A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
bail
The money paid to the court, usually at arraignment or shortly thereafter, to ensure that an arrested person who is released from jail will show up at all required court appearances. The amount of bail is determined by the local bail schedule, which is based on the seriousness of the offense. The judge can increase the bail if the prosecutor convinces him that the defendant is likely to flee (for example, if he has failed to show up in court in the past), or he can decrease it if the defense attorney shows that the defendant is unlikely to run (for example, he has strong ties to the community by way of a steady job and a family).
bail bond
The money posted by a "bondsman" for a defendant who cannot afford his bail. The defendant pays a certain portion, usually 10%. If the defendant fails to appear for a court hearing, the judge can issue a warrant for his arrest and threaten to "forfeit," or keep, the money if the defendant doesn't appear soon. Usually, the bondsman will look for the defendant and bring him back, forcefully if necessary, in order to avoid losing the bail money.
bailiff
A court official usually classified as a peace officer (sometimes as a deputy sheriff, or marshal) and usually wearing a uniform. A bailiff's main job is to maintain order in the courtroom. In addition, bailiffs often help court proceedings go smoothly by shepherding witnesses in and out of the courtroom and handing evidence to witnesses as they testify. In criminal cases, the bailiff may have temporary charge of any defendant who is in custody during court proceedings.
bailor
Someone who delivers an item of personal property to another person for a specific purpose. For example, a person who leaves a broken VCR with a repairman in order to get it fixed would be a bailor.
balloon payment
A large final payment due at the end of a loan, typically a home or car loan, to pay off the amount your monthly payments didn't cover. Many states prohibit balloon payments in loans for goods or services that are primarily for personal, family or household use, or require the lender to let you refinance the balloon payment before forcing collection.
ballot
(1) A method or process of casting a vote, called voting "by ballot." (2) The actual paper, card or machine you use to indicate your choices in an election. (3) The total number of votes cast in an election. (4) A list of candidates running for office.
bankruptcy
A legal proceeding that relieves you of the responsibility of paying your debts or provides you with protection while attempting to repay your debts. There are two types of bankruptcies -- liquidation, in which your debts are wiped out (discharged) and reorganization, in which you provide the court with a plan for how you intend to repay your debts. For both consumers and business, liquidation bankruptcy is called Chapter 7. For consumers, reorganization bankruptcy is called Chapter 13. Reorganization bankruptcy for consumers with an extraordinary amount of debt and for businesses is called Chapter 11. Reorganization bankruptcy for family farmers is called Chapter 12.
bankruptcy estate
All of the property you own when you file for bankruptcy, except for most pensions and educational trusts. The trustee technically takes control of your bankruptcy estate for the duration of your case.
bankruptcy trustee
A person appointed by the court to oversee the case of a person or business that has filed for bankruptcy. In a consumer Chapter 7 case, the trustee's role is to gather the debtor's nonexempt property, liquidate it and distribute it proportionally to her creditors. In a Chapter 13 case, the trustee's role is to receive the debtor's monthly payments and distribute them proportionally to her creditors.
bar examination
An examination for law school graduates who want a license to practice law. Once licensed in a particular state, an attorney can practice law in that state and in federal courts in that state. If the attorney moves to another state, he or she will need to take that state's bar exam, unless the new state allows the attorney to practice without further examination after he or she has established legal residence. Lawyers from one state may occasionally practice in another with the consent of the court alone. Typically, bar exams are multi-day tests of endurance and knowledge, covering a wide range of legal topics.
basis
For income and capital gains tax purposes, the value that is used to determine profit or loss when property is sold. Often the basis is what you paid for the property, "adjusted" to reflect improvements made or damage incurred while you own the property. See stepped-up basis, carryover basis.
battery
A crime consisting of physical contact that is intended to harm someone. Unintentional harmful contact is not battery, no mater how careless the behavior or how severe the injury. A fist fight is a common battery; being hit by a wild pitch in a baseball game is not.
bench
The seat (usually a comfy chair rather than a bench) where a judge sits in the courtroom during a trial or hearing. Sometimes the word "bench" is used in place of the word "judge" -- for example, someone might say she wants a bench trial, meaning a trial by a judge without a jury.
bench trial
A trial before a judge with no jury. The term derives from the fact that the stand on which the judge sits is called the bench.
beneficiary
A person or organization legally entitled to receive benefits through a legal device, such as a will, trust or life insurance policy.