Delaware Muncipal Court
Municipal Court
Legal Terms 

Many times, the words used in court documents are unfamiliar and confusing. Below are some terms commonly used in the Delaware Municipal Court. If you have other questions regarding legal terminology, Black’s Law Dictionary, a reference book found in most law offices and in our public library, would be very helpful.

action, case, cause, suit, lawsuit
These terms all refer to a proceeding in a court of law.
acquit
To find a defendant not guilty in a criminal trial.
affidavit
A written or printed statement of facts signed by an individual and notarized. Affidavits are used in many aspects of the court and are often filed with court documents.
answer
A written reply to a complaint, prepared by an individual or an attorney, which is filed in Court.
argument
After all the evidence of a lawsuit is heard on both sides, the lawyers tell the jury what they think the evidence proves and why they think their side should win. This is an “argument” or “summing up.” It is not evidence.
arraignment
The first court appearance for a Defendant. At the arraignment, the Defendant is informed of his rights, asked whether he requires an attorney, and informed of the charges against him/her. At the arraignment, the Defendant is asked to enter a plea of Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest.
attachment
A seizure of property or funds by a court-assisted process.

bench
The area of a courtroom where the judge sits while court is in session.
bond
Security, either in the form of money or personal recognizance that is placed with the Court in order to insure that the Defendant will appear in Court for a hearing. If the Defendant fails to appear, the bond money may be forfeited and a warrant issued for the arrest of the Defendant. Bond is also referred to as “Bail”.
bound over
The transfer of a felony case to the appropriate Court of Common Pleas when the Defendant either waives a Preliminary hearing or goes forward with the Preliminary Hearing and the judge finds that there is probable cause that the Defendant committed the offense.
burden of proof
This term refers to which side is obligated to prove the facts of the case.

case number
The number which has been assigned to a civil or criminal complaint. Most courts use a system which indicates the year of filing and identifies the matter as either civil, criminal, or traffic, in the case number.
cause of action
A legal claim.
challenge for cause
A request by a party that the court excuse a specific juror on the basis that the juror is in some way biased.
charge
A formal accusation that someone has committed a criminal offense.
citation
A ticket issued by a police officer for minor offenses, such as traffic matters, which also specifies the date and time that a Defendant must appear in Court for an arraignment.
civil complaint
A written statement, which is either prepared by an attorney or by the Plaintiff, which tells the Court that a claim exists favoring the Plaintiff. A Civil Complaint includes the signature of the maker, a demand for judgment, and the names and addresses of both Plaintiff(s) and Defendant(s).
closing argument
After all the evidence of a lawsuit is heard on both sides, the lawyers tell the jury what they think the evidence proves and why they think the jury should find in favor of their client. This is an “argument” or “summing up.” It is not evidence.
complaint
The first pleading in a civil case stating facts and demanding relief.
continuance
A request by a Plaintiff, Defendant, or attorneys in a case, made to re-schedule a hearing or trial for cause.
counterclaim
A claim presented by the defendant in a civil case alleging that the plaintiff owes damages to the defendant.
crime
Conduct declared unlawful by a legislative body and for which there is a punishment of a jail or prison term, a fine, or both.
criminal complaint
A written statement of the facts alleging that a crime has been committed by the Defendant. The Complaint usually includes the state statute or city ordinance of the crime, and the severity of the crime.
cross-examination
An attorney's questioning of a witness called to testify by the other side in the case.

damages
Compensation (usually monetary) awarded to someone who has suffered loss, detriment, or injury to their person, property, or rights.
defendant
The person charged with a crime in a criminal complaint, or who is alleged to owe funds to the Plaintiff in a civil complaint.
deliberations
The discussions of the jury which occur after the judge has instructed you to retire to the jury room and consider your verdict.
direct examination
Questions which the lawyers ask their own clients or witnesses called.
docket
A list of legal cases to be heard during a court session.

evidence
Any form of proof legally presented at a trial, including records, documents, photographs, and testimony of witnesses.
exhibit
A paper, document, or other physical object presented to the court as evidence during a trial which are then given to the jury to take to the jury room while deliberating.

felony
A crime in Ohio, which can have extensive jail time and fines. Felonies are not handled in a Municipal Court and are bound over to the appropriate Court of Common Pleas.

garnishment
The attachment or seizure of personal wages through a court-assisted process.

hung jury
A jury whose members cannot agree on a verdict.

jury instructions
After all the evidence is in, and the lawyers have made their arguments, the judge outlines the questions to be decided and states the issues you must decide. The judge outlines the rules of law which must guide your deliberations.

litigant
An individual who brings or defends a lawsuit.

minor misdemeanor
A criminal offense in Ohio, which cannot have a penalty imposed of more than $100.00 and no jail time.
misdemeanor
A Misdemeanor is a crime in Ohio which cannot have a penalty imposed of more than $1,000.00 and one year in jail. There are four different levels of Misdemeanors in Ohio (excluding the minor misdemeanor above), each having specific jail sentences and fines. See the link “Your Rights in Court” for a chart on Misdemeanor offenses.
mistrial
An erroneous or invalid trial. A mistrial is usually declared because of an error in the proceeding or when there was a hung jury. Cases that end in a mistrial have to be tried again at a later date.

not guilty plea
In a criminal charge, this is a general denial by the charge as to the facts presented in the complaint. Entering a not guilty plea begins the process toward a formal trial of the issues presented in the case. Upon the entering of a not guilty plea, the case will be referred for the assignment of a judge and the scheduling of further proceedings by the court.

offense
A violation of a criminal or traffic law which results in a citation or complaint.
opening statement
Before introducing any evidence in the case, the lawyer tells the jury what the case is about and what evidence is expected to be brought in to prove that side of the case. It is not evidence.

parties
The plaintiff and defendant in the case – also called the “litigants”.
peremptory challenge
A procedure used in jury selection that allows an attorney to reject a prospective juror without having to give a reason for the dismissal. Each side is allowed a limited number of peremptory challenges.
perjury
Lying under oath, which is a criminal offense.
personal recognizance
A written promise by a Defendant that he will appear in Court for a specified hearing.
plaintiff
The person who makes a complaint against another person. In criminal cases, the state or local municipality is listed as the Plaintiff in a complaint.
plea
The response made by a Defendant to charges filed in a criminal or traffic complaint. The three forms of pleas acceptable in Court are “Guilty”, “Not Guilty”, or “No Contest”.
pleadings
Formal, written allegations by both sides of their claims.
preponderance of evidence
The general standard of proof in civil cases. The weight of evidence presented by one side is more convincing to the trier of facts than the evidence presented by the opposing side.
pretrial
A meeting with the prosecutor scheduled after your arraignment in which you or your attorney attempt to resolve your case before going to trial.
probable cause
A reasonable belief that a crime was committed and the person accused of the crime was responsible. A probable cause hearing is held in felony matters.
probation
Instead of sentencing a Defendant to jail, the judge may place him/her on probation which is a supervised form of release for a specified period, which may be as long as five years. While under probation, the Defendant must report to a court officer and maintain good behavior.
purge
The process by which a Defendant voluntarily comes to Court to take care of a warrant or a show cause hearing.

rest
The lawyer concludes the evidence to be introduced at that stage of the trial.

search warrant
A written order issued by a judge or magistrate, directing a law enforcement officer to search a specific location for specific things or individuals.
settlement
The conclusion of a legal matter; a compromised agreement between opposing parties in a civil suit before judgment is made, eliminating the need for a judge or jury to resolve the conflict.
show cause
A hearing held to determine if a Defendant should be found in contempt of Court for failure to follow a previous Court order. A finding of contempt can carry additional fines or jail time, as determined by the Judge.
stipulation
An agreement by the attorneys that certain facts are true. Facts that have been stipulated do not need to be proven in the trial.
subpoena
A document containing a written command that you must appear and give testimony. The subpoena contains a time and place for the testimony to take place, and it may be in a Court or, many times, at an attorney’s office.
summons
A Court notice telling you to appear in Court at a particular time and place.

testimony
Any statement made by a witness under oath in a legal proceeding.

verdict
The formal decision made by a judge or jury regarding the outcome of a case.
voir dire
(Pronounced “vwar-deer”) “To speak the truth.” The process of selecting jurors for a trial in a particular case. The prospective jurors are questioned and a decision is made following the questioning whether to accept or reject a juror.

waiver of time
A document signed by a Defendant or his/her attorney in a traffic or criminal matter which allows the case to continue beyond thirty (30) days.
warrant
A Court order to arrest you and hold you in custody until you appear in Court before the Judge.