An official of the court, usually uniformed, with primary responsibility for maintaining order in terms of security and custody of the jury.  Additional duties include shepherding witnesses in and out of the courtroom and handling evidence between the judge, jury, witnesses and counsel.


A non-technical term used to describe the legal declaration of a person's insolvency - inability to satisfy the obligation of debt. Bankruptcy is a matter of federal law and with the exception of a some exemptions is essentially the same in every state. Under Title 11 of the United States Code, a petition for bankruptcy provides for a person to resolve their debt by a liquidation proceeding (Chapter 7) or to develop a reorganization plan to creditors under Chapter 13.  Most types of debt may be discharged in a bankruptcy, excluding child support and alimony; debts for personal injury or death caused by your intoxicated driving; student loans from government organizations; fines, penalties and restitution imposed for violating the law; and taxes.  Refer to Insolvency.

Bankruptcy Code:

Reference term to the statutory body of bankruptcy laws after the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 with amendments, or Title 11 of the United States Code governing bankruptcy proceedings.


Relative to the practice of law, a term that refers to the instance of an attorney encouraging disputes and frivolous lawsuits for the specific purpose of generating profit through the delivery of legal services for a typically groundless claim.  It is an illegal practice in all states. Refer to Rules of Ethics.


A person who uses violence and/or threats of physical, sexual or emotional violence against a member of the same household or romantic partner in a dating relationship.


The injury when it is actually inflicted, but more specifically: a) the willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another; or b) the actual, intentional and unlawful touching or striking of another person against the will of the other; or c) unlawfully and intentionally causing bodily harm to an individual.  Assault and battery is the combination of the crimes of threat (assault) and actual injury (battery).  Refer to Assault.


A general term for all judges, as in "the bench", or for the particular judge or panel of judges, as in an order coming from the "bench” referencing the large, usually long and wide desk raised above the level of the rest of the courtroom, at which the judge or panel of judges sit.

Bench Trial:

A court trial with a presiding judge to make legally binding decisions with benefit of a jury verdict.  Refer to Trial by Jury.

Bench Warrant:

An order by the court authorizing the seizure (arrest) of a person by a law enforcement officer.  It is commonly issued when a person fails to appear in court when previously and properly ordered to do so.  Refer to Warrant.


A general term used to describe a person or legal entity (charitable organization, school/university, church, etc.) which may or is likely to receive assets or profits from an estate, a trust, an insurance policy or any instrument in which there is distribution; such as a person receiving an inheritance in a will.

Best Interest of the Child:

A legal standard or doctrine in family law for making decisions in child-related matters before the court.  It is a subjective, discretionary test, most commonly used in questions of custody, guardianship, access (visitation), adoption, and similarly related issues in which the various circumstances affecting the child(ren) are taken into account by the court of which interpretations vary widely by judge and jurisdiction.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt:

The highest level of proof required for the state to prosecute a guilty verdict in a criminal case.


The term used to describe the separation of proceedings/trials in some states where one trial is based on a ground for divorce and another trial for the distribution of marital property and support (child or spousal) obligations.

The unlawful condition in which one of the parties is already legally married (having two wives or two husbands at the same time). Bigamous marriages are usually void and grounds for annulment and there is no effect on the first “legal” marriage.  It is a criminal offense to knowingly commit bigamy, but it is seldom prosecuted unless it is part of a fraudulent scheme to get another's property or commit some other crime.   A marriage in another country is usually valid in the United States but may not be correctly reported; or bigamy may be accidental, such as when the previous divorce was not finalized due to a technicality, or the previous spouse who was presumed dead is in fact alive.  A marriage to another person in the event a previous spouse remained absent or unheard of for a minimum number of years (time periods vary by state) is not considered bigamous.  However, to fraudulently induce one to enter into a bigamous marriage contract has been held to be a compensable wrong and the resulting mental pain and suffering is support in an independent action for damages.  Refer to Marriage or Polygamy.

Bill of Rights:

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution that deal with matters such as freedom of speech, religion, due process, right to bear arms, etc., for the purpose of extending the ground of public confidence in the Government by adopting further declaratory and restrictive clauses to the Constitution in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers.

Bodily Harm:

Generally defined as any hurt or injury calculated to interfere with the health or comfort of another, the precise definition of the term in a legal context varies by jurisdiction.  Although most commonly used as an element in determining the offense of assault or battery, bodily harm is also relevant in other contexts, such as workers' compensation.

Book Value:

The worth of an asset as demonstrated in the accounting records of its owner; or the net value of wealth after liabilities have been deducted from assets.  Refer to Assets, Marital Property, Community Property, Equitable Distribution or Separate Property.

Burden of Proof:

The requirement of the plaintiff to demonstrate all the necessary facts or “weight of evidence” to establish the validity or assertion of a claim to the court to be true. Refer to Clear and Convincing Evidence, Preponderance of Evidence, or Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.