Affidavit: An affidavit is a written statement (sometimes a form) in which you declare certain facts to be true, such as “I live at 123 Main Street and I have known this person for 10 years” etc. The statement is made either “under oath” where a notary or other official asks you to swear or affirm that you are telling the truth, or the affidavit itself simply says you declare the facts to be true “under penalty of perjury.” Penalty of perjury means if you are later found to have lied in the statement, you could be charged with the crime of perjury.



Agency: Usually refers to an arm or sub-branch of the executive branch of government which carries out and enforces certain laws. There are federal, state and local agencies, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Coastal Commission, and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, respectively.


Code: A code is a collection of current laws enacted in a particular location, such as a state or city. For example, the California codes are the laws passed by the California legislature and signed by the governor.


The Constitution of the United States of America

Constitution: This is generally a document which sets out what the government can and can’t do, how it functions, and what basic rights must be upheld. When people talk about the “Constitution” they are usually referring to the U.S. Constitution. But each state also has its own constitution. The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the United States, and no other laws nor government official may contradict it.



Damages: This refers to two things: (1) the harm a person has been caused by another, which may include monetary, physical, emotional or other types; and (2) the amount of money you claim you are owed due to the harms suffered.



Defendant: In a lawsuit or criminal proceeding, this is the person or entity being sued or prosecuted.

Felony: Crimes are generally classified as either Man behind jail barsa misdemeanor (less serious crime) or felony
(more serious crime). Felonies involve a punishment of 1 year or more of imprisonment.

Misdemeanor: Crimes are generally classified as either a misdemeanor (less serious crime) or felony (more serious crime). Misdemeanors involve a punishment of less than 1 year of imprisonment.

Plaintiff: This is a person who feels she/he has been harmed in some way and brings a lawsuit against the person(s) who allegedly caused the harm.

Regulation: This usually refers to a law enacted by an executive agency, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the California Coastal Commission. Rules and regulations elaborate on law passed by the legislature. But sometimes it actually refers to laws passed by the legislature itself when they regulate or seek to modify behavior of individuals or organizations.

Rule: Mostly interchangeable with “Regulation” (see above).

Statute: A statute is what most people think of as a “law.” It is a law passed by an elected body, such as Congress. Laws that are not statutes include court decisions and executive orders.

Photo by William Warby, CC 2.0

Photo by William Warby, CC 2.0

Statute of Limitations: The time limit for how long after a person’s supposed violation of a law that the law can be enforced against that person. For example, if the statute of limitations on a crime is 5 years, then the government has 5 years to charge you with that crime, after which it can no longer take action against you (with some exceptions). Or if a person has violated a civil law causing you harm, and the law has a statute of limitations of 5 years, you have 5 years to sue that person. Most laws have an applicable statute of limitations.


Symbols & Abbreviations

§ or Sec. = section (as in, section of code)

© = copyright

TM = trademark

® = registered trademark

Esq. = Attorney

Warrant: A warrant is basically an order from a court allowing law enforcement to either search you or your property, take your property, or to arrest you. It is generally required under the 4th amendment of the Constitution, but there are many exceptions. A police officer obtains a warrant by convincing a judge that he will likely find evidence of a crime in searching you, or that you have indeed committed a crime.