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).

Habitual criminal

Under the statutes, a person who has been convicted of either two or three offences.

Half blood

A) Sharing one parent only. B) A half brother or half sister.


(either harris or huh-rass) Systematic and/or continual unwanted and annoying actions, which often includes threats and demands. This can include offensive remarks, sexual advances, threatening telephone calls from collection agencies, hassling by police officers or bringing criminal charges without cause.


(either harris-meant or huh-rass-meant) The act of systematic and/or continued 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. 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

An error committed 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: an error that was corrected, the issue affected by the error was found in the appellant's favor, and the appeals Court's view that even though there were errors the appealing party could not have won in trial in any event. This last gives the appeals Court broad latitude to rule that errors were not significant. It is frustrating to appealing parties and their attorneys for the appeals court to rule that there were indeed several errors, and then say: "However, they appear to be harmless."

Head of household

A) "head of family." B) In income tax law, the person filing a tax return who manages the household which has dependents such as children and/or other dependent relatives living in the home, but does not file on a joint return with a spouse. The calculation of taxes is somewhat more favorable to a head of household than to a person filing singly. C) Anyone who manages the affairs of the family living in a household, who need not be the husband/father or wife/mother, but could be a grandparent, uncle, aunt, son or daughter.


The summary of the key legal points which is determined by an Court of appeals, 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.


Any proceeding before a judge or other magistrate without a jury in which evidence and/or argument is presented to determine some issue of fact or both issues of fact and law. While technically a trial with a judge sitting without a jury fits the definition, a hearing usually refers to brief sessions involving a specific question at some time prior to the trial itself, or 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.


A) Scuttlebutt or gossip. B) Second-hand evidence in which the witness is not telling what he/she knows personally, but what others have said to him/her. C) A common objection made by the opposing lawyer to testimony when it appears the witness has violated the hearsay rule.

Hearsay rule

The basic rule that testimony or documents which quote persons not in Court are not admissible. Because the person who supposedly knew the facts is not in Court to state his/her exact words, the trier of fact cannot judge the demeanor and credibility of the alleged first-hand witness, and the other party's lawyer cannot cross-examine (ask questions on) him or her. However, as significant as the hearsay rule itself are the exceptions to the rule which allow hearsay testimony such as: a) business entries made in the regular course of business, when a qualified witness can identify the records and tell how they were kept; b) a statement by the opposing party in the suit which is inconsistent with what he/she has said in Court; c) a writing about an event made close to the time it occurred, which may be used during trial to refresh a witness's memory about the event; d) official government records which can be shown to be properly kept; e) judgments in other cases; f) a spontaneous excited or startled utterance; g) contemporaneous statement which explains the meaning of conduct if the conduct was ambiguous; h) a statement which explains a person's state of mind at the time of an event; i) a statement which explains a person's future intentions if that person's state of mind is in question; j) a "learned treatise" which means historical works, scientific books, published art works, maps and charts; k) prior testimony, such as in deposition, or at a hearing, if the witness is not available; l) a declaration by the opposing party in the lawsuit which was contrary to his/her best interest if the party is not available at trial ; m) a dying declaration by a person believing he/she is dying; n) a statement made about one's mental set, feeling, pain or health, if the person is not available-most often applied if the declarant is dead; o) a statement about one's own will when the person is not available; p) other exceptions based on a judge's discretion that the hearsay testimony in the circumstances must be reliable.

Heat of passion

In a criminal case, when the accused was in an uncontrollable anger at the time of commission of the alleged crime. If so, it may reduce the charge, indictment or judgment down from murder to culpable homicide, since the passion precluded the accused having premeditation or being fully mentally capable of knowing what he/she was doing.


One who acquires property upon the death of another, based on the rules of descent and distribution, namely, being the child, descendant or other closest relative of deceased. Anyone who receives something by the terms of the Will. An heir cannot be determined until the moment of death of the person leaving the property, since a supposed beneficiary (heir apparent) might die first. A presumptive heir is someone who would receive benefits unless a child was later born to the current owner of the property the presumptive heir hopes to get someday. A legally adopted child gains the chance to be an heir upon adoption as if he/she were the natural child of the adoptive parent or parents and is called an adoptive heir. A collateral heir is a relative who is not a direct descendant, but a brother, sister, uncle, aunt, cousin, nephew, niece or a parent. It is noteworthy that a spouse is not an heir unless specifically mentioned in the will. He/She may, however, receive an inheritance through marital property or community property laws. A child not mentioned in a Will can claim to be a pretermitted heir, i.e. inadvertently or accidentally omitted from the Will, and can claim he/she would (should) have received as an heir.

Heir apparent

The person who is expected to receive a share of the estate of a family member if he/she lives longer, or is not specifically disinherited by Will.


Feminine heir. It is used to denote a woman who has received a large amount upon the death of a rich relative.

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 "the Court held that the amit is guilty of murder."


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

Hidden asset

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.


Any public street, road or canal on which any member of the public has the right to use, provided he/she/it follows the laws governing its use, such as having a driver's license if operating a vehicle.

Hit and run

The crime by 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. 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

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

Hold harmless

A promise which is made to pay any costs or claims which may result from an agreement. Quite often this is part of a settlement agreement, in which one party is concerned that there might be unknown lawsuits or claims stemming from the situation, so the other party agrees to cover them.


Person who is 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

One who is 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 cheque or note.


A) keeping in one's possession. B) Any ruling or decision of a Court. C) Any real property to which one has title. D) Investment in a business.

Holding company

A company, which is created to own the stock of other company, thereby often controlling the management and policies of all of them.

Holdover tenancy

The situation in which 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 and, if he/she does not leave, to a lawsuit for unlawful detainer.


A) Jargon for filing a declaration of homestead, as in "he homesteaded the property." B) The house and lot of a homeowner which the head of the household (usually either spouse) can declare in writing to be the principal dwelling of the family, record that declaration of homestead with the Recorder of Deeds and thereby exempt part of its value from judgment creditors. A similar exemption is available in bankruptcy without filing a declaration of homestead.


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


The killing of a human being by the act or omission of another. Non-criminal homicides include killing in self-defense, a misadventure like a hunting accident or automobile wreck without a violation of law like reckless driving, or legal (government) execution. Suicide is a homicide, but in most cases there is no one to prosecute if the suicide is successful. Assisting or attempting suicide can be a crime.

Hornbook law

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

Occupancy of a piece of real property which is coupled with a claim of ownership 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

An "adverse witness" in a trial who is found by the judge to be hostile 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, 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

When a law enforcement officer is so close behind the alleged criminal that he/she may continue the chase into another jurisdiction without stopping or seeking a warrant for an arrest in the other country or state.


The putting together, collecting, blending or combining 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 counsel

It means any attorney who works only for a particular business.


A family living together whether they are related or not.

Hung jury

It means there is no unanimous verdict. If the jury is hung the trial judge will declare a mistrial. A new trial from scratch, with a new jury panel, is required. The prosecutor can decide not to re-try the case, particularly if a majority of the jury favored acquittal.


It means "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.