Legal Terms Every Paralegal Needs to Know: Part Two
In our first installment of this series, we covered five legal terms that it was important for every paralegal to recognize and understand. In this article, we’ll be continuing with another five important legal terms for you to digest, along with a brief explanation of what they mean.
1. Constitutional Law
A hugely important term in the United States, constitutional law describes the law prescribed by the written federal and state constitutions, as well as the interpretation and implementation of this law.
Constitutional law deals with the fundamental principles by which the government exercises its authority as well as the basic rights of citizens and, in federal countries such as the United States and Canada, the relationship between the central government and state, provincial, or territorial governments.
The term demurrer refers to a formal response to a complaint filed in a lawsuit, pleading for dismissal. In effect, to demur means to say that even if the facts of the complaint are true, there is no legal basis for a lawsuit.
In response to this, a judge can agree, but rather than dismiss the case, give the “leave to amend,” which gives the claimant the opportunity to amend the complaint to address to issues raised by the demurrer.
3. Mens Rea
A Latin term meaning “guilty mind,” mens rea is used to describe criminal intent during the commission of a crime. Establishing intent can mean a difference in the crime the defendant is found guilty of as many criminal laws require a person to “knowingly” engage in illegal activity.
For instance, say a person was given a gift to deliver to the US and that gift was found to have had illegal substances secreted in during security checks. If that person could prove that they had no knowledge of those illegal substances, then the necessary mens rea or criminal intent has not been established and no crime was committed.
4. Stare Decisis
Another Latin term, stare decisis, in effect, means to “be based on previous rulings”. In common language, this is more likely to be referred to as precedent. In legal terms stare decisis means to adhere to precedents of earlier cases as sources of law, as, when an issue has already been ruled upon by a court, other cases involving the same issue must receive the same response from that court or lower courts.
5. Felony Wobbler
A wobbler, or felony wobbler, is a crime that can be sentenced as either a misdemeanor or a felony. For instance, if you are convinced of assault with a deadly weapon in California, you can be sentenced to prison time of up to four years or up 364 days in jail. If sentenced to prison time, this is indicative of a felony conviction, while jail time indicates a misdemeanor conviction.
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Lisa Myers, J.D., L.L.M.
Legal Studies Department Director
J.D. L.L.M. Campbell University
B.A. Corllins University