Habeas corpus

Latin for “You have the body.” A prisoner files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in order to challenge the authority of the prison or jail warden to continue to hold him. If the judge orders a hearing after reading the writ, the prisoner gets to argue that his confinement is illegal. These writs are frequently filed by convicted prisoners who challenge their conviction on the grounds that the trial attorney failed to prepare the defense and was incompetent. Prisoners sentenced to death also file habeas petitions challenging the constitutionality of the state death penalty law. Habeas writs are different from and do not replace appeals, which are arguments for reversal of a conviction based on claims that the judge conducted the trial improperly. Often, convicted prisoners file both.

Habitable

adj. referring to a residence that is safe and can be occupied in reasonable comfort. Although standards vary by region, the premises should be closed in against the weather, provide running water, access to decent toilets and bathing facilities, heating, and electricity. Particularly in multi-dwelling buildings freedom from noxious smells, noise and garbage are included in the standard. This can become important in landlord-tenant disputes or government actions to force a landlord to make the premises livable (abatement of deficiencies).

Half blood

1) adj. sharing one parent only. 2) n. a half brother or half sister. “Half blood” should not be confused with “half breed,” which was a pejorative expression for a person born of parents of two races, particularly Native American and white.

Harass

v. systematic and/or continual unwanted and annoying pestering, which often includes threats and demands. This can include lewd or offensive remarks, sexual advances, threatening telephone calls from collection agencies, etc.

Harassment

n. the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary, including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill or merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone anxious or fearful. Such activities may be the basis for a lawsuit if due to discrimination based on race or sex, a violation on the statutory limitations on collection agencies, involve revenge by an ex-spouse, or be shown to be a form of blackmail (“I’ll stop bothering you if you’ll go to bed with me”). The victim may file a petition for a “stay away” (restraining) order, intended to prevent contact by the offensive party. A systematic pattern of harassment by an employee against another worker may subject the employer to a lawsuit for failure to protect the worker.

Harmless error

n. an error by a judge in the conduct of a trial which an appellate court finds is not sufficient for it to reverse or modify the lower court’s judgment at trial. Harmless error would include: a technical error which has no bearing on the outcome of the trial, an error that was corrected (such as allowing testimony and then ordering it stricken and admonishing the jury to ignore it), the issue affected by the error was found in the appellant’s favor (such as hearsay evidence on premeditation, but the jury found no premeditation), and the appeals court’s view that even though there were errors the appealing party could not have won in trial in any event.

Head of household

A person who supports and maintains, in one household, one or more people who are closely related to him by blood, marriage or adoption. Under federal income tax law, you are eligible for favorable tax treatment as the head of household only if you are unmarried and you manage a household which is the principal residence (for more than half of the year) of dependent children or other dependent relatives. Under bankruptcy homestead and exemption laws, the terms householder and “head of household” mean the same thing. Examples include a single woman supporting her disabled sister and her own children or a bachelor supporting his parents. Many states consider a single person supporting only himself to be a head of household as well.

Headnote

n. the summary of the key legal points determined by an appeals court, which appears just above each decision in published reports of cases. Headnotes are useful for a quick scan of the judgment, but they are the editor’s remarks and not the court’s.

Health benefits

Benefits paid under health insurance plans, such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, to cover the costs of healthcare.

Health care directives

Legal documents that allow you to set out written wishes for your medical care — and to name a person to make sure those wishes are carried out.

Health care proxy

A person named in a health care directive or durable power of attorney for health care to make medical decisions for the person who signed the document, called the principal. A health care proxy may also be known as an attorney-in-fact, agent, or patient advocate.

Hearing

In the trial court context, a legal proceeding (other than a full-scale trial) held before a judge. During a hearing, evidence and arguments are presented in an effort to resolve a disputed factual or legal issue. Hearings typically, but by no means always, occur prior to trial when a party asks the judge to decide a specific issue–often on an interim basis–such as whether a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction should be issued, or temporary child custody or child support awarded. In the administrative or agency law context, a hearing is usually a proceeding before an administrative hearing officer or judge representing an agency that has the power to regulate a particular field or oversee a governmental benefit program.

Hearsay

n. 1) second-hand evidence in which the witness is not telling what he/she knows personally, but what others have said to him/her. 2) a common objection made by the opposing lawyer to testimony when it appears the witness has violated the hearsay rule. 3) scuttlebutt or gossip.

Hearsay rule

A rule of evidence that prohibits secondhand testimony at a trial. For example, if an eyewitness to an accident later tells another person what she saw, the second person’s testimony is hearsay. The reason for this rule is that the opposing party has no ability to confront and cross-examine the person who has firsthand knowledge of the event.

Heir

One who receives property from someone who has died. While the traditional meaning includes only those who had a legal right to the deceased person’s property, modern usage includes anyone who receives property from the estate of a deceased person.

Heir apparent

One who expects to be receive property from the estate of a family member, as long as she outlives that person.

Heir at law

A person entitled to inherit property under intestate succession laws.

Heiress

n. feminine heir, often used to denote a woman who has received a large amount upon the death of a rich relative, as in the “department store heiress.”

Heirs of the body

n. descendants of one’s bloodline, such as children or grandchildren until such time as there are no direct descendants. If the bloodline runs out, the property will “revert” to the nearest relative traced back to the original owner.

Held

v. decided or ruled, as “the court held that the contract was valid.”

Hereditament

n. any kind of property which can be inherited. This is old-fashioned language still found in some wills and deeds.

Hidden asset

n. an item of value which does not show on the books of a business, often excluded for some improper purpose such as escaping taxation or hiding it from a bankruptcy trustee. However, there may be a legitimate business reason for not including all assets on a profit and loss statement.

High seas

International marine waters not included in the territorial waters of any country. Because the high seas are not owned by any country, they have their own set of laws.

Hit and run

n. the crime of a driver of a vehicle who is involved in a collision with another vehicle, property or human being, who knowingly fails to stop to give his/her name, license number and other information as required by statute to the injured party, a witness or law enforcement officers. If there is only property damage and no other person is present, leaving the information attached to the damaged property may be sufficient, provided the person causing the accident makes a report to the police. Hit and run statutes vary from state to state. It is not a violation of the constitutional protection against self-incrimination to be required to stop and give this information since it is a report and not an admission of guilt. Some hit and run cases are difficult to determine, such as the driver leaves the accident scene to go a block to his/her house or the neighborhood repair garage, and then walks back to the scene.

Hobby loss

n. in income tax, a loss from a business activity engaged in more for enjoyment than for profit, which can be deducted against annual income only.

Hold harmless

In a contract, a promise by one party not to hold the other party responsible if the other party carries out the contract in a way that causes damage to the first party. For example, many leases include a hold harmless clause in which the tenant agrees not to sue the landlord if the tenant is injured due to the landlord’s failure to maintain the premises. In most states, these clauses are illegal in residential tenancies, but may be upheld in commercial settings.

Holder

n. a general term for anyone in possession of property, but usually referring to anyone holding a promissory note, check, bond or other paper, either handed to the holder (delivery) or signed over by endorsement, for which he/she/it is entitled to receive payment as stated in the document.

Holder in due course

n. one holding a check or promissory note, received for value (he/she paid for it) in good faith and with no suspicion that it might be no good, claimed by another, overdue or previously dishonored (a bank had refused to pay since the account was overdrawn). Such a holder is entitled to payment by the maker of the check or note.

Holding

1) n. any ruling or decision of a court. 2) n. any real property to which one has title. 3) n. investment in a business. 4) v. keeping in one’s possession.

Holding company

n. a company, usually a corporation, which is created to own the stock of other corporations, thereby often controlling the management and policies of all of them.

Holdover tenancy

n. the situation when a tenant of real estate continues to occupy the premises without the owner’s agreement after the original lease or rental agreement between the owner (landlord) and the tenant has expired. The tenant is responsible for payment of the monthly rental at the existing rate and terms, which the landlord may accept without admitting the legality of the occupancy. A holdover tenant is subject to a notice to quit (get out) and, if he/she does not leave, to a lawsuit for unlawful detainer.

Holographic will

A will that is completely handwritten, dated and signed by the person making it. Holographic wills are generally not witnessed. Although it’s legal in many states, making a holographic will is never advised except as a last resort.

Home rule

n. the power of a local city or county to set up its own system of governing and local ordinances without receiving a charter from the state which comes with certain requirements and limitations. The concept has become popular with so-called libertarians, survivalists and others who would like to divorce local government from as much state regulation as possible. However, few cities and counties have chosen this route. For example, in California, there is one small county (Colusa) out of the 58 which has chosen “home rule.” This does not mean they will not take state funds for local improvements.

Home study

An investigation of prospective adoptive parents to make sure they are fit to raise a child, required by all states. Common areas of inquiry include financial stability, marital stability, lifestyles and other social factors, physical and mental health and criminal history.

Home warranty

A service contract that covers a major housing system–for example, plumbing or electrical wiring–for a set period of time from the date a house is sold. The warranty guarantees repairs to the covered system and is renewable.

Homeowners’ association

An organization comprising neighbors concerned with managing the common areas of a subdivision or condominium complex. These associations take on issues such as salting and sanding a subdivision when it snows and collecting dues from residents. The homeowners’ association is also responsible for enforcing any covenants, conditions & restrictions that apply to the property.

Homestead

1) The house in which a family lives, plus any adjoining land and other buildings on that land. 2) Real estate which is not subject to the claims of creditors as long as it is occupied as a home by the head of the household. After the head of the family dies, homestead laws often allow the surviving spouse or minor children to live on the property for as long as they choose. 3) Land acquired out of the public lands of the United States. The term “homesteaders” refers to people who got their land by settling it and making it productive, rather than purchasing it outright.

Homestead declaration

A form filed with the county recorder’s office to put on record your right to a homestead exemption. In most states, the homestead exemption is automatic–that is, you are not required to record a homestead declaration in order to claim the homestead exemption. A few states do require such a recording, however.

Hometowned

adv. legalese for a lawyer or client suffering discrimination by a local judge who seems to favor local parties and/or attorneys over those from out of town.

Homicide

The killing of one human being by the act or omission of another. The term applies to all such killings, whether criminal or not. Homicide is considered noncriminal in a number of situations, including deaths as the result of war and putting someone to death by the valid sentence of a court. Killing may also be legally justified or excused, as it is in cases of self-defense or when someone is killed by another person who is attempting to prevent a violent felony. Criminal homicide occurs when a person purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently causes the death of another. Murder and manslaughter are both examples of criminal homicide.

Hornbook law

n. lawyer lingo for a fundamental and well-accepted legal principle that does not require any further explanation, since a hornbook is a primer of basics.

Hostile possession

n. occupancy of a piece of real property coupled with a claim of ownership (which may be implied by actions, such as putting in a fence) over anyone, including the holder of recorded title. It may be an element of gaining title through long-term adverse possession or claiming real estate which has no known owner.

Hostile witness

n. technically an “adverse witness” in a trial who is found by the judge to be hostile (adverse) to the position of the party whose attorney is questioning the witness, even though the attorney called the witness to testify on behalf of his/her client. When the attorney calling the witness finds that the answers are contrary to the legal position of his/her client or the witness becomes openly antagonistic, the attorney may request the judge to declare the witness to be “hostile” or “adverse.” If the judge declares the witness to be hostile (i.e. adverse), the attorney may ask “leading” questions which suggest answers or are challenging to the testimony just as on cross examination of a witness who has testified for the opposition.

Hot pursuit

An exception to the general rule that a police officer needs an arrest warrant before he can enter a home to make an arrest. If a felony has just occurred and an officer has chased a suspect to a private house, the officer can forcefully enter the house in order to prevent the suspect from escaping or hiding or destroying evidence.

Hotchpot

n. the putting together, blending or mixing of various properties in order to achieve equal division among beneficiaries or heirs. There may be cash, securities, personal belongings, and even real estate which are part of the residue of an estate to be given to “my children, share and share alike.” To make such distribution possible, all of the items are put in the hotchpot and then divided.

House closing

The final transfer of the ownership of a house from the seller to the buyer, which occurs after both have met all the terms of their contract and the deed has been recorded.

House counsel

n. any attorney who works only for a particular business.

Household

n. a family living together, all of whom need not be related.

Householder

A person who supports and maintains a household, with or without other people. In bankruptcy law, a householder, housekeeper or head of household can claim a homestead exemption and possibly other exemptions relating to the maintenance of the household.

Hung jury

A jury unable to come to a final decision, resulting in a mistrial. Judges do their best to avoid hung juries, typically sending juries back into deliberations with an assurance (sometimes known as a “dynamite charge”) that they will be able to reach a decision if they try harder. If a mistrial is declared, the case is tried again unless the parties settle the case (in a civil case) or the prosecution dismisses the charges or offers a plea bargain (in a criminal case).

Hyperlink

See link.

Hypothecate

v. from Greek for “pledge,” a generic term for using property to secure payment of a loan, which includes mortgages, pledges and putting up collateral, while the borrower retains possession.