To understand how the law applies to your situation, you first need to understand the specialized terms used by lawyers and judges to describe the law.
Known as legalese, these legal words and phrases can often seem obscure or overly complex, but that's why we're here. Our ongoing series Legalese From A to Z breaks down these words, letter by letter. This week, we take a look at some legal terms beginning with the letter "J":
Jail. Jails are just like prisons right? Actually there's a big difference between jail and prison. Jails are short-term facilities under the jurisdiction of a local government or a county. Prisons, on the other hand, are facilities run by either the state or federal government where those convicted of more serious crimes go to serve longer sentences, typically of longer than one year.
Jeopardy. "Jeopardy" is a killer game show. And in common usage, jeopardy means being in danger or under imminent threat. In the legal context, however, jeopardy refers to the danger of being convicted once a person's criminal trial has begun. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits a person from being placed in "double jeopardy" for the same offense, meaning that once legal proceedings have begun against a person tried of a crime, that person under most circumstances cannot be retried for that offense.
Joint and several. Joint and several refers to legal rights or duties that are owned by two or more parties together, but also separately. For example, in negligence cases in which more than one defendant is found liable for a plaintiff's injuries, joint and several liability allows a plaintiff to recover the full amount of damages from one of the defendants, which then makes it the defendant's responsibility to seek contributions from other defendants.
Jury nullification. Jury nullification occurs when a jury disregards instructions made by the judge regarding the law as well as their own factual findings to find a defendant not guilty. Jury nullification typically occurs when a jury finds the law under which a defendant is charged unfair or believes the defendant does not deserve to be punished for his acts despite having committed the crime in question.
If you need help with defining a legal word or phrase, check out FindLaw's Legal Dictionary for free access to more than 8,000 definitions of legal terms. Or just wait for next Sunday, when Legalese From A to Z will break down five more legal terms you may not know, beginning with the letter "K."