Understanding the Law for Kids

By Scott Grabel

Laws are another word for rules. Families and schools have rules in place to keep everyone safe and to take care of people. Countries, states, and cities also have rules to protect people, and these rules are called laws. Understanding the law, for kids and adults alike, is important, because everyone needs to understand laws in order to follow them. Some legal words can sound complicated. But, when you understand these words, you can better understand the law.

Action - Action is another word for a lawsuit, which involves one party suing another party. An action could happen because of something someone has done or it could also happen to prevent something from happening.

Arrest - Police arrest someone when they charge the person with a crime and take the person into custody.

Bail - After a person is charged with a crime, the court may set bail for the person's release. Bail is money that the person has to pay before he or she is released from police custody. It also helps guarantee that the person will come back to court to face the charges.

Case - A case is another word for a lawsuit.

Charge - The formal accusation of a crime against someone is known as the charge.

Civil - Lawsuits that do not involve a criminal charge are civil cases. Examples of civil lawsuits include divorces and small claims lawsuits.

Complaint - The party starting a lawsuit issues a complaint to the court, which explains the problem and tells what the party wants.

Conviction - A person found guilty of committing a crime has a conviction.

Defendant - The party who is charged with a crime in a criminal case is the defendant.

Dismissal - A judge may decide to end a case, which results in a dismissal.

Evidence - Lawyers gather information that supports their cases, which is called evidence. Evidence might include documents, objects, or the things people may say.

Felony - A felony is a criminal offense that typically includes violence for which a person may be charge and committed. Felonies often have specific punishments, including imprisonment or death.

Incarceration - A person convicted of a crime may be incarcerated in a jail or a prison, which means that the person can't leave until the incarceration period ends.

Injunction - A judge may issue an injunction toward a person or a company. This court order commands the person or company either to stop doing a specific act or to start doing it.

Judge - The judge is the man or woman who listens to cases and makes decisions. Judges may be appointed by governors or presidents, or they may run for election.

Judgment - A judgment is the decision or order made by a judge or a court.

Jury - A jury is a group of people, one's peers, who are chosen to listen to a case and make a decision regarding a defendant's guilt based on the evidence submitted to the court.

Juvenile - A juvenile is a person who is younger than 18.

Litigant - A litigant is a party involved with a lawsuit or case.

Minor - A minor is another word for a juvenile, a person under than age 18.

Motion - If a party to a lawsuit or the judge makes a request for a ruling, this is known as a motion.

No Contest - A defendant might enter a no contest plea in a criminal case. This means that the person is not admitting guilt, but the person could still be convicted of the crime.

Oath - A witness or a party in a case will need to swear or affirm that what they say is true. This is known as taking an oath.

Order - A court or a judge may give a written direction, known as an order. The order can tell someone to do something, or it can tell someone not to do something.

Party - The plaintiff and defendant are parties to a case.

Perjury - If a person does not tell the truth while under oath, this person would be guilty of perjury, which is a crime.

Plaintiff - The plaintiff is the person who begins a civil lawsuit. This person might also be called the petitioner.

Plea - The person accused of a crime will need to enter a plea. The possible pleas include guilty, not guilty, and no contest.

Probation - A person convicted of a crime might be sentenced to probation. This sentence involves a set period of supervision by a probation officer. If the criminal does not cooperate with probation, the person might then face incarceration.

Rest - When the plaintiff party finishes showing the court the evidence, this party will rest, which means they are done.

Sentencing - After a trial and conviction, the defendant will need to face the judge for sentencing. The judge sentences a convicted criminal by ordering the punishment.

Stay - A stay stops a court proceeding temporarily.

Testimony - Someone who is under oath in a court will make statements, which are known as testimony.

Witness - A person called to testify in a case is called a witness.

By understanding these legal terms, you can follow any case from opening statements to closing arguments and any rulings made by the judge. You'll also be better prepared to serve on a jury if called upon. Each adult over the age of 18 may be subject to jury duty. Juveniles are exempt from this responsibility.