An arrangement by which parents who do not live together share the upbringing of a child. Joint custody can be joint legal custody (in which both parents have a say in decisions affecting the child) joint physical custody (in which the child spends a significant amount of time with both parents) or, very rarely, both.
A way for two or more people to share ownership of real estate or other property. When two or more people own property as joint tenants and one owner dies, the other owners automatically own the deceased owner’s share. For example, if a parent and child own a house as joint tenants and the parent dies, the child automatically becomes full owner. Because of this right of survivorship, no will is required to transfer the property; it goes directly to the surviving joint tenants without the delay and costs of probate.
For copyright purposes, a collaboration between two or more authors in which their contributions are joined into a single cohesive work. Each author of a joint work has equal rights to register and enforce the copyright, regardless of how their shares in the work are divided.
A final court ruling resolving the key questions in a lawsuit and determining the rights and obligations of the opposing parties. For example, after a trial involving a vehicle accident, a court will issue a judgment determining which party was at fault and how much money that party must pay the other.
judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV)
Reversal of a jury’s verdict by a judge when the judge believes that there were insufficient facts on which to base the jury’s verdict, or that the verdict did not correctly apply the law. This procedure is similar to a situation in which a judge orders a jury to arrive at a particular verdict, called a directed verdict. In fact, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict is occasionally made when a jury refuses to follow a judge’s instruction to arrive at a certain verdict. Incidentally, for those of a scholarly bent, this term has its roots in the Latin “non obstante verdicto,” meaning notwithstanding the verdict.
The authority of a court to hear and decide a case. To make a legally valid decision in a case, a court must have both “subject matter jurisdiction” (power to hear the type of case in question, which is granted by the state legislatures and Congress) and “personal jurisdiction” (power to make a decision affecting the parties involved in the lawsuit, which a court gets as a result of the parties’ actions). For example, state court’s subject matter jurisdiction includes the civil and criminal laws that the state legislature has passed, but does not include the right to hear patent disputes or immigration violations, which Congress has decided may only be heard in federal courts. And no court can entertain a case unless the parties agree to be there or live in the state (or federal district) where the court sits, or have enough contacts with the state or district that it’s fair to make them answer to that court. (Doing business in a state, owning property there or driving on its highways will usually be enough to allow the court to hear the case.) The term jurisdiction is also commonly used to define the amount of money a court has the power to award. For example, small claims courts have jurisdiction only to hear cases up to a relatively low monetary amount–depending on the state, typically in the range of $2,000-$10,000. If a court doesn’t have personal jurisdiction over all the parties and the subject matter involved, it “lacks jurisdiction,” which means it doesn’t have the power to render a decision.
The monetary amount that determines whether or not a particular court can hear a case. For example, under the law of a particular state, the jurisdictional amount of a justice, municipal or city court might be limited to cases involving less than $25,000. In federal court, cases involving citizens from different states must concern a dispute involving at least $75,000.
A person who serves on a jury. Lists of potential jurors are obtained from sources such as voter registration rolls and department of motor vehicles’ lists. In most states, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees who are called for jury duty–that is, they cannot demote or fire an employee for serving. And a few states require that the employer continue to pay the absent employee. Individuals who are selected to serve on a jury receive from the court a very small fee for their time and sometimes the cost of traveling from home to court.
Criminal Law Traffic TicketshomeGLOSSARY jury A group of people selected to apply the law, as stated by the judge, to the facts of a case and render a decision, called the verdict. Traditionally, an American jury was made up of 12 people who had to arrive at a unanimous decision. But today, in many states, juries in civil cases may be composed of as few as six members and non-unanimous verdicts may be permitted. (Most states still require 12-person, unanimous verdicts for criminal trials.) Tracing its history back over 1,000 years, the jury system was brought to England by William the Conqueror in 1066. The philosophy behind the jury system is that–especially in a criminal case–an accused’s guilt or innocence should be judged by a group of people from her community (“a jury of her peers”). Recently, some courts have been experimenting with increasing the traditionally rather passive role of the jury by encouraging jurors to take notes and ask questions.
A decision by the jury to acquit a defendant who has violated a law that the jury believes is unjust or wrong. Jury nullification has always been an option for juries in England and the United States, although judges will prevent a defense lawyer from urging the jury to acquit on this basis. Nullification was evident during the Vietnam war (when selective service protesters were acquitted by juries opposed to the war) and currently appears in criminal cases when the jury disagrees with the punishment–for example, in “three strikes” cases when the jury realizes that conviction of a relatively minor offense will result in lifetime imprisonment.
Principles of international law so fundamental that no nation may ignore them or attempt to contract out of them through treaties. For example, genocide and participating in a slave trade are thought to be jus cogens.
Latin for “natural law.” This is a system of legal principles ostensibly derived from universal divine truths.
A term lawyers use to describe the courts and other bureaucracies that handle American’s criminal legal business, including offices of various state and federal prosecutors and public defenders. Many people caught up in this system refer to it by less flattering names.
Under some state’s probate codes, all relatives of a deceased person.
A required procedure for many foreign nationals who have a job offer from a U.S. employer. In many cases, a job offer alone is not enough to qualify a potential immigrant for a green card. First, the employer must prove that there are no qualified U.S. workers available and willing to take the job. To do so, the employer must turn to the U.S. Department of Labor for a labor certification.
The owner of any real estate, such as a house, apartment building or land, that is leased or rented to another person, called the tenant.
The main federal statute governing trademarks, service marks and unfair competition. Its two basic purposes are to eliminate deception and unfair competition in the marketing of goods and services, and to protect marks against the use of confusingly similar marks by others.
Under a will, the failure of a gift of property. A gift lapses when the beneficiary dies before the person who made the will, and no alternate has been named. Some states have anti-lapse statutes, which prevent gifts to relatives of the deceased person from lapsing unless the relative has no heirs of his or her own. A lapsed gift becomes part of the residuary estate.
Another term for theft. Although the definition of this term differs from state to state, it typically means taking property belonging to another with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. If the taking is non forceful, it is larceny; if it is accompanied by force or fear directed against a person, it is robbery, a much more serious offense.
Formerly, statutes governing wills used this phrase to specify children born to married parents, and to exclude those born out of wedlock. Now, the phrase means the same as issue and “lineal descendant.”
An oral or written agreement (a contract) between two people concerning the use by one of the property of the other. A person can lease real estate (such as an apartment or business property) or personal property (such as a car or a boat). A lease should cover basic issues such as when the lease will begin and end, the rent or other costs, how payments should be made, and any restrictions on the use of the property. The property owner is often called the “lessor,” and the person using the property is called the “lessee.”
A contract in which an owner leases her house (usually for one to five years) to a tenant for a specific monthly rent, and which gives the tenant the right to buy the house at the end of the lease period for a price established in advance. A lease option is often a good arrangement for a potential home buyer because it lets him move into a house he may buy without having to come up with a down payment or financing at that time.
An outdated legal word meaning personal property left by a will. The more common term for this type of property is bequest. Compare devise.
The right and obligation to make decisions about a child’s upbringing, including schooling and medical care. Many states typically have both parents share legal custody of a child. Compare physical custody.
Documents containing a statement of legal status, identity, authority or ownership, or providing evidence of some type of obligation. Such documents include wills, deeds, leases, titles, birth certificates , and contracts. Legal papers may also refer to documents, such as a complaint or summons, prepared in order to pursue a legal cause of action.
legal risk placement
A type of adoption used by agencies to keep a child out of foster care during the adoption process. The child is placed with the adopting parents before the birthmother has legally given up her rights to raise the child. If she then decides not to relinquish her rights, the adopting parents must give the child back. This is a risk for the adopting parents, who may lose a child to whom they’ve become attached.
A legal doctrine that prevents legislators from being sued for actions performed and decisions made in the course of serving in government. This doctrine does not protect legislators from criminal prosecution, nor does it relieve them from responsibility for actions outside the scope of their office, such as the nefarious activities of former Senator Bob Packwood.
A car that gives you serious trouble soon after you buy it. To qualify under state “lemon laws,” the defect must be substantial and must occur within a certain time or mileage period, usually 12,000 miles or one year. You usually have the option of getting a refund or a replacement vehicle for a lemon, though you may have to go to arbitration or court to exercise this option.
The document given to an executor by the probate court, authorizing the executor to settle the estate according to either a will or the state’s intestate succession laws.
Any conduct that is considered indecent or offensive. Today the term is often used when referring to pornography, prostitution and indecent exposure.
Latin for the “law of the place.” It means local law.
(1) The state of being liable–that is, legally responsible for an act or omission. Example:Peri hires Paul to fix a broken pipe in her bathroom, but the new pipe bursts the day after Paul installs it, ruining the bathroom floor. This raises the issue of liability: Who is responsible for the damage? Peri claims that Paul is responsible, and sues him for the cost of hiring another plumber to fix the pipe and replacing the floor. Paul, in turn, claims that the pipe manufacturer is responsible, because they supplied him with faulty materials. Both Peri and Paul must prove their claims in court; if Paul and/or the manufacturer is found liable, one or both will have to pay damages to Peri. (2) Something for which a person is liable. For example, a debt is often called a liability.
liability insurance coverage
Compensation to third parties who are injured or whose property is damaged due to the fault of the insurance holder. You may have liability insurance for your car or your home, or to cover actions you take in the course of your profession. Liability polices are sometimes called “third-party policies.”
Legally responsible. For example, a person may be liable for a debt, liable for an accident due to careless behavior, liable for failing do something required by a contract or liable for the commission of a crime. Someone who is found liable for an act or ommission must usually pay damages or, if the act was a criminal one, face punishment. See also liability.
An untruthful statement about a person, published in writing or through broadcast media, that injures the person’s reputation or standing in the community. Because libel is a tort (a civil wrong), the injured person can bring a lawsuit against the person who made the false statement. Libel is a form of defamation , as is slander (an untruthful statement that is spoken, but not published in writing or broadcast through the media).
license (of invention, copyright or trademark)
A contract giving written permission to use an invention, creative work or trademark. A license provides a way to make money from your invention or creative work without having to manufacture and sell copies yourself. By licensing an invention or work to a company, you get money (often in the form of royalties) in return for allowing the company to use, produce and sell copies of your invention or work in the marketplace.
The right of a secured creditor to grab a specific item of property if you don’t pay a debt. Liens you agree to are called security interests, and include mortgages, home equity loans, car loans and personal loans for which you pledge property to guarantee repayment. Liens created without your consent are called nonconsensual liens, and include judgment liens (liens filed by a creditor who has sued you and obtained a judgment), tax liens and mechanics liens (liens filed by a contractor who worked on your house but wasn’t paid).
A person who receives benefits, under a trust or by will, for his or her lifetime. For an example, see AB trust.
A contract in which an insurance company agrees to pay money to a designated beneficiary upon the death of the policy holder. In exchange, the policyholder pays a regularly scheduled fee, known as the insurance premiums. The purpose of life insurance is to provide financial support to those who survive the policyholder, such as family members or business partners. When the policyholder dies, the insurance proceeds pass to the beneficiaries free of probate, though they are counted for federal estate tax purposes. group life insurance Life insurance available through an employer or association that covers participating employees and members under one master insurance policy. Most group life insurance policies are term insurance policies, that terminate when the member or employee reaches a certain age or leaves the organization and do not accumulate any cash surrender value. term life insurance No-frills life insurance, with neither cash surrender value nor loan value (an amount that can be used as collateral for a loan). Term life insurance provides a pre-set amount of coverage if the policyholder dies during the period of time specified in the policy. Policyholders usually have the option to renew at the end of the term for the period of years specified in the policy. Unlike whole life insurance, premiums generally increase as the insured person gets older and the risk of death increases.universal life insurance A type of whole life insurance that offers some additional features and advantages. Like whole life insurance, universal life insurance accumulates cash value through investment of the premium payments. The unique feature of universal life insurance is that it has variable premiums, benefits and payment schedules, all of which are tied to market interest rates and the performance of the investment portfolio. Also, universal life plicies normally provide you with more consumer information. For example, you are told how much of your policy payments goes for insurance company overhead expenses, reserves and policy proceed payments, and how much is retained and invested for your savings. This information isn’t usually provided with whole life policies.variable life insurance A type of whole life insurance in which the amount of death benefits varies, depending on the performance of investments. The insurance company places some or all of the fixed premium payments into an investment account; some companies let the insured person decide how the money is invested. The policyholder bears the risk of investment losses, though there is a guaranteed minimum benefit payment. One benefit of variable insurance is that interest and dividend income from the investment account is not taxed until it is paid out to the policyholder.variable universal life insurance A type of whole life insurance that provides greater potential for financial gain–and brings greater risks. Like universal life insurance, variable universal life insurance offers flexible premiums, payment schedules and benefits. But variable universal life policies are riskier because the premiums are invested in stocks, rather than more predictable money market accounts and bonds. Also called universal variable life insurance.whole life insurance Life insurance that provides coverage for the entire life of the policyholder, who pays the same fixed premium throughout his or her life. The policy builds up cash reserves that may be paid out to the policyholder when he or she surrenders or partially surrenders the policy or uses the cash reserves to fund low-interest loans. The annual increase in the cash value of the policy is not taxed. If the policyholder surrenders the policy, a portion of the payment is not taxable. Also called straight life insurance or ordinary life insurance.
life insurance avails
One who has a life estate in real property.
Medical procedures used to extend the life of someone who is terminally ill or permanently comatose. These procedures may include the administration of blood or blood products, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), diagnostic tests, dialysis, antibiotics, surgery or a respirator. Also called life-sustaining procedures.
See life-prolonging procedures.
limited equity housing
An arrangement designed to encourage low-and moderate-income families to purchase housing, in which the housing is offered at an extremely favorable price with a low down payment. The catch is that when the owner sells, she gets none of the profit if the market value of the unit has gone up. Any profit returns to the organization that built the home, which then resells the unit at an affordable price.
The maximum amount a business owner can lose if the business is subject to debts, claims or other liabilities. An owner of a limited liability company (LLC) or a person who invests in a corporation (a shareholder) generally stands to lose only the amount of money invested in the business. This means that if the business folds, creditors cannot seize or sell an owner’s home, car, or other personal assets.
limited liability company (LLC)
A business ownership structure that offers its owners the advantage of limited liability (like corporations) and partnership-like taxation, in which profits are passed through to the owners and taxed on their personal income tax returns.
limited liability partnership (LLP)
A type of partnership recognized in a majority of states that protects a partner from personal liability for negligent acts committed by other partners or by employees not under his or her direct control. Many states restrict this type partnership to professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, architects and healthcare providers.
A business structure that allows one or more partners (called limited partners) to enjoy limited personal liability for partnership debts while another partner or partners (called general partners) have unlimited personal liability. The key difference between a general and limited partner concerns management decision making–general partners run the business, and limited partners, who are usually passive investors, are not allowed to make day-to-day business decisions. If they do, they risk being treated as general partners with unlimited personal liability.
limited personal liability
See limited liability.
limited power of attorney
See power of attorney.
A procedure in which the police place a suspect in a line with a group of other people and ask an eyewitness to the crime to identify the person he saw at the crime scene. The police are supposed to choose similar-looking people to appear with the suspect. If the suspect alone matches the physical description of the perpetrator, evidence of the identification can be attacked at trial. For example, if the robber is described as a Latino male, and the suspect, a Latino male, is placed in a lineup with ten white males, a witness’ identification of him as the robber will be challenged by the defense attorney.
Any component of a web page that connects to another web page or another portion of the same web page. Clicking on underlined text or a graphic image activates most links. For example, if a user clicks on the words Financial Calculator or an image of a calculator, the user will be transported to a page that contains a calculator. Links are sometimes called “hyperlinks.”
Business property that can be quickly and easily converted into cash, such as stock, bank accounts and accounts receivable.
The member of an insolvent or dissolving partnership responsible for paying the debts and settling the accounts of the partnership.
(1) Latin for “a suit pending.” The term may refer to any pending lawsuit. (2) A written notice that a lawsuit has been filed concerning real estate, involving either the title to the property or a claimed ownership interest in it. The notice is usually filed in the county land records office. Recording a lis pendens against a piece of property alerts a potential purchaser or lender that the propertyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s title is in question, which makes the property less attractive to a buyer or lender. After the notice is filed, anyone who nevertheless purchases the land or property described in the notice takes subject to the ultimate decision of the lawsuit.
The process of bringing and pursuing (litigating) a lawsuit.
A trust you can set up during your life. Living trusts are an excellent way to avoid the cost and hassle of probate because the property you transfer into the trust during your life passes directly to the trust beneficiaries after you die, without court involvement. The successor trustee–the person you appoint to handle the trust after your death–simply transfers ownership to the beneficiaries you named in the trust. Living trusts are also called “inter vivos trusts.”
A legal document in which you state your wishes about certain kinds of medical treatments and life-prolonging procedures. The document takes effect if you can’t communicate your own healthcare decisions. A living will may also be called a healthcare directive, advance directive or directive to physicians.
See limited liability company.
See limited liability partnership.
A person who specializes in matching home buyers with appropriate mortgage lenders. For a fee–often paid by the lender–a loan broker provides any easy and effective way to find the cheapest mortgage rates.
The combining of a number of loans into a single new loan. Consolidation typically extends your repayment period and lowers your monthly payments, thereby greatly increasing the amount of interest you pay over the life of your loan.
loss damage waiver (LDW)
Rental car insurance that makes the rental car company responsible for damage to or theft of a rental car. This insurance is a major consumer ripoff, as it often duplicates coverage provided by the renter’s regular car insurance and/or the credit card she uses to rent the car. Nevertheless, hard-sell practices by rental car agents often dupe people into buying LDWs they don’t really need. LDW is also called “collision damage waiver.”
Mail or Telephone Order Rule
A Federal Trade Commission rule that requires a seller to ship goods ordered by mail, phone, computer or fax to you within the time promised or, if no time was stated, within 30 days. If the seller cannot ship within that period, the seller must send you a notice with a new shipping date and give you the option of canceling your order and getting a refund.
(1) More than half of something, such as the votes cast in an election. (2) The age at which a person can exercise the legal rights of an adult, such as entering into contracts or voting. See age of majority.
Doing something that is illegal. This term is often used when a professional or public official commits an illegal act that interferes with the performance of his or her duties. For example, an elected official who accepts a bribe in exchange for political favors has committed malfeasance. Compare misfeasance.
The delivery of substandard care or services by a lawyer, doctor, dentist, accountant or other professional. Generally, malpractice occurs when a professional fails to provide the quality of care that should reasonably be expected in the circumstances, with the result that her patient or client is harmed. In the area of legal malpractice, you need to prove two things to show that you were harmed: first, that your lawyer screwed up; and second, that if the lawyer had handled the work properly, you would have won your original case.
Latin for “we command.” A writ of mandamus is a court order that requires another court, government official, public body, corporation or individual to perform a certain act. For example, after a hearing, a court might issue a writ of mandamus forcing a public school to admit certain students on the grounds that the school illegally discriminated against them when it denied them admission. A writ of mandamus is the opposite of an order to cease and desist, or stop doing something. Also called a “writ of mandate.”
Required, compulsory or obligatory.
A deduction allowed by the federal estate tax laws for all property passed to a surviving spouse who is a U.S. citizen. This deduction (which really functions as an exemption) allows anyone, even a billionaire, to pass his or her entire estate to a surviving spouse without any tax at all.
marital life estate trust
See AB trust.
Most of the property accumulated by spouses during a marriage, called community property in some states. States differ as to exactly what is included in marital property; some states include all property and earnings dring the marriage, while others exclude gifts and inheritances.
Marital Settlement Agreement
See divorce agreement.
Marital Termination Agreement
See divorce agreement.
The legal union of two people. Once a couple is married, their rights and responsibilities toward one another concerning property and support are defined by the laws of the state in which they live. A marriage can only be terminated by a court granting a divorce or annulment. Compare common law marriage.
A document that provides proof of a marriage, typically issued to the newlyweds a few weeks after they file for the certificate in a county office. Most states require both spouses, the person who officiated the marriage and one or two witnesses to sign the marriage certificate; often this is done just after the ceremony.
A document that authorizes a couple to get married, usually available from the county clerk’s office in the state where the marriage will take place. Couples pay a small fee for a marriage license, and must often wait a few days before it is issued. In addition, a few states require a short waiting period–usually not more than a day–between the time the license is issued and the time the marriage may take place. And some states still require blood tests for couples before they will issue a marriage license, though most no longer do.
See fault divorce.
The earliest and most common test for criminal insanity, in which a criminal defendant is judged legally insane only if he could not distinguish right from wrong at the time he committed the crime. For example, a delusional psychotic who believed that his assaultive acts were in response to the will of God would not be criminally responsible for his acts.
A formula that uses predefined income and expense categories to determine whether a debtor whose current monthly income is higher than the median family income for his or her state should be allowed to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
A legal claim placed on real estate by someone who is owed money for labor, services or supplies contributed to the property for the purpose of improving it. Typical lien claimants are general contractors, subcontractors and suppliers of building materials. A mechanics’ lien claimant can sue to have the real estate sold at auction and recover the debt from the proceeds. Because property with a lien on it cannot be easily sold until the lien is satisfied (paid off), owners have a great incentive to pay their bills.
median family income
An annual income figure for which there are as many families with incomes below that level as there are above that level. The Census Bureau publishes median family income figures for each state and for different family sizes. A debtor whose current monthly income is higher than the median family income in his or her state must pass the means test in order to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and must commit all disposable income to a five-year repayment plan if filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
A dispute resolution method designed to help warring parties resolve their own dispute without going to court. In mediation, a neutral third party (the mediator) meets with the opposing sides to help them find a mutually satisfactory solution. Unlike a judge in her courtroom or an arbitrator conducting a binding arbitration, the mediator has no power to impose a solution. No formal rules of evidence or procedure control mediation; the mediator and the parties usually agree on their own informal ways to proceed.
A program established by the federal government and administered by the states to help pay medical costs for financially needy people. Need is defined by the program of the state in which the applicant resides. Medicaid operates in addition to Medicare to help pay for some of the medical costs that Medicare does not cover.
A federal government program that assists older and some disabled people in paying their medical costs. The program is divided into two parts. Part A is called hospital insurance and covers most of the costs of a stay in the hospital, as well as some follow-up costs after time in the hospital. Part B, medical insurance, pays some of the cost of doctors and outpatient medical care.
meeting of creditors
A meeting held with the bankruptcy trustee about a month after you file for bankruptcy. You must attend. The trustee reviews your bankruptcy papers and asks a few questions. In a Chapter 7, the meeting of creditors lasts a few minutes and rarely do any creditors show up. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, one or two creditors may attend, especially if they disagree with some provision of your repayment plan.
(1) An informal written document. A memorandum may be used in any number of circumstances, but most lawyers are best acquainted with the interoffice memorandum–a document prepared by a junior associate in a law office or a judge’s law clerk outlining the facts, procedural elements and legal arguments involved in a particular legal matter. These memos are reviewed by senior lawyers and judges who use them to decide how to proceed with the case. (2) Any written record, including a letter or note, that proves that a contract exists between two parties. This type of memo may be enough to validate an oral (spoken) contract that would otherwise be unenforceable because of the statute of frauds. (Under the statute of frauds, an oral contract is invalid if it can’t be completed within one year from the date the contract is made.)
A single, very brief paragraph setting out a court’s decision in a case. A memorandum decision does not usually include the court’s reasons for reaching its result; those details may appear later in a comprehensive written opinion.
The mental component of criminal liability. To be guilty of most crimes, a defendant must have committed the criminal act (the actus reus) in a certain mental state (the mens rea). The mens rea of robbery, for example, is the intent to permanently deprive the owner of his property.
An ownership interest in the minerals contained in a particular parcel of land, with or without ownership of the surface of the land. The owner of mineral rights is usually entitled to either take the minerals from the land himself or receive a royalty from the party that actually extracts the minerals.
A requirement that must be satisfied before a defendant can be sued in a particular state. In order for the suit to go forward in the chosen state, the defendant must have some connections with that state. For example, advertising or having business offices within a state may provide minimum contacts between a company and the state.
In most states, any person under 18 years of age. All minors must be under the care of a competent adult (parent or guardian) unless they are “emancipated”–in the military, married or living independently with court permission. Property left to a minor must be handled by an adult until the minor becomes an adult under the laws of the state where he or she lives.
A warning that the police must give to a suspect before conducting an interrogation, including the right to remain silent, the right to have an attorney present, the right to a court appointed attorney, and the fact that any statements made by the suspect can be used against him in court.
A crime, less serious than a felony, punishable by no more than one year in jail. Petty theft (of articles worth less than a certain amount), first-time drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident are all common misdemeanors.
Performing a legal action in an improper way. This term is frequently used when a professional or public official does his job in a way that is not technically illegal, but is nevertheless mistaken or wrong. Here are some examples of misfeasance in a professional context: a lawyer who is mistaken about a deadline and files an important legal document too late, an accountant who makes unintentional errors on a client’s tax return or a doctor who writes a prescription and accidentally includes the wrong dosage. Compare malfeasance.
A lie by one spouse before marriage that provides grounds for an annulment. For example, if a spouse failed to mention that he was still married or was incapable of having children, he has misrepresented himself.
A trial that ends prematurely and without a judgment, due either to a mistake that jeopardizes a party’s right to a fair trial or to a jury that can’t agree on a verdict (a hung jury) If a judge declares a mistrial in a civil case, he or she will direct that the case be set for a new trial at a future date. Mistrials in criminal cases can result in a retrial, a plea bargain or a dismissal of the charges.
A mistake by both spouses in a marriage that can serve as grounds for an annulment. For example, if one spouse went into the marriage wanting children while the other did not, they have a misunderstanding that will be judged serious enough for a court to terminate the marriage.
See Multiple Listing Service.
A rental agreement that provides for a one-month tenancy that is automatically renewed each month unless either tenant or landlord gives the other the proper amount of written notice (usually 30 days) to terminate the agreement. Some landlords prefer to use month-to-month tenancies because it gives them the right to raise the rent after giving proper notice. This type of rental also provides a landlord with an easy way to get rid of troublesome tenants, because in most states month-to-month tenancies can be terminated for any reason.
In copyright law, rights guaranteed authors by the Berne Convention that are considered personal to the author and that cannot therefore be bought, sold or transferred. Moral rights include the right to proclaim authorship of a work, disclaim authorship of a work and object to any modification or use of the work that would be injurious to the author’s reputation. Moral rights are not recognized as such by U.S. Copyright law. The U.S. Copyright Office and the courts take the position that U.S. laws adequately protect artists under individual statutes. For example, Section 106 of the Copyright Act provides that the creator of a work of visual art can control whether her name is on the art and object if the integrity of the work is threatened, two items that fall under the traditional moral rights doctrine. It can be argued, however, that U.S. laws do not entirely protect authors from violations of moral rights. For instance, colorization of films is not addressed by U.S. law, nor is the removal or alteration of certain murals.
A monthly deduction from a universal life insurance policy that increases as the policyholder ages.
A loan in which the borrower puts up the title to real estate as security (collateral) for a loan. If the borrower doesn’t pay back the debt on time, the lender can foreclose on the real estate and have it sold to pay off the loan.
During a lawsuit, a request to the judge for a decision–called an order or ruling–to resolve procedural or other issues that come up during litigation. For example, after receiving hundreds of irrelevant interrogatories, a party might file a motion asking that the other side be ordered to stop engaging in unduly burdensome discovery. A motion can be made before, during or after trial. Typically, one party submits a written motion to the court, at which point the other party has the opportunity to file a written response. The court then often schedules a hearing at which each side delivers a short oral argument. The court then approves or denies the motion. Most motions cannot be appealed until the case is over.
motion for summary judgment
See summary judgment.
motion in limine
A request submitted to the court before trial in an attempt to exclude evidence from the proceedings. A motion in limine is usually made by a party when simply the mention of the evidence would prejudice the jury against that party, even if the judge later instructed the jury to disregard the evidence. For example, if a defendant in a criminal trial were questioned and confessed to the crime without having been read his Miranda rights, his lawyer would file a motion in limine to keep evidence of the confession out of the trial.
multiple listing service (MLS)
A computer-based service that provides real estate professionals with detailed listings of most homes currently on the market. Much of the information can now be obtained by the public through websites like www.realtor.com.