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American Legal Terms Defined, Part 1

American Legal Terms Defined, Part 1

There is no skirting around it, America’s legal terms are excessively complicated and convoluted. This may seem like it may hinder justice in an adversarial justice system, and surely without the right to professional legal representation it would, but in fact it sets a uniform, equally accessible, rubric for understanding the law. As ridiculous as at least some laws seem to everyone, most laws went through stringent consideration before passing, or were improved on from past laws. You can imagine how, over time, these accruing laws and legal terms became more and more convoluted. If you need a criminal justice attorney in Kutztown, give Dutko Law a call. In the mean time, here are some common American legal terms defined.


We will start with the most basic and all encompassing legal term: jurisprudence, which simply refers to the study or theory of law. Jurisprudence can be broken up into broader schools of thought:

  • Natural Law — Natural law is the idea that all legislative power is derived from objective power than can be rationally defined. In other words, the basis of law is found in reason, from which the laws humans create stem.
  • Legal Positivism — Legal positivists hold that rather than law being based on some form of natural law or morality, there is actually no connection between law and morality. Rather, law comes from social differences in legal positivism, although practitioners differ on what those social differences are, and what effects on law they have.
  • Legal Realism — Legal realism argues that what determines law is its practice. Therefore, judges, lawyers, and legislators create the force of law when they define and use it.
  • Critical Legal Studies — The final, and youngest, theory of jurisprudence, critical legal studies indicate that law is mostly contradictory, and that legality is really more of an expression of dominant social groups, rather than an objective morality or objectively defined social role.

Stare Decises

Stare decises is a common legal term that means “to stand by things decided”. If you have ever heard of the concept of legal precedent, stare decises is what gives it meaning. It is brought up a similar ruling has already been issued for a similar case. According to the Supreme Court of the United State, it “promotes the evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process.” Proponents of stare decises argue that it helps the general public better understand and predict the interpretations and enforcement of the law. Detractors state that erroneous legal decisions are much harder to purge from the law due to the practice.

Binding vs. Persuasive Authority

When referring to precedent in a legal argument, that precedent can be a binding or persuasive authority. Obviously, a binding authority sets a precedent that must be followed. However, a persuasive authority may be completely disregarded. Whether or not a precedent is considered binding or persuasive is dependent on how stare decises principles are applied.

Case Law

Related to the previous two entries, case law is the set of previous rulings by judges and tribunals that meet their jurisdictions formalities to be used a precedent. Case law contrasts with statutes and codes, which are laws put in place by the legislative branch, and regulatory law, which is a regulation enacted by the executive branch based on a current statute.

Amicus Curiae

This Latin phrase, which translates literally to “friend of the court”, essentially means just that. It refers to someone who is not a part of a case, or even solicited by members of a case, but who offers impartial and objective information to the court that could have bearing on the case. However, whether or not the information that they present is taken into consideration is up to the discretion of the court in question.

Common American Legal Terms Defined

Hopefully you feel a little more comfortable with legal terms now. Stay tuned for our second legal term overview entry. If you need a criminal justice attorney in Kutztown, don’t hesitate to give the professionals at Dutko Law a call. We are also practiced in family and labor law. One of our friendly and knowledgeable representatives will be happy to provide any answers that you may need.