Glossary D




damages - Monetary compensation that may be recovered in the courts by any person who has suffered loss, detriment, or injury to his or her person, property or rights, through the unlawful act or negligence of another.

decision - The judgment reached or given by a court of law.

declaratory judgment - A judgment that declares the rights of the parties or expresses the opinion of the court on a question of law, without ordering anything to be done.

decree - A decision or order of the court. A final decree is one that finally disposes of the litigation; an interlocutory decree is a provisional or preliminary decree that is not final.

defamation - That which tends to injure a person's reputation. Libel is published defamation, whereas slander is spoken.

default - Occurs when a defendant does not file the proper response within the time allowed or fails to appear at the trial.

defendant - In a civil case, the defendant is the person against whom the lawsuit is brought. In a criminal case, the defendant is the person accused of committing the crime.

deliberation - The process by which a jury reaches a verdict at the close of a trial.

demur - In some state courts, to file a pleading (called a demurrer) admitting the truth of the facts in the complaint, or answer, but contending they do not make out a cause of action.

de novo - Latin for anew or afresh. A "trial de novo" is the retrial of a case. A "de novo" standard of review permits an appellate court to substitute its judgment for that of a trial judge.

deposition - An oral statement made before an officer authorized by law to administer oaths. Before trial, such statements are often taken to examine potential witnesses and to obtain information.

descent and distribution statutes - State laws that provide for the distribution of estate property of a person who dies without a will. Same as intestacy laws.

direct examination - The first interrogation of a witness by the party on whose behalf he or she is called.

directed verdict - An instruction by the judge to the jury to return a specific verdict because one of the parties failed to meet its burden of proof.

discovery - The pre-trial process by which each party ascertains evidence the other party will rely upon at trial.

dismissal - A court order terminating a case. May be voluntary (at the request of the parties) or involuntary.

dissent - A term commonly used to denote the disagreement of one or more judges of a court with the decision of the majority.

district attorney - A state government lawyer who prosecutes criminal cases. Also referred to as a prosecutor.

district courts - U.S. district courts are trial courts. State district courts are also often trial courts of general jurisdiction.

diversion - The process of removing some minor criminal, traffic, or juvenile cases from the full judicial process, on the condition that the accused undergo some sort of rehabilitation or make restitution for damages. Diversion may take place before the trial or its equivalent, as when a juvenile accused of a crime may consent to probation without an admission of guilt. If the juvenile completes probation successfully (takes a course or makes amends for the crime), then the entire matter may be expunged (erased) from the record.

docket - A log containing brief entries of court proceedings and filings of legal documents in a case.

domicile - The place where a person has his or her true and permanent home. A person may have several residences, but only one domicile.

donor - The person who sets up a trust. Also known as its grantor or settlor.

double jeopardy - The common-law and constitutional prohibition against more than one prosecution for the same crime, transaction or omission.

due process - United States law in its regular course of administration through the courts. The constitutional guarantee of due process requires that everyone receive such constitutional protections as a fair trial, assistance of counsel, and the rights to remain silent, to a speedy and public trial, to an impartial jury, and to confront and secure witnesses.

duress - Refers to conduct that has the effect of compelling another person to do what he or she would not otherwise do. It is a recognized defense to any act, such as a crime, contractual breach or tort, all of which must be voluntary to create liability or responsibility.