What is POFP?

Why do lawyers refer to long documents as briefs and
18-year olds as infants? Why do they use so much Latin when so few of their
clients are Ancient Romans? Is it a conspiracy?


Party of the First Part has the answers! Check out the Website for the
Legalese Hall of Shame; a glossary of legal words linked to Adam Freedman's
columns; tips on writing legal documents in plain English; and more!



Thursday, September 6, 2007

What? Sharking is a Verb?

According to an Associated Press story, a federal court jury considering the biggest Chicago mob trial in years has asked for an English language dictionary.

The jurors say they don't want to look up legal terms. They say they just want to check common definitions of English words. Federal Judge James Zagel told defense attorneys and prosecutors that he prefers not to send jurors the dictionary. He'll instead ask the jury to give him a list of the words they want defined.

Why the reluctance to give the jurors a dictionary? True, dictionaries may give multifaceted and confusing definitions, but if we trust jurors to sift through ballistic evidence, why can't we trust them to navigate Websters? Heaven knows, but judges are notoriously reluctant to define terms for the perpetually-confused jury members. Peter Tiersma has chronicled some of the worst abuses of enforced jury ignorance (like refusing to explain to jurors what aggravating and mitigating mean) in his book Legal Langauge. And I discuss the "language barrier" faced by jurors in this column.

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