Terminology: Knowing Your Latin
a priori: The assumption that a thing is true without need for proof. For example, the assumption that one will awaken after falling asleep. The opposite of a posteriori.
ad hoc: For one purpose only, such as a committee formed to solve one problem, then dissolved once the problem has been dealt with.
ad valorem: Literally "based on value"; property taxes based on percentage of county's assessment of the property's value.
affidavit: Any written document in which the signer swears under oath that the statements in the document are true.
amicus curiae: Latin for "friend of the court"; oftentimes the name of a brief filed by an interested party or organization on behalf of the argument of a case.
bona fide: In good faith.
caveat: A caution or warning; often used by lawyers to mention to a hidden problem or defect.
certiorari: A term referring to a type of writ seeking judicial review. A Writ of Certiorari is an order by a higher court directing a lower court to send up the record in a given case for review.
corpus: Latin for the body. In law, corpus is generally used to describe the principal of an estate or fund.
corpus juris: The body of law, either of an entire country or of a particular court.
corpus juris civilis: Latin for 'Body of Law', or the collection of all laws.
de facto: Latin for "in fact;" often used in place of the word "actual."
de jure: Latin for "lawful."
dictum: Latin for "remark;" a comment expressed in a ruling that does not bear direct reference to the case at hand.
ergo: therefore, because, hence, consequently, etc.
ex officio: By virtue of the office held.
ex post facto: Latin for "after the fact"; Legally this refers to something that comes into law, but was not previously a crime. The US Constitution (Article I, Section 9) prohibits the application of new laws to acts committed previous to the enactment of the new law.
habeas corpus: Latin for "you have the body"; This is a writ mandating that law enforcement officials to appear before a judge with a prisoner in custody to determine whether the prisoner is lawfully imprisoned.
in loco parentis: Latin for "instead of a parent"; This phrase refers to an individual in care of a minor.
locus: Latin for "place"; refers to where an instance occurred.
(writ of) mandamus: Latin for "we order"; compels a public agency to perform an act after it has refused or neglected to do so.
nolo contendere: Latin for "I will not contest"; a plea of no contest.
non sequitur: Latin for "it does not follow"; when a conclusion does not match the facts.
obiter dicta: Comments by a judge not necessary for a decision.
parens patriae: Latin for "father of his country"; doctrine that government is the ultimate guardian of all children or people under a disability.
per capita: Latin for "by head"; determining something based on the number of people participating.
per curium: Latin for "by the court"; a per curiam decision is a ruling issued collectively by a group or panel of judges of an appellate court. The decision is published as a decision of the court, and the authorship of the decision is not indicated.
per diem: Latin for "per day"; payment of daily expenses of an employee.
prima facie: Latin for "at first look"; evidence presented before trial is sufficient to prove a case.
pro tem: Short for "pro tempore."
pro tempore: Latin for "for the time being"; a judge serving in a position temporarily.
quasi: Latin for "as if"; things are not exactly as one would assume.
quid pro quo: Latin for "something for something"; each party in an agreement expects something from the other.
quo warranto: A writ to challenge a right to public or corporate office.
seriatim: Latin for "one after another"; a term typically used to indicate that a court is addressing multiple issues in a certain order.
stare decisis: Latin for "to stand by a decision"; used to describe the legal principal that precedents - previously argued cases and court decisions - are to be followed by subsequent courts.
writ: A written order by a judge.