In order to help you determine and understand your legal rights, it may be helpful to become familiar with several legal terms. Below are some common terms used by attorneys and the legal system in general. As always, you should ask an attorney for a more specific meaning of each of these terms, especially ones that you may be unclear about.
Administrator: The individual or business that deals with the daily details of operating a pension or health benefit plan, such as processing claims for benefits, employee and employer contributions, reports, and record keeping. The administrator is typically recognized in the plan creation documents.
Abscond: To travel covertly out of the jurisdiction of the courts, or to conceal oneself in order to avoid their process.
Accomplice: Individual who voluntarily engages with another in the commission or attempted commission of a crime.
Acquittal: To be found not guilty of a violation of law.
Affidavit: Written statement of fact, signed and sworn to before a person having authority to administer an oath.
Bail: In criminal cases, a sum of money posted by or on behalf of a defendant to guarantee his appearance in court after being released from jail.
Beneficiary: A beneficiary is typically a part of an employee’s family who is protected by the employee benefits insurance plan, and who may be entitled to benefits under the plan.
Caption: The heading or introductory clause of papers connected with a case in court, which shows the names of the parties, name of the court, docket number of the case, etc.
Class Action: Lawsuit brought by a representative member(s) of a large group of people on behalf of all members.
COBRA: COBRA, which stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, is a federal law that requires employers to provide staff members with the chance to receive their same health insurance benefits for up to 18 months after they depart ways with the business.
Competency: A witness’s ability to observe, recall and recount under oath what happened. Criminal defendants must also be competent to stand trial; they must understand the nature of the proceedings and have the ability to assist their lawyers.
Contingency: Payment to an attorney for legal services that depends, or is contingent, upon there being some recovery or award in the case. The payment is then a percentage of the amount recovered—such as 25 percent if the matter is settled, or 30 percent if it proceeds to trial.
Dismissal: Termination of a legal proceeding prior to finding. A dismissal can be with or without prejudice.
Diversion: Procedures for handling relatively insignificant juvenile problems informally, without referral to Juvenile Court. In criminal cases, the formal continuance of a case for a certain length of time, usually a year, with the goal of dismissal if the defendant meets certain conditions.
Eligibility: Different plans have specific requirements about who is eligible to be part of a particular plan. These necessary qualifications can include the employee’s age, or the duration of their employment with the current employer. Usually, a staff member is eligible when he or she turns twenty-one, or has been working with their current employer for one year.
En banc: A proceeding in which the entire membership of an appellate court participates in the decision, rather than leaving the decision to a smaller “panel” of the court’s members. In Utah, the Court of Appeals is prohibited from sitting en banc
ERISA: ERISA, which stands for Employee Retirement Income Security Act, is a federal law that governs worker benefit and retirement plans.
Felony: A serious crime, which is punishable by imprisonment of at least one year, or by execution, or by fine or both fine and imprisonment. It is distinguished from a misdemeanor as the maximum imprisonment for a misdemeanor is less than one year.
Fixed benefit plan: A type of plan in which retirement benefits are calculated from a formula that does not include the amount of time the worker was employed at a business. It could be a specific monetary amount, and it could be based on a fixed percentage of the worker’s wages.
Inadmissible: That which under the established rules of evidence, cannot be admitted or received in court.
Indictment: Written accusation of a grand jury, charging that a person or business committed a crime.
In loco parentis: A person who has custodial/parental responsibility and authority although not actually being a parent (literally: “in place of the parents”). Although this can be established by written contract it is often assumed in common situations; thus a sibling or babysitter may have limited rights to act in loco parentis until the legal custodial parties (parents etc.) can be contacted.
IRC: Also known as the Internal Revenue Code.
Libel: An untrue statement published in print and communicated to a third party with the purpose to damage the reputation of another.
Mens Rea: Mens rea is the Latin term for “guilty mind” used in the criminal law. The standard common law test of criminal liability is usually expressed in the Latin phrase, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which means that “the act will not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty”.
Miranda Rights: A list of rights that police in the United States must read to suspects in custody before questioning them, pursuant to the Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona
Mistrial: Erroneous or invalid trial. Usually declared because of prejudicial error in the proceedings, hung jury, or when the proceedings must be interrupted.
Non compos mentis: Not of sound mind; insane.
Overtime Pay Exemptions: These may include white collar exemption for administrative, professional and executive employees, computer professionals, retail or service organizations and outside salespeople. To be an exempt employee, you must be paid weekly (at least $250 per week) and meet one or more of the exemptions.
Participant: Another different way of referring to an employee or worker, and refers to one that is covered by benefits arranged by their employer.
Plea: A statement made by the defendant as to his/her guilt or innocence to the charge made against him or her.
Plea Bargain: The process by which the accused and the prosecutor negotiate a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case. Such bargains are not binding on the court.
Punitive damages: Lawyers regularly employed by the government to represent people accused of crimes who cannot afford to hire their own. The term may also be used to refer to a private firm receiving public money to defend indigent criminal defendants.
Qualified Plan: A plan that is classified as qualified is one that complies with ERISA guidelines. It requires specific standards of accrual of benefits and vesting, and obedience with “nondiscrimination rules.” This type of plan allows the employer and its workers to the favorable tax treatment provided in the Internal Revenue Code.
Slander: The tort of making false oral statements damaging to another person’s reputation; the oral form of defamation.
Subpoena: Coming from the Latin for “under penalty” (sub poena), a subpoena is a court process used to cause a witness to appear and give testimony, commanding him or her to appear before the court or magistrate therein named, at a time therein mentioned, to testify for the party named, under a penalty therein mentioned. This is formally called a subpoena ad testificandum, to differentiate it from a subpoena duces tecum, which refers to documents.
On proof of service of a subpoena upon the witness, and that he is material, a citation may be issued against him or her for contempt, or (conceivably) a bench warrant for his or her arrest may be issued, if he or she neglects to attend as commanded. The equivalent command to a defendant is a summons.
Tort: A civil wrong (as opposed to a criminal wrong), which may be either intentional or accidental. If someone is driving and hits an unoccupied parked car, they commit a tort in that they have caused a wrong to another party which does not rise to the level of a crime. If they fail to stop at the scene of the accident, they also commit a crime, which is a criminal wrong in addition to, and separate from the tort.
Vesting: A procedure by which contributions to a pension plan for a specific worker may no longer be forfeited. It often requires that the worker be with his or her employer for a fixed amount of time before he or she will be qualified to accept the benefits after retirement.
Waive: To give up a right or claim voluntarily.