Legal Dictionary


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

D

  • Damages

    A cash compensation ordered by a court to offset losses or suffering caused by another's fault or negligence. Damages are a typical request made of a court when persons sue for breach of contract or tort
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  • DCL

    Dear Colleague Letter
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  • De facto

    Latin: as a matter of fact; something which, while not necessarily lawful or legally sanctified, exists in fact. A common law spouse may be referred to a de facto wife or de facto husband: although not legally married, they live and carry-on their lives as if married. A de facto government is one which has seized power by force or in any other unconstitutional method and governs in spite of the existence of a de jure government.
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  • De jure

    Latin: "of the law." The term has come to describe a total adherence of the law. For example, a de jure government is one which has been created in respect of constitutional law and is in all ways legitimate even though a de facto government may be in control.
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  • De minimis non curat lex

    Latin: a common law principle whereby judges will not sit in judgement of extremely minor transgressions of the law. It has been restated as "the law does not concern itself with trifles".
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  • De novo

    Latin: new. This term is used to refer to a trial which starts over, which wipes the slate clean and begins all over again, as if any previous partial or complete hearing had not occurred.
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  • Death penalty

    Also known as capital punishment, this is the most severe form of corporal punishment as it is requires law enforcement officers to kill the offender. Forms of the death penalty include hanging from the neck, gassing, firing squad and has included use of the guillotine
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  • Debtor

    A person who owes money, goods or services to another, the latter being referred to as the creditor.
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  • Decapitation

    The act of beheading a person, usually instantly such as with a large and heavy knife or by guillotine, as a form of capital punishment. This form of capital punishment is still in use in some Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia.
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  • Decree absolute

    The name given to the final and conclusive court order after the condition of a decree nisi is met.
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  • Decree nisi

    A provisional decision of a court which does not have force or effect until a certain condition is met such as another petition brought before the court or after the passage of a period time, after which it is called a decree absolute. Although no longer required in many jurisdictions, this was the model for divorce procedures wherein a court would issue A decree nisi, which would have no force or effect until a period of time passed (30 days or 6 months).
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  • Deed

    A written and signed document which sets out the things that have to be done or recognitions of the parties towards a certain object. Under older common law, a deed had to be sealed; that is, accompanied not only by a signature but with an impression on wax onto the document. The word deed is also most commonly used in the context of real estate because these transactions must usually be signed and in writing.
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  • Deem

    To accept a document or an event as conclusive of a certain status in the absence of evidence or facts which would normally be required to prove that status. For example, in matters of child support, a decision of a foreign court could be "deemed" to be a decision of the court of another for the purpose of enforcement
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  • Defalcation

    1. Defaulting on a debt or other obligation such to account for public or trust funds. Usually used in the context of public officials. 2. Defalcation has another legal meaning referring to the setting-off of two debts owed between two people by the agreement to a new amount representing the balance. I owe you $7 and you owe me $3; we agree to "defalk"; the result is that I owe you $4. This is a type of novation
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  • Defamation

    An attack on the good reputation of a person, by slander or libel.
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  • Default

    failure of a defendant to appear, or file an answer or response in a civil case, after having been served with a summons and complaint
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  • Default Judgment

    decision made by the court when the defendant fails to respond
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  • Defeasance

    A side-contract which contains a condition which, if realized, could defeat the main contract. The common English usage of the word "defeasance" has also become acceptable in law, referring to a contract that is susceptible to being declared void as in "immoral contracts are susceptible to defeasance."
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  • Defendant

    person against whom a civil or criminal proceeding is begun
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  • Dehors

    French for outside. In the context of legal proceedings, it refers to that which is irrelevant or outside the scope of the debate.
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  • Delegatus non potest delegare

    One of the pivotal principles of administrative law: that a delegate cannot delegate. In other words, a person to whom an authority or decision-making power has been delegated to from a higher source, cannot, in turn, delegate again to another, unless the original delegation explicitly authorized it.
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  • Demand letter

    A letter from a lawyer, on behalf of a client, that demands payment or some other action, which is in default. Demand letters are not always prerequisites for a legal suit but there are exceptions such as legal action on promissory notes or if the contract requires it. Basically, a demand letter sets out why the payment or action is claimed, how it should be carried out (eg. payment in full), directions for the reply and a deadline for the reply. Demand letters are often used in business contexts because they are a courtesy attempt to maintain some goodwill between business parties and they often prompt payment, avoiding expensive litigation. A demand letter often contains the "threat" that if it is not adhered to, the next communication between the parties will be through a court of law in the form of formal legal action.
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  • Demarche

    A word coined by the diplomatic community and referring to a strongly worded warning by one country to another and often, either explicitly or implicitly, with the threat of military consequence. Demarches are often precursors to hostilities or war. In September, 1996, for example, US President Clinton issued a demarche to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein when intelligence reports showed troops massing along the border of Kurd communities.
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  • Demurrer

    This is a motion put to a trial judge after the plaintiff has completed his or her case, in which the defendant, while not objecting to the facts presented, and rather than responding by a full defence, asks the court to reject the petition right then and there because of a lack of basis in law or insufficiency of the evidence. This motion has been been abolished in many states and, instead, any such arguments are to be made while presenting a regular defence to the petition.
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  • Deportation

    The removal of a foreign national under immigration laws for reasons such as illegal entry or conduct dangerous to the public welfare. The grounds for deportation varies from country to country.
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  • Deposition

    The official statement by a witness taken in writing (as opposed to testimony which where a witnesses give their perception of the facts verbally). Affidavits are the most common kind of depositions.
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  • Descendant

    Those person who are born of, or from children of, another are called that person's descendants. Grandchildren are descendants of their grandfather as children are descendants of their natural parents. The law also distinguishes between collateral descendants and lineal descendants.
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  • Detinue

    A common law action similar to conversion and also involving the possession of property by the defendant but belonging to the plaintiff but in which the plaintiff asks the court for the return of the property, although the plaintiff may also ask for damages for the duration of the possession.
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  • Devastavit

    Latin for "he has wasted." This is the technical word referring to a personal representative who has mismanaged the estate and allowed an avoidable loss to occur. This action opens the personal representative to personal liability for the loss.
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  • Devise

    The transfer or conveyance of real property by will.
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  • DHHS

    United States Department of Health and Human Services
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  • Dicta or dictum

    Latin: an observation by a judge on a matter not specifically before the court or not necessary in determining the issue before the court; a side opinion which does not form part of the judgment for the purposes of stare decisis. May also be called "obiter dictum."
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  • Diplomat

    An official representative of a state, present in another state for the purposes of general representation of the state-of-origin or for the purpose of specific international negotiations on behalf of the diplomat's state-of-origin.
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  • Discretionary trust

    A trust in which the settlor has given the trustee full discretion to decide which (and when) members of a group of beneficiaries is to receive either the income or the capital of the trust.
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  • Discrimination

    the area of law dealing with unfair or unequal treatment of a person or persons based upon their belonging to a protected class.
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  • Disrate

    A term of maritime law where an officer or other seaman is either demoted in rank or deprived of a promotion.
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  • Dissent

    To disagree. The word is used in legal circles to refer to the minority opinion of a judge which runs contrary to the conclusions of the majority.
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  • Dissolution

    The act of ending, terminating or winding-up a company or state of affairs. For example, when the life of a company is ended by normal legal means, it is said to be "dissolved". The same is said of marriage or partnerships which, by dissolution, ends the legal relationship between those persons formally joined by the marriage or partnership.
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  • Distraint

    The right of a landlord to seize the property of a tenant which is in the premises being rented, as collateral against a tenant that has not paid the rent or has otherwise defaulted on the lease, such as wanton disrepair or destruction of the premises. A common way to "distrain" against a tenant is by changing locks and giving notice to the tenant. A legal action to reclaim goods that have been distrained is called replevin.
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  • Dividend

    A proportionate distribution of profits made in the form of a money payment to shareholders, by a for-profit corporation. Dividends are declared by a company's board of directors.
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  • Divorce

    The final, legal ending of a marriage, by Court order.
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  • DNA

    Abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid. A chromosome molecule which carries genetic coding unique to each person with the only exception of identical twins (that is why it is also called "DNA fingerprinting"). Through laboratory process, DNA can be extracted from body tissue such a strand of hair, semen, blood and matched against DNA discovered at a crime scene or on a victim to scientifically implicate an accused. Can also be used to match DNA between parents in a paternity suit.
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  • DOB

    Date of Birth
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  • Docket

    An official court record book which lists all the cases before the court and which may also note the status or action required for each case.
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  • Doctrine

    A rule or principle or the law established through the repeated application of legal precedents.
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  • Domicile

    The permanent residence of a person; a place to which, even if he or she were temporary absence, they intend to return. In law, it is said that a person may have many residences but only one domicile.
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  • Dominant tenement

    Used when referring to easements to specify that property (i.e. tenement) or piece of land that benefits from, or has the advantage of, an easement.
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  • Dominion directum

    Latin: the qualified ownership of a landlord, not having possession or use of property but retaining ownership. Used in feudal English land systems to describe the King's ownership of all the land, even though most of it was lent out to lords for their exclusive use and enjoyment.
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  • Dominion utile

    Latin: the property rights of a tenant. While not owning the property in a legal sense, the tenant, as having dominion utile, enjoys full and exclusive possession and use of the property.
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  • Donatio mortis causa

    A death-bed gift, made by a dying person, with the intent that the person receiving the gift shall keep the thing if death ensues. Such a gift is exempted from the estate of the deceased as property is automatically conveyed upon death. In most jurisdictions, real property cannot be transferred by these death-bed gifts.
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  • Donee

    Another word to describe the beneficiary of a trust. Also used to describe the person who is the recipient of a power of attorney; the person who would have to exercise the power of attorney.
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  • Donor

    The person who donates property to the benefit of another, usually through the legal mechanism of a trust. The law books of some countries refer to the trust donor as a "settlor." Also used to describe the person who signs a power of attorney.
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  • Drugs and Narcotics

    Drugs and Narcotics - the area of the law dealing with the defense of criminal proceedings involving the use and/or sale of illegal substances.
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  • Drunk Driving Defense

    the "right to drive" is a privilege which is governed by the individual states. Traffic violations are a mix of regulatory and penal (criminal) offenses based on violations of state statutes and city ordinances relating to the operation of vehicles, specifically driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances that impair the ability to drive.
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  • Duces tecum

    Latin: bring with you. Used most frequently for a species of subpoena (as in "subpoena duces tecum") which seeks not so much the appearance of a person before a court of law, but the surrender of a thing (eg. a document or some other evidence) by its holder, to the court, to serve as evidence in a trial.
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  • Due process

    A term of US law which refers to fundamental procedural legal safeguards of which every citizen has an absolute right when a state or court purports to take a decision that could affect any right of that citizen. The most basic right protected under the due process doctrine is the right to be given notice, and an opportunity to be heard. The term is now also in use in other countries, again to refer to basic fundamantal legal rights such as the right to be heard.
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  • Dum casta

    Latin: for so long as she remains chaste. Separation agreements years ago used to contain dum casta clauses which said that if the women were to start another relationship, she forfeited her entitlement to maintenance.
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  • Dum sola

    Latin: for so long as she remains unmarried.
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  • Dum vidua

    Latin: for so long as she remains a widow.
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  • Duplex

    A house which has separate but complete facilities to accommodate two families as either adjacent units or one on top of the other.
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  • Duress

    Where a person is prevented from acting (or not acting) according to their free will, by threats or force of another, it is said to be "under duress". Contracts signed under duress are voidable and, in may places, you cannot be convicted of a crime if you can prove that you were forced or threatened into committing the crime (although this defence may not be available for serious crimes).
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