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Glossary of Common Legal Terms used in Dane County Circuit Court

NOTE: Terms are specifically for use in Wisconsin and Dane County legal systems and may not be accurate for other jurisdictions. This glossary defines a number of legal terms in common use that generally are not understood. These are merely plain-English definitions intended to give you a general idea of the meanings and are not meant to be legal advice or legally binding.


AADAIP (ay'-dap): Adolescent Alcohol/Drug Abuse Intervention Program

Abstract of Title: A chronological summary of all official records and recorded documents affecting the title to a parcel of real property.

Accomplice: 1. A partner in a crime. 2. A person who knowingly and voluntarily participates with another in a criminal activity.

Acknowledgment: 1. A statement of acceptance of responsibility. 2. The short declaration at the end of a legal paper showing that the paper was properly executed and acknowledged.

Acquit: A court judgment determining a defendant not guilty in a criminal trial.

ACS: Adult Community Services (Division of DCDHS)

Action: A lawsuit brought in a state of federal court. Also called a "case"

Ad litem (ad li'-tem): For the purpose of the lawsuit. A guardian "ad litem" is appointed to prosecute or defend a suit on behalf of an incapacitated person. See also "Guardian ad Litem (GAL)"

ADA: Assistant District Attorney

Adjourn: To delay a hearing until another time.

Adjudication: Giving or pronouncing a judgment or decree; also the judgment given.

Administrator: 1. One who administers the estate of a person who dies without a will. 2. A court official.

Admissible Evidence: Evidence that can be legally and properly introduced in a civil or criminal trial.

Admonish: To warn or caution. For example, the Court may caution or admonish counsel for wrong practices.

Adoption: The act of accepting a child (or adult) born to another person as one's own with all the rights and responsibilities of parenthood.

Adversary System: The trial method used in the U.S. and some other countries. This system is based on the belief that truth can best be determined by giving opposing parties full opportunity to present and establish their evidence, and to test by cross-examination the evidence presented by their adversaries. All this is done under the established rules of procedure before an impartial judge and/or jury.

Affiant: A person who makes and signs an affidavit.

Affidavit: A written statement of facts, confirmed by the oath of the party making it before a notary or officer having authority to administer oaths. For example, in criminal cases, affidavits are often used by police officers seeking to convince courts to grant a warrant to make an arrest or a search. In civil cases, affidavits of witnesses are often used to support motions for summary judgment.

Affidavit of Non-Military Service: Statement used to demonstrate that the defendant is not now in the military. This is because a federal law, Soldiers and Sailors' Relief Act, 50 U.S.C. App. ' 501, requires that certain legal actions not go forward if a party is unable to participate based upon military service.

Affirmative Defense: In both civil and criminal actions, it may be possible for the defendant to present a defense, which, if proven, will permit the defendant to avoid responsibility for a civil claim or a criminal charge. For example, insanity, self-defense, or entrapment. If this is done, the defendant has the burden to prove the defense.

Affirmed: In the practice of appellate courts, the word means that the decision of the trial court is correct.

Aid and Abet: To actively, knowingly, or intentionally assist another person in the commission or attempted commission of a crime.

Alimony: See "Maintenance"

Allegation: An accusation that the plaintiff claims will be proven in the lawsuit. A statement of the issues in a written document (a pleading) that a person is prepared to prove in court. For example, an indictment contains allegations of crimes against the defendant.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Settling a dispute without a full, formal trial. Methods include mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and settlement, among others.

Alternatives to Incarceration Program (ATIP): See Pretrial Services

Amicus Curiae (a-mi'kus kyoor'-ree-I): Literally, "friend of the court." One not a party to a case who volunteers to offer information on a point of law or some other aspect of the case to assist the court in deciding a matter before it.

Annulment: The grounds for annulment can be found in Wis. Stat. 767.313(1)

Answer: The defendant's response to the plaintiff's allegations, as stated in a complaint. An item-by-item, paragraph-by-paragraph response to points made in a complaint; part of the pleadings.

AODA (ay-oh'-duh): Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse

Appeal: A request made after a trial, asking a higher, or supervisory court to decide whether the trial was conducted properly. To make such a request is "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." One who appeals is called the "appellant."

Appearance: 1. "To appear" has two related meanings. An initial appearance is the act by a party, acting personally or through counsel, of acknowledging that the party has received notice of a legal proceeding. This can be done by physically coming to a scheduled court proceeding or by submitting a written acknowledgement. 2. Each time there is a scheduled court proceeding, the court records are to show which parties and attorneys were actually present, that is, "appeared."

Appellant: The party appealing a decision judgment to a higher court.

Appellate Court: A court having jurisdiction to hear appeals and review a trial court's procedure. Not a "trial court."

Appellee (ap-e-lee'): The party against whom an appeal is taken. Sometimes called a "respondent."

Arbitration: A form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party and agree to abide by his or her decision. In arbitration, there is a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.

Arraignment: A proceeding in which an individual who is accused of committing a crime is brought into court, told of the charges and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

ARB: Administrative Review Board. In a juvenile case, an Administrative Review is a meeting between parents, social workers, and others in cases where children are placed outside of the parental home. The meeting reviews the progress that the parents are making to meet the conditions for return.

Arrearages: Unpaid support or maintenance that is therefore still owed.

Arrest: To take into custody by legal authority.

ASFA: Adoption and Safe Families Act. Federal Child Welfare Law with a focus on safety and permanence for children.

Assault: Threat to inflict injury with an apparent ability to do so. Also, any intentional display of force that would give the victim reason to fear or expect immediate bodily harm. By contrast, the actual completion of the threatened violence is "battery."

Attachment: A remedy by which a party may acquire custody or possession of the property or effects of another party for satisfaction of judgment.

Attorney-at-Law: A licensed advocate, counsel, or official agent employed in preparing, managing, and trying cases in the courts.

Attorney of record: The attorney who represents a party whose name appears in the permanent records or files of a case.

AWOL: Absent Without Leave


Bail: Money or other security (such as a bail or signature bond) provided to the court to temporarily allow a person's release from jail and to assure their appearance in court. "Bail" and "bond" are often used interchangeably.

Bail Bond: An obligation signed by the accused to secure his or her presence at the trial. This obligation means that the accused may lose money by not properly appearing for the trial. Often referred to simply as "bond."

Bailiff: A Dane County Deputy Sheriff whose duties are to keep order in the courtroom and to have custody of the jury.

Bankruptcy: Refers to statutes and judicial proceedings involving persons or businesses that cannot pay their debts and seek the assistance of the court. Under the protection of the Federal bankruptcy court, debtors may be released or "discharged" from their debts, or pay a portion of each debt under a debtors plan. Bankruptcy judges preside over these proceedings. The person with the debts is called the debtor, and the people or companies to whom the debtor owes money are called creditors.

Bar: 1. Historically, the partition separating the general public from the space occupied by the judges, lawyers, and other participants in a trial. 2. More commonly, the term means the whole body of lawyers.

Battery: Bodily harm to another by an act done with intent to cause bodily harm to that person or another without the consent of the person so harmed. The threat to use force is an "assault;" the use of it is a battery, which usually includes an assault.

Bench: 1. The seat occupied by the judge. 2. Used to refer to the court itself.

Bench Trial: Trial without a jury in which a judge decides the facts and outcome.

Bench Warrant: Legal papers issued by the court itself or "from the bench" for the attachment or arrest of a person.

Beneficiary: Someone named to receive property or benefits in a will. In a trust, a person who is to receive benefits from the trust.

Bequeath: To give a gift to someone through a will to take effect upon death.

Bequests: Gifts made in a will.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: The standard in a criminal case requiring that the jury be satisfied to a moral certainty that every element of a crime has been proven by the prosecution. This standard of proof does not require that the state establish absolute certainty by eliminating all doubt, but it does require that the evidence be so conclusive that all reasonable doubts are removed from the mind of the ordinary person.

Bill of Particulars: A statement of the details of the charge made against the defendant.

Bind Over: To hold a person for trial on bond (bail) or in jail. If the judicial official conducting a hearing finds probable cause to believe the accused committed a crime, the official will bind over the accused, and order the person to stand trial.

BMP: Bail Monitoring Program

Booking: The process of photographing, fingerprinting, and recording identifying data of a defendant. This process follows the arrest and usually occurs at the jail.

Brief: A written argument prepared by one side in a lawsuit to explain to the court its view of the facts of a case and the applicable law.

Burden of Proof: In every lawsuit, one side or the other, depending upon the issue, has the burden of proof. The party with the burden as to a particular issue must prove that the party's position is correct. The party in opposition may offer contrary evidence but need not do so. Burden of proof deals with which side must establish a point or points; "standard of proof" indicates the degree to which the point must be proven. For example, in a civil case, the burden of proof rests with the plaintiff, who must establish his or her case by such standards of proof as a "preponderance of evidence" or "clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence."


Calendar: A list of cases scheduled for hearing in court.

Capias (kayp'-ee-us): A particular type of warrant that is issued by the court when a child/youth/parent misses a court hearing. The Capias directs law enforcement to apprehend the child/juvenile/parent and bring them back before the court.

Capital Crime: A crime punishable by death. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty.

Caption: The heading on a legal document listing the parties, the court, the case number, and related information.

Case Law: Law established by previous decisions of appellate courts, particularly the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

Cause: A lawsuit, litigation, or action. Any question, civil or criminal, litigated or contested before a court of law.

Caveat (kav'-ee-aht): A warning; a note of caution.

CCAP: Consolidated Court Automation Program. Online electronic database of Wisconsin Circuit Court case information.

CCB: City-County Building, aka Dane County Courthouse, located at 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Madison, WI 53703.

Certificate of Divorce or Annulment: A form filed with the Clerk of Circuit Courts prior to a divorce for transmittal to the State Bureau of Vital Statistics summarizing details of the parties' marriage and divorce or annulment. Also known as the "Vital Statistics" form.

Certificate of Readiness: A form issued by the Family Court Commissioner in divorce or legal separation cases advising the Judge of issues in dispute and that the case is ready to be heard by the Judge.

Certification: 1. Written attestation. 2. Authorized declaration verifying that an instrument is a true and correct copy of the original.

Certiorari (ser-shee-a-rair'-ee): Literally, "to be more fully informed." A method of procedure to get an appellate court to review a lower court's decision or asking a court to review the decision of a government official. This review is not a re-trial but rather asks the reviewing court to consider only the record of the earlier decision to see if that record justifies the decision made. The loser of a case will often ask the appellate court to issue a "writ of certiorari," which orders the lower court to convey the record of the case to the appellate court and to certify it as accurate and complete. If an appellate court grants a writ of certiorari, it agrees to take the appeal. This is often referred to as "granting cert."

CF: This designation in a case number means that the case is Criminal Felony prosecution. For example, Dane County Circuit Court Case no. 04 CF 0021 is the 21st felony case filed in Dane County in year 2004.

Challenge: An objection, such as when an attorney objects at a hearing to the seating of a particular person on a civil or criminal jury.

Challenge for Cause: Objection to the seating of a particular juror for a stated reason (usually bias or prejudice for or against one of the parties in the lawsuit). The judge has the discretion to deny the challenge. This differs from "peremptory challenge."

Chambers: A judge's private office. A hearing in chambers takes place in the judge's office and may or may not be open to the public.

Change of Venue: The removal of a suit begun in one jurisdiction to another jurisdiction.

Charge or Count: Each specific accusation against the defendant.

Charge to the Jury: The judge's instructions to the jury concerning the law that applies to the facts of the case on trial.

Chief Judge: Presiding or administrative judge in a court.

Child Support: Court-ordered payments for the support of a child. The payments are neither tax deductible to the payer nor taxable to the payee. Each county has its own child support agency. Dane County Child Support Agency is located in room 106 of the Dane County Courthouse.

CHIPS: (Child In Need of Protection or Services) A proceeding in juvenile court for any person under the age of 18 for noncriminal reasons including abuse, neglect, and abandonment.

CIB: Crime Information Bureau

Circuit Court: Court that has the power to hear any civil or criminal case in Dane County.

Circumstantial Evidence: Evidence that suggests indirectly that a certain fact is true.

Citation: 1. A reference to a source of legal authority. 2. A direction to appear in court, as when a defendant is cited into court, rather than arrested.

Civil Actions: Noncriminal cases commenced by the filing of a summons and complaint in which one private individual or business sues another to protect, enforce, or redress private or civil rights. Examples of civil cases are small claims, breach of contract, or divorces.

Civil Procedure: The rules and process by which a civil case is tried and appealed, including the preparations for trial, the rules of evidence and trial conduct, and a procedure for pursuing appeals.

Class Action: A lawsuit brought by one or more persons on behalf of a larger group based on the same claims and seeking identical relief.

Clear, Satisfactory and Convincing Evidence: Standard of proof commonly called the "middle" burden of proof required in certain types of cases. It governs the amount of proof that must be offered in order for the plaintiff to win the case.

Clemency or Executive Clemency: Act of grace or mercy by the president or governor to ease the consequences of a criminal act, accusation, or conviction. It may take the form of "commutation" or "pardon."

Clerk: An administrative officer of the court. One responsibility of a court clerk includes keeping the minutes during a trial.

Closing Argument or Closing Statement: The persuasive speech summarizing the facts and law of the case by the opposing parties at the end of the trial. This argument is commentary about the evidence presented in the trial but it is not, itself, evidence.

CM: Designation of a case based upon an alleged Criminal Misdemeanor.

Codicil (kod'i-sil): An amendment or change to a will.

Commit: To send a person to prison, asylum, or reformatory by a court order.

Common Law: Law that derives its authority solely from usages and customs or from the judgments and decrees of courts rather than legislative action. Common law comes into being through the practice of courts considering, and attempting to follow, the decisions of earlier courts in similar circumstances.

Commutation: The reduction of a sentence, as from death to life imprisonment.

Comparative Negligence: A legal doctrine by which acts of the opposing parties are compared to determine the liability of each party to the other, making each liable only for his or her percentage of fault. See also "contributory negligence."

Competency: 1. In the law of evidence, the presence of those characteristics that render a witness legally fit and qualified to give testimony. 2. May also refer to the capacity of a party to participate in a legal proceeding or the lack of that capacity. See also "competency proceedings."

Competency Proceedings: Hearings conducted to determine a person's mental capacity. Within the criminal context, to determine competency to stand trial or to be sentenced or to determine whether, at the time of the offense, the accused was legally sane.

Complainant: The party who complains or sues; one who applies to the court for legal redress. Also called the plaintiff. The other party is the "respondent" or "defendant."

Complaint: 1. The legal document, along with a summons, that usually begins a civil lawsuit. It states the facts and identifies the action the court is asked to take. 2. Formal written charge that a person has committed a criminal offense.

Conciliation: A form of dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party, who helps lower tensions, improve communications, and explore possible solutions. Conciliation is similar to mediation, but it may be less formal.

Conclusion of Law: A judge's final decision on a question of law that has been raised in a court hearing or trial as distinguished from determinations of fact. A conclusion of law may be based upon a determination of fact but they are separate matters.

Concurrent Sentences: Sentences for more than one crime that are to be served at the same time, rather than one after the other. See also "cumulative sentences."

Condemnation: The legal process by which the government takes private land for public use, paying the owners a fair price.

Consecutive Sentences: Successive sentences, one beginning at the expiration of another, imposed against a person convicted of two or more violations.

Consent Decree: In a juvenile case, an agreement worked out at the pre-trial hearing thereby avoiding a final dispositional hearing.

Conservatorship: Legal right given to a person to manage the property and financial affairs of a person deemed incapable of doing that for him or herself. (See also "guardianship." Conservators have somewhat less responsibility than guardians.)

Contempt of Court: Willful disobedience of a judge's command or an official court order. May be punished by a jail sentence or a fine.

Contested Divorce: A divorce in which the judge must resolve one or more issues, because the parties cannot agree.

Continuance: Postponement of a legal proceeding to a later date.

Contract: A legally enforceable agreement between two or more competent parties made either orally or in writing.

Contributory Negligence: A legal doctrine that says if the plaintiff in a civil action for negligence also was negligent, he or she cannot recover damages from the defendant for the defendant's negligence. Most jurisdictions have abandoned the doctrine of contributory negligence in favor of "comparative negligence."

Conviction: A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.

Corpus Delicti (kor-pus da-lik'-tee): Literally, "body of the crime." The objective proof that a crime has been committed. It sometimes refers to the body of the victim of a homicide or to the charred shell of a burned house, but the term has a broader meaning. For the state to introduce a confession or to convict the accused it must prove a corpus delicti, that is, the occurrence of a specific injury or loss and a criminal act as the source of that particular injury or loss.

Corroborating Evidence: Supplementary evidence that tends to strengthen or confirm the initial evidence.

Counsel: Legal advisor. A term used to refer to lawyers in a case.

Counterclaim: A claim made by the defendant in a civil lawsuit against the plaintiff. In essence, a counter lawsuit within a lawsuit.

Court Administrator/Clerk of Court: An officer appointed by the court or elected to oversee the administrative, nonjudicial activities of the court.

Court: 1. Government entity authorized to resolve legal disputes. The court is part of the third branch of Wisconsin government, the Judicial Branch. 2. Judges sometimes use "court" to refer to themselves in the third person, as in "the court has read the briefs."

Court Commissioner: A judicial officer who may conduct court proceedings similar to trials. Normally limited to specific issues or topics.

Court Costs: The expenses of prosecuting or defending a lawsuit, other than attorneys' fees. An amount of money may be awarded to the successful party (and may be recoverable from the losing party) as reimbursement for court costs.

Court Reporter: A person who makes a word-for-word record of what is said in court and produces a transcript of the proceedings upon request.

CR: Criminal

Criminal Case: The action or suit by a government to penalize a person for a violation of the criminal laws, both misdemeanors and felonies.

Cross-Claim: A claim by codefendant or coplaintiffs against each other and not against persons on the opposite side of the lawsuit.

Cross-Examination: The questioning of a witness produced by the other side.

CT: Criminal Traffic

Cumulative Sentences: Sentences for two or more crimes to run consecutively, rather than concurrently.

Custody: Detaining of a person by lawful process or authority to assure his or her appearance at any hearing. The jailing or imprisonment of a person convicted of a crime. See also "legal custody" for custody of children.

CV: A designation of a Civil court case.


DA: District Attorney

Damages: Money awarded by a court to a person(s) through a civil action.

Dane County Courthouse: See "CCB"

Dane County Justice Center: Name of the new courthouse, scheduled to open in 2005, located at 215 South Hamilton Street.

DASO: Dane County Sheriff Office. May be used instead of DCSO

DC: 1. Disorderly Conduct 2. Dane County

DCDHS: Dane County Department of Human Services

DCJ: Dane County Jail

DCSD: Dane County Sheriff Department

DCSO: Dane County Sheriff Office

De Novo: Anew, afresh. A "trial de novo" is the re-hearing of an issue (basically an appeal of a commissioner's decision to a Circuit Court judge).

Debtor: A persons who owes money.

Decision: The judgment reached or given by a court of law.

Declaratory Judgment: A judgment of the court defining the rights of the litigants.

Decree: An order of the court. A final decree is one that fully and finally disposes of the litigation. An "interlocutory" decree is a preliminary order of the court that remains in effect until the final judgment.

Defamation: That which tends to injure a person's reputation. "Libel" is published defamation, whereas "slander" is spoken.

Default: A failure to respond to a lawsuit within the specified time.

Default Judgment: A judgment entered for a plaintiff against defendant(s) over whom the court has jurisdiction, who have failed to appear or do not contest the plaintiff(s) claim(s).

Defendant: In a civil case, the person being sued. In a criminal case, the person accused of the crime. Sometimes called "respondent."

Defense: A reason why a claim in a complaint should not be granted.

Deferred Prosecution: A program authorized by law, whereby an individual charged with a crime enters a guilty plea, adjudication is withheld and the individual is referred. Successful completion of the program results in the dismissal of criminal charges.

Delinquency: The act of a juvenile violating the criminal code. See also "Juvenile Delinquency"

Deposition: An oral recorded statement made before an officer authorized by law to administer oaths. Such statements are often taken to examine potential witnesses, to obtain discovery, or to be used later in trial.

Descent and Distribution Statutes: State laws that provide for the distribution of estate property of a person who dies without a will. Same as "intestacy laws."

DHFS: Department of Health and Family Services (State Agency)

Direct Evidence: Proof of facts by witnesses who saw acts done or heard words spoken.

Direct Examination: The first questioning of witnesses by the party on whose behalf they are called.

Disbarment: Form of discipline of a lawyer resulting in the loss (often permanently) of that lawyer's right to practice law. It differs from "censure" (an official reprimand or condemnation) and from "suspension" (a temporary loss of the right to practice law).

Disclaim: To refuse a gift made in a will.

Discovery: The pretrial process by which one party acquires potential evidence from the opposing party by way of written interrogatories, depositions, and demands to produce documents.

Discretion: The power of a judge to make decisions on various matters based on his or her opinion within general legal guidelines. A judge properly exercises discretion when he or she considers the facts of record under the proper legal standard and reaches a rational conclusion.

Dismissal: The termination of a lawsuit. A "dismissal without prejudice" allows a lawsuit to be brought before the court again at a later time. In contrast, a "dismissal with prejudice" prevents the lawsuit from being brought before a court in the future.

Dismissed and Read-In: Used only when the defendant enters a plea of guilty in a criminal case to some of the charges and the court dismisses the remainder. The parties acknowledge the court may take into consideration those charges dismissed when sentencing; i.e., 17 counts of forgery, plead guilty to 10 counts, remaining 7 counts dismissed and read-in.

Disposition: In a juvenile case, the final decision of a judge related to things like placement of a child/juvenile, rules of supervision, and other final orders entered by the court; the "dispositional report" is a court-ordered report written by the social worker which tells the judge about a family and makes recommendations about services the family needs; the "dispositional hearing" is a hearing at which a judge decides on a plan to help a child have a safe home; the "dispositional order" is a report telling what the judge has decided at a dispositional hearing

Dissent: To disagree. An appellate court opinion setting forth the minority view and outlining the disagreement of one or more judges with the decision of the majority.

Diversion: The process of removing some minor criminal, traffic, or juvenile cases from the full judicial process on the condition that the accused undergo some sort of rehabilitation or make restitution for damages.

Divorce: A legal proceeding to dissolve a marriage that is irretrievably broken.

DMV: Department of Motor Vehicles

DOB: Date of Birth

DOC: Department of Corrections

Docket: A list of cases to be heard by a court or a log containing brief entries of court proceedings.

DOJ: Department of Justice

Domestic Abuse: According to WI Statute ' 813.12(1), intentional infliction of physical pain, physical injury, or illness, or intentional impairment of physical condition, or sexual assault, or a threat to engage in such conduct, or criminal damage to property of the victim by an adult family member, person residing or formerly residing with the victim, person with whom the victim has a child in common, person who has or had a dating relationship with the victim, or a person who provides in-home or community care for the victim.

Domicile: The place where a person has his or her permanent legal home. A person may have several residences, but only one domicile.

DOT: Department of Transportation

Double Jeopardy: Putting a person on trial more than once for the same crime. It is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

Due Process of Law: The right of all persons to receive the guarantees and safeguards of the law and the judicial process. It includes such constitutional requirements as adequate notice, assistance of counsel, and the rights to remain silent, to a speedy and public trial, to an impartial jury, and to confront and secure witnesses.

DWD: Department of Workforce Development. State agency responsible for setting state child support percentage guidelines.


Elements of a Crime: Specific factors that define a crime, which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction.

Eminent Domain: The power of the government to take private property for public use through "condemnation."

EMP: Electronic Monitoring Program

En Banc (en bongk'): Literally, "on the bench." All the judges of a court sitting together. Appellate courts can consist of a dozen or more judges, but often they hear cases in panels of three judges. If a case is heard or reheard by the full court, it is heard en banc.

Entrapment: A defense to criminal charges alleging that agents of the government induced a person to commit a crime he or she otherwise would not have committed.

Equal Protection of the Law: The guarantee in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that all persons be treated equally by the law. Court decisions have established that this guarantee requires that courts be open to all persons on the same conditions, with like rules of evidence and modes of procedure; that persons be subject to no restrictions in the acquisition of property, the enjoyment of personal liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which do not generally affect others; that persons are liable to no other or greater burdens than such as are laid upon others and that no different or greater punishment is enforced against them for a violation of the laws.

Escheat (es-cheet'): The process by which a deceased person's property goes to the state if no heir can be found.

Escrow: Money or a written instrument, such as a deed, that by agreement between two parties is held by a neutral third party ("held in escrow") until all conditions of the agreement are met.

Estate: An estate consists of personal property (car, household items, and other tangible items), real property, and intangible property, such as stock certificates and bank accounts, owned in the individual name of a person at the time of the person's death. It does not include life insurance proceeds (unless the estate was made the beneficiary) or other assets that pass outside the estate (like "joint tenancy" asset).

Estate Tax: Generally, a tax on the privilege of transferring property to others after a person's death. In addition to federal estate taxes, many states have their own estate taxes. See chapter 72 of the Wisconsin statutes for more information.

Estoppel: A person's own act, or acceptance of facts, which preclude his or her later making claims to the contrary.

Eviction: A legal action by a landlord to remove a tenant from the landlord's property.

Evidence: Information presented in testimony or in documents that is used to persuade the fact finder (judge or jury) to decide the outcome of a case.

Exceptions: 1. Declarations by either side in a civil or criminal case reserving the right to appeal a judge's ruling upon a motion. 2. In regulatory cases, objections by either side to points made by the other side or to rulings by the agency or one of its hearing officers.

Exclusionary Rule: The rule preventing illegally obtained evidence to be used in any trial.

Execute: 1. To complete the legal requirements (such as signing before witnesses) that make a will valid. 2. To execute a judgment or decree means to put the final judgment of the court into effect.

Execution: A legal procedure in which a sheriff seizes a debtor's property to pay a judgment.

Executor: A personal representative, named in a will, who administers an estate.

Exempt Property: In bankruptcy proceedings, this refers to certain property protected by law from the reach of creditors.

Exemption: A law allowing a debtor to keep some property from the claims of creditors.

Exhibit: A document or other item introduced as evidence during a trial or hearing.

Exit Questionnaire: A written questionnaire to obtain information from the juror for a juror to complete after the jury duty is over.

Exonerate: Remove a charge, responsibility, or duty.

Ex Parte (eks pahr'-tee): Literally "from the part." On behalf of only one party, without notice to any other party. For example, a request for a search warrant is an ex parte proceeding since the person subject to the search is not notified of the proceeding and is not present at the hearing.

Ex Parte Proceeding: The legal procedure in which only one side is represented. It differs from "adversary system" or "adversary proceeding."

Expert Witnesses: Experts in a field who will testify in a trial or hearing. For example, in a divorce action, the expert witnesses may include property appraisers, accountants, psychologists, or psychiatrists, and the family court counselor who conducted an evaluation of the case.

Ex Post Facto: After the fact. The constitution prohibits the enactment of ex post facto laws. These are laws that permit conviction and punishment for a lawful act performed before the law was changed and the act made illegal.

Extenuating Circumstances: Circumstances that render a crime less aggravated, heinous, or reprehensible than it would otherwise be.

Expunge Arrearages: Erase from the record of the case the amount owed in support or maintenance.

Expungement: Official and formal erasure of a record or partial contents of a record.

Extradition: The process by which one state or country surrenders to another state, a person accused or convicted of a crime in the state requesting extradition.


FA: Designation of a Family court case.

Family Allowance: A small amount of money set aside from the estate of the deceased. Its purpose is to provide for the surviving family members during the administration of the estate.

Family Support: A form of payment that substitutes for child support and maintenance payments that is tax deductible to the payer and taxable to the recipient.

FCC: Family Court Commissioner's office located in room 104 of the Dane County Courthouse

FCS: Family Court Services located in room 108 of the Dane County Courthouse

Fee: A charge fixed by law for the service of public officers.

Fee Waiver: A ruling that indicates that a litigant does not need to pay court fees due to indigency.

Felony: A crime of a graver nature than a misdemeanor, usually punishable by imprisonment in a penitentiary for more than a year and/or substantial fines.

Fidelity Bond: See "surety bond"

Fiduciary: A person having a legal relationship of trust and confidence to another and having a duty to act primarily for the other's benefit, e.g., a guardian, trustee, or executor.

File: To place a paper in the official custody of the clerk of court/court administrator to enter into the files or records of a case.

Final Judgment: The written determination of a lawsuit by the judge who presided over the lawsuit that makes rulings on all issues and completes the case. A final judgment of a circuit court case may be appealed to the court of appeals by the losing party.

Financial Disclosure Statement: A form used in divorce and paternity actions by which parties are required to provide income, expenses, assets, and debt information to the court at every hearing on financial issues.

Finding or Finding of Fact: The determination of a factual question contributing to a decision in a case by the finder of fact after a trial. If a judge has served as sole finder of fact, the judge is required to state on the record all facts that are relevant to his or her decision. In a divorce action, one of the parties must prepare the document "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment of Divorce" for the judge's signature within 30 days of the divorce trial.

First Appearance: See "initial appearance."

FO: Designation of Forfeiture cases.

FOP: First Offenders Program

Foreperson: The juror selected by the other jurors to organize and lead their discussion and sign the verdict(s).

Foreign Judgment: Judgment received from another State or County for filing.

Fraud: Intentional deception to deprive another person of property or to injure that person in some other way.

FRD: The "receiving and disbursement" fees charged by the Wisconsin Support Collections Trust Fund to process payments, maintain the official pay record and distribute payments to whoever is entitled to collect (i.e., the custodial parent, the State of Wisconsin, the county, another state, etc.).


Garnishee: In garnishments, the party who owes money to the debtor and is ordered to pay it to the creditor instead.

Garnishment: A legal proceeding in which a debtor's money in the possession of another (called the "garnishee") is applied to the debts of the debtor, such as when an employer garnishes a debtor's wages.

General Jurisdiction: Refers to courts that have no limit on the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear.

Genetic Test: A test that examines genetic markers present on blood cells, skin cells, tissue cells, bodily fluid cells or cells of another body material for the purpose of determining the statistical probability of an alleged father's paternity.

Good Time: A reduction in sentenced time in prison as a reward for good behavior. It usually is up to one-third off the maximum sentence.

Grand Jury: A body of persons that meets in secret, sworn to inquire into criminal activity and, if appropriate, bring charges ("indictments") against the individuals and entities.

Grantor: The person who sets up a trust. Also called the "settlor."

Guardian: A person who has been appointed by a court to take legal responsibility for a minor child or incompetent adult ("ward"). A "guardian of the person" is responsible for all life decisions of the ward, a "guardian of the estate" will manage that ward's financial affairs. See also "guardianship"

Guardian ad Litem (GAL): An attorney appointed by the court to take legal action on behalf of a minor or an adult not able to handle his or her own affairs, whose duties may include filing a lawsuit for an injured child, defending a lawsuit, filing a claim against an estate, or representing the child's best interests in juvenile or family court.

Guardianship: Legal right given to a person to be responsible for the food, housing, health care, and other necessities of a person deemed incapable of providing these necessities for him or herself. A guardian also may be given responsibility for the person's financial affairs and thus perform additionally as a conservator. See also "conservatorship"


Habeas Corpus (hay'-bee-us kor'pus): Literally, "that you have the body." A writ commanding that a person be brought before a judge. Most commonly, a writ of habeas corpus is a legal document that forces law enforcement authorities to produce a prisoner they are holding and to legally justify his or her confinement.

Harassment: According to WI Statute ' 813.125(1), striking, shoving, kicking, or otherwise subjecting a person to physical contact or attempting or threatening to engage in such contact, or engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts which harass or intimidate a person and which serve no legitimate purpose.

Harmless Error: An error committed during a trial that was corrected or was not serious enough to affect the outcome of a trial and, therefore, was not sufficiently harmful (prejudicial) to be reversed on appeal.

HDP: Home Detention Program

Hearsay: Out of court statements made by third parties. Hearsay is usually not admissible as evidence in court, but there are exceptions.

Hostile Witness: A witness whose testimony is not favorable to the party who calls him or her as a witness. A hostile witness may be asked leading questions and may be cross-examined by the party who calls him or her to the stand.

HTO: Habitual Traffic Offender

Huber Program - Work Release: A program authorized by law granting an inmate the privilege to work, seek employment, attend to the needs of family members, and/or attend school or treatment programs while serving a jail sentence.

Hung Jury: A jury whose members cannot agree upon a verdict.


IA: Initial Appearance

Immunity: Granted by the court assuring someone will not face prosecution in return for providing testimony.

Impeachment of a Witness: An attack on the credibility (believability) of a witness through evidence introduced for that purpose.

In Camera: Literally, "in a chamber." In chambers; in private. As opposed to "in open court."

Inadmissible Evidence: Evidence that, under the established rules of evidence, cannot be admitted or received into the record at a hearing or trial.

Incarcerate: To confine in jail or prison.

Indeterminate Sentence: A sentence of imprisonment to a specified minimum and maximum period of time, specifically authorized by statute, subject to termination by a parole board or other authorized agency after the prisoner has served the minimum term.

Indictment: A written accusation by a grand jury charging a person with a crime(s).

Indigent: An individual who meets the indigency standard of the Poverty Guidelines for Earnings. If the court finds a person to be indigent, the court must appoint a public defender or other attorney to represent the person in a criminal case at no expense to the person..

Information: Accusatory document, filed by the prosecutor, detailing the charges against the defendant. An alternative to an "indictment," it serves to bring a defendant to trial.

In Forma Pauperis (in for'-ma paw'-per-is): Literally, "in the manner of a pauper." Permission given to a person to sue without payment of court fees on claim of poverty. See also "Indigent" or "Fee Waiver."

Infraction: A violation of law not punishable by imprisonment. Minor traffic offenses generally are considered infractions.

Inheritance Tax: A state tax on property that an heir or beneficiary under a will receives from a deceased person's estate. The heir or beneficiary pays this tax.

Initial Appearance: The first appearance of an arrested person before a judge where the accused will receive a copy of the criminal complaint, enter a plea if charged with a misdemeanor, and bail is set. Generally the person comes before a judge within hours of the arrest.

Injunction: Writ or order by a court prohibiting a specific action from being carried out by the respondent(s). A preliminary injunction is granted provisionally until a full hearing can be held to determine if it should be made permanent. A restraining order or injunction is a permanent court order for the respondent to avoid contact with the petitioner and/or petitioner's residence, or to cease harassing behavior

In Propria Persona (in proh'-pree-ah per-soh'-nah): Literally, "in one's own person." In court, it refers to persons who present their own case without lawyers. See "Pro Se."

Instructions: Judge's explanation to the jury before it begins deliberations and the applicable law governing the case.

Intangible Assets: Nonphysical items, such as stock certificates, bonds, bank accounts, and pension benefits that have value and must be taken into account in estate planning.

Interlocutory: Provisional; not final. An interlocutory order or an interlocutory appeal concerns only a part of the issues raised in a lawsuit.

Interrogatories: Written questions asked by one party in a lawsuit for which the opposing party must provide written answers.

Intervene: An action by which a third person who may be affected by a lawsuit is permitted to become a party to the suit. Differs from the process of becoming an "amicus curiae."

Inter Vivos Gift (in-ter vee'-vohs gift): Literally "between the living." A gift made during the giver's life.

Inter Vivos Trust: Another name for a "living trust."

Intestacy Laws (in-tes'-tah-see laws): See "Descent and Distribution Statutes."

Intestate (in-tes'-tayt): Dying without a will.

Intestate Succession: The process by which the property of a person who has died without a will passes onto others according to the state's descent and distribution statutes. If someone dies without a will and the court uses the state's intestate succession laws, an heir who receives some of the deceased's property is an "intestate heir."

Irrevocable Trust: A trust that, once set up, the grantor may not revoke.

Issue: 1. The disputed point in a disagreement between parties in a lawsuit. 2. To send out officially, as in to "issue an order."


JIPS: (Juvenile in Need of Protection or Services) Court proceedings involving a juvenile under the age of 18-(1) whose parent signs a petition requesting the court to take jurisdiction and is unable to control the juvenile; (2) who is habitually truant from school or home; (3) who is a school dropout; (4) who is under the age of 10 and has committed a delinquent (criminal) act; or (5) who has been determined to be not responsible for a delinquent act by reason of mental disease or defect or who has been determined to be not competent to proceed.

John Doe: 1. A fictitious name used in law to designate a person unknown. 2. In Wisconsin, an investigative proceeding conducted before a judge regarding alleged criminal conduct.

Join or Joinder Date: Date on summons by which a party must file an answer or appear in court.

Joinder of Defendants: Two or more defendants may be charged in the same indictment or information if they are alleged to have participated in the same act or transaction or in the same series of acts or transactions constituting an offense or offenses. Such defendants may be charged in one or more counts together or separately, and all of the defendants need not be charged in each count.

Joint and Several Liability: A legal doctrine that makes each of the parties who are responsible for an injury liable for all the damages awarded in a lawsuit if the other parties responsible cannot pay.

Joint Legal Custody: Equal authority shared by parents to make major decisions for a child.

Joint Petition for Divorce: A petition for divorce filed jointly by the parties. They need not be in agreement about all settlement issues in order to file jointly.

Joint Tenancy: A form of legal co-ownership of property (also known as survivorship). At the death of one co-owner, the surviving co-owner becomes sole owner of the property. Tenancy by the entirety is a special form of joint tenancy between a husband and wife.

JRC: Juvenile Reception Center, located in room 200 of the Dane County Courthouse.

Judge: An elected or appointed public official with authority to hear and decide cases in a court of law. A "Judge Pro Tem" is a temporary judge.

Judgment: The final disposition of a lawsuit. "Default judgment" is a judgment rendered because of the defendant's failure to answer or appear. "Summary judgment" is a judgment given on the basis of pleadings, affidavits, and exhibits presented for the record without any need for a trial. It is used when there is no dispute as to the facts of the case and one party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. "Consent judgment" occurs when the provisions and terms of the judgment are agreed upon by the parties and submitted to the court for its sanction and approval.

Judicial Review: The authority of a court to review the official actions of other branches of government and the authority to declare unconstitutional the actions of other branches.

Jurisdiction: 1. The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case. Concurrent jurisdiction exists when two courts have simultaneous responsibility for the same case. 2. The geographic area over which the court has authority to decide cases.

Jurisprudence: The study of law and the structure of the legal system.

Jury: Persons selected according to law and sworn to inquire into and declare a verdict on matters of fact. A "petit jury" is an ordinary or trial jury composed of six or twelve persons, which hears either civil or criminal cases. See also "Grand Jury"

Jury Clerk: The court officer responsible for choosing the panel of persons to serve as potential jurors.

Juvenile Delinquency: As defined in WI Statute ' 938.02(3m) a juvenile who is 10 years of age or older who has violated any state or federal criminal law, except as provided in ' 938.17, ' 938.18 and ' 938.183, or who has committed a contempt of court, as defined in ' 785.01(1), as specified in ' 938.355(6g).

JV: Juvenile


Lapsed Gift: A gift made in a will to a person who has died prior to the will maker's death.

Larceny: Obtaining property by fraud or deceit.

Law: The combination of rules and principles of conduct promulgated by legislative authority, derived from court decisions, and established by local custom.

Law Clerks: Persons trained in the law who assist judges in researching legal opinions. Also called "Staff Attorneys."

Leading Question: A question that suggests the answer desired of the witness. A party generally may not ask one's own witness leading questions. Leading questions may be asked only of hostile witnesses and on cross-examination.

Legal Custody: The right and responsibility to make major decisions concerning the child. Custody may be "joint legal custody" in which both parties share legal custody or "sole legal custody" in which only one party has the authority to make major decisions for the child. See also "major decisions for the child"

Legal Separation: A legal proceeding which separates the parties' property and finances but continues their marriage and is an alternative for people who wish to avoid divorce for religious or other reasons. The court grants a legal separation on the ground that the marriage relationship is broken. Like a divorce, a legal separation requires property division and determination of child custody and placement. The court may order maintenance and child support payments. After one year, either spouse can seek to have a legal separation converted into a divorce without the other spouse's consent. Spouses who reconcile after a legal separation may apply to have the legal separation revoked.

Leniency: Recommendation for a sentence less than the maximum allowed.

Letters of Administration: A legal document issued by probate court that shows an administrator's legal right to take control of assets in the deceased person's name.

Letters Testamentary: A legal document issued by probate court that shows an executor's legal right to take control of assets in the deceased person's name.

Liable: Legally responsible.

Libel: Published words or pictures that falsely and maliciously defame a person. Libel is published defamation; "slander" is spoken defamation.

Lien: A legal claim against another person's property as security for a debt. A lien does not convey ownership of the property, but gives the lien holder a right to have his or her debt satisfied out of the proceeds of the property if the debt is not otherwise paid.

Limine (lim'-ah-nee): Literally, "at the outset." A motion requesting that the court not allow introduction of certain evidence that might prejudice the jury.

Limitation: A certain time allowed by statute in which a lawsuit must be brought ("statute of limitation").

Limited Jurisdiction: Refers to courts that are limited in the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear. For example, traffic violations generally are heard by limited jurisdiction courts.

Lis Pendens (lis pen'-denz): Literally, "a pending lawsuit." A notice of lis pendens serves as a warning to all persons that the title to certain property is disputed in a lawsuit.

Litigant: A party to a lawsuit. "Litigation" refers to a case, controversy, or lawsuit.

Living Trust: A trust set up and in effect during the lifetime of the grantor. Also called "inter vivos trust."


Magistrate: 1. Judicial officer exercising some of the functions of a judge. 2. Refers in a general way to a judge.

Maintenance: A limited or indefinite support payment for a spouse, formerly known as alimony. Tax deductible to the payer and taxable to the payee if made pursuant to a divorce or legal separation agreement or order, and if permitted by tax laws.

Major Decisions for the Child: According to WI Statute ' 767.001(2m), decisions including consent to marry, consent to enter military service, consent to obtain a motor vehicle operator's license, authorization for non-emergency health care, and choice of school and religion.

Malicious Prosecution: An action instituted with intention of injuring the defendant and without probable cause, and which terminates in favor of the person prosecuted.

Mandamus (man-day'-mus): Literally, "we command." A writ issued by a court ordering a public official to perform an act.

Mandate: A judicial order directing the proper officer to enforce a judgment, sentence or decree.

Manslaughter: The unlawful killing of another without intent to kill, either voluntary (upon a sudden impulse) or involuntary (during the commission of an unlawful act not ordinarily expected to result in great bodily harm). See also "murder."

Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA): The parties' written agreement regarding issues requiring resolution at their final divorce hearing.

Mediation: A form of dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party who helps them agree on a settlement.

Memorialized: In writing.

Mens Rea (menz ree'-ah): Literally, "guilty mind." The "guilty mind" necessary to establish criminal responsibility.

MHCDC: Mental Health Center of Dane County (private, non-profit agency)

Miranda Warning: Requirement that police tell a suspect in their custody of his or her constitutional rights before they question him or her. So named as a result of the Miranda v. Arizona ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Misdemeanor: A criminal offense considered less serious than a felony. Misdemeanors generally are punishable by a fine or a limited jail term of a year or less, but not by imprisonment in a state prison.

Mistrial: An invalid trial caused by fundamental error. When a mistrial is declared, the trial must start again beginning with the selection of the jury.

Mitigating Circumstances: Those which do not constitute a justification or excuse for an offense, but which may be considered as reasons for reducing the degree of blame.

Mittimus: Literally, "we send." The name of an order in writing, issuing from a court and directing the sheriff or other officer to convey a person to a prison, asylum, or reformatory, and directing the jailer or other appropriate official to receive and safely keep the person until his or her fate shall be determined by due course of law.

Moot: A moot case or a moot point is one not subject to a judicial determination because it involves an abstract question or a pretended controversy that has not yet actually arisen or has already passed. Mootness usually refers to a court's refusal to consider a case because the issue involved has been resolved prior to the court's decision, leaving nothing that would be affected by the court's decision.

Motion: Oral or written request made by a party to an action before, during, or after a trial, upon which a court issues a ruling or order.

MPD: Madison Police Department

Municipal Courts: In Wisconsin, courts whose territorial authority is confined to the city or community, and whose jurisdiction is limited to municipal ordinance violations.

Murder: The unlawful killing of a human being with deliberate intent to kill. See also "manslaughter"


Neglect: According to Wisconsin Statute ' 48.981(1)(d), failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, a safe living environment, medical or dental care which seriously endangers the child's physical health. Some examples would be: broken glass laying on the floor, electrical wires a child can touch, dog and cat waste laying around the house, drugs or alcohol left where a child can reach them, no food, no home to stay in, or a failure to protect the child from neglect.

Negligence: Failure to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.

Next Friend: One acting without formal appointment as guardian for the benefit of an infant, a person of unsound mind not judicially declared incompetent, or other person under some disability.

NGI: Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

No Bill: This phrase, endorsed by a grand jury on the written indictment submitted to it for its approval, means that the evidence was found insufficient to indict.

No-Contest Clause: Language in a will that provides that a person who makes a legal challenge to the will's validity will be disinherited.

No Fault Divorce: A divorce for which irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is the sole ground and in which the judge does not find either party to be at fault.

No-Fault Proceedings: A civil case in which parties may resolve their dispute without a formal finding of error or fault.

Nolle Prosequi (nahl'-ee prahs'-ah-kwi): Literally, "not to wish to proceed." A decision by a prosecutor not to go forward with charging a crime. It translates "I do not choose to prosecute." Also loosely called nolle pros.

Nolo Contendere (noh'-lo kahn-ten'dah-ree): Literally, "I do not wish to contend." A plea of no contest. In many jurisdictions, it is an expression that the matter will not be contested, but without an admission of guilt.

Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity: According to WI Statute ' 971.15(1), the court or jury finds a person was not responsible for criminal conduct as a result of mental disease or defect, he/she lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality (wrongfulness) of his/her conduct, or to conform his/her conduct to the requirements of law.

Notary Public: A person authorized by law and specially designated to administer oaths, certify and authenticate specific documents, and perform other prescribed acts.

Notice: 1. Formal notification to the party that has been sued in a civil case of the fact that the lawsuit has been filed. 2. Any form of notification of a legal proceeding or hearing.

Nunc Pro Tunc (nuhnk proh tuhnk): Literally, "now for then." A legal phrase applied to acts that are allowed after the time when they should be done, with a retroactive effect.

Nuncupative Will (nuhn'-kyuh-pay-tiv wil): Literally, "to name." An oral (unwritten) will.


OAR: Operating After Revocation

OAS: Operating After Suspension

Oath: A written or oral pledge by a person to keep a promise to speak the truth.

Objection: The process by which one party takes exception to a statement or procedure. An objection is either sustained (allowed) or overruled by the judge.

Of Counsel: A phrase commonly applied to an attorney employed to assist in the preparation or management of the case, or its presentation on appeal, but who is not the principal attorney of record.

On a Person's Own Recognizance: Release of a person from custody without the payment of any bail or posting of bond, upon the promise to return to court.

Opening Statement: The initial statement made by attorneys for each side, outlining the facts each intends to establish during the trial.

Opinion: A judge's written explanation of a decision of the court or of a majority of judges. A "dissenting opinion" disagrees with the majority opinion because of the reasoning and/or the principles of law on which the decision is based. A "concurring opinion" agrees with the decision of the court, but offers further comment.

Oral Argument: An opportunity for lawyers to summarize their position before the court and also to answer the judges' questions.

Order: A written or oral command from a court directing or forbidding an action.

Order to Show Cause (OSC): An order of the court directing a party to appear on a certain date to show cause why the judge should not issue a specific order or make a certain finding.

Out of Home Placement: Also called "alternate care" or "substitute care," it could be a shelter home, foster home, group home, residential treatment center, or relative placement of juveniles.

Overrule: 1. A judge's decision not to allow an objection. 2. A decision by a higher court finding that a lower court decision was in error.

OWI: Operating While Intoxicated


PA: 1. Parole Agent 2. Paternity Action 3. Paternity Acknowledgment

Panel: A list of jurors to serve in a particular court, or for the trial of a particular action. Denotes either the whole body of persons summoned as jurors or those selected by the clerk by lot.

Pardon: A form of executive clemency preventing criminal prosecution or removing or extinguishing a criminal conviction.

Parens Patriae (par'-enz pay'-tree-I): Literally, "parent of his or her country." The doctrine under which the court protects the interests of a juvenile.

Parent Education Program: A court-ordered program offered by Family Court Services that 1) helps parents cope with changes in the family and focus on their children's needs and 2) educates parents about the mediation and evaluation process and the legal procedures in family court.

Parenting Plan: A form that provides information to the court in an action in which there is a dispute of the party's proposal for custody and placement of the child.

Parole: The supervised conditional release of a prisoner before the expiration of his or her sentence. If the parolee observes the conditions, he or she need not serve the rest of his or her term.

Party: A person, business, or government agency actively involved in the prosecution or defense of a legal proceeding.

Paternity Case: A legal proceeding to determine the paternity of a child for the purposes of determining a father's parental rights or responsibilities.

Paternity Acknowledgment Case: A legal proceeding concerning custody, physical placement, or support of a child where both parents have signed a voluntary paternity acknowledgment and filed it with the State Bureau of Vital Statistics after April 1, 1998.

PD: 1. Police Department 2. Public Defender

PDI: Predispositional Investigation

Percentage Standard: A set of guidelines developed by the State Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to determine the amount of a child support obligation.

Peremptory Challenge: A challenge that may be used to reject a certain number of prospective jurors without giving a reason.

Periods of Physical Placement: See "Physical Placement"

Perjury: The criminal offense of making a false statement under oath.

Permanency Plan: Plan which talks about where a child is placed, what services the child and his/her family needs, and what needs to happen for a child to come back home or to make a safe, permanent home for the child somewhere else.

Permanent Injunction: A court order requiring that some action be taken or that some party refrain from taking action. It differs from forms of temporary relief, such as a "temporary restraining order" or "preliminary injunction."

Permission to Move: According to WI Statute '767.481, if more than one parent has been awarded periods of physical placement, a parent with legal custody of and physical placement rights to a child must provide 60 days' written notice to the other parent and the court of intent to (1) establish a legal residence with the child outside of the state; (2) establish a legal residence with the child within this state a distance of 150 miles or more from the other parent; or (3) remove the child from this state for a period of time exceeding 90 consecutive days. If the other parent files a written objection to the move, the move cannot take place without a court hearing. (6) Unless the parents agree otherwise, notification to the other parent before removing a child from his or her primary residence for a period of not less than 14 days is also required.

Personal Property: Tangible physical property (such as cars, clothing, furniture, and jewelry) and intangible personal property. This does not include real property, such as land or rights in land.

Personal Recognizance: In criminal proceedings, the pretrial release of a defendant without cash bail upon his or her promise to return to court. See also "On a Person's Own Recognizance."

Personal Representative: The person who administers an estate. If named in a will, that person's title is an executor. If there is no valid will, that person's title is an administrator.

Petitioner: 1. The person filing an action in a court of original jurisdiction. 2. The person who appeals the judgment of a lower court. The opposing party is called the "respondent."

Physical Placement: The condition under which a party has the right to have a child physically placed with that party and has the right and responsibility to make, during that placement, routine daily decisions regarding the child's care, consistent with major decisions made by the person(s) having legal custody. The times for allowing these conditions are "periods of physical placement."

Plaintiff: The person who files the complaint in a civil lawsuit. Also called the "complainant." In certain cases, also called the "petitioner."

Plea: In a criminal proceeding, it is the defendant's declaration in open court that he or she is guilty or not guilty. The defendant's answer to the charges made in the complaint or information.

Plea Bargaining or Plea Negotiating: The process through which an accused person and a prosecutor negotiate a mutually satisfactory disposition of a case. Usually it is a legal transaction in which a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for some form of leniency. It often involves a guilty plea to lesser charges or a guilty plea to some of the charges if other charges are dropped. Such bargains are not binding on the court.

Pleadings: The documents in which the parties in a suit alternately present written statements of their contentions, each responsive to that which precedes and each serving to narrow the field of controversy, until the issues are established, affirmed on one side and denied on the other, upon which they then go to trial.

PO: 1. Parole Officer 2. Probation Officer

Polling the Jury: The act, after a jury verdict has been announced, of asking jurors individually whether they agree with the verdict.

Pour-Over Will: A will that leaves some or all estate assets to a trust established before the will-maker's death.

Power of Attorney: Formal written authorization for a person to act in the interests of another person.

PR: Probate

Precedent: A previously decided case that provides authority for the decision of future cases.

Preliminary Hearing: A hearing in a felony criminal case in which the state must prove probable cause that a felony has been committed and the defendant committed the felony.

Pre-Injunction: Court order requiring action or forbidding action until a decision can be made whether to issue a permanent injunction. It differs from a "temporary restraining order."

Preponderance of the Evidence: Evidence with greater weight, or evidence that is more credible and convincing to the mind. The standard of proof usually required in civil actions.

Pre-Sentence Report: A report to the sentencing judge containing background information about the crime, its impact, and the defendant to assist the judge in making his or her sentencing decision.

Presentment: Declaration or document issued by a grand jury that either makes a neutral report or notes misdeeds by officials charged with specified public duties. It ordinarily does not include a formal charge of crime. A presentment differs from an indictment.

Pretermitted Child: A child born after a will is executed, who is not provided for by the will. Most states have laws that provide for a share of estate property to go to such children.

Pretrial Services: This is a program of close supervision in the community as an alternative to jail custody.

Pre-Trial Conference: A meeting between the judge and the lawyers involved in a lawsuit to narrow the issues in the suit, agree on what will be presented at the trial, and make a final effort to settle the case without a trial. See also "status conference/pretrial"

Prima Facie (pri'-mah fay'-shah): Literally, "at first sight." A case that is sufficient and has the minimum amount of evidence necessary to allow it to continue in the judicial process.

Primary Physical Placement: Physical placement of children in a divorce or paternity action which is for more than 50% of the placement periods.

Probable Cause: A reasonable belief that a crime has been or is being committed. The basis for all lawful searches, seizures, and arrests.

Probate: The court-supervised process by which a will is determined to be the will maker's final statement regarding how the will maker wants his or her property distributed. It also confirms the appointment of the personal representative of the estate. Probate also means the process by which assets are gathered; applied to pay debts, taxes, and expenses of administration; and distributed to those designated as beneficiaries in the will.

Probate Court: The court with authority to supervise estate administration.

Probate Estate: Estate property that may be disposed of by a will.

Probation: An alternative to incarceration allowing a person found guilty of an offense to stay in the community, usually under conditions and under the supervision of a probation officer. A violation of probation can lead to its revocation and to incarceration.

Pro Bono Publico (proh boh'-noh puhb'-lee-koh): Literally, "for the public good." Lawyers representing clients without a fee are said to be working pro bono publico, or, simply, pro bono.

Procedural Law: The rules for conducting a lawsuit. There are rules of civil procedure, criminal procedure, evidence, bankruptcy, and appellate procedure. Self-represented litigants should be familiar with procedural and court rules for a specific jurisdiction, such as Dane County Circuit Court, before proceeding with an action.

Pro Hac Vice (proh hahk vee'-chay): Literally, "for this turn; for this one particular occasion." A lawyer not admitted to the bar in a particular state may be admitted to practice in that jurisdiction for a particular case only. See WI Supreme Court Rule 10.03(4) for more information.

Pro Se (proh say): Literally, "on one's own behalf." In courts, it refers to persons who present their own cases without lawyers.

Prosecutor: A trial lawyer representing the government in a criminal case and the interests of the state in civil matters. In criminal cases, the prosecutor has the responsibility of deciding who, when, and what to prosecute.

Proximate cause: The act that caused an event to occur. A person generally is liable only if an injury was proximately caused by his or her action, or by his or her failure to act when he or she had a duty to act.

PSB: Public Safety Building, located at 115 W Doty St., Madison, WI 53703.

PSI: Presentence Investigation

Public Defender: See "SPD"

Purge or Purge Conditions: Certain conditions that are necessary to cure contempt of court. If the party fails to meet these conditions, a bench warrant and commitment may be issued resulting in incarceration.


Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO; often pronounced kwah'-droh): Order to divide retirement benefits between two parties after a divorce is granted.

Quash: To overthrow; vacate; to annul or void (e. g., to quash a summons or indictment).

Quo Warranto (kwoh wah-ran'-toh): Literally, "by what authority." A writ or order issuable by the state, through which it demands an individual to show by what right he exercises an authority which can only be exercised through grant or franchise emanating from the state.


Reaffirmation: Renewing a judgment for collection purposes.

Real Property: Land, buildings, and other improvements affixed to the land.

Reasonable Doubt: An accused person is entitled to an acquittal if, in the minds of the jury, his or her guilt has not been proved beyond "a reasonable doubt"-the doubt that would give a person pause in making a decision in the most important affairs of life.

Reasonable Person: A phrase used to denote a hypothetical person who exercises qualities of attention, knowledge, intelligence, and judgment that society requires of its members for the protection of their own interest and the interests of others. Thus, the test of negligence is based on either a failure to do something that a reasonable person, guided by considerations that ordinarily regulate conduct, would do, or on the doing of something that a reasonable and prudent (wise) person would not do.

Rebut: Evidence disproving other evidence previously given or re-establishing the believability of challenged evidence.

Record: All the exhibits and evidence, plus transcripts of oral proceedings, in a court case.

Recuse: The process by which a judge is disqualified from hearing a case on his or her own motion or upon the objection of either party.

Re-Direct Examination: Opportunity to present rebuttal evidence after one's evidence has been subjected to cross-examination.

Redress: To set right; to remedy; to compensate; to remove the causes of a grievance.

Referee: A person to whom the court refers a pending case to take testimony, hear the parties, and report back to the court. A referee is an officer with judicial powers who serves as an arm of the court.

Rehearing: Another hearing of a civil or criminal case by the same court in which the matter was originally heard.

Rejoinder: Opportunity for the side that opened the case to offer limited response to evidence presented during the rebuttal by the opposing side.

Remand: To send a dispute back to the court where it was originally heard. Usually it is an appellate court that remands a case for proceedings in the trial court consistent with the appellate court's ruling.

Remedial Sanction: A sanction imposed by the court for the purpose of terminating contempt of court. See also "purge conditions"

Remedy: Legal or judicial means by which a right or privilege is enforced or the violation of a right or privilege is prevented, redressed, or compensated.

Removal: The transfer of a state case to federal court for trial. In civil cases, because the parties are from different states.

Replevin (ri-plev'-in): An action for the recovery of property that has been wrongfully taken.

Reply: The response by a party to charges raised in a pleading by the other party.

Respondent: 1. The person against whom an appeal is taken. 2. The name for the non-petitioning party in a family court action. Sometimes called the "defendant"

Response: Must be filed by the respondent within 20 days after service of a summons and petition in a family action. Used to admit, deny, or respond to the facts offered in the petition. Sometimes called the "answer"

Rest: A party is said to rest or rest its case when it has presented all the evidence it intends to offer.

Restitution: Act of giving the equivalent for any loss, damage, or injury.

Restraining Order: See "injunction" or "temporary restraining order"

Retainer: Act of the client in employing the attorney or counsel, and also denotes the fee that the client pays when he or she retains the attorney to act for them.

Return: 1. A report to a judge by police on the implementation of an arrest or search warrant. 2. A report to a judge in reply to a subpoena, civil or criminal.

Return Date: In small claims, the deadline for a written answer in cases seeking money damages. In eviction or replevin cases, the first hearing date requiring the parties to appear. See also WI Statute ' 799.05(3).

Reverse: An action of a higher court setting aside or revoking a lower court decision.

Reversible Error: A procedural error during a trial or hearing sufficiently harmful to justify reversing the judgment of a lower court.

Revocable Trust: A trust that the grantor may change or revoke.

Revoke: To cancel or nullify a legal document.

Robbery: Felonious taking of another's property from his or her person or immediate presence and against his or her will by means of force or fear.

Rules of Evidence: Standards governing whether evidence in a civil or criminal case is admissible.


SC: Designation of a Small Claims case.

SCPD: State Capitol Police Department

Search Warrant: A written order issued by a judge that directs a law enforcement officer to search a specific area for evidence described in detail in the search warrant.

Secured Debt: In bankruptcy proceedings, a debt is secured if the debtor gave the creditor a right to repossess the property or goods used as collateral.

Self-Defense: Claim that an act otherwise criminal was legally justifiable because it was necessary to protect a person or property from the threat or action of another. See WI Statute ' 939.48 for more information.

Self-Incrimination, Privilege Against: The constitutional right of people to refuse to give testimony against themselves that could subject them to criminal prosecution. The right is guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Asserting the right is often referred to as "pleading or taking the Fifth."

Self-Proving Will: A will whose validity does not have to be testified to in court by the witnesses to it since the witnesses executed an affidavit reflecting proper execution of the will prior to the maker's death.

Sentence: The punishment ordered by a court for a defendant convicted of a crime. A concurrent sentence means that two or more sentences would run at the same time. A consecutive sentence means that two or more sentences would run one after another.

Sentence Report: A document containing background material on a convicted person. It is prepared to aid the judge in the imposition of a sentence. Sometimes called a "presentence report."

Sequester (see-kwes'-ter): To separate. Sometimes juries are separated from outside influences during the trial and/or their deliberations. For example, this may occur during a highly publicized trial.

Sequestration of Witnesses: Keeping all witnesses (except plaintiff and defendant) out of the courtroom except for their time on the stand and cautioning them not to discuss their testimony with other witnesses. This prevents a witness from being influenced by the testimony of a prior witness. Also called "separation of witnesses."

Service: The delivery of a legal document, such as a complaint, summons, or subpoena, notifying a person of a lawsuit or other legal action taken against him or her.

Service by Publication: When a summons cannot be served on the respondent or defendant personally after diligent effort, the summons may be published in a newspaper in a municipality or area likely to give notice of a pending action against the respondent or defendant. Proof of publication is filed with the Clerk of Courts.

Settlement: An agreement between the parties disposing of a lawsuit.

Settlor: The person who sets up a trust. Also called the "grantor."

Severance: To separate the cases of multiple defendants in such a way as to allow separate trials.

Sidebar: A conference between the judge and lawyers, usually in the courtroom, out of earshot of the jury and spectators.

Slander: False and defamatory spoken words tending to harm another's reputation, business, or means of livelihood. Slander is spoken defamation; "libel" is published defamation.

Small Claims Court: A court that handles civil claims for small amounts of money. In Wisconsin, the limit for money judgments in small claims is $5000.

Sole Legal Custody: Condition under which only one party has the right to make major decisions for a child.

Sovereign Immunity: The doctrine that the government, state or federal, is immune to a lawsuit unless it gives its consent.

SPD: State Public Defender. Government lawyer who provides no, or low, cost legal defense services to qualified poor persons accused of a crime. Madison office located at 17 S Fairchild St, Madison, WI 53703.

Specific Performance: A remedy requiring a person who has breached a contract to perform specifically what he or she has agreed to do. Specific performance is ordered when damages would be inadequate compensation.

Spendthrift Trust: A trust set up for the benefit of someone who the grantor believes would be incapable of managing his or her own financial affairs.

Standing: The legal right to bring a lawsuit. Only a person with something at stake has standing to bring a lawsuit.

STAR: Sheriff's Telephone Alternative Release. An alternative to incarceration.

Stare Decisis (stahr'ee deh-sye'-sis): Literally, "to stand by things decided." The doctrine that courts will follow principles of law laid down in previous cases. Similar to "precedent."

Status Conference/Pretrial: A meeting of parties or attorneys before a judge or court commissioner to inform the court as to how the case is proceeding, what discovery has been conducted, any settlement negotiations, probable length of trial, and other matters relevant to moving the case forward.

Statute: The written law; legislatively enacted law. The Wisconsin Statutes are available online or in print at any public or law library.

Statute of Limitations: The time within which a plaintiff must begin a lawsuit (in civil cases) or a prosecutor must bring charges (in criminal cases). There are different statutes of limitations at both the federal and state levels for different kinds of lawsuits or crimes.

Statutory Construction: Process by which a court seeks to interpret the meaning of language of a statute.

Stay: A court order halting a judicial proceeding or previous ruling.

Stipulated Dismissal: A court order dismissing a lawsuit upon agreement of the parties. If the agreement is not kept, the dismissal may be vacated and a judgment entered.

Stipulation: An agreement by attorneys (or parties appearing Pro Se) on both sides of a civil or criminal case about some aspect of the case; e.g., to extend the time to answer, to adjourn the trial date, or to admit certain facts at the trial.

Strike: Highlighting in the record of a case, evidence that has been improperly offered and will not be relied upon.

Sua Sponte (soo'-ah spon'-tee): Literally, "of one's own accord; voluntarily." Voluntary, without prompting or suggestion.

Subpoena (sah-pee'-nah): Literally, "under penalty." A court order compelling a witness to appear and testify.

Subpoena Duces Tecum (sah-pee'-nah doo'-seez tay'-kahm): A court order commanding a witness to bring certain documents or records to court.

Substitution of Judge: Either party or the court may request a substitution of a judge assigned to a case at a preliminary hearing or prior to any motions being made before the trial court and before arraignment. See Wis. Statute ' 971.20 for more information.

Summary Judgment: A decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented for the record without a trial. It is used when there is no dispute as to the facts of the case, and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Summoned: To receive an official letter or notice that citizens are required to make themselves available for jury service for a specific period of time.

Summons: A notice to a defendant that he or she has been sued or charged with a crime and is required to appear in court.

Support Trust: A trust that instructs the trustee to spend only as much income and principal (the assets held in the trust) as needed for the beneficiary's support.

Suppress: To forbid the use of evidence at a trial because it is improper or was improperly obtained. See also "exclusionary rule."

Surety Bond: A bond purchased at the expense of the estate to insure the executor's proper performance. Often called a "fidelity bond."

Survivorship: Another name for "joint tenancy."

Sustain: A court ruling upholding an objection or a motion.


Tangible Personal Property Memorandum (TPPM): A legal document that is referred to in a will and used to guide the distribution of tangible personal property.

TAP: Treatment Alternative Program. An alternative to incarceration.

Temporary Order: An order by a judge or commissioner for a temporary period of time. Most common in divorce or paternity actions.

Temporary Relief: Any form of action by a court granting one of the parties an order to protect its interest pending further action by the court.

Temporary Restraining Order (TRO): A judge's order forbidding certain actions until a full hearing can be held. Usually of short duration. Most common in domestic abuse and harassment cases. See also "Injunction"

Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): According to WI Statute ' 48.40(2), the severing of rights, powers, privileges, immunities, duties and obligations existing between parent and child, pursuant to a court order, voluntarily or involuntarily in the best interests of a child.

Testamentary Capacity: The legal ability to make a will.

Testamentary Trust: A trust set up by a will.

Testator: Person who makes a will (female: testatrix).

Testimony: The evidence given by a witness under oath. It does not include evidence from documents and other physical evidence.

Third Party: A person, business, or government agency not initially actively involved in a legal proceeding, agreement, or transaction, but may be at a later time.

Third-Party Claim: An action by the defendant that brings a third party into a lawsuit.

TIME: Transaction Information for Management of Enforcement. Wisconsin's electronic law enforcement communications system.

Title: Legal ownership of property, usually real property or automobiles.

Tort: An injury or wrong committed on the person or property of another. A tort is an infringement on the rights of an individual, but not founded on a contract. The most common tort action is a suit for damages sustained in an automobile accident.

TPR: Termination of Parental Rights

TR: Traffic

Transcript: A written, word-for-word record of what was said, either in a proceeding such as a trial or during some other conversation, as in a transcript of a hearing or oral deposition.

Trial Court: See "Circuit Court"

TRO: Temporary Restraining Order

Trust: A legal device used to manage real or personal property, established by one person (the "grantor" or "settlor") for the benefit of another (the "beneficiary"). A third person (the "trustee") or the grantor manages the trust.

Trust Agreement or Declaration: The legal document that sets up a living trust. Testamentary trusts are set up in a will.

Trustee: The person or institution that manages property put in trust.


Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA): See chapter 822 of the WI Statutes.

Uniform Divorce Recognition Act (UDRA): See WI Statute ' 767.22

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA): See chapter 769 of the WI Statutes.

Unlawful Detainer: A detention of real estate without the consent of the owner or other person entitled to its possession.

Unsecured: In bankruptcy proceedings, for the purposes of filing a claim, a claim is unsecured if there is no collateral, or to the extent the value of collateral is less than the amount of the debt.

Usury (yoo'-zhah-ree): Charging a higher interest rate or higher fees than the law allows.

UWPD: University of Wisconsin Police Department


Vacate: To set aside. To vacate a judgment is to set aside that judgment.

Venire (veh-neer'): 1. A writ summoning persons to court to act as jurors. 2. Also refers to the people summoned for jury duty.

Venue: The proper geographical area (county, city, or district) in which a court with jurisdiction over the subject matter may hear a case.

Verdict: A conclusion, as to fact or law, which forms the basis for the court's judgment. A general verdict is a jury's finding for or against a plaintiff after determining the facts and weighing them according to the judge's instructions regarding the law.

VINE: Victim Information and Notification Everyday. A telephone-based system designed to provide crime victims with information on jail custody status and scheduled court events.

Vital Records Office: State of Wisconsin Bureau of Vital Records, which is responsible for filing, preserving, protecting, changing, and issuing copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates for events that occur in Wisconsin; office located at 1 W. Wilson St. Room 158, (608) 266-1374

Vital Statistics Form: See "certificate of divorce or annulment"

Voir Dire (vwahr deer'): Literally, "to speak the truth." Process of questioning potential jurors so that each side may decide whether to accept or oppose individuals for jury service.

Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment: A form signed by the parents which is a conclusive determination of paternity and has the same effect as a judgment of paternity entered by a court, if it is on file with the state vital records office on or after April 1, 1998 and not rescinded after 60 days.


Waiting Period: According to WI Statute ' 767.083, in a divorce action, there is a 120-day waiting period starting from the day after the joint petition is filed, or summons and petition is served, to the day when the final hearing or trial can be held.

Waiver: Intentionally giving up a right.

Waiver of Immunity: A means authorized by statue by which a witness, before testifying or producing evidence, may relinquish the right to refuse to testify against himself or herself, thereby making it possible for his or her testimony to be used against him or her in future proceedings.

Warrant: Most commonly, a court order authorizing law enforcement officers to make an arrest or conduct a search. An affidavit seeking a warrant must establish probable cause by detailing the facts upon which the request is based.

Will: A legal declaration that disposes of a person's property when that person dies.

With Prejudice: Applied to orders of judgment dismissing a case, meaning that the plaintiff is forever barred from bringing a lawsuit on the same claim or cause.

Without Prejudice: A claim or cause dismissed without prejudice may be the subject of a new lawsuit.

Witness: 1. A person who testifies to what he or she has seen, heard, or otherwise experienced. 2. A person who observes the signing of a will and is competent to testify that it is the will maker's intended last will and testament.

Writ (rit): A judicial order directing a person to do something.

Writ of Certiorari (rit ahv ser-shee-a-rair'-ee): An order issued by a higher court directing the lower tribunal to transmit records for a case for which it will hear on appeal. See also "certiorari"