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LEGAL DICTIONARY - LETTER M


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MAGISTRATE
Court official with limited authority.

MAJORITY 
(1) More than half of something, such as the votes cast in an election. (2) The age at which a person can exercise the legal rights of an adult, such as entering into contracts or voting.

MANDAMUS
A writ which commands an individual, organization (e.g. government), administrative tribunal or court to perform a certain action, usually to correct a prior illegal action or a failure to act in the first place.

MANDATE
Command from a court directing the enforcement of a judgment, sentence or decree.

MANDATORY 
Required, compulsory or obligatory.

MARITIME LAW
A very specific body of law peculiar to transportation by water, seamen and harbors.

MARRIAGE
The state-recognized, voluntary and exclusive contract for the lifelong union of two persons. Most countries do not recognize marriage between same-sex couples or polygamous marriages.

MASSACHUSETTS TRUST
A unique way to organize a business where the property is bought by, or transferred to, a trustee (such as a trust company) and the trustee issues trust "units", which the investors, or their designates, hold as beneficiaries. This is a common way to structure a large real estate purchase.

MEDIATION
The most popular form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), mediation involves the appointment of a mediator who acts as a facilitator assisting the parties in communicating, essentially negotiating a settlement. The mediator does not adjudicate the issues in dispute or to force a compromise; only the parties, of their own volition, can shift their position in order to achieve a settlement. The result of a successful mediation is called a "settlement."

MENS REA
Latin for "guilty mind." Many serious crimes require the proof of "mens rea" before a person can be convicted. In other words, the prosecution must prove not only that the accused committed the offence but that he (or she) did it knowing that it was prohibited; that their act (or omission) was done with an intent to commit a crime.

MINOR
A person who is legally underage. It varies between 21 and 18 years of age. Each state sets an age threshold at which time a person is invested with all legal rights as an adult. For many new adults, this may mean access to places serving alcohol and the right to purchase and consume alcohol, smoke cigarettes and drive a car. But there are many other legal rights which a minor does not have such as, in some states, the right to own land, to sign a contract or to get married.

MISTRIAL
A partial or complete trial which is found to be null and void and of no effect because of some irregularity. The sudden end of trial before it would ordinarily end because of some reason which invalidates it. Once a mistrial is declared, the situation is as if the trial had never occurred. Some common reasons for a mistrial include a deadlocked jury, the death of a juror or a serious procedural and prejudicial mistake made at the trial which cannot be corrected.

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES
These are facts that, while not negating an offence or wrongful action, tend to show that the defendant may have had some grounds for acting the way he/she did. For example, assault, though provoked, is still assault but provocation may constitute mitigating circumstances and allow for a lesser sentence.

MITIGATION OF DAMAGES
A person who sues another for damages has a responsibility to minimize those damages, as far as reasonable.

MOOT
Also called a "moot point": a side issue, problem or question which does not have to be decided to resolve the main issues in a dispute.

MOOT COURT
Fictional or hypothetical trial, usually hosted by law schools, as training for future barristers or litigators.

MORAL RIGHTS
In copyright law, rights guaranteed authors by the Berne Convention that are considered personal to the author and that cannot therefore be bought, sold or transferred. Moral rights include the right to proclaim authorship of a work, disclaim authorship of a work and object to any modification or use of the work that would be injurious to the author's reputation. Moral rights are not recognized as such by U.S. Copyright law. The U.S. Copyright Office and the courts take the position that U.S. laws adequately protect artists under individual statutes.

MORATORIUM
The temporary suspension of legal action against a person.

MORTGAGE
An interest given on a piece of land, in writing, to guarantee the payment of a debt or the execution of some action. It automatically becomes void when the debt is paid or the action is executed. In some jurisdictions, it entails a conveyance of the land until the debt is paid in full. The person lending the money and receiving the mortgage is called the mortgagee; the person who concedes a mortgage as security upon their property is called a mortgagor.

MOTION
A request to the court.

MURDER
Intentional homicide (the taking of another person's life), without legal justification or provocation.