Puppy Lemon Law in Pennsylvania

You may already be familiar with Pennsylvania’s Lemon Law for cars, but did you know there are protections for dog owners? Sometimes known as Puppy Lemon Law, the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law includes a provision for Dog Purchaser Protection. This can be found in 73 Pa. Stat. § 201-9.3.

What is protected under Puppy Lemon Law?

Puppy Lemon Law seeks to protect dog purchasers from sellers and pet shops who try to sell unhealthy puppies. Dogs often become beloved family members, so, as a consumer, you have a right to know the health of your new dog at the point of purchase. Dog sellers are required, by Pennsylvania law, to provide you with certain records that guarantee your dog is in good health.

Health Certificate

At least 21 days before the sale, the dog seller must provide you with either a guarantee of good health that they have signed or a health certificate from a veterinarian. Both of these should certify that the dog is:

  • Free of any contagious or infectious illness,
  • Free of any congenital or hereditary defect, and
  • Free of parasitic infestation at the time of the exam.

The veterinarian must sign and date this certificate. They must also provide their name and address. If the seller opts to give you a guarantee of good health, that must include a clear statement that this does not warrant a veterinarian examination and you should be encouraged to bring your dog to a vet as soon as possible after the purchase. The seller should give this information to you verbally and in writing.

Health Record

At the time of the sale, the dog seller must provide you with a health record that contains information about the dog’s:

  • breed,
  • sex,
  • date of birth,
  • color and markings,
  • vaccinations (if administered),
  • record of known illness, disease, or condition,
  • and parasitical medicine (if administered).

The health record should also include the name, address, and signature of the person selling you the dog. They should ensure that all of the information provided to you in the health record is true to the best of their knowledge.

What happens if your dog turns out to be “unfit”?

If your puppy dies or is certified as “unfit” by a veterinarian within 10 days of your purchase date, you have a few options available to you under the law. You are eligible to:

  • Return the dog and receive a full refund (minus sales tax),
  • Exchange the dog for another dog of similar value (if one is available), or
  • Keep the dog and receive reimbursement for treatment to cure or correct the issue. The reimbursement will not exceed the purchase price (excluding sales tax).
    • If the veterinarian declares that the dog cannot be cured, you will not receive reimbursement for the cost of caring for a sick or dying animal. The only compensation you will be entitled to are a return or exchange.

Are there protections for purebreds?

If the dog is advertised as a purebred, the seller has 120 days to provide you with the proper registration and documentation to prove this. The seller may extend this time period if the dog is being imported, but they must notify you in writing and provide you with a reasonable estimate of when the documents will arrive. If you do not receive the documentation by the 120th day, and the seller has not notified you of an extension, you may do one of the following:

  • Return the dog for a full refund (minus sales tax), or
  • Keep the dog and receive a 50% refund.

Puppy Lemon Law & the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law

The Puppy Lemon Law is considered part of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. The UTPCPL is a very powerful shield to protect consumers. If you bring a claim under the UTPCPL, you will not only receive your actual damages in terms of money. You may also be entitled to receive what we call “treble damages” – meaning, three times your actual damages as a sort of punishment. And if the case is particularly egregious, involving, for example, conscious and deliberate fraud, a systemic pattern of fraud, or abuse of a vulnerable population, you may receive even more damages as punishment for the offender. Very importantly, a claim under the UTPCPL can net you your attorney’s fees in addition to all other damages, providing access to justice for those who might not be able to sustain a lawsuit on their own.

What happens when someone violates Puppy Lemon Law?

If you have been scammed by dog seller, you can take legal action against them. For help with your Puppy Lemon Law case, contact the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm. We’ll work on your behalf to get you the compensation you deserve. Call us today to get started.

How to Prevent Dog Bites

Dog bites are an unfortunately common type of personal injury. Many adults have suffered from dog bites, but it’s actually more common for children to be the victims. As a pet owner, you bear the responsibility for injuries caused by your dog. If your dog is determined to be dangerous, this can lead to extra responsibility and stress for both you and your dog. Dog bites are preventable, though. Below are some tips you can follow to help protect your dog and others and avoid a dog bite altogether.

Train and Socialize Your Dog

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can teach a young dog how to interact with people. Socializing dogs can help them to interact safely with a variety of adults, children, and animals. Training dogs to obey commands like sit, come, stay, and down can also help keep everyone safe and calm in social settings. In most cases, it’s better to train your dog when he or she is still a puppy. If you have a rescue or an older dog, talk to your veterinarian or a dog behaviorist about ways to train your dog.

Lower Your Dog’s Aggression through Routine Care

Giving your dog ample time to exercise and play will help lower your dog’s aggression. Spaying or neutering your dog will also help with this. If your dog isn’t feeling well or is in pain, he or she may begin to feel anxious or angry, which can lead to aggression. Routine care, like regular vet visits, can help to keep your dog healthy and happy.

Educate Others on How to Approach Your Dog

If you have friends or family coming to visit, give them a heads up about your dog’s behavior. Maybe your dog loves meeting new people but can get a little too excited if approached in a certain way. Maybe your dog is skittish and new people make him or her nervous. Whatever the case, telling others how to approach your dog can help your dog feel safe and your visitors have good interactions with the dog.

Avoid Situations that Put Your Dog or Others at Risk

When you’re out and about with your dog, don’t leave him or her unsupervised. Don’t allow infants or small children to be unsupervised around your dog either. Keep your dog on a leash if you’re out for a walk or visiting a dog park. If your dog doesn’t handle crowds well, keep him or her at home and away from busy events. Knowing your dog and understanding the situations he or she can handle will help you determine what’s risky from what’s safe.

Watch Your Dog’s Body Language

As the dog’s owner, you are responsible for knowing and understanding your dog’s body language. Look out for signs of fear or aggression to determine if you need to remove your dog from a certain situation. If your dog displays unusual behaviors, you can always consult a professional to help you determine the cause and put your dog at ease again.

If you get into a legal bind, Cornerstone Law Firm can help.

The attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm can help you stay up to date on dog laws in Pennsylvania and protect your rights as a dog owner. If you need legal help, give us a call. We’d be happy to review your case and discuss your options.

What is the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact?

The Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact (IWVC) is an agreement between states established to protect wildlife resources. Originally created in 1989, IWVC created standards for states to follow when a non-resident violates wildlife laws in that state. States that are members of IWVC are permitted to treat people who commit violations as if they were state residents rather than bogging down local law enforcement with arresting, booking, and bonding these individuals.

IWVC also created a channel for states to inform other member states when a violation has been committed. Because of this, individuals can be held accountable in their home state, as well as other member states. So, if you were to commit a hunting violation in another state and that state revokes your hunting license, it will also be revoked in your home state.

Member states can also honor revocations from the individual’s home state. In Pennsylvania, if you are charged with a hunting violation and your hunting privileges are revoked, the state will give other member states an Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact Notification. This means that Pennsylvania will inform other member states that you do not currently have hunting privileges in Pennsylvania. Should you choose to hunt in another state during the time of your revocation, you will need to contact that state’s fish and game department to determine if you are eligible for hunting in that state. Under IWVC, this applies to a revocation of hunting privileges, furtaking privileges, and fishing privileges.

Who is a member of IWVC?

All 50 states in the United States are members of IWVC.

Does this apply to both hunting and fishing licenses?

While Pennsylvania has separate licenses for hunting and fishing, some states combine those into one license. If you have committed a hunting violation in Pennsylvania and you attempt to obtain a fishing license from a state with a combined license, your hunting violation may bar you from being able to obtain the combined license.

Call Cornerstone Law Firm for help.

If you’ve been charged with a hunting violation, your hunting privileges may be at risk. Pennsylvania can revoke your hunting license for up to 3 years for any hunting violation. Cornerstone Law Firm has experience in defending hunters’ rights. Call us today to set up a consultation about your hunting case.

Transferring Your LLC

A Limited Liability Company, or LLC, is a corporate entity that protects your legal liability when making business decisions. But what happens if you want to move or expand your business to another state? Whether you are relocating and wanting to bring your business with you, or you are looking to operate your business in more states, transferring your LLC might be the answer. There are three methods for transferring your LLC which we will discuss in this article. They are Domestication, Merging, and Dissolution.

Domestication

In Pennsylvania, Domestication allows for two options. You can either add Pennsylvania as a jurisdiction in which your LLC operates, or you can remove the LLC from Pennsylvania by moving jurisdictions. Either option can allow the LLC to operate in both Pennsylvania and an additional state. The Domestication process can also allow you to operate in several states.

When starting this process, you will need to submit a Statement of Domestication, along with a Domestication Plan to Pennsylvania’s Department of State. You may also need to provide additional documents including:

  • A Docking Statement Form,
  • Articles of Incorporation,
  • A Certificate of Organization,
  • A Statement of Registration,
  • Tax Clearance Certificates,
  • And other optional provisions.

Domestication can be a complex process. It’s important to consult with an experienced business attorney to ensure your LLC can operate in multiple jurisdictions.

Merging

Merging is another way to expand your LLC’s reach. Let’s say you want to operate your LLC in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Merging means that you would combine your existing Pennsylvania LLC with a new LLC set up in New Jersey. At the end of the process, there will be one LLC with the property and financial obligations from both of the previous Pennsylvania and New Jersey LLCs. Similar to Domestication, you will need to file documentation with the Department of State. When merging LLCs, you will need a Plan of Merger, which will spell out the new terms for your merged LLC. This plan will serve as an agreement between the two companies so they can operate as one.

Dissolution

The third and final method you can use to transfer your LLC is through a process known as Dissolution. At the end of the Dissolution process, your original LLC will cease to exist. If you are choosing this route, you will most likely follow the process of Voluntary Dissolution.

In Pennsylvania, Voluntary Dissolution requires the LLC to “wind up its business” (15 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8872 (2023)). This basically means you’ll need to tie up any loose ends. This may include paying off your LLC’s debts, finishing active business with clients, and distributing any remaining assets to members. If, when forming your LLC, you did not set up rules for the dissolution, you will follow Pennsylvania’s default rules.

Pennsylvania’s default rules require all LLC members to consent to the dissolution of the LLC for the process to move forward. You must obtain tax clearance certificates from both the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and Department of Labor and Industry. Lastly, you must file for dissolution by submitting a Certificate of Dissolution to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Additional Considerations

While transferring an LLC can be a good way to expand your business, you should be aware that it may come with new tax implications. Different states have different tax laws for things like sales tax, property tax, employment tax, and other relevant fees and requirements. Along with an attorney, you should consult with a tax professional who can explain your financial obligations.

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm for help.

Transferring an LLC can be a complex process. Between the various methods and the rules of different jurisdictions, it can be difficult to know which steps you should take. The business attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm can help. We’ll help you assess which method is best for your business and work with you to transfer your LLC. Contact us with any questions or to schedule a consultation for transferring your business.

The Right to Reputation in Pennsylvania

In the Pennsylvania Constitution, the right to reputation is listed among other rights like life, liberty, possession of property, and the pursuit of happiness. While the exact reason for including this right is unknown, it is clear that the writers of Pennsylvania’s Constitution intended for it to carry similar weight as the more familiar rights originally listed in the Declaration of Independence. Under state law, the right to reputation can extend to both individuals and businesses.

Protections for Individuals

As an individual in Pennsylvania, you have the right to protect your reputation. This can apply to defamation cases and in cases where your reputation may be put in jeopardy by a state-sanctioned report. It also means you have the right to protect whether or not your name and likeness are used for commercial purposes.

Protections Against Defamation, Libel, and Slander

Defamation cases are cases in which false statements have been made about you and those statements have caused damage to your reputation. This can include libel (false statements made in writing) or slander (false statements that are spoken). Because you have the right to protect your reputation, you can bring a civil action against an individual who has defamed your character. You may be entitled to receive compensation for any damages, and, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to demand a retraction as well.

Right to Due Process in Responding to State-Sanctioned Reports

Although the right to reputation has been part of Pennsylvania’s Constitution since 1790, it was rarely cited for court decisions until Simon v. Commonwealth in the mid 1990s. In Simon v. Commonwealth, George M. Simon and Eugene P. Weisman filed a complaint against the Pennsylvania Crime Commission. The Commission was investigating organized crime within the bingo industry and published a state-sanctioned report on their findings. Neither Simon nor Weisman were privy to this report, and they did not have a chance to defend their reputation before it was published.

Since this case, Pennsylvania courts have required that organizations who are publishing state-sanctioned reports must give notice to individuals whose reputations may be harmed by the report. This notice should provide individuals with due process. In most cases, this includes publishing a written statement from the individual along with the report.

Protections Against Unauthorized Use of Name and Likeness for Commercial Purposes

If someone uses your name or likeness (or your minor child’s name or likeness) for commercial purposes without first obtaining your consent, you can file suit against them. In most cases, the lawsuit will bar the individual or business from further using of your name or likeness. If harm has come to your reputation because of this commercial use, you may be able to collect compensation. Commercial use, in this case, refers to promoting a business, service, good, or merchandise, selling a product, or fundraising. Most Plaintiffs who file suits of this kind already have some level of notoriety, but that is not a requirement.

If your name and likeness have been used without your consent, or if other harm has been done to your reputation, call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm. We will work to defend your rights and seek just compensation for any damages you’ve incurred.

Protections for Businesses

Like individuals, businesses also have a right to reputation. If your business’s reputation has been damaged by someone’s false statements, you can pursue legal action against them. The broad term for a business tort of this kind is “commercial disparagement.” This covers a range of reputational harm, including:

  • Trade Slander—Trade slander, or slander of goods, refers to spoken statements about a business or its products/goods that harms the reputation of the products or business.
  • Trade Libel—Trade libel refers to false statements about a business or its products that are published in writing and harm the business’s reputation.
  • Unfair Competition—Unfair competition refers to unethical or deceptive business practices. This can include false advertising, trademark infringement, and other defamatory actions that can give one business an unfair advantage.
  • Tortious Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage—This is also sometimes called “interference with prospective business advantage.” It refers to situations in which a third party intentionally interferes with a business’s relationship with another party.

No matter the type, if your business has been targeted by commercial disparagement, you should speak with an experienced attorney like the ones at Cornerstone Law Firm. We can work with you to defend your business’s reputation and help you get back on your feet after any damages have been suffered. Call us today.

Do I have too much debt to file for bankruptcy?

You don’t have too much debt for bankruptcy!

There is no such thing as having “too much debt” to file for bankruptcy. Sometimes, individuals believe their debt problems are too severe to get bankruptcy relief from the federal courts. But the entire purpose of bankruptcy is to provide a fresh start for people who are overwhelmed with debt and unable to pay their bills. Regardless of the amount of debt you have, bankruptcy is an option worth exploring.

Oddly, having too little debt is usually the major question. Too little debt means that you might not have enough liabilities to make it “worth it” to go through the whole process to have a bankruptcy discharge. Instead, you may need to negotiate your debt or set up payment plans. But excessive debt does not prevent you from filing.

Negotiating debts has the added advantage of rehabilitating your credit score in some cases, where bankruptcy will sink it for a while. But if your debt is large enough for you to ask whether it is too large, bankruptcy may be right for you.

There are limits on the type of debt that can be discharged in bankruptcy, and some types of debt, such as student loan debt, are generally non-dischargeable. Additionally, there are eligibility requirements for each type of bankruptcy, so it’s important for you to understand the requirements and eligibility criteria for the type of bankruptcy you are considering. But the quantity of debt doesn’t bar the door of the courthouse.

Bankruptcy protection is also unavailable to “serial filers.” There are limits on how often you can file for bankruptcy. Under federal law, you must wait eight years after filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy before you can file another Chapter 7 bankruptcy. For Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must wait two years after a previous Chapter 13 discharge and four years after a previous Chapter 7 discharge before you can file another Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Are you afraid you have “too much debt” to file for bankruptcy? You may be a great candidate after all. Contact the bankruptcy attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your situation and how bankruptcy or debt consolidation can work for you.

Relocating your kids when you have a custody order

Moving your kids when you have a custody order is about as painful as custody was in the first place. Whether you are a parent with primary custody, partial custody, or joint custody, you know that living with custody orders means living with the constant possibility of court supervision of your parenting. If you want to move to a new location, there may be significant impacts on your custody or visitation arrangements. Custody relocation can create direct conflict between the custodial parent’s desire to move and the non-custodial parent’s desire to maintain a relationship with their child.

In determining whether relocation is possible or right for you, we should begin by considering what form of custody relocation you’re considering. It is in-state, out-of-state or international? Obviously the distance you’re relocating has a dramatic impact on how to approach the matter, legally.

Forms of Custody Relocation

In-State Relocation: In-state relocation occurs when the custodial parent wishes to move to another city or region within the same state or jurisdiction. In Pennsylvania, if you’re moving from one school district to another, you will need the agreement of the other parent and potentially of the court. Even if the move is within a school district, if it’s a move a great distance away from the other parent, you may still need agreement or a court order.

Out-of-State Relocation: Out-of-state relocation occurs when the custodial parent wishes to move to a new state or jurisdiction. Relocating to a new state often comes with more stringent legal requirements since it will directly affect the non-custodial parent’s ability to maintain visitation and parental involvement. Of course, a move just across a state line is less serious than a move across the country. Out-of-state relocations also mean that the jurisdiction that will have control over future custody modifications will likely change. That sort of change of venue has to be approved by the court.

International Relocation: International relocation occurs when the custodial parent wishes to move to another country with the child. This becomes even more complicated, as international custody laws must be considered. Treaties and international conventions can control many of the rules in these scenarios, and such relocations are generally disfavored by the courts.

How to Handle Custody Relocation

Handling a custody relocation case typically involves the following steps:

  1. Providing Notice—If you are seeking relocation, you must provide formal notice to your co-parent and the court. This notice should include your proposed move, why you are moving, and revised parenting plan or visitation schedule. This should include some give and take—a co-parent will likely not want to hear that the schedule and custody plan have to change because of your new job or other opportunity.
  2. Raising Objections—If you are the non-custodial parent and you would like to object to the move, you can do so. If there is no agreement, the case has to be taken through the courts to get judicial approval.
  3. Attending Mediation—You and your co-parent may need to attend mediation to try and reach an agreement on relocating and modifying custody or a visitation plan.
  4. Attending a Court Hearing—If you are unable to reach an agreement through mediation, you and your co-parent will need to attend a court hearing. During this hearing, you and your co-parent will both have opportunities to present any evidence or arguments in support of or opposition to the relocation and its impact on your child’s best interests.
  5. Applying the Best Interests Standard—The court’s primary consideration in custody relocation cases is the best interests of the child. The court will weigh factors like the reason for the move, the relationship between the child and both parents, the child’s age, any educational needs, and other relevant factors when determining whether the move is in the child’s best interest.
  6. Receiving the Decision—The court will determine whether the relocation is allowed and whether any modifications to the custody or visitation arrangement are necessary.

You need caring representation to protect your child’s best interests.

Relocation cases can be emotional, but they are always important. The family law attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm can help you evaluate your options and consider what’s ahead. If you are looking to file a petition for custody relocation or to object one, call us. We can help you mediate with your co-parent, present your case, and protect your parental rights while providing the best outcome for your child. Call us today to set up a consultation.

Updated Dog Law in Pennsylvania

On October 23, 2023, Gov. Josh Shapiro signed into law Senate Bill 746, which increases penalties for dog owners with dogs that have attacked people or other animals. The stated purpose of this bill is to:

  • improve public safety,
  • improve conditions for dogs in kennels and shelters,
  • ensure dogs that are adopted or purchased aren’t considered dangerous, and
  • help put a stop to infectious diseases among dogs.

Changes to the dog law are set to take effect 90 days after the bill is signed.

What could this mean for you and your community?

The dog law in Pennsylvania ensures that owners of dangerous dogs are held liable if their dog attacks a person or another domestic animal. The updated dog law now requires all dogs to be licensed at the time of purchase. The seller of a dog is required to provide an application for the dog license at the time of purchase. Fees for the license have also been increased. On March 1, 2024, the fee will increase to $8.70. If the dog is spayed or neutered, the prior rate of $6.70 will apply until March 1. However, if the dog is not spayed or neutered, the new cost will apply. A lifetime dog license will also be raised to $52.70 on March 1st as well. If you are looking to purchase a license, The Pennsylvania County Treasurers Office has licenses available for purchase.

How does the new law protect against dangerous dogs?

If a person fails to license their dog, fines now range from $100 to $500, as well as court costs. The licensing requirements are geared at preventing stray dogs and illegal puppy mills. It also allows the Department of Agriculture to monitor dangerous dogs. Criminal penalties will also be increasing as well. Fines range from $500 to $1,000 for summary offenses and $1,000 to $5,000 for misdemeanors. If an owner’s dog is found to be dangerous and attacks again, owners will be required to find and pay for a kennel. The dog is to remain at the kennel during court until a final decision is made.

How does the new law effect kennel owners?

Kennel licenses are also set to increase on March 1, 2024. Kennels who decide to put a dog up for adoption or sale are now required to place the license number in the advertisement as well. Breeder information, vaccination, medical documentation and any known attack on a human or other domestic animal must be disclosed to the buyer. Any new dogs brought into the Commonwealth must be kept isolated for 14 days.

We Can Help

If you have questions about the updated law or if you’ve been bitten by a dangerous dog, call Cornerstone Law Firm today. We’d be happy to set up a consultation to discuss your matter and rights.

What is Dram Shop Liability?

When you’ve been injured by a driver who drank and drove, it’s not just the driver who is liable. In some cases, the bar that served a driver too much alcohol before turning them loose on the roads is also liable for your injuries. This is called “dram shop liability,” named for an old-fashioned term for bars.

Dram shop liability is a common law principle that holds establishments that serve alcohol liable for the damages caused by drunk patrons after they leave the establishment. This includes situations where someone leaves the bar drunk and gets into a car accident and kills a family member of someone else. In those situations, the family of the person who was injured or killed may sue not only the actual drunk driver, but also the bar that served them excessive alcohol. Dram shop liability in Pennsylvania requires showing that the bar was aware that the person was intoxicated and continued serving alcohol beyond the legal limit. This is fact specific injury and is generally only attachable against the bar, not against the bar’s insurance.

Determining whether the bar knew the person was intoxicated can be difficult, but surveillance footage, witnesses, and the person’s own testimony can contribute to proving the case. Bars are governed by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, and there are regulations about when they can serve alcohol. When a customer is visibly inebriated, that person should not be served any more alcohol.

One of the reasons that insurance does not typically cover these situations is because it is considered an intentional tort. That means that the actions taken by the bar were reckless or intentional, rather than merely negligent.

It’s not just bars that are covered, by the way. Hotels, restaurants, and any other establishments that serve alcohol can be liable under these rules.

If you or a loved one has been in a car accident you should consult with an attorney about whether bringing a dram shop action will make the case stronger or weaker. By bringing a dram shop issue into the mix, you risk the possibility that certain insurances will not kick in, which are usually your surest source of recovery in an injury case. Contact the personal injury attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm for a free consultation about your injury.

Common Legal Terms

Almost every field comes with its own set of jargon that really only makes sense to the people in that field. The law is certainly no exception. We’d like to demystify some of that jargon. Below is a list of 50 common legal terms you might encounter and what they mean.

Acquittal—An acquittal occurs when a judge or jury finds a criminal defendant to be not guilty.

Ad hoc—Latin for “for this purpose.” It refers to something created or designed for a specific purpose, and perhaps something done with a clear plan but specific to the task at hand, without precedent.

Ad hominem—Latin for “to the person.” It refers to an attack on an individual’s character instead of addressing an argument.

Admissible—Evidence that may be considered by either a judge or jury during legal proceedings. Admissible evidence must be relevant to the case. That means it must have some logical tendency to prove or disprove a fact at issue. There are certain categories of evidence that are never admissible. If the evidence may not be considered, it is inadmissible.

Affidavit—An affidavit is a written statement made under oath. It is often used as evidence during court cases.

Amicus Curiae—Latin for “friend of the court.” This phrase refers to someone who provides information to the court but is not directly involved with the case.

Arraignment—An arraignment is the first court appearance after a criminal defendant has been arrested. A judge will read the charges against the defendant and obtain contact information to be used for future hearings. The judge may also set bail.

Bail—Money paid to the court that ensures a defendant will appear for court dates.

Bench Trial—This is a trial before a judge without a jury. Bench trials can be faster than jury trials and, in some cases, more strategically advantageous. You may want a bench trial if the issues are novel or involve the complexities of the law a jury might not fully grasp, or if you think the jury will be too emotionally biased.

Brief—This is a written statement that details the facts and arguments of one side of a case. Briefs are submitted during a trial and attempt to persuade the court to take that side.

Burden of Proof—This refers to the obligation to produce evidence and prove a claim in court. For criminal trials, prosecutors must prove a defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means a prosecutor must show no reasonable minds could disagree that the defendant is guilty. For civil trials, plaintiffs must prove their case with a “preponderance of evidence.” A preponderance just means “greater than 50%.” In a civil case, the plaintiff must only prove it is more likely than not that their view of the facts is correct.

Concurrent Sentence—Concurrent sentences are prison sentences that are served at the same time, so that the actual sentence only consists of the longest of the concurrent sentences. Judges use this to sentence a defendant for multiple crimes as part of the same conviction.

Consecutive Sentence—Consecutive sentences are prison sentences that are served one after the other. Rather than serving simultaneously like in concurrent sentences, consecutive sentences take the total of all sentencing time. A defendant has to be paroled or complete one of the consecutive sentences before serving the next, so that a defendant can actually get paroled without serving the time on each specific count but then has to start serving the next count.

De Facto—Latin for “in fact.” This describes something that is true in practice, even if it’s not legally recognized.

De Jure—Latin for “by law.” This describes something that is legally recognized and established, even though it might not be the truth in fact.

Defamation—This refers to a false statement that harms an individual’s reputation and leads to legal claims for damages. There are two common types of defamation: libel and slander. Libel refers to false statements that are made in writing. Slander refers to false statements that are made orally.

Defendant—A defendant is the party being charged in either a criminal or civil lawsuit.

Discovery—Discovery refers to the process by which parties in a lawsuit gather and exchange evidence and information before going to trial.

Docket—This refers to a log of the history of each case tried in a court. There are typically brief entries in chronological order that summarize what happened during the proceedings.

Double Jeopardy—A legal principle that prevents an individual from being tried or punished twice for the same crime in the same jurisdiction. The protections provided by double jeopardy are meant to prevent an individual from being unfairly targeted or harassed by the legal system. There are some exceptions, like differing jurisdictions (state v. federal), mistrials, and/or appeals.

Due Process—This is the right to a fair and impartial legal process. What “process” is “due” can be complex and subtle. It will depend on how important the rights at stake in the “process” are. But almost always, due process requires notice to the person who could be harmed by the process, an opportunity to present their evidence, and a right to a neutral, impartial decisionmaker. Due process in a criminal case involves many different rights for the defendant. It can also involve civil matters such as loss of a driver’s or professional license, taxation, or changes in human-services benefits.

Ex Parte—Latin for “from one party.” This refers to a legal proceeding in which only one party is present.

Felony—A felony is a criminal charge reserved for the most severe types of crime. There are three grades (First Degree Felony, Second Degree Felony, and Third Degree Felony) that determine any jail time and/or fines associated with each criminal charge.

Habeas Corpus—Latin for “You shall have the body.” Habeas Corpus is a writ that protects an individual’s right to not be unlawfully detained. It requires the government to prove it has a right to detain a person. But after trial, the writ of Habeas Corpus disappears, and the defendant must seek relief through the Post-Conviction Relief Act procedure.

In Camera—Latin for “in private.” This refers to closed-door proceedings, or proceedings that take place in front of a judge and away from a jury or the public. These often involve the court questioning a minor or reviewing sensitive documents that might or might not need to be disclosed in discovery.

In Forma Pauperis—Latin for “in the manner of a poor person.” This refers to a legal status granted to individuals who cannot afford court fees. It is intended to ensure individuals who lack financial means are not denied access to legal rights and remedies.

Indictment—An indictment is a formal charge, often reserved for felonies, issued by a grand jury after the grand jury has reviewed a prosecutor’s evidence. A grand jury is like a trial before a trial. The prosecutor must present evidence of suspicion to the grand jury, and if the grand jury determines there is sufficient evidence that the defendant may be guilty, the case will then go to a trial.

Injunction—An injunction is a court order requiring one party to either refrain from specific actions or perform specific actions. Examples of injunctions include restraining orders, cease-and-desist orders, and requirements that a neighbor remove an obstruction that is interfering with an owner’s property.

Ipso Facto—Latin for “by the fact itself.” This term describes something that occurs as a result of an action.

Jurisdiction—This refers to a court’s legal or geographical authority to hear and decide certain cases. Without jurisdiction, no action a court can take will be legitimate or have authority. The court requires jurisdiction both over the person and over the issue, the subject matter of the dispute.

Jury—A jury is the group of people selected to hear a trial and render a verdict. Jurors are summoned from motor vehicle and voter registration lists. They will then be questioned by the attorneys from both sides and the judge to determine if any biases exist. Criminal trials typically have 12 jurors and civil trials can have anywhere from 6 to 12 jurors.

Lien—A lien is a legal claim made against an individual’s property in order to secure payment of a debt. If you sell property subject to a lien, the lien must be paid out of the sale price to clear the property for the next owner. A lien may also allow the lienholder to force the sale of the property to satisfy the lien.

Litigation—Litigation refers to a legal case or lawsuit. Plaintiffs and defendants can be referred to as litigants, and attorneys are litigators.

Mens Rea—Latin for “guilty mind.” This refers to the intent or mental state behind a criminal act. In the American legal system, a conscious intent to commit a crime with a guilty state of mind is almost always required, particularly for serious offenses. Mens rea may refer to a state of mind like intent to commit the crime, or a person causing harm recklessly or negligently. Some crimes—like murder—have complicated schemes where different mens rea lead to different levels of guilt. Others do not, such as parking, traffic, and alcohol-related offenses. It does not matter what your intent is if you are caught speeding, for instance.

Miranda Rights—Rights read to an individual who has been taken into custody before any interrogations take place. These are an extension of Fifth Amendment rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that interrogations in police custody are so inherently psychologically coercive that the individual must be given these notices to protect their right not to incriminate themself. This is actually a unique facet of the American legal system. For instance, if a person wishes to stop answering police questioning, the police must stop. This is not true in many countries.

Misdemeanor—A misdemeanor is a criminal charge reserved for crimes that are worse than summary offenses but not as bad as felonies. There are three degrees of misdemeanors that determine any jail time and/or fines associated with each criminal charge.

Nolo Contendere—A Latin term that translates to “I do not wish to contend it.” A nolo contendere is a criminal plea in which the defendant does not admit guilt but accepts punishment, saying the evidence is sufficient to convict them without admitting they did, in fact, commit the crime. People sometimes use these where an admission to actually committing the crime could lead to a civil lawsuit.

Plaintiff—A plaintiff is the person filing a lawsuit in civil law.

Plea Bargain—An agreement between a prosecutor and defendant that resolves the case without going to trial. A plea agreement will usually include a specific sentence compromised between prosecutor and defense counsel. The courts usually honor these agreements for sentence.

Power of Attorney—A Power of Attorney is a legal document that grants authority to one person (an agent) to act on behalf of another person (a principal) in legal and financial matters. These often involve people who are legally incapacitated for one reason or another, such as due to health concerns.

Prosecution—Prosecution refers to the government’s attempt to prove a person guilty of a crime at trial.

Pro Bono—Latin for “for the good.” This refers to legal work that is done for free or at a reduced cost for the benefit of society, usually by an attorney volunteering.

Pro Tempore—This is sometimes shortened to “pro tem.” It’s a Latin phrase that means “temporary” or “for the time being.”

Quid Pro Quo—Latin for “something for something.” This refers to a reciprocal exchange of something of value.

Sanction—A sanction is a penalty, punishment, or coercive measure imposed by the court when an individual fails to comply with regulations. Sanctions can range from fines, orders, and restrictions to suspensions from the practice of law, and even imprisonment.

Statute of Limitations—This refers to the time limit an individual has to initiate a legal action. In most cases, once the statute of limitations has run out, the right to sue has been lost.

Subpoena—Latin for “under penalty.” A subpoena is a legal order for someone to appear in court as a witness or to produce evidence.

Tort—A tort is a civil (not criminal) wrong that leads to a lawsuit for damages.

Warrant—A warrant refers to the authorization from a court given to law enforcement to arrest someone or conduct a search.

Writ—A writ is a formal written order issued by a court.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, We Solve Problems. If you’re in a legal dispute, call us. We’d be happy to review your case and help you pursue the best outcome possible.