Glossary P




parole - The supervised, conditional release of a prisoner.

parties - The persons who are actively involved with the prosecution or defense of a legal proceeding. Plaintiffs and defendants are parties to lawsuits, appellants and appellees are parties in appeals. (They may also be known as petitioners and respondents.)

patent - A government grant giving an inventor the exclusive right to make or sell his or her invention for a term of years.

peremptory challenge - A motion to reject a juror for an unspecified race-neutral reason. May only be used a limited number of times.

perjury - The criminal offense of making a false statement under oath.

personal property - Tangible physical property (such as cars, clothing, furniture, and jewelry) and intangible personal property, but not real property--that is, not land or rights in land.

personal recognizance - When a person is released from custody before trial on his or her promise to return for further proceedings.

petit jury - The twelve (or fewer) jurors selected to sit in the trial of a civil or criminal case.

petitioner - Person filing an action or appealing from a lower court's judgment.

plaintiff - A person who brings an action; the party who complains or sues in a personal action and is so named on the record. The person who files the complaint in a civil lawsuit.

plea - The defendant's declaration of guilty or not guilty, in response to the criminal charges contained in the information or indictment.

plea bargain - The process by which an accused person agrees to plead guilty to some of the charges in return for the government's promise to drop some of the charges.

pleadings - Written statements of fact and law filed by the parties to a lawsuit. Comprised of complaints, answers and replies.

polling the jury - A practice whereby the jurors are asked individually whether they agreed, and still agree, to the verdict.

Pour-over will - A will that leaves some or all estate assets to a trust established before the will-maker's death.

precedent - Previously decided case that guides future decisions.

prejudicial error - Synonymous with "reversible error"; an error that warrants the appellate court in reversing the judgment before it.

preliminary hearing - Criminal hearing at which a judge determines whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant trying an individual charged with a crime.

preponderance of evidence - The greater weight of evidence, or evidence that is more credible and convincing to the mind, but not necessarily the greater number of witnesses.

pre-sentence investigation - An inquiry conducted at the request of the court after a person has been found guilty of a criminal offense. Provides the court with extensive background information to determine an appropriate sentence.

presumption - A rule of law that courts and judges will draw a particular inference from a particular fact, or from particular evidence.

pretermitted child - A child born after a will is executed, who is not provided for by the will. Most states have laws that provide for a share of estate property to go to such children.

Pre-trial conference - A meeting in which attorneys for both sides meet the judge in advance of the trial to seek to clarify or narrow the issues.

prima facie case - The minimum amount of evidence a plaintiff must produce to overcome a motion to dismiss.

principal - In criminal law, one who commits an offense, or an accomplice who is present during the commission of the crime. In commercial law, the amount received in loan, or the amount upon which interest is charged. In the law of agency, one who has permitted or engaged another to act for his or her benefit, in accordance with his or her direction and subject to his or her control.

probable cause - Reasonable belief that an individual has committed a crime.

probate court - The court with authority to supervise estate administration.

probate estate - Estate property that may be disposed of by a will.

probation - A sentencing alternative to imprisonment in which the court releases convicted defendants under supervision as long as certain conditions are observed.

pro se - A Latin term meaning "on one's own behalf"; in courts, it refers to persons who present their own cases without lawyers.

prosecutor - Government lawyer who tries criminal cases.

public defender - Lawyer employed by the government to represent individuals accused of crimes who cannot afford to hire their own attorney privately.

puffing - A statement of belief not meant as fact; a seller's extravagant statements to enhance his wares and induce others to buy the product. Salesmanship talk, characterized as puffing, cannot be the basis of a charge of fraud or express warranty, since the buyer is said to have no right to rely on sales talk.