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Legalese for Dummies: You’ve Officially Been Summonsed to Read This

June 18, 2015

justiceFor the last three years, I’ve been working in some capacity with the legal field. Though I consider myself slightly above average in the informed adult area, there were still things I didn’t know when it came to the law and legal practices. I suspect the same can be said for any average American. So I decided to give you a little primer on the most commonly used terms in the legal field, so that if perhaps you find yourself in a little conundrum, you don’t make an ass of yourself. By the way, this is NOT legal advice, because I’m not an attorney. But I do highly suggest that you always consult one before you make any decision with legal ramifications.

I can’t tell you how many times folks have called a law office inquiring how much it costs for a “disillusionment.” I always wanted to tell those people that the disillusionment of their marriage was entirely free, but that the cost of ending a marriage depended on how much revenge you wanted to get. However, I figured that would result in my boss losing money, so, I went along with the charade. The correct terms for ending your marriage are dissolution (both parties agree to everything, and I mean EVERYTHING) or divorce (where nobody agrees on anything and you leave it up to a stranger, i.e. the Judge, to decide who gets what). So it goes like this, the disillusionment < dissolution + divorce, except when the disillusionment = revenge, then divorce > dissolution + disillusionment. I know they don’t cover that in high school math, but the Sesame Street reduction is simply that you’re fucked. Don’t get married.

Now, if you find yourself in some legal trouble that isn’t of the domestic variety, there are more terms you should familiarize yourself with. The first of which is the arraignment. This is your initial appearance at court following being served with a charge. It’s pronounced “ah-rain-ment” not arrangement. Also, that date on your ticket is NOT a suggestion to come to court at or around that time. It’s a show up or get a warrant issued for your arrest kinda thing. Personally, if it were me, I’d show up, request time to hire an attorney, and say as little as possible. Then I would go talk to an attorney. But that’s just me. You can do it however you like.

Sometimes people call and ask if someone has been “indickted” of a crime. I’m sure that person feels like they’re getting dicked, but the correct term is indictment, and it’s pronounced “in-dite-ed.” Again, this can be a not so pleasant experience and I’m sure it would be best to consult an attorney to explore your options after you’ve been indicted for something. Because, you know, you don’t wanna get dicked.

There are also times you may be asked to fill out an official form stating your knowledge of the facts about a particular case. A lot of people call this the affadata, but the correct term is affidavit (aff-a-dave-it). If you tell anyone you need to fill out an affadata, they’ll have no clue what the hell you’re talking about and they’ll probably send you to some IT room at another location. Typically, you don’t need affadatas at your arrangements, either. Or really any other time, unless you’re trying to evict someone. Again, it’s always best to consult a professional if you feel you need such paperwork.

Occasionally you may encounter a crazy person who won’t leave you alone. You may feel it’s necessary to get some legal protection from said crazy person. Contrary to popular belief, these are not called straining orders. The old school term is restraining order, but now we call them temporary protection orders or civil protection orders. This is one realm of the legal field that you can probably accomplish with the help of a victim’s advocate, which most courts have. So you won’t have to strain yourself too much to get one. But in reality, it’s just a piece of paper and last time I checked, bullets still go through those. Not saying you shouldn’t get one if you need it, just that a piece of paper doesn’t really do a whole lot when it comes to restraining folks.

And lastly, we have the ever-popular subpoena to discuss. These are issued when you need someone to come to court and testify at a hearing. Now, if you can get the person to come willingly, you don’t even need one of these. But if you think the person won’t come, you can have your witness served with a subpoena requiring them to come to court at a specific date and time. If they don’t show up, then they’ll get charged with a crime and have their own little arraignment to discuss why it is they blew the court off. The correct pronunciation of this term is “sah-pee-nah” not “sub-peenie or “pee-nah.” And for the love of God and all that’s good, the plural is not “sub-PENIS-uss.” It’s just not. And when you walk into court declaring you need such a thing, nobody is going to hear the sub part or the plural part. They are just going to hear you saying PENIS. Then everything you say after that will not be heard. And while we hear a lot of weird shit in court, the word penis always throws us for a loop.

So there you have the first installment of Legalese for Dummies. I’m sure there are more terms that I left out, mostly because the idea for this blog hit me whilst applying makeup this morning and all the notes I furiously scribbled before court this morning are still right where I left them… at court. But hey I figure this way, maybe this way we can have a Legalese for Dummies a la mode.

Until then. . . exercise your right to the 5th Amendment. . . unless you’re a Beastie Boy.

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