LEGAL DICTIONARY

 

V

vacate 
v. 1) for a judge to set aside or annul an order or judgment which he/she finds was improper. 2) to move out of real estate and cease occupancy. 

 

vagrancy 
n. moving about without a means to support oneself, without a permanent home, and relying on begging. The same is true of "loitering."

 

valuable consideration 
n. a necessary element of a contract, which confers a benefit on the other party. Valuable consideration can include money, work, performance, assets, a promise or abstaining from an act.

 

variance 
n. 1) an exception to a zoning ordinance, authorized by the appropriate governmental body such as a planning commission, zoning board, county commissioners or city council. 2) a difference between what the prosecution has charged and what it has proved against a criminal defendant. 3) a difference between what is alleged in a civil complaint and what is proved. A substantial variance may be fatal to the prosecution's case against the accused or fatal to a plaintiff's (the person who filed the suit) lawsuit. In each case the judge can dismiss the case as a matter of law, without sending the factual issues to the jury. In criminal cases the test of a fatal variance is somewhat stricter than in a civil lawsuit, since a minor difference between the charge and the proof may mislead the defendant and deny him/her "due process."

 

vehicular manslaughter 
n. the crime of causing the death of a human being due to illegal driving of an automobile, including gross negligence, drunk driving, reckless driving or speeding. Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as a misdemeanor (minor crime with a maximum punishment of a year in county jail or only a fine) or a felony (punishable by a term in state prison) depending on the circumstances. Gross negligence or driving a few miles over the speed limit might be charged as a misdemeanor, but drunk driving resulting in a fatality is most likely treated as a felony. Death of a passenger, including a loved one or friend, can be vehicular manslaughter if due to illegal driving.

 

vendee 
n. a buyer, particularly of real property.

 

vendor 
n. a seller, particularly of real property.

 

venire 
(ven-eer-ay) n. the list from which jurors may be selected. 

 

venue 
n. 1) the proper or most convenient location for trial of a case. 

 

verdict 
n. the decision of a jury after a trial, which must be accepted by the trial judge to be final. A judgment by a judge sitting without a jury is not a verdict. A "special verdict" is a decision by the jury on the factual questions in the case, leaving the application of the law to those facts to the judge, who makes the final judgment. A "directed verdict" is a decision following an instruction by the judge that the jury can only bring in a specific verdict ("based on the evidence you must bring in a verdict of 'not guilty'"). A "chance verdict" (decided by lot or the flip of a coin), a "compromise verdict" (based on some jurors voting against their beliefs to break a deadlock) and a "quotient verdict" (averaging the amount each juror wants to award) are all improper and will result in a mistrial (having the verdict thrown out by the judge) or be cause for reversal of the judgment on appeal.

 

verification 
n. the declaration under oath or upon penalty of perjury that a statement or pleading is true, located at the end of a document.

 

vest 
v. to give an absolute right to title or ownership, including real property and pension rights.

 

vested 
adj. referring to having an absolute right or title, when previously the holder of the right or title only had an expectation. Example: after 20 years of employment Akbar Khan's pension rights are now vested.

 

vested remainder 
n. the absolute right to receive title after a presently existing interest in real property terminates. A "vested remainder" is created by deed or by a decree of distribution of an estate given by will. 

 

vexatious litigation 
n. filing a lawsuit with the knowledge that it has no legal basis, with its purpose to bother, annoy, embarrass and cause legal expenses to the defendant. Vexatious litigation includes continuing a lawsuit after discovery of the facts shows it has absolutely no merit. Upon judgment for the defendant, he/she has the right to file a suit for "malicious prosecution" against the original vexatious plaintiff.

 

vicarious liability 
n. sometimes called "imputed liability," attachment of responsibility to a person for harm or damages caused by another person in either a negligence lawsuit or criminal prosecution. Thus, an employer of an employee who injures someone through negligence while in the scope of employment (doing work for the employer) is vicariously liable for damages to the injured person. 

 

vigilante 
n. someone who takes the law into his/her own hands by trying and/or punishing another person without any legal authority. A mother who shoots the alleged molester of her child is a vigilante. 

 

viz 
prep. to wit, or namely. Example: "There were several problems, viz: leaky roof, dangerous electrical system and broken windows."

 

void 
adj. referring to a statute, contract, ruling or anything which is null and of no effect. A law or judgment found by an appeals court to be unconstitutional is void, a rescinded (mutually cancelled) contract is void, and a marriage which has been annulled by court judgment is void.

 

void for vagueness 
adj. referring to a statute defining a crime which is so vague that a reasonable person of at least average intelligence could not determine what elements constitute the crime. Such a vague statute is unconstitutional on the basis that a defendant could not defend against a charge of a crime which he/she could not understand, and thus would be denied "due process" mandated.

 

voidable 
adj. capable of being made void. Example: a contract entered into by a minor under 18 is voidable upon his/her reaching majority, but the minor may also affirm the contract at that time. "Voidable" is distinguished from "void" in that it means only that a thing can become void but is not necessarily void.

 

voir dire 
(vwahr [with a near-silent "r"] deer) n. from French "to see to speak," the questioning of prospective jurors by a judge and attorneys in court. Voir dire is used to determine if any juror is biased and/or cannot deal with the issues fairly, or if there is cause not to allow a juror to serve (knowledge of the facts; acquaintanceship with parties, witnesses or attorneys; occupation which might lead to bias; prejudice against the death penalty; or previous experiences such as having been sued in a similar case). Actually one of the unspoken purposes of the voir dire is for the attorneys to get a feel for the personalities and likely views of the people on the jury panel. In some courts the judge asks most of the questions, while in others the lawyers are given substantial latitude and time to ask questions. Some jurors may be dismissed for cause by the judge, and the attorneys may excuse others in "peremptory" challenges without stating any reason. 2) questions asked to determine the competence of an alleged expert witness. 3) any hearing outside the presence of the jury held during trial.

 

voluntary bankruptcy 
n. the filing for bankruptcy by a debtor who believes he/she/it cannot pay bills and has more debts than assets. Voluntary bankruptcy differs from "involuntary bankruptcy" filed by creditors owed money to bring the debtor before the bankruptcy court.

 

voting trust 
n. a trust which solicits vote proxies of shareholders of a corporation to elect a board of directors and vote on other matters at a shareholders' meeting. A voting trust is usually operated by current directors to insure continued control, but occasionally a voting trust represents a person or group trying to gain control of the corporation.

 

W

waive 
v. to voluntarily give up something, including not enforcing a term of a contract (such as insisting on payment on an exact date), or knowingly giving up a legal right such as a speedy trial, a jury trial or a hearing on extradition.

 

waiver 
n. the intentional and voluntary giving up of something, such as a right, either by an express statement or by conduct (such as not enforcing a right). The problem, which may arise, is that a waiver may be interpreted as giving up the right to enforce the same right in the future. Example: the holder of a promissory note who several times allows the debtor to pay many weeks late does not agree to waive the due date on future payments. A waiver of a legal right in court must be expressed on the record.

 

wanton 
adj. 1) grossly negligent to the extent of being recklessly unconcerned with the safety of people or property. Examples: speeding by a school while it is letting out students or firing a shotgun in a public park. 2) sexually immoral and unrestrained. 

 

ward 
n. 1) a person (usually a minor) who has a guardian appointed by the court to care for and take responsibility for that person. A governmental agency may take temporary custody of a minor for his/her protection and care if the child is suffering from parental neglect or abuse, or has been in trouble with the law. Such a child is a "ward of the court" (if the custody is court-ordered) or a "ward of the state." 2) a political division of a city, much like a council district.

 

warrant 
1) n. an order (writ) of a court which directs a law enforcement officer, to arrest and bring a person before the judge, such as a person who is charged with a crime, convicted of a crime but failed to appear for sentencing, owes a fine or is in contempt of court. A "bench warrant" is an order to appear issued by the court when a person does not appear for a hearing, which can be resolved by posting bail or appearing. A "search warrant" is an order permitting a law enforcement officer to search a particular premises and/or person for certain types of evidence, based on a declaration by a law enforcement official, including a district attorney. 2) v. to claim to a purchaser that merchandise is sound, of good quality or will perform as it should, or that title to real property belongs to the seller.

 

warranty 
n. a written statement of good quality of merchandise, clear title to real estate or that a fact stated in a contract is true. An "express warranty" is a definite written statement and "implied warranty" is based on the circumstances surrounding the sale or the creation of the contract.

 

warranty deed 
n. a deed to real property which guarantees that the seller owns clear title which can be transferred (conveyed). A "grant deed" generally is a warranty deed, while a "quitclaim deed" is not.

 

waste 
n. 1) any damage to real property by a tenant which lessens its value to the landlord, owner or future owner. An owner can sue for damages for waste, terminate a lease of one committing waste and/or obtain an injunction against further waste. 2) garbage, which may include poisonous effluents.

 

watered stock 
n. shares of stock of a corporation which have been issued at a price far greater than true value. In this case, the actual value of all shares is less than the value carried on the books of the corporation.

 

weight of evidence 
n. the strength, value and believability of evidence presented on a factual issue by one side as compared to evidence introduced by the other side.

 

wet reckless 
n. a plea to a charge of reckless driving which was "alcohol related." A wet reckless results from a plea bargain to reduce a charge of drunk driving when the amount of blood alcohol was borderline illegal, there was no accident and no prior record. The result is a lower fine, no jail time and no record of a drunk driving conviction, but if there is a subsequent drunk driving conviction the "wet reckless" will be considered a "prior" drunk driving conviction and result in a heavier sentence required for a second conviction.

 

whiplash 
n. a common neck and/or back injury suffered in automobile accidents (particularly from being hit from the rear) in which the head and/or upper back is snapped back and forth suddenly and violently by the impact. The injury is to the "soft tissues" and sometimes to the vertebrae, does not always evidence itself for a day or two, and can cause pain and disability for periods up to a year. The degree of injury and the pain and suffering from whiplash are often in dispute in claims and lawsuits for damages due to negligent driving.

 

white collar crime 
n. a generic term for crimes involving commercial fraud, cheating consumers, swindles, insider trading on the stock market, embezzlement and other forms of dishonest business schemes. The term comes from the out-of-date assumption that business executives wear white shirts with ties. It also theoretically distinguishes these crimes and criminals from physical crimes, supposedly likely to be committed by "blue collar" workers.

 

widow 
n. a woman whose husband died while she was married to him and who has not since remarried. A divorced woman whose ex-husband dies is not a widow, except for the purpose of certain Social Security benefits traceable to the ex-husband.

 

widow's election 
n. the choice a widow makes between accepting what her husband left her in his will and what she would receive by the laws of succession. 

 

widower 
n. a man whose wife died while he was married to her and who has not remarried. 

 

will 
n. a written document which leaves the estate of the person who signed the will to named persons or entities (beneficiaries, legatees, divisees) including portions or percentages of the estate, specific gifts, creation of trusts for management and future distribution of all or a portion of the estate (a testamentary trust). A will usually names an executor (and possibly substitute executors) to manage the estate, states the authority and obligations of the executor in the management and distribution of the estate, sometimes gives funeral and/or burial instructions, nominates guardians of minor children and spells out other terms. To be valid the will must be signed by the person who made it (testator), be dated (but an incorrect date will not invalidate the will) and witnessed by two people. A will totally in the handwriting of the testator, signed and dated (a "holographic will") but without witnesses is valid. If the will (also called a Last Will and Testament) is still in force at the time of the death of the testator (will writer), and there is a substantial estate and/or real estate, then the will must be probated (approved by the court, managed and distributed by the executor under court supervision). If there is no executor named or the executor is dead or unable or unwilling to serve, an administrator ("with will annexed") will be appointed by the court. A written amendment or addition to a will is called a "codicil" and must be signed, dated and witnessed just as is a will, and must refer to the original will it amends. If there is no estate, including the situation in which the assets have all been placed in a trust, then the will need not be probated.

 

will contest 
n. a lawsuit challenging the validity of a will and/or its terms. Bases for contesting a will include the competency of the maker of the will (testator) at the time the will was signed, the "undue influence" of someone who used pressure to force the testator to give him/her substantial gifts in the will, the existence of another will or trust, challenging illegal terms or technical faults in the execution of the will, such as not having been validly witnessed. A trial of the will contest must be held before the will can be probated, since if the will is invalid, it cannot be probated.

 

willful 
adj. referring to acts which are intentional, conscious and directed toward achieving a purpose. Some willful conduct which has wrongful or unfortunate results is considered "hardheaded," "stubborn" and even "malicious." Example: "The defendant's attack on his neighbor was willful."

 

willfully 
adv. referring to doing something intentionally, purposefully and stubbornly. Examples: "He drove the car willfully into the crowd on the sidewalk." "She willfully left the dangerous substances on the property."

 

wind up 
v. to liquidate (sell or dispose of) assets of a corporation or partnership. 

 

winding up 
n. liquidating the assets of a corporation or partnership, settling accounts, paying bills, distributing remaining assets to shareholders or partners, and then dissolving the business..

 

wiretap 
n. using an electronic device to listen in on telephone lines, which is illegal unless allowed by court order based upon a showing by law enforcement of "probable cause" to believe the communications are part of criminal activities. Use of wiretap is also a wrongful act for which the party whose telephones were tapped may sue the party performing the act and/or listening in as an invasion of privacy or for theft of information. A wiretap differs from a "bug," which is a radio device secretly placed in one's premises to listen in on conversations or to tape incoming calls without notice to the caller. The same rules of illegality and tort liability apply to "bugging."

 

withdrawal 
n. 1) in criminal law, leaving a conspiracy to commit a crime before the actual crime is committed, which is similar to "renunciation." If the withdrawal is before any overt criminal act the withdrawer may escape prosecution. 2) the removal of money from a bank account.

 

witness 
1) n. a person who testifies under oath in a trial (or a deposition which may be used in a trial if the witness is not available) with first-hand or expert evidence useful in a lawsuit. A party to the lawsuit (plaintiff or defendant) may be a witness. 2) n. a person who sees an event. 3) n. a person who observes the signing of a document like a will or a contract and signs as a witness on the document attesting that the document was signed in the presence of the witness. 4) v. to sign a document verifying that he/she observed the execution of the document such as a will. 

 

witness stand 
n. a chair at the end of the judge's bench on the jury box side, usually with a low "modesty screen," where a witness sits and gives testimony after he/she has sworn to tell the truth. When called to testify the witness "takes the stand." Most witness stands are equipped with a microphone linked to an amplifying system so that judge, attorneys and jury can hear the testimony clearly.

 

words of art 
n. 1) specialized language with meaning peculiar to a particular profession, art, technical work, science or other field of endeavor. 2) jargon known only to people who specialize in a particular occupation.

 

work product 
n. the writings, notes, memoranda, reports on conversations with the client or witness, research and confidential materials which an attorney has developed while representing a client, particularly in preparation for trial. A "work product" may not be demanded or subpenaed by the opposing party, as are documents, letters by and from third parties and other evidence, since the work product reflects the confidential strategy, tactics and theories to be employed by the attorney.

 

workers' compensation acts 
n.statutes which establish liability of employers for injuries to workers while on the job or illnesses due to the employment, and requiring insurance to protect the workers. Worker's compensation is not based on negligence of the employer, but is absolute liability for medical coverage, a percentage of lost wages or salary, costs of rehabilitation and retraining, and payment for any permanent injury (usually based on an evaluation of limitation). Worker's' Compensation Acts provide for a system of hearings and quasi-judicial determinations by administrative law judges and appeal boards. However, if worker's' compensation is granted, it becomes the only remedy against an employer and does not include general damages for pain and suffering. Thus, an injured worker may waive workers' compensation and sue the employer for damages caused by the employer's negligence. If a third party contributed to the damages, the injured worker may sue that party for damages even though he/she receives worker's' compensation, but recovery may be subject to a lien for moneys paid out by the workers' compensation insurance company.

 

world court 
n. the Court of International Justice, founded by the United Nations in 1945, which hears international disputes, but only when the parties (usually governments) agree to have the issue heard and to be bound by the decision.

 

writ 
n. a written order of a judge requiring specific action by the person or entity to whom the writ is directed. 

 

writ of attachment 
n. a court order directing a law enforcement officer to seize property of a defendant which would satisfy a judgment against that defendant. 

 

writ of coram nobis 
: (writ of core-uhm noh-bis) n. from Latin for "in our presence," an order by a court of appeals to a court which rendered judgment requiring that trial court to consider facts not on the trial record which might have resulted in a different judgment if known at the time of trial.

 

writ of execution 
n. a court order to a law enforcement officer to enforce a judgment by levying on real or personal property of a judgment debtor to obtain funds to satisfy the judgment amount (pay the winning plaintiff). 

 

writ of mandate 
(mandamus) n. a court order to a government agency, including another court, to follow the law by correcting its prior actions or ceasing illegal acts.

 

wrongful death 
n. the death of a human being as the result of a wrongful act of another person. Such wrongful acts include: negligence (like careless driving), an intentional attack such as assault and/or battery, a death in the course of another crime, vehicular manslaughter, manslaughter or murder. Wrongful death is the basis for a lawsuit (wrongful death action) against the party or parties who caused the death filed on behalf of the members of the family who have lost the company and support of the deceased. Thus, a child might be entitled to compensation for the personal loss of a father as well as the amount of financial support the child would have received from the now-dead parent while a minor, a wife would recover damages for loss of her husband's love and companionship and a lifetime of expected support, while a parent would be limited to damages for loss of companionship but not support. A lawsuit for wrongful death may be filed by the executor or administrator of the estate of the deceased or by the individual beneficiaries (family members).

 

wrongful termination 
n. a right of an employee to sue his/her employer for damages (loss of wage and "fringe" benefits, and, if against "public policy," for punitive damages). To bring such a suit the discharge of the employee must have been without "cause," and the employee a) had an express contract of continued employment or there was an "implied" contract based on the circumstances of his/her hiring or legitimate reasons to believe the employment would be permanent, b) there is a violation of statutory prohibitions against discrimination due to race, gender, sexual preference or age, or c) the discharge was contrary to "public policy" such as in retribution for exposing dishonest acts of the employer. An employee who believes he/she has been wrongfully terminated may bring an action (file a suit) for damages for discharge, as well as for breach of contract, but the court decisions have become increasingly strict in limiting an employee's grounds for suit.

 

X No word yet

 

Y

your honor 
n. the proper way to address a judge in court. 

 

youthful offenders 
n. under-age people accused of crimes who are processed through a juvenile court and juvenile detention or prison facilities. A youth-ful offender is under the age of 18. Often a court has the latitude to try some young defendants as adults, particularly for repeat offenders who appear to be beyond rehabilitation and are involved in major crimes like murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, rape or aggravated assault. A youthful offender has certain advantages: he/she will be kept in a juvenile prison instead of a penitentiary, is more likely than an adult to get probation, can only receive a maximum prison sentence not to exceed a 25th birthday or some other limitation and cannot get the death penalty.

 

Z

zoning 
n. a system of developing a city or county plan in which various geographic areas (zones) are restricted to certain uses and development, such as industrial, light industrial, commercial, light-commercial, agricultural, single-family residential, multi-unit residential, parks, schools and other purposes. Zoning is the chief planning tool of local government to guide the future development of a community, protect neighborhoods, concentrate retail business and industry, channel traffic and play a major role in the enhancement of urban as well as small-town life