‚ÄčCommon Legal Terms

Affidavit - A written statement made under oath, that declares certain facts.

Answer -
The response to pleadings, complaints, or discovery requests.

Appeal -
When a matter that has been determined or decided in a court is permitted to a higher court for review.  In some instances, an appeal may also be taken from an administrative decision to the tribal court.

Arraignment -
Procedure where an accused is brought into court to plead guilty or not guilty to a criminal charge brought against him/her, after first having been advised of the charge, the potential penalties if convicted, and or his/her rights.

Complaint -
The initial pleading which commences on actions and sets forth a claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.  The complaint, along with a summons, must be served on the defendant/respondent.  Often, a tribal code will allow a citation issued by a law enforcement office to be the "charging document" that starts the criminal action.

Court order -
Direction or command of a court or judge made or entered in writing.

Discovery -
The process through which information necessary for trial is obtained by the parties.

Felony -
Any crime that is punishable by imprisonment of over one year.

Fiduciary duty -
A duty to act for another person's benefit.

Guardian ad litem (GAL) -
A temporary guardian appointed by the court to protect the interest of minors and incapacitated persons who are party to a suit.  A GAL's primary role is to investigate and report to the court.

Gross misdemeanor -
Classification of a type of crime ranked a felony and a misdemeanor in seriousness.

Hearing -
A proceeding that is similar to, but, less formal than, a trial in both procedure and scope.

Immunity -
Exemption from duties which the law generally requires other citizens to perform, i.e. prosecution or from having to testify.

Indian Child Welfare act -
A federal statute that governs adoption and child custody proceedings involving Indian children in state court.  The act seeks to protect Indian children and to promote the welfare of Indian families and communities.  This act originated out of concern for the excessive numbers of Indian children being removed from Indian home and families and placed in foster care.  The act limits state jurisdiction over Indian children in matters of custody.  It does not apply to parental custodial disputes.

Indian Civil Rights act -
An act initially passed by Congress in 1968 (see U.S.C 1303-3) that 1) Confers certain rights in all persons who are under the jurisdiction of a tribal government and 2) Authorizes federal courts to enforce those rights.

Judicial Officer -
A public officer appointed by the government who exercises judicial powers.

Misdemeanor -
a crime punishable by imprisonment of 90 days or less.

Motion -
A request made to the court or judge to obtain a rule or order.

Pleadings -
Declaration by the parties of their claims and defenses that also serves notice of what is to be expected at trial.

Prima facie case -
A case that has enough evidence for plaintiff to prevail unless defendant presents insufficient evidence to the contrary.

Pro se -
A person who does not hire a lawyer or other representative and appears on his own behalf in court.

Remedy -
The relief that is sought by the plaintiff in a lawsuit.  Remedies may include money for damages, performance of a duty, or both.

Service of process -
The act of notifying a defendant that a case has been filed so that he may have the opportunity to appear and be heard.

Subpeona -
A command by the court to appear and give testimony upon a certain matter.

Summons -
The document that declares a civil action has begun, or that charges a person with a criminal offense.

Testimony - 
Evidence presented orally by witnesses  during trials or before grand juries.

Venue -
The proper place where a case may be heard.  Venue is determined by several factors, such as where the action causing the suite arose, jurisdiction and fairness.

Other resources for legal terms and definitions:



Northwest Intertribal Court System

Working for the good of tribes in the Northwest