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Common Legal Terms

Glosario Legal
The Iowa Judicial Branch is pleased to provide this translation of this form.  The translation has been prepared by a certified interpreter and we believe it to be accurate.  However, in the event of any discrepancy, please refer to the original form itself. 

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z #


Acceptance of service:

This is how a defendant or respondent tells the clerk of court in writing that a complaint or petition has been received.  See “Service.”


A legal finding by a judge or jury that a person accused of a crime is not guilty.


In child in need of assistance (CINA) cases, the adjudication hearing is where the court determines, based on allegations and evidence produced by the state, whether the child at issue is in need of the court’s assistance, usually due to neglect, abandonment, or abuse. 


A person who gives an affidavit or who swears to the truth of facts written on a document.


A voluntary written statement of facts made under oath before a notary public. 


When an appellate court rules that a lower court judgment is correct.

Alternate Juror:

A juror who hears all of the evidence in a case but does not help reach a verdict unless called on to replace another juror.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR):

A procedure for settling a dispute outside of a courtroom, such as by arbitration, mediation, or online dispute resolution (ODR).

Amicus Curiae:

Latin for “friend of the court.”  This term means a person who is not a party to a lawsuit but has a strong interest in the subject matter.  The person requests permission of the appellate court or consent of all of the parties to file an amicus brief.


A legal proceeding that treats a marriage as if it never existed.


A defendant’s or respondent’s written response to a petition or complaint.  An answer either admits or denies each of plaintiff’s or petitioner’s allegations.

Appeal Bond:

An amount that an appellate court may require from an appellant in a civil case in order to delay enforcement of a judgment.  A supersedeas bond is an appellant’s bond required to stay execution of a judgment pending an appeal.


To seek a higher court review of a decision of a lower court. 

Appear (or make an “appearance”):

Filing a paper in court, personally appearing in court, or appearing by an attorney, which submits the party to the court’s jurisdiction.


A party appealing a lower court decision, usually seeking reversal of the decision.

Appellate Court:

A court having authority to hear an appeal of a lower court decision.


A party against whom an appeal is filed.


The materials, such as copies of court records and transcripts in a case, that are required to be filed on appeal along with written briefs.


The process of settling a dispute using an impartial third party whose decision the disputing parties have agreed to accept.


A court proceeding informing a person accused of a crime of the charges against the person.  In Iowa, a defendant may file a written arraignment instead of appearing at a court proceeding. 


A person who is licensed to give legal advice or to act as a representative for another in a court proceeding; a lawyer.



A court attendant who assists the judge during the trial of a case.


Usually cash or a bond that is required to release a person being held in jail on criminal charges.  The purpose of bail is so the defendant will appear in court at a future time.  A person who posts bail forfeits it if the defendant fails to appear in court as directed.  See “Bond.”


The term can have different meanings.  It can refer to the court in general, as in the “case at bar,” which is the current case before the court.  It also refers to the collection of attorneys licensed to practice law in the state, some or all of whom may belong to a “bar association.”

Bench Trial:

A trial without a jury, in which the judge is the fact finder and decides the verdict.


In a criminal action, a financial obligation, sometimes referred to as a bail bond, on behalf of a criminal defendant to ensure the defendant will appear in court at a future date. 


A written document submitted to the court in a trial or on appeal that sets forth a party’s legal and factual arguments.  A brief is required on appeal. 

Burden of Proof:

A party’s duty to show or prove facts.  The term can mean either the burden of producing certain evidence (the most common usage) or the burden of persuading a judge or jury of a certain proposition.  In civil cases, the plaintiff generally has the burden of proving his or her case.  In criminal cases, the government has the burden of proving a defendant’s guilt.


Case File:

A complete collection of every document filed with the court in a case.


The number of cases handled by a judge or a court.

Cause of Action:

A legal claim made against another person or entity.

Certiorari (serSH(ē)əˈrärē):

A writ or order by which a higher court reviews a decision of a lower court to determine whether the lower court had jurisdiction or whether its proceedings were authorized.  If granted, a writ of certiorari proceeds in the manner of a regular appeal. 


The office of a judge outside of the courtroom.

Chief Judge:

The judge who has primary responsibility for the administration of a judicial district in Iowa.

Child in Need of Assistance (CINA):

These are cases that involve neglected, abandoned, or abused children in need of the court’s aid.

Child Support Guidelines:

Guidelines and criteria set forth in chapter 9 of the Iowa Court Rules used to determine a reasonable amount of financial support a parent will pay based on the duty of both parents to provide adequate support for their children in proportion to their incomes.

Civil Case:

A matter or case pertaining to the private rights of an individual (as opposed to a criminal case).

Civil Procedure:

The rules and standards courts and litigants must use and follow in civil cases.


A plaintiff’s or petitioner’s assertion of a right to damages or relief against another party.

Class Action:

A lawsuit in which a court authorizes a person or small group of people to represent the interests of a large group of people with common characteristics or interests.  Iowa court rules allow commencement of a class action only if the class is so numerous or so constituted that joinder of all members, whether or not otherwise required or permitted, is impracticable, and there is a question of law or fact common to the class.

Clerk of Court:

A court officer who oversees administrative aspects of the court system, including managing the flow of cases.  Clerks of court assist the public, litigants, and attorneys with matters relating to the court process.  Clerks of court cannot give legal advice.

Closing Statement or Argument:

A summary of evidence attorneys present to the jury at the end of a trial.

Code of conduct:

A set of rules or standards governing the behavior, responsibilities, proper practices, and ethics of a group of people or professionals.  Judges and attorneys have separate codes of conduct.


See "Iowa Code."

Common Law:

Legal concepts and principles historically developed in court decisions as opposed to statutes.  American common law is rooted in the English common law in existence during colonial times, but it has further developed over the years into a system of its own.  In the United States, the general law is a combination of statutory and common law, and the common law supplements statutory law.

Community Service:

An obligation the court imposes on a person to work without pay on behalf of a community or municipality organization or a nonprofit organization.


An initial pleading, also called a petition, containing a plaintiff’s basis for a claim and demand for relief, which begins a civil lawsuit.  An amended complaint is a complaint that modifies and replaces the original complaint.


A vote of an appellate judge that indicates the judge’s agreement with the result or judgment of the majority opinion, but for different reasons.  A judge who concurs may write a separate opinion known as a concurring opinion. 

Concurrent Sentences:

Multiple sentences imposed on a single defendant to be served over the same time.

Confidential Information:

Personal information in a court file or document that should be excluded from public access.  Also called protected information.  For example, a person’s social security number, dates of birth, and names of minor children.


A person whom the court appoints to manage the financial affairs or daily life of another person who is a minor or has physical or mental limitations.  A conservatorship is the legal concept or framework for such services.

Contempt of Court:

An act that shows disrespect for the court’s authority.  Contempt usually involves willful disobedience of a court order.  Willful disobedience is conduct that is intentional and deliberate.  Contempt is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or other sanctions used to compel someone to obey a court order.

Contingent Fee:

A fee paid for an attorney’s services only if the lawsuit is successful or favorably settled out of court.


A postponement or rescheduling of a court proceeding to a later time. 


An agreement between two or more parties, in which each party gives up something of value in return for another thing of value and that creates by its terms enforceable obligations.  


A legal finding or determination that a person is guilty of a crime.

Court Costs:

The charges or fees associated with a lawsuit or court proceeding that can include filing fees, service charges, copying expenses, transcript expenses, and the like. The losing party in a lawsuit may be ordered to pay the court costs on behalf of the winning party. 

Criminal Case:

A case initiated and prosecuted by the government to enforce criminal laws.

Cross Examination:

Questioning of a witness by opposing counsel.



A sum of money that a person receives for compensation for a loss, detriment, or injury caused by a wrongful or negligent act of another.  Actual damages means an amount to compensate for an actual loss. Liquidated damages means an amount contractually stipulated as a reasonable estimation for damages fixed for breach of the contract. Punitive damages or exemplary damages means damages assessed in addition to actual damages as a form of punishment when a defendant has acted with actual or legal malice rather than mere negligence, which is established by showing wrongful conduct committed with the willful or reckless disregard for the rights of another.

Declaratory Judgment:

A court’s declaration of the rights, duties, status, or other legal relationships of parties.  A court may grant a declaratory judgment if it would end the uncertainty or controversy of the proceeding.


A judicial decision or order.  The word is typically used in reference to decisions and orders issued in divorce (dissolution), probate, and other types of cases heard in courts of equity

Default or default judgment:

A judgment entered in favor of one party when the opposing party fails to appear or participate in a legal action.  For example, when a defendant fails to file an answer within the time allowed or fails to appear at trial or otherwise provide a defense. 


A person sued in a civil lawsuit or accused in a criminal proceeding.


The process of jury members discussing the facts of a case after the trial has ended and before reaching a verdict.


These are a type of juvenile case that involves acts committed by a minor that would typically be considered criminal if committed by an adult.

De Novo:

Means “of new” in Latin; it also means starting from the beginning.  The phrase is used most often to describe when a higher court reviews a case from a lower court without relying on the legal conclusions or findings of fact from the lower court. 


The process of taking testimony of a witness under oath outside of court. Deposition testimony may be introduced as evidence in a court proceeding.


The procedures used to discover and obtain facts and information to be used at trial.  Interrogatories and depositions are formal types of discovery in lawsuits.


A court action that ends or dismisses a lawsuit.  A dismissal can be with prejudice, meaning an identical lawsuit cannot be filed later, or a dismissal can be without prejudice, meaning a later filing of the lawsuit is permitted.


In child in need of assistance (CINA) cases, the disposition hearing is where the court determines what services should be provided to the parents to help them overcome whatever problems led to the need for adjudication, what services should be provided to the child, and whether the child should be placed out of the home.


The disagreement of one or more justices or judges of an appellate court with the decision of the majority justices or judges of the court.  A justice or judge who dissents may write a separate opinion known as a dissenting opinion.


Most often used in place of “divorce,” to mean the dissolving or end of a marriage (dissolution of marriage).  It can also refer to the ending or dissolving of a corporation or organization.

District Associate Judge:

A judge with the jurisdiction of magistrates plus authority to hear serious and aggravated misdemeanor cases, class "D" felonies, civil suits in which the amount in controversy is $10,000 or less, and juvenile cases when sitting as a juvenile judge.

District Judge:

A judge with the authority to hear any type of case within the district court, typically including a variety of cases such as dissolutions of marriage, felony criminal cases, and cases involving state administrative agencies.


See "Dissolution."


A summary, list, or index of court cases and the proceedings or events in each case.  The court docket is maintained by the clerk of court. 

Domestic abuse or domestic violence:

When an intimate partner or family member assaults or injures, attempts to assault or injure, or threatens to harm a partner or other family member.


The place, like a state or city, that a person intends to be the person’s permanent home, even if the person lives somewhere else some of the time.  A person can have only one domicile.  See “Residence.”

Double Jeopardy:

When a person is prosecuted or sentenced twice for the same crime.  The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits double jeopardy.

Drug Court:

A problem-solving court that works as an alternative to sending a drug offender to jail or prison.  Drug courts involve the services of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probations officers, law enforcement, and others working to help offenders find and utilize the tools necessary for recovery and staying in recovery to lead a productive life.

Due Process:

A term that means the conduct of legal proceedings in a manner that protects and enforces the rights of individuals, including notice to all parties and the right to a fair hearing before an impartial decisionmaker. 



Electronic Document Management System.  This is the Iowa Judicial Branch electronic filing and case management system.

Elder abuse:

When someone physically or sexually abuses, neglects, or financially exploits a person 60 or more years old who is not able to protect himself or herself.  See “Vulnerable elder.”

Electronic filing (eFile):

This means the EDMS receipt of a document submitted to EDMS electronically for filing in the Iowa court system.

En Banc:

This French term means "on the bench" and usually refers to all judges or justices of an appellate court sitting together to hear a case. For example, all seven justices of the Iowa Supreme Court hear all cases together, en banc.


Fairness, impartiality, or even-handedness.  Equity began as an English system of justice in which a judge of the High Court of Chancery turned to principles of natural justice to supplement the law.  Today, equity denotes rights, remedies, and common law principles recognized by a court in equity.  The Iowa Code designates a number of civil actions as equitable, including, but not limited to dissolutions (divorces), probate matters, and foreclosures.


Any demonstration of a fact that tends to prove or disprove the existence of an alleged fact.  Evidence can take many forms such as a statement of a witness, an object, photograph, etc., that bears on or establishes a point in question. Admissible evidence refers to evidence that is relevant to a case and is eligible to be received into the record. Rules of evidence  ensure that reliability and fairness govern the admissibility of evidence in court.


A document, object, photograph, copy, or thing that is submitted to the court as evidence.


A document, object, photograph, copy, or thing that is submitted to the court as evidence.

Ex Parte:

A Latin phrase meaning on one side only. The phrase typically is used when one party communicates with the court without the other party being present. An ex parte communication is an exchange of information, orally or in writing, between the court and an attorney or party without the opposing attorney or party present. To maintain the court’s impartiality, judicial ethics prohibit a judge from considering ex parte communications concerning a pending proceeding.

Expedited civil action (ECA):

A streamlined procedure for cases in the Iowa court system that request damages of $75,000 or less. Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.281 sets forth the requirements and procedures for ECA actions.

Ex Post Facto:

Latin phrase meaning “after the fact.”  The Constitution prohibits enactment of ex post facto criminal laws—laws that retroactively punish someone for an act that was legal when it was committed.


When one state or country surrenders to another jurisdiction a person accused of a crime or convicted of an offense.



A serious crime usually punishable by at least one year in prison. For example, felonies include murder, kidnapping, manslaughter, burglary, robbery, and other serious crimes.  Iowa law provides for four classes of felonies, ranging from class “D,” the least serious, to class “A,” the most serious. 


To submit a document or record to the court to be included in a court file. 

Filing Fee:

A required fee paid to the clerk of court when beginning a lawsuit.  Some documents in certain legal proceedings also must be accompanied by a filing fee.

Forcible entry and detainer (FED):

The legal procedure that a landlord must follow to evict a tenant from a rental property.

Foreign corporation :

A corporation incorporated in another state other than Iowa.



A court order that allows a creditor who is owed money to take the property of the debtor (the person who owes the money) that is held by a third party—typically this means the wages of a debtor that an employer holds.

Grand Jury:

A group of citizens who listen to evidence of criminal allegations that prosecutors present to determine if there is probable cause that a person committed a crime. Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public.

Guardian ad Litem (GAL):

GALs are individuals, usually an attorney, whom the court appoints to represent the interests of another person, usually a child, in court.  For example, a guardian ad litem is often appointed for a child who is the subject of a child in need of assistance (CINA) case, or for a protected person in a guardianship case.


One who has legal authority and the duty to care for another person because of the person’s age, incapacity, or disability.  A guardianship is the legal concept or framework for such services.


Habeas corpus:

Latin for "you have the body." A petition to bring a person before a court or a judge, most frequently used to ensure that a person's imprisonment, detention, or commitment is legal.


Testimony of a witness relating to a statement someone else made outside of the courtroom.  Such evidence is generally inadmissible in court under the rules of evidence because the person who actually made the statement was not under oath at the time and is not subject to cross examination in court.


Indictable offense:

A crime prosecuted by indictment or information.  In Iowa, indictable offenses include serious misdemeanors, aggravated misdemeanors, and felonies, all of which are punishable by a fine of more than $500 and more than 30 days in jail.  


A formal accusation of a crime issued by a grand jury, charging that there is enough evidence that a person has committed an indictable offense to justify having a trial.  An indictment is a plain, concise, and definite statement of the offense charged.


A formal accusation of crime that a prosecuting attorney files with the court.


Violation of a law or breach of an agreement, often referring to nonmotor vehicle laws of a city or county.


A court order requiring a party to do or to stop doing a certain act.  An injunction may be granted as part of a final judgment or at any prior stage of the legal proceedings, in which case it is a preliminary, or temporary, injunction.  A preliminary injunction is to be issued only with extreme caution where it is likely a petitioner would suffer irreparable injury if the injunction is not granted.


Preliminary, provisional, temporary, not final.  An interlocutory appeal is an appeal of a matter before a final decision or verdict from a lower court.  An appeal of an interlocutory ruling is discretionary and may only be granted if the appellate court finds the ruling involves substantial rights and will materially affect the final decision and that a determination of its correctness before trial on the merits will better serve the interests of justice. 


Written questions that one party serves on another party, who must answer the questions in writing under oath.

Iowa Administrative Code:

The set of all rules adopted by Iowa’s state agencies.  Administrative rules are used to implement or put into use laws of the State of Iowa.  See “Iowa Code.”

Iowa Code:

The collection of statutes that contains all permanent laws of the State of Iowa as passed by the Iowa Legislature and signed by the Iowa Governor.

Iowa Court Rules:

The rules of state court procedure, pleadings, practice, evidence, and forms the Iowa Supreme Court has adopted.


A point or basis on which parties to a lawsuit disagree.  “Issue” can also mean to send out officially, as when a court issues an order or ruling.



The official decision of a court that finally resolves a dispute between parties to a lawsuit.

Judicial Council:

Provides advice to the supreme court regarding the supervision and administration of the judicial branch.  The Judicial Council consists of the chief judges of the eight judicial districts, the chief judge of the court of appeals, and the chief justice of the supreme court, who is chair of the council.

Judicial District:

For purposes of administration, Iowa is divided into eight judicial districts.  The districts vary in population, size, and number of counties and are determined by the legislature.


The extent of the authority and power of a court to preside over a case and interpret and apply the law.

Jury Instructions:

The judge’s written directions to a jury concerning the laws relevant to the case under consideration.  A set of jury instructions is given to the jury just prior to its deliberations.


The group of persons selected to hear evidence in a trial and reach a verdict on matters of fact.


The fair, equal, and impartial treatment of all persons under law.  Also, a judge who sits on the Iowa Supreme Court. 

Juvenile Court Officer (JCO):

JCOs work with youth who are accused of committing a delinquent act.  JCOs monitor the youth and track progress with treatment, restitution, and community service, as well as make recommendations to the court. JCOs are involved from the initial accusation through case closure.


Legal Advice:

Advice about the decisions a person should make to improve the person’s legal case.  Only attorneys can give legal advice.  See “Legal information.”

Legal Aid:

Legal aid organizations provide free legal help with civil law problems for eligible low-income Iowans.  Iowa Legal Aid, Muscatine Legal Services, and Legal Aid of Story County are examples.

Legal Information:

Facts about the law and the legal process; general information about courts, procedures, and terminology.


A legal right or interest a creditor has in a debtor’s property for the purpose of securing the payment of a debt.  The Iowa Code authorizes a number of liens for specific obligations as well as for judgments.

Limited scope representation:

See “Unbundled legal services.”


A party to a lawsuit.


The process of carrying on a lawsuit; a lawsuit.



Magistrates have jurisdiction over simple misdemeanors, including scheduled violations, county and municipal infractions, and small claims.  Every county in Iowa is assigned at least one judicial magistrate position, although the magistrate may live in a neighboring county.


A wrongful intention or desire to do evil.


A writ that a court issues directing a public officer to perform or not perform a particular legal duty.  


The process of a third party (mediator) assisting opposing parties in a lawsuit to resolve their dispute without going to court.


Criminal offenses considered less serious than felonies. There are three classes of misdemeanors—simple, serious, and aggravated. In Iowa, a simple misdemeanor is punishable by a fine between $105 and $855 and imprisonment not to exceed 30 days. The penalty for a serious misdemeanor is a fine in an amount between $430 and $2,560 and imprisonment up to one year. An aggravated misdemeanor is punishable by a fine between $855 and $8,540 and imprisonment not to exceed two years with some exceptions.

Money judgment:

A decision or order from a court that states one party is entitled to receive an amount of money from another party.


An application to the court to request that something be done or for a specific ruling in a case. Usually, a motion concerns an issue within the court’s discretion, such as a motion to continue a hearing to a later date.



Generally defined as conduct that causes unreasonable risk of harm to others. Comparative negligence or comparative fault means a plaintiff’s own negligence that proportionately reduces the damages recoverable from a defendant. Concurrent or joint negligence involves the negligence of two or more parties causing the same damage. Negligence per se is negligence established as a matter of law that renders a person absolutely liable for resulting damages.

Notary Public:

A person authorized by the state to verify the identity of a person signing a document. A document is notarized when it contains a notary public’s signature and seal.

Notice of Appeal:

A filing required to appeal a ruling made by a lower court. In Iowa, the notice of appeal is filed with the clerk of district court in the county where the decision appealed from is entered.


To give notice is to make the other party aware of a legal action or filing of a document.  See “Original notice.”

Nunc pro tunc:

A Latin term meaning “now for then,” usually referring to a court that is correcting an order or something it has done previously.



A pledge to speak the truth.


A statement by an attorney opposing a specific question, testimony, or admission of evidence in a trial or deposition.

Online dispute resolution (ODR):

ODR allows parties to resolve legal disputes themselves using their home or other computer or smart device on their own time without having to go to the courthouse.

Opening Statement or Argument:

A procedure at the start of a trial in which the attorney for each party summarizes the basis of the party’s case.


A formal written statement or decision by a judge or justice of the law bearing on a case, usually as a resolution of an appeal.

Oral Argument:

The opportunity on appeal for attorneys to summarize their legal arguments before the court and to answer questions from justices of the supreme court or judges of the court of appeals.


A law passed by a city, town, or county legislative body, usually on matters that the state government allows local governments to regulate.

Original Jurisdiction:

The power of a court to hear a case for the first time instead of waiting for the case to be tried in a lower court.

Original Notice:

A document filed in court to begin a law suit. The notice of the filing of a lawsuit served on a defendant or respondent, stating a time in which an answer or response must be filed with the court.  See “Notice.”


The court’s denying of a motion or objection.


Paper Filing or Filing in Paper:

This refers to filing documents with the court when electronic filing is not available or when a court has granted a filer an exception from electronic filing requirements.


Release of a defendant from prison after serving part of the defendant’s prison sentence. Parolees are under the supervision of probation officers.


A person, corporation, or association, who is a plaintiff (petitioner) or defendant (respondent) in a case.


The act of lying while under oath.


Person who files a petition in court to begin a lawsuit, also plaintiff.  The petitioner is named as a party to the lawsuit.  Respondent, or defendant, is the opposing party.


A written application to a court, usually the first pleading in a lawsuit, requesting a remedy available under law, also called a complaint. For example, a petition for dissolution of marriage is the first pleading filed in a divorce.


A person who initiates a civil lawsuit. Similar to petitioner. The party who complains or sues in a personal action and is named as a party to the lawsuit. Defendant is the opposing party.


A written statement setting out a cause of action (grounds for a lawsuit) or a defense of a legal case.


In a criminal case, the defendant’s statement of “guilty” or “not guilty” in answer to the criminal charges against the defendant.

Practice of law:

Providing professional legal advice or services when there is a client relationship of trust and reliance.


A court decision in an earlier case. Courts will generally “follow precedent,” using principles established in prior cases to decide the current case that has similar facts and raises similar legal issues.

Preliminary Hearing:

A court hearing that occurs in the initial stages of a criminal prosecution. In Iowa, the preliminary hearing takes place soon after an arrest and initial appearance. A defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing unless the defendant has been indicted by a grand jury or a trial information or has waived the hearing. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine if there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed a crime.

Presentence Investigation Report:

A report, generally prepared by a probation officer, which presents pertinent information needed by a judge to sentence a person convicted of an indictable crime.  The report includes such information as the defendant’s criminal history, characteristics, family, and financial circumstances, as well as the harm to the victim, the victim’s family, and the community, and finally any mitigating circumstances relating to the defendant’s potential for probation, etc.  In Iowa, this report is confidential.

Pretrial Conference:

A meeting of the judge and attorneys to set a trial schedule and discuss which issues may be presented during the trial, evidentiary questions that may arise, witnesses to be called to testify, and often settlement possibilities.

Prima Facie:

Latin phrase meaning “on the first appearance.” Sufficient evidence to establish the elements of a claim or fact or raise a rebuttable presumption. Prima facie evidence means a fact presumed to be true unless disproved by some evidence to the contrary.

Probable Cause:

In criminal law, probable cause is a standard of proof—a requirement of a reasonable ground to suspect that a person is committing or has committed a crime, or there is a fair probability that evidence of a crime would be found in a certain location that is the subject of a search warrant. In personal injury actions, probable cause means a reasonable belief in the existence of certain facts on which a claim is based.


A criminal sentence in which a person convicted of a crime is released by the court subject to certain conditions and probation officer supervision. Conditions of probation may include payment of restitution, fines, and court costs, community service, substance abuse treatment, regular drug testing, payment of child support obligation, travel restrictions, and other requirements intended to promote rehabilitation of a defendant.

Promissory Note:

A promise in writing to pay a person an amount of money.


To initiate and carry out a legal action, usually associated with carrying out a criminal case.


A government attorney who initiates and maintains a criminal action on behalf of the people against a person accused of a crime. In Iowa, a county attorney, city attorney, and the attorney general are prosecutors.

Pro Se:

Representing yourself in a legal action without an attorney; serving as one’s own attorney. See “Self-represented litigant.”

Protected Information:

See “Confidential information.”

Protective Order:

An order from the court instructing a person to stop abusing, harassing, or contacting another person for a period of time. Also referred to as a restraining order.

Public Defender:

An attorney employed by the government to represent a person accused of a serious crime and who cannot afford to hire an attorney.


This word has many meanings, including: (1) in accordance with; (2) under; (3) as authorized by; or (4) in carrying out.



To vacate, annul, or terminate.


Real property:

Land or real estate, including buildings and fixtures on the land and improvements made to the land.


To send back. An appellate court might remand a case back to the district court for further proceedings.


To regain personal property from someone who has no legal right to possess the property.


The place where a person actually lives.  A person can have more than one residence (for example, a house or apartment.) See “Domicile.”


The party who has been sued by a petitioner in a lawsuit and must respond to the claims in the petition. Similar to defendant.


An equitable remedy under which a person is restored to his or her original position prior to loss or injury. Restitution is commonly used to describe full or partial compensation owed by a criminal to a victim of a crime as part of a criminal sentence. In Iowa, this word may also include the entire amount of a defendant’s monetary obligation, including victim restitution, fines, court costs, surcharges, and fees.

Restraining Order:

An order from the court instructing a person to stop abusing or harassing another person for a period of time. Also referred to as a protective order.


A fee a person pays up front to an attorney to secure the attorney’s services in a case.


The act of an appellate court setting aside or overturning the decision or ruling of a lower court.


Scheduled Violation:

A criminal offense that is usually charged by citation with an exact amount of fine set by statute. In Iowa, the majority of scheduled violations are traffic offenses.

Security agreement:

A document or contract that gives a person the right to take or possess another person’s property if the other person breaks the agreement or contract.


To take legal possession of someone or some thing.

Self-Represented Litigant:

A party to a lawsuit who proceeds without the help of an attorney. See “Pro se.”

Senior Judge:

A judge who is the required age and has served the required number of years on the bench who takes senior status. In Iowa, senior judges must work at least 13 weeks a year to receive judicial branch benefits.


The punishment a court orders for a defendant after the defendant’s conviction in a criminal prosecution.


The formal delivery of notice of a legal document, such as a complaint, to assure that the opposing party is aware of the action and is given an opportunity to respond. Personal service means the actual delivery of the notice to the person to whom it is directed and is usually required for the initiation of most law suits. Personal service is typically performed by a sheriff or process server. Service by publication, which is accomplished by publishing notice in a newspaper or other public medium, is allowed under certain circumstances, usually when a defendant cannot be located.


The resolution or parties’ agreement to end a lawsuit without going to trial, usually involving payment of compensation from defendant to plaintiff.

Sexual abuse or sexual assault:

When someone commits or attempts to commit a sex act on a person by force or without the person’s permission.


Imposes a duty to act.  “Shall,” however, is used in place of many other words leading to different or imprecise meanings, including as: “will” to predict future action; “must” to mean an obligation or necessity to act; “should” to mean an obligation to act, but not a necessity to act; and “may” to mean a discretion to act (but “may not” means a prohibition).   

Small Claims:

A civil action case for a money judgment in which the amount in controversy is $6,500 or less. Small claims are less formal court proceedings with relaxed rules of evidence. Parties in small claims cases often proceed as self-represented litigants.

State Court Administration:

The office of the State Court Administrator assists the supreme court in overseeing all operations of the judicial branch on a day-to-day basis.

Statute of Limitations:

A law that sets a time limit starting from a particular event for bringing a lawsuit in a case. For example, the date of an automobile accident in a personal injury action.


A law adopted by the legislature and set forth in the Iowa Code.


A written agreement by opposing parties in a case as to any manner pertaining to court proceedings or trial. Stipulations serve to simplify and expedite proceedings when parties agree on certain facts or procedures.


A written legal notice compelling a person to appear in court to testify as a witness. Subpoena duces tecum is a notice to compel a person to appear and bring specified documents, records, or items.


To prevent something from being seen, heard, or said. To suppress evidence is to keep evidence being offered by a party from being used in a trial. Typically, a court will suppress evidence if it is irrelevant or was obtained illegally.


The court’s acceptance of a motion or objection.


Termination of Parental Rights (TPR):

These are cases that involve severing the legal ties between parent and child.


Spoken evidence from a witness, given under oath at a trial or in a deposition.


An injury, other than a breach of contract, that a person or their property has suffered, for which the law provides a remedy.


A copy of the record of a trial, hearing, or other proceeding that a court reporter prepares.


Unbundled legal services:

When an attorney represents a client for only a specific part or parts of the legal matter instead of from start to finish of the case.  For example, a party may need help with calculating child support in a divorce case and hires an attorney just for that limited purpose.  Also called “Limited scope representation.”

Uniform Citation:

A citation that a law enforcement officer issues instead of making an arrest. Typically, uniform citations are authorized for offenses that are scheduled violations.



The proper place for a lawsuit or place where a court has jurisdiction. A court may change venue under certain circumstances. For example, if a case generates a great deal of local publicity, the court may consider “changing the venue” of the case to another county.


The formal decision or finding made by a jury on the factual issues of a case and accepted by the court.

Voir Dire:

An inquiry of prospective jurors, by the attorneys and by the judge, to determine if such jurors are fit for jury duty in a given case.

Vulnerable elder:

A person sixty years or older who is unable to protect himself or herself from elder abuse as a result of a mental or physical condition or because of a personal circumstance that increases risk of harm to the person.  See “Elder abuse.”



A writ or order that a judge has signed authorizing a law enforcement officer to make an arrest, conduct a search, or to perform some other designated act.


One who testifies to what he or she has seen, heard, or otherwise observed or testifies to his or her opinion based on a hypothetical statement.


An order issued from a court requiring the performance of a specified act, or giving authority and commission to having it done.

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