This glossary is provided to help identify courtroom and other legal terms.

A.R.S. Arizona Revised Statutes, books containing the laws enacted by the Arizona Legislature.

Acquit To find a criminal defendant not guilty.

Action A dispute taken to court to be settled. Same as case, suit and lawsuit when used in the courtroom context.

Admissible Evidence that is properly introduced in a trial.

Adversary System Method used in the courts of the United States to settle legal disputes. Both parties in the case tell their story to the judge and/or jury for resolution.

Affidavit A statement or declaration of facts that has been written down and confirmed by the originator under oath.

Affirm To uphold a decision made by a lower court.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) The process of settling a legal dispute without a formal trial.

Answer Written response in a civil case. In it, the defendant admits or denies the allegations of the plaintiff’s complaint and states any defenses that apply.

Appeal Legal process used to ask a higher court to review a decision of a lower court.

Appellant The person/party appealing the judgment or decision of a court.

Appellate Court A court having jurisdiction (authority) to hear appeals.

Appellee The party against whom the appeal is taken.

Arbitration The assignment of a civil case to an impartial third party for a decision.

Arbitrator An attorney selected to hear a case and settle the legal dispute without a formal trial.

Arraignment Court proceeding in which the defendant stands before the judge to answer criminal charges by entering a plea of guilty or not guilty. 

Attorney-at-Law One who is admitted to the State Bar of Arizona and who may represent clients in legal proceedings. Also called lawyer or counsel.

Bail Money or other form of security the judge requires to be held by the court to ensure that a criminal defendant, released while awaiting trial, will be in court for the trial. Bail is returned when the defendant returns for trial.

Bailiff Courtroom attendant responsible for keeping order in the courtroom and supervising the jury.

Bench The seat where a judge sits in court.

Board of Supervisors Local governing body at the county level.

Brief Written statement explaining facts of a case and laws that apply.

Burden of Proof Responsibility for proving the facts in a case.

Case Lawsuit, suit, or action being resolved through the court system.

Case Law Law composed of previously written decisions of appellate courts.

Chambers Private office of a judge or justice.

Chief Justice Presiding justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Civil Complaint Document filed by the plaintiff in a civil case that outlines the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant.

Civil Law Area of law that deals with disputes between individuals not involving crimes.

Clerk of the Court An appointed or elected official who is responsible for keeping records, accounts and managing routine affairs for a court.

Constable An elected official whose primary duty is to deliver and return legal notices and documents as directed by a justice court.

Conviction A decision by the judge or a verdict by the jury determining that a person charged with a criminal offense is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Counterclaim A claim filed by a defendant in a civil case against the plaintiff’s complaint. For this claim, the defendant is a plaintiff.

County Attorney Attorney elected in each county to prosecute criminal cases on behalf of the public and to represent the county in civil matters.

Court Administrator Person who assists the presiding judge in managing the court.

Court Commissioner Person with authority to do the job of a judge in limited cases.

Court of Record Courts in which all proceedings are permanently recorded according to law. Justice and municipal courts are not courts of record, but they sometimes do keep records of court proceedings.

Court Reporter A person who records all formal court proceedings in order to be able to produce a transcript of the proceeding.

Courtroom Clerk Person in charge of recording specific proceedings in court (including the date, names of parties and case number) and keeping the court records.

Crime An act forbidden by law and punishable by fine, probation, imprisonment or death.

Decide To render a decision.

Default Failure of the defendant to file an answer or appear in a civil case within the allowed period of time. The plaintiff may then ask for a judgment against the defendant granting everything requested in the complaint.

Defendant The person or party sued in a civil case or accused in a criminal case.

Delinquent Act An act committed by a juvenile that if committed by an adult would be a crime.

Dependency A relationship in which one depends on another for support in whole or in part.

Discovery The pretrial process by which one party becomes aware of the evidence gathered by the other party.

Dismissal An agreement to terminate all or part of a lawsuit.

Domestic Relations Area of law dealing primarily with family issues such as divorce, child support, custody and visitation.

Felony A serious crime, punishable by imprisonment by the Department of Corrections. In some cases, the death penalty may be imposed.

Forcible Entry and Detainer A special proceeding for returning possession of lands, tenements or other real property to a person who has been wrongfully kept off the land or deprived of use of the land. This is a common proceeding used in landlord/tenant disputes, also known as eviction.

General Jurisdiction Court (Superior Court) Court that has authority to hear all legal actions not assigned exclusively to another court.

Grand Jury A group of 12 to 16 citizens who usually serve a term of not more than 120 days to hear or investigate charges of criminal behavior. Their indictment, called a true bill, leads to a court trial of the person charged.

Impeach A formal accusation by the Arizona House of Representatives that a public official committed misconduct in office.

Incorrigible Refers to a juvenile who is unmanageable by parents or guardians. Incorrigible offenses include running away and truancy.

Indictment A formal, written accusation by a grand jury charging that a person or business committed a specific crime.

Initial Appearance The first appearance in court by the defendant in a criminal case.

Insolvency Inability or lack of means to pay debts.

Judge The public officer authorized to preside over, hear and determine cases in a court of law.

Judgment The official decision by a court regarding the rights and claims of the parties to a civil or criminal lawsuit.

Judge Pro Tempore A person assigned to perform the duties of a judge on a temporary basis.

Judicial Performance Review The process, as required by the Arizona Constitution, to periodically review the performance of judges appointed by the governor.

Jurisdiction The legal authority of a court to hear and decide cases; the exercise of judicial power within certain geographic, monetary or subject matter limits.

Jury Commissioner Court officer who ensures that potential jurors are available to serve when needed by the courts.

Jury Foreman The presiding member of the grand or petit jury, chosen by the members, who speaks or answers for the jury.

Law Provision that regulates the conduct of society, primarily generated by the legislative branch of government.

Limited Jurisdiction Court A court that may hear and decide limited types of cases. In Arizona, these are the justice and municipal courts.

Litigant A party (person or persons) involved in a lawsuit.

Litigation A judicial contest that seeks a decision from the court.

Magistrate Often used to refer to a municipal court judge, but A.R.S. § 1-215 provides a broad definition that includes all judicial officers with power to issue a warrant for arrest: includes a Supreme Court justice and judges of the superior, justice and municipal courts.

Merit Selection A system for a judicial nomination commission to recommend candidates for judicial appointments to the governor.

Misdemeanor An offense less serious than a felony, punishable by a sentence other than being sent to prison (A.R.S. § 13-105).

Motion A request to a judge seeking a specific ruling or court order.

Oath A pledge, promise, or declaration to provide true information in court or in an affidavit.

Opinion Written statement issued to report the decision of an appellate court.

Parties Persons, partnerships, corporations, businesses, or governmental organizations involved in legal proceedings. 

Petit (Trial) Jury The group of people selected to decide the facts and render a verdict in a civil or criminal trial.

Petition Written request to the court asking for specific legal action.

Petition for Review An application asking an appellate court to examine a ruling or decision.

Plaintiff In a civil action, the party who files the lawsuit. In a criminal case, the state is the plaintiff.

Plea Response of a defendant to the criminal charges stated; the plea is usually guilty or not guilty.

Plea Agreement or Plea Bargain A process between the accused and the prosecution to negotiate a mutually satisfactory outcome of the case.

Points of Law The legal questions that a case may raise.

Precinct Geographic subdivision of city, town or county, used to describe the jurisdiction of a justice of the peace or for election purposes.

Preliminary Hearing Court proceeding used to determine whether there is enough evidence against a person charged with a felony to proceed to trial.

Presiding Judge Judge who handles the administrative duties of the court. Depending on the court, this judge may also hear cases.

Probable Cause Reasonable cause; there is more evidence for than against.

Probation A conditional suspension of the sentence given by a court in a criminal case. If the terms of probation are completed successfully, the sentence is not imposed. If the terms of probation are violated, probation may be revoked and the sentence carried out.

Pro Per or Pro Se Appearing in court for oneself, as in the case of one who does not use the services of a lawyer.

Proposition 109 The constitutional amendment that required public input and the establishment of a process to review judges’ job performances.

Prosecutor Attorney representing the citizens of a particular community or the state in a criminal case. This may be the city attorney, county attorney or attorney general.

Record on Appeal Those papers, transcripts and exhibits from the trial court that are forwarded to the appellate court for review.

Remand To send back; an appellate court may remand a case to the trial court for retrial or other action.

Rest A party is said to rest or rest its case when it has presented all of the evidence it intends to offer.

Retention The electoral process by which voters decide whether judges will continue to serve another term in their current judicial capacity.

Reverse Decision of an appellate court to change all or part of the decision of a lower court.

Sentence Punishment set by the court within the range of punishments authorized by statute.

Settlement An agreement that provides satisfaction to one or both parties in a civil lawsuit in return for dismissal of the case.

Small Claims Division Special division established within each justice court to legally resolve claims that do not exceed $2,500.

Statute Law enacted by the Legislature and published as the Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.).

Summons Legal document issued by the court that directs the sheriff or other officer to notify the named defendant that a complaint has been filed and that the defendant is required to appear and answer the complaint on or before the time and date specified.

Testimony Statements made by witnesses who have taken an oath or affirmed that they will tell the truth.

Transcript Official written, word-for-word record of court proceedings.

Trial Formal presentation of facts to a court or jury in order to reach a legal decision.

Trial de Novo A new trial that is held upon appeal from a non-record court, or from appeal of an arbitration award.

True Bill An indictment by a grand jury.

Verdict Formal decision of a trial jury.

Witness Person who gives testimony regarding what he/she saw or heard.