Habeas Corpus
(hay-bee-us kor-pus) 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 or her. If the judge orders a hearing after reading the writ, that becomes the prisoner's opportunity to argue that the confinement is illegal. Habeas corpus is an important protection against illegal confinement, once called "the great writ." For example, it can be used in cases where a person is being held without charges, or when due process obviously has been denied, bail is excessive, parole has been granted, an accused has been improperly surrendered by the bail bondsman, or probation has been summarily terminated without cause. A particularly frequent use of habeas writs is by convicted prisoners arguing 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. Note that 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.

Habeas Corpus Ad Subjiciendum
See: habeas corpus

A residence that is safe and fit for human habitation. By law in every state but Colorado, landlords must offer habitable premises and keep them up. Although the definition of a habitable dwelling varies from state to state, all agree that basic services (adequate heat, hot water, and plumbing) and a sound structure that does not pose unreasonable safety risks are required in every rental. Tenants have various remedies when premises become substandard. (See also: implied warranty of habitability, rent withholding, repair and deduct)

Habitual Criminal
A person who has been convicted of multiple felonies (or of numerous misdemeanors), a fact that may increase punishment for any further criminal convictions. (See: three strikes)

Half Blood
1) Siblings who share only one parent. 2) A half brother or half sister.

Hamdi V. Rumsfeld (2004)
The U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that people detained as enemy combatants had the constitutional right to challenge their detention before a neutral decision maker.

To engage in harassment.

In employment law, offensive, unwelcome conduct based on the victim's protected characteristic, that is so severe or pervasive that it affects the terms and conditions of the victim's employment. Harassment may take the form of words, actions, gestures, demands, or visual displays, such as photographs or cartoons. Sometimes, harassment is used more generally to refer to repeated irritating or bothersome behavior, such as persistent telephone calls from a debt collector. (See also: protected characteristic, sexual harassment)

Harmless Error
An error by a judge in the conduct of a trial that an appellate court finds was not damaging enough to the appealing party's right to a fair trial to justify reversing the judgment. Harmless errors include technical errors that have no bearing on the outcome of the trial, and an error that was corrected (such as mistakenly allowing testimony to be heard, but then ordering it stricken and admonishing the jury to ignore it). In general, the more overwhelming the evidence against the appealing party (appellant), the harder it will be to convince the appellate court that any errors were harmful. In such situations, courts rule that even in the absence of the errors, the appellant could not have won.

Hate Crime
A criminal act motivated by another person's (usually the victim's) race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Also called a bias crime. Can be a crime committed against a person, property, or society.

Hate Crimes Act
See: Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Hazard Insurance
A type of insurance, found for example in homeowners' and business policies, that protects against physical damage to the property caused by unexpected and sudden events such as fires, storms, and vandalism.

Head Of Family
See: head of household

Head Of Household
1) For purposes of federal income taxes, a filing category for someone who is unmarried or legally separated from a spouse and who provides a home for at least one dependent for more than half of the year. The tax rate for someone filing as head of household is lower than it would be for someone filing as a single person. 2) The primary breadwinner in a family.

In a printed legal opinion, the summary appearing above the decision that summarizes the key legal points of the case

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

Health Care Declaration
See: living will

Health Care Directive
A legal document that allows you to set out written wishes for your medical care, name a person to make sure those wishes are carried out, or both. (See also: living will, durable power of attorney for health care, advance directive)

Health Care Proxy
A person named in a health care directive to make medical decisions for the person who signed the document, called the principal. A health care proxy may go by many other names, including agent, attorney-in-fact, or patient advocate.

Health Maintenance Organization (HmMO)
A group plan for medical insurance in which members prepay a flat fee and are given access to the services of participating doctors, hospitals, and clinics. Members typically make copayments, but do not need to pay deductibles.

Any proceeding before a judge or other qualified hearing officer without a jury, in which evidence and argument is presented to determine some issue of fact or both issues of fact and law. The term usually refers to a brief court session that resolves a specific question before a full trial takes place, or to such specialized proceedings as administrative hearings. In criminal law, a "preliminary hearing" is held before a judge to determine whether the prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence that the accused has committed a crime to hold him/her for trial.

Testimony given by a witness who is not telling what he or she knows personally, but what others have said.

Hearsay Rule
A rule of evidence that prohibits the use of out-of-court statements that are offered as proof of the subject of the statement. These statements are not admitted as evidence because person who made the statement isn't in court for the other party to cross-examine. For example, if Cathy, an eyewitness to an accident, later tells Betsy that the pickup ran the light, Betsy would not be allowed to recount Cathy's remarks. Out-of-court statements that aren't offered to prove the truth of the statement are admissible, however. Suppose Tom is called to testify, "On January 1, Bob said the Steelers stink." If the party calling Tom wants to prove that Bob was alive on January 1, Tom's testimony would be admitted, because the other side could question Tom about whether the conversation really took place on that date. Whether the Steelers are a poor team is beside the point. Even statements that are hearsay may be admitted if they fall within one of the many exceptions to the rule. In general, hearsay will be admitted if the circumstances of the statement indicate a high probability that the statement is true. For example, a statement uttered spontaneously and under duress -- such as a victim's remarks immediately following an accident -- could be admitted because the judge might find that the person had little time to plan to say anything other than the truth.

Heat Of Passion
A mitigating circumstance that may be raised by an accused criminal, claiming to have been in an uncontrollable rage, terror, or fury at the time of the alleged crime, especially one provoked by the victim.

Hedge Fund
Private, unregistered investment pools, hedge funds are similar to mutual funds in that they pool the money of a number of investors and then invest it collectively, often utilizing short selling and similar strategies to "hedge" risk.

Someone who has a right, under state law, to inherit adeceased person's property (which means the closest family members). The term is often used in a broader sense, to include anyone who receives property from the estate of a deceased person.

Heir Apparent
One who is expected to inherit property from the estate of a family member.

Heir At Law
A person entitled to inherit property under intestate succession laws.

Heir Hunter
A business that searches for relatives legally entitled to inherit from the estate or trust of a deceased person, in exchange for a portion of what they inherit. Heir hunters often tell a potential inheritor that there is the possibility of inheritance but won't provide details unless the heir agrees to pay a fee of one-tenth to one-third of the amount that's eventually inherited. Probate courts sometimes review heir-hunter arrangements and may modify their terms or even declare them invalid as against public policy -- that is, as so unfair that courts wont enforce them.

A female heir, usually used to describe a woman who has inherited a large fortune from a relative - for example, a "department store heiress."

Heirs Of The Body
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.

Decided or ruled, as in "the court held that the contract was valid."

Help America Vote Act Of 2002
An act passed in response to the presidential election of 2000, which remained undecided for several weeks due to voting problems such as computer problems, misplaced vote boxes, and confusing ballot designs. This law made federal funding available to states to update their voting procedures and equipment, created the Election Assistance Commission to provide information on federal elections, and specified uniform technology and administration standards for federal elections.

An archaic term, still found in some wills and deeds, for any kind of property that can be inherited.

Hereditary Succession
See: intestate succession

Hidden Asset
An item of value that does not show on the books of a business, often excluded for an improper purpose, such as escaping taxation or hiding it from a bankruptcy trustee.

High Seas
International marine waters not included in the territorial waters of any country.

Any public street, road, or turnpike that any member of the public has the right to use.

Hiring Firm
Commonly refers to a business that hires one or more independent contractors. Unlike an employer, a hiring firm does not have to withhold tax, contribute to Social Security and Medicare, or provide workers compensation for an independent contractor, nor does it have to follow a variety of employment laws that prohibit discrimination, impose wage and hour obligations, or require time off.

Hit And Run Statute
A law that requires motorists who get in an accident to stay at the scene of the accident to exchange information with the other motorists or to give a report to the police.

Hobby Loss
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 landlords failure to maintain the premises. In most states, these clauses are illegal in residential tenancies, but may be upheld in commercial settings.

Anyone in possession of property. Specifically, holder usually refers to someone possessing a promissory note, check, or bond, for which the holder is entitled to receive payment as stated in the document.

Holder In Due Course
Someone who 1) holds a check or promissory note that was received in good faith and in exchange for value and 2) who has no suspicion that there is a claim against it by another party or that it was previously dishonored. Such a holder is entitled to payment by the maker of the check or note. (See also: bona fide purchaser)

1) Any ruling or decision of a court. 2) Any real property to which one has title. 3) Investment in a business.

Holding Cell
Courthouse jail cells (also called lockups and sometimes bullpens) where defendants who are in custody and who are to appear in court are forced to wait. After their court appearance, such defendants are taken back to the regular jail where they are being held.

Holding Company
A company, usually a corporation, that owns and controls other companies.

Holding Over
The continued occupancy of a rental past the date that the lease or rental agreement ends. Most of the time, a residential tenant who holds over with the consent of the landlord will become a month to month tenant.

Holdover Tenant
A tenant who continues to occupy a residence after the term of the lease or rental agreement has expired, and without the consent of the landlord. To get rid of a holdover tenant, the landlord must give the tenant a notice to quit (get out). If the tenant does not leave, the landlord must go to court and file an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit.

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

Home Equity
The current market value of a house minus how much is owed on it. A home equity loan borrows against this amount.

Home Office
The portion of a taxpayers home in which he or she carries on a business activity. If the home office meets certain IRS tests, the taxpayer may take a tax deduction for expenses related to the business portion of the home, such as rent paid and utilities.

Home Rule
The power of a local city or county to act autonomously in, for example, setting up a system of government and enacting local ordinances. Within the U.S. system, such power must ordinarily be granted by the state government.

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.

Homeland Security Act Of 2002
An act passed by Congress in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This law created the Department of Homeland Security and the new cabinet-level position of Secretary of Homeland Security. The law was an attempt to reorganize federal security functions into one department.

Homeowners' Association
An organization made up of neighbors concerned with managing the common areas of a subdivision or condominium complex. These associations take on issues such as garden, pool, and fence maintenance; noise abatement; snow removal; parking areas; repairs; and dues. The homeowners' association is also responsible for enforcing any covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) that apply to the property.

1) The house in which a family lives, plus any adjoining land and other buildings on that land. 2) Real estate that is not subject to the claims of creditors as long as it is occupied as a home by the head of the household. (See also: homestead exemption, Homestead Act)

Homestead Act
A federal law, passed in 1862, which allowed people to become owners of up to 160 acres of unappropriated public land by filing an application, living on the land and improving it for five years, and paying a filing fee to acquire title.

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, a homeowner is not required to record a homestead declaration in order to claim the homestead exemption. A few states do require such a recording, however.

Homestead Exemption
An exemption from liability given to all or a portion of a primary residence. In most states, only a portion of the homeowner's equity, such as $20,000, can be protected from a bankruptcy trustee or creditors who wish to sell the home to pay off debts owed by the homeowner. Other states exempt all of a homeowner's primary residence from repayment of debts, and still other states exempt all of a homeowner's primary residence only if it is under a certain size.

Slang for a lawyer or client suffering discrimination by a judge who favors locals over out-of-towners. Also referred to as a "home advantage," "home field advantage," or "home court advantage."

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 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 with extreme negligence causes the death of another. Murder and manslaughter are examples of criminal homicide.

Hornbook Law
See: blackletter law

Hostile Possession
Occupancy of a piece of real property in contravention of the rights of others, including the holder of recorded title. Hostile possession is often a prerequisite to claiming ownership by adverse possession.

Hostile Witness
A witness who testifies against the party who has called the person to testify. The examiner may ask a hostile witness leading questions, as in cross-examination. Also called an adverse witness.

Hostile Work Environment
Working conditions that are created when unwelcome, discriminatory conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it alters the conditions of a victim's employment and creates an abusive working environment. Employers can be liable when their employees are subjected to a hostile work environment--for example, when a female employee is subject to repeated sex-based taunting or slurs by her male co-workers.

Hot Pursuit
An exception to the general rule that police officers need an arrest warrant before they 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.

Putting together or mixing various properties in order to achieve equal division among beneficiaries or heirs. For example, an estate may contain 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
An attorney who works only for a particular business.

People living together in one dwelling, who may or may not be related.

A person who supports and maintains a household, alone or with other people; more commonly referred to as head of household. In bankruptcy law, a householder may claim a homestead exemption.

See: householder

Housing And Urban Development (HUD)
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is the agency responsible for managing the Federal Housing Administration and other housing finance programs, and for enforcing the federal Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act.

See: Housing and Urban Development

A standard form that closing agents give to mortgage loan borrowers on the date the real estate purchase closes, detailing all the costs associated with the closing. These costs include not only those arising from the loan itself, but others such as escrow fees, real estate agent commissions, homeowners' insurance, and transfer taxes.

Human Rights
In common parlance, the rights all people have just by virtue of being human. As defined by the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, these rights are those that are "inherent to all human beings, whatever [their] nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status." Human rights recognized by the United Nations include the rights to life, liberty, and the security of person; the right to be free of slavery; the right to be free of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to recognition as a person under the law; the right to fair process and hearing; the right to privacy; the right to a family; the right to freedom of religion, expression, and association; and the right to an education.

Human Trafficking
The recruitment, transport, receipt, or harboring of people for purposes of profit, including forced labor or sexual exploitation. The victims of human trafficking are essentially enslaved, whether by threat, force, abduction, fraud, abuse of power, or other manipulation of their vulnerable position. 

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).

Hustler Magazine, Inc. V. Falwell (1988)
The U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court extended First Amendment free speech protections to those who make parodies of public figures, in this case fundamentalist Protestant minister Jerry Falwell.

Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgage
An adjustable rate mortgage that starts with a fixed interest rate for a set term (such as five, seven, or ten years), after which the rate can adjust.

See: link

To pledge as security for a loan without giving up possession, as in the case of property the borrower pledges as collateral and keeps.