Legal Terms

Appellate law

The Constitution and federal statutes divide the United States Supreme Court’s jurisdiction into two main categories: original jurisdiction (which is the power to hear cases as an initial matter) and appellate jurisdiction (which is the power to hear cases on appeal from lower federal courts or from state courts). At the state level, appeals are heard by the Massachusetts Appeals Court or the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.


A court event that formally begins the criminal judicial process. It is important not to miss an arraignment date.


An incident where the police take you to a jail because of legal violations which you are accused of doing. When you are “under arrest”, you are not free to leave when you want. In these circumstances, it is best to say nothing, and ask for a lawyer.


A “Charge” is an important document given to you by the police listing the statues or laws you violated according to the police. Do not lose this document.

Child Custody and Child Support

The care, control, and maintenance of a child, which a court may award to one of the parents following a divorce or separation proceeding (see Divorce for more details).

Child Abuse

Physical, sexual, emotional mistreatment, or neglect of a child on the part of a parent or caretaker, resulting in the death, serious physical, or emotional harm.


Another court event. An attorney may enter motions which may change the course of the judicial proceeding.


A formal termination of a domestic relationship involving marriage. It concerns contracts, money, and property. It is a proceeding in the Massachusetts Probate and Family court. It involves many different areas of law.

Domestic Violence or Abuse

Any abusive, violent, coercive, forceful, threatening act or word inflicted by one household member on another.

Family law

Family law includes issues relating to children, parents, grandparents, guardians, or any long-standing relationship in a household.

Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)

A GAL is a person who represents the best interest of another, usually a child, and can be involved in criminal matters, divorces, and other family matters.


To immigrate is to enter this country for the purpose of permanent residency.


Larceny is the taking of something of value without the permission of the owner, with the intent to permanently deprive him or her of the value of the property taken. Grand Larceny and Petty Larceny are terms that relate to the value of the property taken.


A formal request for a ruling by a judge. (See Ruling for details.)


These acronyms are used to denote “Operating Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol”. A client charged with operating under the influence (OUI), sometimes referred to as “DUI” (driving under the influence) or “DWI” (driving while intoxicated), may be asked to take a breathalyzer test, field sobriety test, or other procedures that the police may administer.

Police Report

This is an important document given to you which provides what the arresting police officer claims happened. Do not lose this report.

Plea Bargain

This is an agreement between the prosecuting attorney and you (or your attorney who is helping to resolve the charge). A judge must formally enter the request into the judicial process, which is not always guaranteed.


A formal admission that you did what is alleged.

Restraining Order

A restraining order is an official command issued by a court to refrain from certain activity. A restraining order is usually requested by the plaintiff.


A ruling is a decision by a judge on a case or legal question.


A document served to you personally or by mail. It claims you violated a law. Do not lose this document.

Wills and Trusts

A Will is a document that specifies the method to be applied in the management and distribution of a person’s estate after death. A Trust is a relationship created at the direction of an individual in which one or more people holds and protects the individual’s property subject to certain directions from the individual.

Youthful Offender

A child or adolescent who has committed or is accused of committing a crime.