Sanction This is a very unusual word with two contradictory meanings. To "sanction" can mean to ratify or to approve but it can also mean to punish. The "sanction" of a crime refers to the actual punishment, usually expressed as a fine or jail term.
Sanctuary A special criminal law option available in Medieval times to persons who had just committed a crime, allowing them to seek refuge in a church or monastery. There, they could be exempted from the normal prosecution which, in those days, was quite severe (see, for example, The Law's Hall of Horrors). But the ordeal, even within sanctuary, was no piece of cake. The fugitive had to remain within the walls of the sanctuary, abandon his or her oath to the king, followed which they had a short period of time to leave the country. They were considered to be "dead", so much so that their land was forfeited to the King and their wife considered to be a widow. If they refused to renounce their oath, they could be starved out of the sanctuary. Henry VIII of England even took to branding them with a hot iron before they left the country just in case they tried to return; they could then be quickly spotted and arrested. Abolished from the common law in 1624 and, in France, at the time of the Revolution, the principle of sanctuary continues today, in somewhat altered form, as diplomatic asylum under international law.
Scienter Latin for knowledge. In legal situations, the word is usually used to refer to "guilty knowledge". For example, owners of vicious dogs may be liable for injuries caused by these dogs if they can prove the owner's "scienter" (i.e. that the owner was aware, before the attack, of the dog's vicious character).
Seal To mark a document with a seal; to authenticate or make binding by affixing a seal. Court seal, corporate seal.
Search warrant A court order (i.e. signed by a judge) that gives a police the permission to enter private property and to search for evidence of the commission of a crime, for the proceeds of crime or property that the police suspect may be used to commit a crime. These court orders are obtained on the basis of a sworn statement by the requesting law enforcement officer and will precisely describe the place to be searched and, in some cases, the exact property being sought.
Secondary authority Legal encyclopedias, treatises, legal texts, law review articles, and citators. Writings which set forth the opinion of the writer as to the law.
Secured debts In bankruptcy, a debt is secured if the debtor gave the creditor a right to repossess the property or goods used as collateral.
Seisin The legal possession of property. In law, the term refers more specifically to the possession of land by a freeholder. For example, a owner of a building has seisin, but a tenant does not, because the tenant, although enjoying possession, does not have the legal title in the building.
Self-defense The claim that an act otherwise criminal was legally justifiable because it was necessary to protect a person or property from the threat or action of another.
Self-incrimination, privilege against: The constitutional right of people to refuse to give testimony against themselves that could subject them to criminal prosecution. The right is guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution . Asserting the right is often referred to as "taking the Fifth."
Self-proving will A will whose validity does not have to be testified to in court by the witnesses to it, since the witnesses executed an affidavit reflecting proper execution of the will prior to the maker's death.
Sentence The punishment given to a person who has been convicted (i.e. found to be guilty) of a crime. It may be time in jail, community service or a period of probation.
Sentence Report (See Presentence Report.)
Sequester To separate. Sometimes juries are separated from outside influences during their deliberations. For example, this may occur during a highly publicized trial.
Sequestration The taking of someone's property, voluntarily (by deposit) or involuntarily (by seizure), by court officers or into the possession of a third party, awaiting the outcome of a trial in which ownership of that property is at issue.