American Legal Terms Defined, Part 2

American Legal Terms Defined, Part 2

Stare Decises, Amicus Curae, what, are lawyers speaking another language? Yes, actually, Latin is very prevalent in law just like it is in scientific nomenclature. But even people fluent in Latin (a dead language) have a hard time understanding lawyers a lot of the time. That’s because law could be compared to a language that focuses on rigid rules, concrete and relatable definitions, and established protocol meant to help judges and jurors find the truth. Unfortunately, it is too convoluted for the average layman to understand without a large amount of studying. Luckily, everyone is afforded the right to an attorney for fair representation in America. If you are interested in learning a little bit about American legal terms, we have defined some here.

Some Common American Legal Terms


When a jury’s verdict is that the defendant is not guilty, or a judge deems evidence in a case insufficient, it is called an acquittal.

Administrative Office of the United States (AO)

This is a federal agency that is responsible for collecting and disseminating court statistics, overseeing the federal courts’ budget, as well as performing other related administrative functions. The agency is under the leadership of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR)

This is a method of settling a legal dispute outside of the confines of a courtroom. Usually, it involves an arbitrator or mediator, or the majority of ADRs are not binding agreements.


After a trial, a party can appeal their conviction by raising legal issues with the case that a higher court will review and approve or deny. The person who submits an appeal is called an “appelant”, and the other party in the case is called the “appellee”.

Appellate Court

An appellate court is the type of higher court mentioned previously, and has the power to pass judgement on the decisions of lower courts. They decide whether the appeal is valid, and granted so that the defendant can have another trial, or invalid, in which case the conviction stands.

Article III Judge

An Article III Judge is a federal judge who is appointed for life by the president and congress, using Article III of the constitution. The process goes like this; judges are rewarded for “good behavior” by getting a nomination under Article III by the president, which is then confirmed or denied by the Senate.

Common Law

Common law started in England, and is a large aspect of the United States legal system. It is simply the constant re-articulation of legal principles based on previous legal decisions. Any new legislation by the Federal government takes precedence over common law.


A complaint is a written statement that starts the proceedings for a civil lawsuit. In it, the plaintiff makes claims about the defendant, which will be the beginning basis for their case.

Concurrent Sentence

When a person is charged and convicted for multiple crimes, they can serve their sentences in one of two ways. One of them is with a concurrent sentence, where jail or prison time for each charge will be served concurrently (at the same time). This means that a conviction of one charge with a five year sentence and another charge with a ten year sentence would result in a ten year sentence when served concurrently.

Consecutive Sentence

The other type of sentence a person can serve after being convicted on multiple charges is a consecutive sentence. With this type of sentence, each conviction’s prison time would be served one after the other. In our previous example with one five year sentence and one ten year sentence, the defendant would serve a total of fifteen years.

De Novo

A Latin word meaning “anew”, when a trial is de novo it means that it is a completely new trial where previous rulings on the case by a trial judge cannot be taken into account.


A deposition is an oral statement that is said before an officer of the law who is authorized to administer court oaths. These statements can be taken for a variety of reasons: examining potential witnesses, obtaining discovery, or just to be used at a later point in the trial.


Discovery refers to all of the procedures lawyers use to acquire evidence they are entitled to before a trial starts.


A docket is a court log that contains the complete history of every case in the form of brief summaries and overviews.


With all of these American legal terms, that is a lot of information to digest! It is always beneficial to educate on how our legal system works, but if you ever find yourself in court, it is important to get professional representation for a fair trial. If you need a labor law or criminal law lawyer in Kutztown or the surrounding areas, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. We bring our considerable legal expertise to bear in defense of every client we represent.