Family Court Glossary of Legal Terms
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ACQUITTAL: A finding of not guilty; the legal and formal certification of the
innocence of a person who has been charged with a crime.
(ORDER): A later addition or supplement to an order or court document.
The process of rendering a judicial decision as to whether the facts alleged
in a petition or other pleading are true. An adjudicatory hearing
is that Court proceeding in which it is determined whether the allegations
of the petition are supported by evidence. Also called a "Jurisdictional"
or an "Evidentiary" hearing.
When a matter (civil or criminal) is brought before the Court it must
then be decided, settled or resolved. The act of deciding finally
is called adjudication.
EVIDENCE: Evidence which can legally and properly be used
ADMISSION: 1) A statement tending to establish
the guilt of the person making the statement. 2) The transfer
of a minor's physical custody to a detention or shelter facility.
A legal proceeding in which an adult takes, as his or her lawful child,
a minor who is not the adoptive parent's natural offspring. The
adopted minor loses all legal connection to the previous parent(s), and
the adoptive parent undertakes permanently the responsibility of providing
for the child.
AFFIANT: The person who makes or subscribes an affidavit.
A written statement of facts signed under penalty of perjury, often before
a Court clerk or notary public who administers the oath to the signing
ALLEGATION: A charge; a statement of
fact in a petition or complaint which must be proved if the petition or
complaint is to be found true.
A charge or claim set forth
in a petition, which must be proven true or false at a hearing.
AMENABILITY HEARING: A hearing to determine
whether a child's case will be heard in Family Court (as a juvenile) or
in Superior Court (as an adult).
AMENDMENT: To change or modify, to alter
by modification, deletion or addition.
AMICABLE: Friendly, mutually forbearing;
agreed or assented to by parties having conflicting interests or a dispute;
as opposed to hostile or adversary.
ANCILLARY MATTERS: Matters in dispute
between the parties in connection with divorce or annulment including
equitable division of marital property, alimony, and attorneys fees, to
be resolved after the divorce.
Yearly judicial review, usually in dependency cases, to determine whether
a child requires continued Court supervision or placement. Increasingly
required by state laws, but also often set as policy by local Court rule.
Sometimes, reviews are required at other than yearly intervals.
formal written statement in which the respondent in a civil case sets
forth his or her defense to the relief asked for in the petition.
APPEAL: Resort to a higher Court, in
the attempt to have the decision of a trial Court changed. Appeals from
Family Court are filed either in Superior Court or in the Supreme Court,
depending on the type of case.
APPEARANCE: Coming into court as party
to a suit, either in person or represented by an attorney, whether as
plaintiff or defendant.
APPELLANT: The party who initiates an
The party against whom an appeal is taken; also called the respondent.
The process by which minor delinquency and some adult criminal charges
are settled without a hearing before a Judge. This process of dispute
resolution involves a neutral third party, an Arbitration Officer, who
renders a decision after both parties are given the opportunity to be
ARRAIGNMENT: A hearing to advise the
accused of his/her rights during which the accused enters a plea of guilty,
not guilty, or nolo contendre (no contest).
ARREARS: An overdue support payment.
ASSETS: Property of all kinds, real and personal,
tangible and intangible, which belong to any person (including a corporation
or the estate of a decedent).
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The amount of money an individual charged with an offense must pay in
order to be released between the time the individual is charged and the
trial. Bail is set by a judicial officer for the purpose of ensuring
that the accused will appear in court as commanded.
The seat occupied by a judicial officer.
INTEREST OF CHILD: The standard used by the Court to determine
issues of custody and visitation.
OF PROOF: The duty to establish a claim or allegation at
the time of hearing. Generally, the party making allegations will
have the burden of proving those allegations.
CAPIAS: An order issued
by a Court to take an individual into custody. It is generally issued
when a litigant fails to appear for a court hearing or trial.
CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocate is a trained volunteer appointed
by a Family Court Judge to represent the best interests of abused, neglected,
or dependent children who are the subject of Court proceedings.
REVIEW: To review the evidence in an attempt to generate
an offer and acceptance of a plea agreement. A process by which
counsel for the State and the defendant or respondent in adult criminal
and juvenile delinquency cases appears before a Family Court Judge.
CENTRAL REGISTRY: Records of child abuse reports
compiled under State law or voluntary agreement among public agencies.
COPY: A copy of a document or record, signed and certified
as a true copy by the officer having custody of the original.
A complaint having a legal basis found in the Delaware Criminal Code or
the Municipal Code.
JUDGE: The administrative head of Family Court. Qualifications
and judicial authority are the same as the Associate Judge. The
Chief Judge is nominated by the Governor and approved by the Delaware
State Senate. The Chief Judge is responsible for the administrative
affairs of Family Court and for executing judicial policies as set forth
by the body of judges. He or she does not have the power of judicial
review of decisions made by Associate Judges of Family Court.
ABUSE: Traditionally, any physical mistreatment of a child,
as opposed to child neglect or negligent care. However, the term
is increasingly used to cover any "physical or mental injury, sexual
abuse, negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child...by a person who
is responsible for the child's welfare under circumstances which indicate
that the child's health or welfare is harmed or threatened thereby,"
and is so defined in the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment
Act (Pub. Law 93.247,1974).
NEGLECT: Failure by a parent or custodian to render appropriate
care to a child; an act of omission by the person legally responsible
for a child's care which threatens the child's well-being. Failure
to provide a child with suitable food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, medical
care or parental supervision.
EVIDENCE - see EVIDENCE
CIVIL PROCEEDING: All lawsuits other than criminal
prosecutions, including juvenile delinquency cases. See also STANDARD OF PROOF.
CLERK: Officer of court, who accepts pleadings, motions, judgments, etc.,
issues process, and keeps records of court proceedings.
COMMISSIONER: A judicial officer appointed by the
Governor, confirmed by the Senate with constitutional powers including
the power to incarcerate. A Commissioner can hear any civil case
within the Court's jurisdiction not precluded by statute as well as criminal
and delinquency cases, including those resulting in detention of a juvenile,
and incarceration of an adult. Appointed to a 4-year term.
COMMITMENT: When a court sentences a person to confinement in a penal institution
or mental health facility. An order by which the court directs an
officer of the court to take a person to a penal institution or mental
LAW: Law developed as the result of judicial decisions rather
than by statutes written by the legislature. (see STATUTE)
A witness' ability to observe, recall and recount under oath what happened.
The person who applies to the court for legal redress by filing a complaint.
A sworn statement filed in Court alleging that an individual has harmed
or violated the rights of the person filing the complaint or that an individual
has committed a crime.
An oral statement, usually made to police, charging criminal, abusive
or neglectful conduct; 2) a District Attorney's document which starts
a criminal prosecution (also known in many states as an "information");
and 3) the initiating pleading in a criminal or civil case, filed by
the moving party and setting out the cause of action. In Family
Court, the complaint is usually called a "petition".
A branch of Domestic Relations Courts in some states, usually staffed
by counselors and social workers rather than by lawyers or judges, designed
to explore and promote the reconciliation of divorcing parents.
CONFIDENTIALITY: Told in confidence, intended to be kept secret. Many communications
from parent to doctor or social workers are "confidentially"
made, but may later be used in abuse or neglect hearings.
also PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATIONS.
An agreement of the parties resolving pending matters before the court.
CONTEMPT: The action of a person who willfully disobeys a court order or fails
to comply with a court decision.
The adjournment or postponement of a session, hearing, trial or other
proceeding to a subsequent day or time.
COUNSEL: Advice or assistance given by one person to another in regard to a
legal matter. May also be used to refer to an attorney.
COUNTERCLAIM: A claim presented by a defendant in opposition to the claim of the
CRIMINAL PROSECUTION: The filing of allegations by the State which constitute a charge of
criminal activity, followed by the arraignment and trial of the defendant
(unless PLEA BARGAINING resolves
the case sooner). Criminal prosecutions may result in imprisonment,
fines, and/or probation.
Criminal defendants are entitled to acquittal unless charges are proven
against them beyond a reasonable doubt.
CROSS-PETITION: A formal written application to the Court requesting judicial action
on a certain matter against a party/person who has already filed a petition
in that case.
The right to or responsibility for a child's care and control, carrying
with it the duty of providing food, shelter, medical care, education and
discipline. Custody can be joint or sole.
(JOINT LEGAL): Where parents have equal decision making
authority regarding the care and control of a child. Joint custody
differs from Residential Custody.
(SOLE LEGAL): One parent, the sole legal custodian, makes
all major decisions affecting the child(ren).
An order entered against a party who has failed to appear after proper
notice to defend against a claim that has been brought by another party.
DEFENDANT: The party against whom relief or recovery is sought in a suit or the
accused in a criminal case.
FILING: A document filed with the Court that does not contain
the necessary requirements, fees or elements.
DELINQUENCY: The commission of an illegal act by
CHILD: A child who commits an act, which if committed by
an adult, would constitute a crime.
CHILD: A child whose physical, mental or emotional health
and well-being is threatened or impaired because of the inability of the
child's custodian to provide adequate care and protection.
The confinement of a juvenile by a legally authorized person.
DETENTION HEARING (ALSO KNOWN AS "BAIL" OR "BOND"
HEARING): A Court hearing held to determine whether a minor
who is alleged to be delinquent should be kept away from his parents until
a full trial can be held. Detention hearings must usually be held
within 24 hours of the filing of a DETENTION REQUEST.
REQUEST: A document filed with the Clerk of Family Court,
by a probation officer, social worker, or prosecutor, asking that a detention
hearing be held, and that a minor be detained until the detention hearing
has taken place. Detention requests must usually be filed within
48 hours of the time custody of the minor begins.
DISMISS: To dispose of an action or suit without any further consideration
DISPOSITION: The Judicial Officer's written order as to how the case was decided.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: A government prosecutor of suspected
crimes. See also CRIMINAL PROSECUTION.
In Delaware, the prosecutor is referred to as the Attorney General.
DIVERSION: Procedures for
handling relatively minor criminal cases informally without referral to
DOCKET: A brief, formal record of the proceedings of the Court.
VIOLENCE: A pattern of assaulting and controlling behaviors,
including physical, sexual and psychological attacks, committed by one
family member against another or by an intimate partner against the other
PROCESS: The constitutionally guaranteed
right of persons to be treated by the law with fundamental fairness.
In criminal proceedings, due process means the right to adequate notice
in advance of hearings, the right to counsel, the right to confront and
cross examine witnesses, the right to refuse to give self-incriminating
testimony, the right to notification of allegations of misconduct in advance
of the hearing and the right to have allegations proven beyond a reasonable
unforeseen combination of circumstances that calls for immediate action
without time for full deliberation. An emergency/priority order will be
issued by the Court, without notice to the parties for a hearing, when
it appears from facts shown by affidavit or verified complaint that immediate
and irreparable harm will result before the adverse party can be heard.
OF APPEARANCE: A coming into court as party to a suit, either
in person or by an attorney, whether plaintiff or defendant.
Historically, a system of justice which grew up separate and distinct
from the common law and was not bound by its precedents, so that it could
accomplish just relief where the common law could not. The legal
system's exercise of jurisdiction over families and children is founded
on principles of equity.
EVIDENCE: Any sort of proof submitted to a Court for the purpose of influencing
the Court's decision. Some special kinds of evidence are:
Evidence - Evidence which implies another fact.
Direct Evidence - First-hand evidence, usually
of a witness who saw an act committed.
Hearsay Evidence - Testimony about an out-of-court
statement made by someone other than the person testifying; for example,
"I heard him say..." Except where the law provides an
exception to the hearsay rule, such evidence is usually excluded because
it is considered unreliable and because the person who made the original
statement cannot be cross-examined as to the factual basis for the statement.
There are numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule, however.
Physical Evidence - Any tangible piece of proof,
such as a document, x-ray print, photograph, firearm, etc. Also
called "real" evidence.
PARTE: A judicial proceeding or order which is held or granted
at the instance and for the benefit of one party without notice to the
other party. Normally, these hearings are held on an emergency basis.
A full hearing with notice to both parties is held at a later date.
EXHIBIT - see EVIDENCE (Physical Evidence)
EXPERT TESTIMONY: Witnesses with various types of
expertise may testify in a case. Experts are usually questioned
in Court first about their education or experience which qualifies them
to give opinions about certain matters. Only after the hearing officer
decides that the witness is sufficiently expert in the subject matter
may the witness proceed to state his or her opinions. Doctors and
psychologists are common expert witnesses in Family Court cases.
See also EVIDENCE (Opinion Evidence).
EXPUNGEMENT: The destruction
or sealing of records of minors or adults, after the passage of a specified
period of time or when the person reaches a specified age and has not
committed another offense. Sometimes provided for by statute and
sometimes ordered by the Court under its inherent powers.
WRIT: A writ, often issued by an Appellate Court, making
available remedies not regularly within the power of lower Courts.
FAMILY: Under Delaware
law, for the purpose of determining whether Family Court has jurisdiction
over a case, family is defined as: husband and wife; a man and woman cohabiting
in a home in which there is a child of either or both; custodian and child;
or any group of persons related by blood or marriage, without regard to
legitimacy and relationships by adoption, who are residing in one home
under one head and where one is related to the other by any of the following
degrees of relationship, both parties being residents of this State:
mother, father, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother, sister, brother-in-law,
sister-in-law, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandfather,
grandmother, grandson, granddaughter, stepfather, stepmother.
FAMIS: Family Court's automated information system.
FELONY: Differs legally from a misdemeanor because of the
punishment, imposed. The most serious category of crimes, which
includes murder, rape, kidnapping, assault, robbery, burglary, arson,
theft, carrying a concealed deadly weapon. The punishment may be
imprisonment for longer than a year, and/or a fine greater than $1,000.00.
FERRIS: Secure facility
where some male juveniles are placed once they are adjudicated delinquent.
This facility serves as both a detention and rehabilitation center.
FIFTH AMENDMENT: The
Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees several
rights to criminal defendants. One of the rights available under
the Fifth Amendment is the right of a defendant not to incriminate himself.
When a witness "takes the Fifth", he refuses to answer a question
on the basis that his answer might tend to incriminate himself.
(but see IMMUNITY). See also DUE
FILING: A paper is filed when it is delivered to the Clerk of Court,
to be entered and docketed in the court's file.
CARE: A form of substitute care, usually in a home licensed
by a public agency, for children whose welfare requires that they be removed
from their own homes.
FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT: The Fourteenth Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution secures to every person due process rights to life,
liberty and property.
FOURTH AMENDMENT: The Fourth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution, protects every person against unlawful search and seizure.
An adult appointed by a Probate or Family Court to serve as custodian
of a minor until the minor's parent proves renewed ability to provide
proper care to the child. A guardian has almost all the rights and
powers of a natural parent, but the relationship is subject to termination
or change (compare ADOPTION).
GUARDIAN AD LITEM: An adult who is appointed by a Court to act in the minor's behalf
ad litem (in a lawsuit), because minors lack the legal capacity to sue
or defend against suit. The guardian is considered an officer of the court.
Ad Litem are sometimes known as NEXT FRIENDS.
In Delaware, the CASA serves as a Guardian Ad Litem for the child.
GUARDIANSHIP: The power and duty of taking care of, and/or managing property and
rights of a child or an individual who is considered incapable of taking
care of his/herself.
An extraordinary writ ordering a public officer holding a person in confinement
to bring the person before the Court for release. Used to secure
the release from custody of minors or adults being illegally held.
HEARING: A trial or other proceeding before a judicial officer. Several
types are described below:
hearing – In delinquency cases, a fact finding hearing to
determine whether the accused committed the alleged acts; in civil cases,
a fact finding hearing to determine the rights and duties of the parties.
Amenability hearing – A hearing in Family Court
to decide whether the juvenile charged with a serious crime can be effectively
helped by our Court, or whether the juvenile should be treated as an
adult and the case transferred to Superior Court. Required for
juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 who have committed certain felonies.
Arraignment – A hearing to notify the accused of
his or her rights and of the charge before the court. The accused
must enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or, where permitted, “nolo
Bond (Bail) hearing – Hearing
during which a Judge or Commissioner sets an amount of money, which
the defendant/respondent must post, or be incarcerated in default of
bail, pending dispositional hearing.
Fact Finding hearing – A formal trial before a
judge, commissioner, or master where witnesses may be present to testify,
to determine if the allegations are true.
DE NOVO: A full new hearing or trial, as opposed to a review
of a court decision on a transcript or record.
OFFICER: The individual who
presides at a judicial proceeding.
See under EVIDENCE.
CONFINEMENT: Program through Probation and Parole ordered
by the court where a person is committed to stay at home. Individuals
subject to home confinement are monitored electronically through an ankle
bracelet using the person's telephone.
Legal protection from liability. 1) Reporting statutes require
certain persons to report suspected child abuse; the same statutes often
confer immunity upon the persons required to report, giving them an absolute
defense to libel, slander, invasion of privacy, false arrest, and other
lawsuits which disgruntled parents might file; even when the report turns
out to have been false, reporters have immunity from liability so long
as they acted "in good faith" when they reported. 2) In
criminal prosecutions, immunity from criminal liability is sometimes
conferred upon a witness in order to secure from him vital testimony.
Thereafter, the witness cannot himself be prosecuted with the use of information
he disclosed in his testimony. He can be compelled to testify in
this way, despite the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination.
If an immunized witness refuses to testify, he can be imprisoned for contempt
IN LOCO PARENTIS: Refers to a custodian, guardian
or other person acting in the parent's place and stead.
CAMERA: A hearing or judicial proceeding conducted in chambers
INCARCERATION: Confinement of a juvenile or adult in a secured correctional institution.
INCEST: A person is guilty of incest if he engages
in sexual intercourse with another family member. The relationships
include blood relationships without regard to legitimacy and relationships
The report of a Grand Jury, charging an adult with criminal conduct.
ORDER (PRELIMINARY): A court order prohibiting someone from doing
some specified act or commanding someone to undo a wrong or injury.
lawyer, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate who presides
over court hearings and has the power to enter orders affecting the parties.
Family Court has one Chief Judge, who is the administrative head of the
Court, and 12 Associate Judges. All Family Court Judges are appointed
for 12-year terms.
JUDGMENT: A final decision of the Court resolving the dispute and determining
the rights of the parties involved in the case.
The power of a particular Court to hear and dispose of cases involving
certain categories of persons or allegations. Family Court has jurisdiction
over most juvenile delinquency cases, adult misdemeanor domestic violent
crimes, and family civil actions, such as divorce and custody.
A group of adults, selected by lawyers from a panel, to judge the truth
of allegations made in a legal proceeding. Family Court does not
have jury trials.
JUVENILE: A youth under 18 as established by the laws of the State of Delaware.
COURT: Court which has jurisdiction (legal power) over minors
only, usually handling cases of suspected delinquency as well as cases
of suspected abuse or neglect. In many states, terminations of parental
rights occur in Juvenile Court proceedings, but that is generally the
limit of Juvenile Court's power over adults.
DELINQUENCY: When a juvenile is found guilty of committing an
act which would be a crime if the juvenile were an adult.
K - L
FOR FAILURE TO REPORT:
Most states have enacted statutes requiring certain categories of person
(usually professionals involved with children) to report all cases where
child abuse seems to have occurred. To enforce the duty to report,
most of these statutes impose a criminal penalty for failing to make the
LITIGANT: A party to a case or lawsuit.
The intentional commission of a wrongful act without legal justification
with the intent of inflicting injury or harm, or under circumstances such
that the person acting should reasonably have known that injury or harm
An extraordinary writ issued by a higher Court and directed to a public
executive or administrative officer or agency, or the judge of a lower
Court, commanding the performance of a specified act. Also known
as "Writ of Mandate".
SENTENCING: A law passed by the General Assembly requiring
judicial officers to impose a certain sentence for particular crimes.
A person appointed by the Chief Judge to hear cases as assigned.
Masters' orders may be reviewed before a Judge of Family Court.
Evidence that relates to a substantive part or element of a case.
The process by which Court mediators assist parties to reach voluntary
agreement in domestic relation matters (e.g., support, custody, visitation)
without a formal court hearing before a Judge. This is an informal
dispute resolution process in which a neutral third party (Mediation Officer)
helps litigants to reach an agreement. The mediator has no power
to impose a decision on the parties.
SUPPORT ORDER: A medical support order requires one or both
parents to provide health insurance and requires both parents to pay a
portion of medical expenses not covered by health insurance for their
FORMULA: The informal name of the Delaware Child Support
Formula, named after former Judge Melson. This is a standard guideline
formula used to calculate child support obligations.
RULE: From the U.S. Supreme Court
case of Miranda v. Arizona, 38-4 U.S. 436 (1966), the rule that
confessions are inadmissible at trial if the police do not advise the
subject of certain rights before questioning him or her. The rights
of which the subject must be advised include: 1) The right to remain
silent and to refuse to answer any questions; 2) the right to know that
anything he or she says can and will be used against him or her in a Court
of law; 3) The right to consult with an attorney and to have an attorney
present during questioning; 4) The right to have counsel appointed at
public expense prior to any questioning if the subject cannot afford counsel.
Though the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled
directly on the question, good practice, and the laws of many states,
requires that the warnings be given to juveniles. Moreover, some
states have required that a minor be advised of the right to have a parent,
relative or other advisor present during questioning, in addition to counsel.
A category of crime, for which the punishment can be no more than
one year of imprisonment (usually in a county jail rather than state prison)
and/or fine of $1,000.00. Distinguished from a felony, which is
more serious, and from an infraction, which is less serious (e.g., loitering).
MODIFICATION: A change, alteration or amendment.
MOTION: An application made to a court or judge in a pending matter for the
purpose of obtaining an order directing some act to be done in favor of
PARTY: The party who initiates a motion.
Any act or failure to act which a "reasonably prudent person"
would not have done or failed to do.
FRIEND: See GUARDIAN
PROSEQUI: A formal entry upon the record, usually by the
prosecutor in a criminal action, by which he declares he will not further
prosecute the case.
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THE RECORD: Anything
that is put on the written or recorded account of the court proceedings,
to remain as permanent evidence of the matters to which it relates.
ORDER: The direction of a court or judge, usually reduced to writing.
A law enacted by the governing body of a city or county.
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"The father of his country", from English law, the legal doctrine
under which the Crown assumed the protection of certain minors, orphans,
and other persons in need of protection. It is a concept used by courts
when acting on behalf of the states to protect and control the property
and custody of minors and incompetent persons.
A person who has filed a petition with the Court or who
has had a petition filed against him or her. A petitioner
or a respondent.
PATERNITY: The state or condition of a father; the establishment of a father
and child relationship.
A willful assertion under oath made by a witness in a judicial proceeding
as part of his evidence, whether such evidence is given in open court,
or in an affidavit, or otherwise, which the witness knows to be false.
A civil pleading filed to initiate a matter in Court, setting forth the
alleged grounds for the Court to take jurisdiction of the case and the
relief requested. A formal written application to a court requesting
judicial action on a certain matter.
The person initiating a legal action, usually in a civil case. The
person who presents a petition to a court.
ORDER (PROTECTION FROM ABUSE ORDER): Order preventing a
person from abusing another person, where persons are members of following
classes: family; former spouses; man and woman cohabiting; or man
and woman living apart with a child in common. Relief granted may
include restraining the respondent from committing domestic violence,
restraining the respondent from contacting the other person, granting
the petitioner exclusive possession of residence, granting temporary custody
of children, awarding child and/or spousal support, ordering the respondent
to relinquish firearms, and ordering participation in counseling.
PLACEMENT: The residential and/or custodial arrangements
determined for a child by the Court. The removal of a child from
his or her natural home and placement in a different custodial setting
for more than a short period of time. Placement may be in a foster
home, group home, relative's home, or an institution. Juvenile or
Family Courts sometimes place minors through their own staffs, but usually
commit delinquents or dependent children to other agencies for placement
PLEA BARGAINING: The process
whereby the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually
satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval.
Settlement of a criminal prosecution, usually by the reduction of the
charge and/or the penalty, in return for a plea of guilty.
PLEADINGS: Any one of
the formal written statements of accusation or defense in an action of
The formal allegations by the parties of their respective claims and defenses.
POLICE HOLD: An emergency measure taken to detain
a minor, often in hospital, until a written detention request can be filed.
(ALIAS): A document filed with the Clerk of Court requesting that
the Clerk take action, i.e., issue subpoenas, prepare a file for appeal,
INVESTIGATION: Investigation of the relevant background
of a convicted offender, usually conducted by a probation officer or pre-sentence
investigator assigned to a court, designed to serve as a sentencing guide
for the sentencing judge.
REPORT: A report prepared from the pre-sentence investigation,
which is designed to assist the judge in passing sentence on a convicted
communications that are protected by statutes, so that they cannot be
disclosed in Court over the objection of the holder of the privilege.
Lawyers are almost always able to refuse to disclose what a client told
them in confidence. Priests are similarly covered by other statutes.
Doctors and psychotherapists have generally lesser privileges and their
testimony can be compelled in many cases involving child abuse or neglect.
See also CONFIDENTIALITY.
SE: Litigant who is representing himself (not represented
PROBABLE CAUSE: A reasonable ground for belief in
the existence of facts warranting some action on the Court's part.
Allowing a convicted criminal defendant or a juvenile found to be delinquent
to remain at liberty, under a suspended sentence of imprisonment, generally
under the supervision of a probation officer and usually under certain
OFFICER: One who supervises a person placed on probation
by a court in a criminal proceeding.
PROSECUTION: In a criminal action, a proceeding instituted for the purpose of determining
guilt or innocence of a person charged with a crime.
CUSTODY: In child abuse and neglect cases, the emergency
removal of a child from his home when the child would be in imminent danger
if allowed to remain with the parent(s) or custodian(s).
DEFENDER: An attorney appointed by a court to defend indigent
defendants in criminal cases.
See CRIMINAL PROSECUTION.
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See STANDARD OF PROOF.
WARRANTO: An extraordinary writ usually issued by a higher
Court to prevent continued assertion of unlawful authority by a public
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When a matter is reconsidered by the Judicial Officer who first heard
it, for the purpose of modifying an order or disposition.
RELEVANT: Evidence that is logically connected to,
and helps to prove, a material point or issue in a case.
REMAND: To send back for further deliberation. Often when an appellate
court reverses a lower court decision, the case will be remanded to the
lower court for reconsideration in light of the principles announced in
the appellate court's decision.
REPORTING STATUTES: Laws which require specified categories of person (usually professionals
involved with children) to notify public authorities of instances of suspected
child abuse, and sometimes neglect.
RESPONDENT: The person
against whom the petition or complaint is filed.
(TO MOTION): An answer to a pleading filed by the defendant/respondent,
which addresses each of the allegations made by plaintiff/petitioner in
RESTITUTION: A process by which a juvenile or adult reimburses the victim for any
loss or damage to person or property.
SUPPORT: The establishment of back child support.
DE NOVO: A new hearing or trial, as opposed
to a review of a transcript or record.
PLEA: A plea of guilty where guilt is not admitted.
10: Written plea of not guilty submitted to court including
name, address, charges and signature of defendant and attorney including
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SEALING: The closing of records to inspection by all but the parties involved.
SELF-INCRIMINATING: The giving of a statement, in Court or during an investigation,
which subjects the person giving the statement to criminal liability.
See also DUE PROCESS, FIFTH
AMENDMENT, MIRANDA RULE,
(DISPOSITION): The hearing officer's written order as to
how a case was decided. In a criminal case, it is the punishment
to be inflicted upon the defendant.
The last stage of criminal prosecution, in which a convicted defendant
is ordered imprisoned, fined, or granted probation.
REPORT: The document prepared by a probation officer or
social worker for the Family Court hearing officer's consideration at
the time of disposition of a case. This report addresses the minor's
history and environment.
OF PROOF: The level of proof
required in a particular legal proceeding. In criminal and delinquency
cases, the offense must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In
neglect and dependency proceedings, and in civil cases generally, the
standard of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence, a significantly
lower standard which requires that the Judge believe that it is more likely
than not, on the evidence presented, that neglect occurred. In some
cases, the standard of proof is by clear and convincing evidence, a standard
more stringent than preponderance of the evidence and less demanding than
beyond a reasonable doubt.
DECISIS: Legal doctrine which requires adherence to legal
precedents (decisions of Appellate Courts) until they are overruled by
the same or higher Courts.
A law enacted by a State legislature or the U.S. Congress.
HOUSE: Secure facility where pre-adjudicated juveniles
are detained pending their hearing.
A voluntary agreement between the parties in a case, allowing a certain
fact to be established in evidence without the necessity for further proof.
A legal document, usually issued by a Court clerk, requiring that the
person named in the subpoena appear or send materials requested on a stated
day and time at a specified Court. Failure to obey a subpoena is
punishable as a contempt of Court.
DUCES TECUM: A subpoena served upon the person who has custody
of records, commanding that such custodian bring the specified records
to Court on the stated day and time. Requires specific documents
such as books or files to be submitted for review in a legal proceeding.
SUMMONS: A legal document,
issued by the Court Clerk or other Court officer, notifying the named
person that a lawsuit or legal cause has been filed against or involves
him or her, and notifying such person of any dates set for hearings and
deadlines for responding to the complaint or petition. The purpose
of a summons is to notify the persons concerned.
COMPLAINT: A form naming the charge against the defendant
and signed by the complainant, in adult criminal and juvenile delinquency
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TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS (TPRs): A legal proceeding to free a child from his or her parents so that
the child can be adopted by others without the parents' written consent.
TESTIMONY: A statement or declaration made to establish a fact or facts and
given under oath.
The sending of a case from one court to another. See also REMAND and WAIVER.
TRIAL: A judicial hearing to determine issues between parties to an action
through the testimony of witnesses and documentation.
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U - V
1) Procedure by which attorneys question prospective jurors to determine
any biases or prejudices; 2) In some states, procedure by which lawyers
question expert witnesses to determine their qualifications before the
experts are permitted to give opinion testimony.
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W - Z
The understanding and voluntary relinquishment of a known right, such
as the right to counsel or the right to remain silent during police questioning.
OF APPEARANCE: The relinquishment of the right to appear and/or
participate in court proceedings.
Extremely reckless or malicious. Often used in conjunction with
willful to define certain kinds of behavior only vaguely distinguished
from careless but lawful conduct.
WARD: A minor who is under the jurisdiction of the
juvenile court for a delinquent act or an allegation or finding of abuse,
neglect, or dependency. Also, a person who has a legally appointed
guardian is the ward of that guardian.
Legal document issued by a judge authorizing the search of a place and
seizure of specified items found there (search warrant), or the arrest
or detention of a specified person (arrest warrant). No hearing
is required and the person need not be notified, but the Court must be
given probable or reasonable cause to believe that the warrant is necessary
for apprehension before it issues a warrant. Affidavits are frequently
used in establishing this probable or reasonable cause.
Some conduct becomes unlawful or negligent only when it is done willfully
which means it is done with the understanding of the act and the intention
that the act and its consequences should occur.
A person called upon to testify in a Court proceeding.
RELEASE: Program supervised by Department of Corrections
where a person committed to prison is allowed to leave for the purpose
of either finding work or going to work. They must return to the
prison at the end of the work day.
An order issued by a Court commanding that a certain act or acts be done
or not done.
WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS: A
legal paper issued by the court ordering a person to produce the body
of another person. It is sometimes used in disputed custody cases
where one parent refuses to turn over the child to the other parent (its
legal guardian) at the end of a visitation period.
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