Legal Jargon: What Does That Word Mean? (Part 3)

Legal jargon is confusing. TV shows shouldn’t be. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back.


The wait has been killing you, we know, but don’t stress. Here it is! The next installment in The Kronzek Firm legal jargon series. Because not knowing what the heck is going on in all those episodes of Boston Legal is driving you nuts. Not to worry, we’ve got your back. Or at least, we’ve got your jargon. (Unless of course you’ve been charged with a crime and you hire us to defend you, in which case we absolutely have your back!)


Missed the first and second installments? No biggie, you can catch up here. However, for those of you who remember what Amicus Curiae and Prima Facie mean, let’s get back to business. Or as they say in court, let’s reconvene….


De Novo:

If you were paying attention in the previous article in this series, you’ll remember that we covered De Facto and De Jure. Well, aside from it’s regular feature performance in Dutch last names, there’s another “De” for you – De Novo. (If you aren’t sure what we mean by that – “De” means “the” in Dutch. So “De Haas” means ‘The Rabbit’ and “De Groot” means the “The Large” or “The Big.” Now you can impress your friends with your Dutch vernacular!)


De Novo (which isn’t Dutch and is actually Latin) means “anew.” A trial de novo is a completely new trial. An Appellate Court’s ‘review de novo’ implies that the judges showed no deference to the trial judge’s ruling.


In Forma Pauperis:

Yup, you guessed it – Latin again. In forma pauperis means “In the manner of a pauper.” For those of you not up on your Shakespearean English, ‘pauper’ means a poor person. This term means that permission has been given by the court for a person to file a case without having to pay the required court fees. Why? Because the person literally cannot pay them.


Here in the U.S. this is sometimes referred to as the IFP designation. It is given, by both state and federal courts, to someone who doesn’t have the money to pursue the normal costs of a lawsuit or a criminal defense. Although in most cases, if you don’t have the money to defend yourself against criminal charges, you will be assigned a court-appointed attorney. (Which is what most people fear the most!)


Ex Parte:

Ex Parte is a Latin term that refers to a proceeding brought before a court by one party only, without the presence or participation of the other side. It means literally “for one party.” Ex parte matters are usually emergency requests for a continuance, or temporary orders like a restraining order or temporary custody, before the formal hearing.


Ex parte hearings are not the standard practice in any US courts, whether federal or state. Most Michigan jurisdictions require at least a diligent attempt to contact the other party’s lawyer before allowing an ex parte hearing, and only when the circumstances warrant it. Generally speaking, people have a Constitutional right to due process. That requires that each party be given notice of a court proceeding and an opportunity to be heard by the court. Ex parte actions temporarily sidestep due process because of some urgent situation or because of an emergency.


Nolo contendere:

Nolo Contendere means ‘no contest’. It means that the accused is choosing not to fight the charges against them. However, here in Michigan, a plea of nolo contendere has the same effect as a guilty plea as far as the judge is concerned. However, in the eyes of the law, it may not be considered in a civil proceeding.


When a person pleads ‘nolo contendere’ or ‘no contest’, the judge will then sentence them as if they had pled guilty. So while using this plea doesn’t mean the same thing as making a confession or admitting guilt, it will have the same end result in every Michigan criminal court.


We hope this brief legal break down was informative for you. Next time you’re lying on the couch, pushing potato chips into your face and staring glassy-eyed at endless episodes of Suits, at least you’ll understand what they’re talking about. (Then again, maybe not. Potato-chip-coma is said to hamper brain activity, so who knows…)


Wondering about a word we haven’t included yet? Don’t worry, there’s lots more where this came from. Until then, if you or a loved one have been accused of a crime in Michigan, don’t make the mistake of choosing nolo contendere without talking to us first!. Call the experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Kronzek Firm immediately! Our team is available at:, or by calling 1 800-576-6035.

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