing a defendant's sentence in a particular case.
Statute - a law passed by a legislative body and
set forth in the appropriate code of laws.
Service - the delivery of a summons or other legal
Sua Sponte - of its own will or motion; when the
Court acts without a party's prompting or suggestion.
Subpoena - an order of the Court to appear before
it at a certain date and time.
Subpoena Duces Tecum - an order of the Court to appear
before it and bring books, papers, and other things specified in the subpoena.
Substance Abuse Fund - a fund which helps victims
of substance abuse.
Summons- a notice sent to a defendant ordering them
to appear in court at the date and time specified.
Superior Court - the Delaware court which has exclusive
jurisdiction over felonies and almost all drug offenses. In civil matters,
the Court's authority to award damages is not subject to a monetary maximum.
Supreme Court (Delaware) - the Delaware Court which
receives direct appeals form the Court of Chancery, the Superior Court,
and the Family Court.
Summary Possession - an action for possession of
a rental unit. (See Landlord-Tenant Action above.)
Third Party Action - an action filed
by the Defendant against a party other than the Plaintiff who may be liable
for all or part of the damages that the Plaintiff may win from the Defendant.
Trespass Action - an action involving the wrongful,
intentional, or negligent actions of a person that resulted in damage
to another's property. For example, damages caused by an improper act
of another person may involve an automobile as a result of a traffic accident,
to a home, lawn, bicycle, or to any other personal property. The Justice
of the Peace Court has jurisdiction to award damages of up to $15,000
in a trespass action.
Unsecured Bail - bail which consists
of a dollar amount being set, but no money or property is required to
be posted as security. If the accused fails to appear at the appointed
time, the accused will owe the amount set to the Court.
Violation - a crime of a less serious
nature than a felony or misdemeanor. The Justice of the Peace Court has
jurisdiction over all violations.
Victim's Compensation Fund - a fund to assist victims
of violent crimes and their families.
Victim's Rights Fund - a fund for victim's rights
obtained from a percentage of all fines assessed to a person 16 years
of age and over not wearing a seat belt.
Videophone - a fund assessed in all criminal cases
to support the purchasing and maintaining of videophone systems.
Witness - a person who gives testimony
under oath or affirmation.
Work Referral - an option to "work off" fines and
court costs by agreeing to work for an agency to which the defendant has
been assigned by probation and parole. The defendant's account is credited
the minimum wage per hour for each hour of work completed.