Glossary of Words & Phrases

Following are the definitions of some words and phrases that commonly are used in trials:

Action, Case, Suit, Lawsuit

These words mean the same thing. They all refer to a legal controversy brought into court for trial.


Written statement made under oath or affirmation.

Affirm or Affirmation

Some people are opposed to taking an oath, so instead they "affirm." It is a pledge made with a sense of responsibility for the penalty under law for making a false statement.

Amended Pleading

Before the case comes up for trial, or even during the trial, parties sometimes make changes in their pleadings, such as "Amended Complaint," Amended Answer," and so forth.


The paper on which the defendant answers the claims of the plaintiff.


After all the evidence on both sides of a lawsuit is in, the lawyer on each side is permitted to tell the jury what he or she thinks the evidence proves and why his or her side should win. This is usually called an "argument" or "summation."


A court attendant charged with keeping order in the courtroom during a trial. He or she attends to the jury outside the jury room while the jurors are deliberating on a verdict.

Cause of Action

The legal ground on which a party to a lawsuit bases his or her claim is usually referred to as a "cause of action."

Challenge for Cause

When examining a prospective juror, a lawyer may think the juror is prejudiced or incompetent to serve for another reason. The lawyer may then ask the judge to excuse that juror. This process is called challenging for cause.


This is a crime that a criminal defendant is alleged to have committed.


A clerk of court is an officer of the court who keeps its records and accounts and enters in books or on a computer a report of all official proceedings and orders. 

Complaint or Petition

The paper on which the plaintiff sets forth his or her claims against the defendant.

Counterclaim or Cross-Complaint

The paper on which the defendant claims he or she is entitled to damages or other relief from the plaintiff.

Court Reporter

A person who takes down, through the use of a recording device, the actual proceedings of the trial.


Worthiness of belief.


The questions that a lawyer asks the opposing party or a witness who has been called by the opposing party.


The person against whom a lawsuit is started. In a criminal case, this is the person who charged with an offense.


This is a transcript of the testimony of a witness that was given before trial.  It is typed up in a question-and-answer format.

Directed Verdict/Judgment on the Evidence

After the evidence presented by the plaintiff or after the evidence presented by both sides has been heard, the judge may instruct the jury regarding the kind of verdict to return. The jury must return such a verdict. This is called a "directed verdict" or "judgment on the evidence."

Examination, Direct Examination, Examination-in-Chief

The questions that the lawyer asks his or her own client or witnesses.


Articles such as pictures, books, letters, and documents.  If the judge admits them into evidence, they may then be considered by the jury when it makes its decision.

Expert Witness

A witness who has special, scientific, or professional training or experience, such as a doctor, professional engineer, etc.

Grand Jury

A group of six citizens, chosen from county records in the same manner as petit jurors. A grand jury investigates crimes committed in the county and decides whether charges should be filed. If so, it presents indictments to the Court.  

Hung Jury

A petit jury that, having retired to deliberate upon a verdict, has reported that it cannot agree upon a verdict but has not yet been discharged.


A disputed question is referred to as an "issue."

Jury Panel

The whole number of prospective jurors, from which the trial jury is chosen.


The parties to a case.


A pledge made with a sense of responsibility to God.

Opening Statement

Before introducing any evidence, a lawyer is permitted to tell the jury what the case is about and what evidence he or she expects to present in order to prove his or her side of the case.


The plaintiff and the defendant. They are also called litigants. Sometimes there is more than one plaintiff and/or more than one defendant.

Peremptory Challenge

A lawyer may demand that a specified number of prospective jurors be excused. No reason need be given. The judge must excuse the jurors designated. The laws of the state, the rules of the court, and the judge determine the number of such challenges.

Petit Jury

A group of 6 to 12 citizens selected to try a civil or criminal case. Six citizens are generally seated for civil cases and on criminal misdemeanors and Level 6 felonies (the lowest level felonies).  Meanwhile, 12 citizens are seated to hear all other criminal matters.

Plaintiff or Petitioner

The person who files a lawsuit.


Papers filed in a court by the parties, in which the parties state their claims against each other.


The word-for-word record made by the official reporter of all the proceedings at the trial.


A pleading filed by the plaintiff answering any new matter brought up in the defendant's answer.


A legal phrase meaning the lawyer has finished presenting the evidence that he or she wants to introduce at that stage of the trial.


The notice to a witness that he or she is to appear and testify.


The notice to the defendant that he or she has been sued. It is made out by the clerk and most commonly is either served by the sheriff or by the Clerk via certified mail.

Trial Jury

Jurors sworn in as the jury to try a particular case.

Voir Dire (Pronounced vwar deer)

The examination of the prospective jurors by the court and attorneys in order to select jurors to try the case.

The information in this section has been provided courtesy of the Indiana State Bar Association.