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Glossary of Legal Terms D

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DAMAGES: money awarded by court to a person for injury or loss suffered by the unlawful act or negligence of another.

DE FACTO: In fact. Exercising power as if legally constituted.

DE JURE (dee JOOR ee): by right; by the law. Exercising power in accordance with the law. Compare de facto.

DE NOVO (deh NO vo): anew. a "trial de novo" is a new trial of a case.

DECENDENT: person who has died.

DECISION: judgment reached or given by a court.

DECLARATORY JUDGMENT: judgment in a civil case that declares rights and responsibilities of the parties or interpretation of the law without awarding damages or requiring action. E.g., a court may be asked to issue a declaratory judgment on constitutionality of a statute or whether an insurance policy covers a given activity. Usually requested by plaintiffs in order to avoid future legal difficulties.

DECREE: order of the court. A final decree fully and finally disposes of litigation. An interlocutory decree settles the preliminary or subordinate points or pleas, but not the entire case.

DEFAMATION: harming the reputation of another by making false statements to a third party, thus exposing the individual to ridicule, hatred, contempt, or condemnation. May be criminal or civil. Includes libel and slander.

DEFAULT: failure to fulfill a legal or contractual obligation.

DEFAULT JUDGEMENT: judgment entered against a defendant who does not respond to a claim or does not appear at trial.

DEFENDANT: in a civil case, the person being sued. In a criminal case, the person charged with a crime.

DEMURRER (dih MUR rer): motion still used in Pennsylvania to dismiss a civil case because the complaint is legally insufficient. In most states this is now called a motion to dismiss.

DEPONENT: one whose deposition is being taken.

DEPOSE: to testify, bear witness. Also, to examine a witness via deposition.

DEPOSITION: sworn testimony of a witness taken under oath outside of court. Also, the session at which such testimony is recorded.

DESCENT AND DISTRIBUTION STATUTES: state laws that provide for distribution of estate property when a person dies without a will. Same as intestacy laws.

DIRECT EVIDENCE: proof of facts by witnesses who saw acts done or heard words spoken, as distinguished from circumstantial, or indirect, evidence.

DIRECT EXAMINATION: first questioning of a witness by the party who called him/her.

DIRECTED VERDICT: instruction by judge to jury to return a specific verdict, usually because one of the parties failed to prove its case.

DISBARMENT: form of disciplining a lawyer whereby he/she loses, permanently or temporarily, the right to practice law.

DISCLAIM: to renounce one's legal rights or claims.

DISCOVERY: pretrial process by which one party reveals, at other party's request, relevant information about the litigation.

DISMISSAL: termination of a lawsuit. A "dismissal without prejudice" permits the suit to be filed again at a later time. A "dismissal with prejudice" prevents the lawsuit from being re-filed later.

DISSENT: disagreement by one or more appellate court judges with the decision of the majority.

DIVERSION: process of removing certain minor criminal, traffic, or juvenile cases from full judicial process on condition that accused undergo some sort of rehabilitation or training, e.g., job training. If defendant completes probation successfully, the charges may be dropped.

DOCKET: list of cases to be heard by court. Also, log containing brief entries of court proceedings.

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

DOUBLE JEOPARDY: putting a person on trial more than once for the same crime. Forbidden by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

DUE PROCESS OF LAW: right of all persons to receive guarantees and safeguards of law and judicial process. Includes such constitutional rights as adequate notice; assistance of counsel; and rights to remain silent, to a speedy and public trial, to an impartial jury, and to confront and secure witnesses.


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