Court & Judge idioms
abide by a decision
- follow the orders that a court/judge has given
The company was forced to abide by the decision of the judge.
as sober as a judge
- alert and completely sober, not drunk, very formal
My father is always as sober as a judge when he gets into his car to drive.
at the mercy of (the court/someone)
- having no defense against the court/someone
My friend was at the mercy of the court when he went before the judge.
beat the rap
- escape conviction and punishment for a crime
The man hired a good lawyer and was able to beat the rap easily.
cast doubt on (someone or something)
- cause someone or something to be doubted
The evidence presented at the trial cast doubt on the truthfulness of the woman's testimony.
clear (someone's) name
- prove that someone is not guilty of a crime
The woman went to court to clear her name of the false charges.
come down hard on (someone)
- scold/punish someone severely, attack someone vigorously
The judge came down hard on the boy who had been arrested for breaking into a house.
cop a plea
- plead guilty to a crime or decide not to fight against a charge in order to try and receive a light punishment, the same meaning as plea bargain (usually done in a negotiation between the defendant and his or her lawyer and the prosecutor)
The man copped a plea and went to hear what the judge would decide regarding his case.
- question a suspect or a witness in a trial
The lawyer was very careful when he began to cross-examine the witness.
a cut-and-dried (case/decision)
- fixed, determined beforehand
The case was cut-and-dried and it ended in less than an hour.
decide in favor of (someone)
- determine that someone is not guilty or is the winner of something
The court decided in favor of the government in their dispute with the striking workers.
face the music
- receive punishment or judgement for something wrong or illegal that you have done
The young man was forced to face the music for the crimes that he had committed.
fair and impartial
- a fair and unbiased look at something
The judge made a fair and impartial decision in the case against the small store.
find (someone) guilty
- decide that someone is guilty in a court of law
The judge found the young man guilty of breaking and entering a small store.
find (someone) innocent
- decide that someone is innocent in a court of law
The woman went to court but the judge found her innocent of all charges.
for the record
- say something so that there will be a record of a particular fact
I was told, for the record, that my case had very little chance of succeeding in a court of law
get a slap on the wrist
- get light punishment for a crime or wrongdoing
The boy got a slap on the wrist for causing the damage to the public washroom.
get a tongue-lashing
- get a severe verbal scolding for doing something wrong
The girl got a tongue-lashing from the judge over her role in the crime.
get down to the facts
- begin to discuss things that matter, get to the truth
As soon as the trial began the lawyers began to get down to the facts of the case.
get off (easy/lightly)
- receive very little or no punishment for something
The young man got off easy and did not have to go to jail for his crime.
get one's knuckles rapped
- receive punishment for something
The boy got his knuckles rapped after a stern lecture from the judge.
get (something) out in the open
- stop hiding a fact or a secret
The lawyers were able to quickly get things out in the open during the trial.
get the benefit of the doubt
- receive a judgement in your favor when the evidence is neither for you nor against you
The girl got the benefit of the doubt and was not found guilty of the crime.
give (someone) a fair shake
- give someone fair treatment
The man did not believe that the judge would give him a fair shake at his trial.
give (someone) a slap on the wrist
- give someone light punishment
The young offender was given a slap on the wrist by the judge but was required to do some community work as compensation for his crime.
give (someone) the benefit of the doubt
- make a judgement in someone's favor when the evidence is neither for nor against the person
The police gave the man the benefit of the doubt and did not arrest him as a suspect for the crime.
give (someone) their freedom
- set someone free
The court decided to give the man his freedom because of his good behavior in prison.
go by the book
- follow the rules exactly
The court clerks always go by the book when they are dealing with court matters.
go easy on (someone or something)
- be kind or gentle with someone or something
The judge wanted to go easy on the young man but his bad attitude made it difficult to try and help him.
go scot-free/get off scot-free
- go unpunished or be acquitted of a crime
The lawyer was able to get off scot-free in the case involving his illegal transactions.
a grain of truth
- the smallest amount of truth
There was only a grain of truth in what the witness said during the trial.
hand a verdict/decision down (to someone)
- announce or deliver a legal decision or verdict in a court
The court clerk announced that the judge would hand the verdict down in the morning.
hang in the balance
- be in an undecided state
The future of the criminal was hanging in the balance as he waited for the judge's decision.
have/get one's day in court
- have an opportunity to say or explain something or give your opinion in court
The business executive had his day in court and was cleared of any suggestion of wrongdoing.
a hung jury
- a jury that is divided and unable to agree on a verdict
The trial ended in a hung jury which made another trial necessary.
- when someone is absent from a court etc.
The judge looked at the evidence and sentenced the man in absentia.
in contempt of court
- disobedience of the orders and authority of the court, disrespect for the court process
The man refused to answer the questions of the judge and was found to be in contempt of court.
in defiance of (someone or something)
- in resistence to someone or someone's orders
The union was in defiance of the court order and was given a large fine.
- a court is operating or functioning
The court was in session when we arrived at the courthouse.
in (someone's) favor
- to someone's advantage
The judge ruled in the our favor in our dispute with the hospital.
judge (someone or something) on its/their own merit(s)
- judge or evaluate someone or something on their own achievements and virtues
We judged the man on his own merits and not by what other people were saying about him.
jump to conclusions
- judge or decide something without having all the facts
The manager had jumped to conclusions when she accused the employee of stealing from the company.
the jury is still out (on someone or something)
- a decision has not been reached on someone or something (used often and in a casual manner when one has not made a decision about something)
The jury is still out on whether or not we will move or not.
a kangaroo court
- an illegal court formed by a group of people to settle a dispute among themselves
There was a kangaroo court in the movie where the ranchers decided to make their own court.
keep one's own counsel
- not tell other people about one's thoughts and plans
Our lawyer was keeping his own counsel about how to proceed with our defense.
laugh (something) out of court
- dismiss something as ridiculous
The lawyer wanted to sue the man for hitting the dog but the judge laughed the case out of court.
a leading question
- a question to a witness that is designed to suggest or produce the reply that is wanted by the questioner
The judge reprimanded the lawyer for continuing to ask leading questions during the trial.
let (someone) off (easy)
- release someone without punishment
The judge let the man off easy in spite of the strong case against him.
a miscarriage of justice
- a wrong or mistaken decision made in a court of law
The trial was a miscarriage of justice and nobody was happy with the result.
the moment of truth
- the point at which someone has to face the reality of a situation
The moment of truth in the trial came when the lawyer presented the last piece of evidence.
not hold water
- make no sense, be illogical
The argument by the lawyer did not hold water.
on the bench
- a judge is sitting and directing a session of court
There was no indication by the court of who would be sitting on the bench during the important trial.
- being tried in court
The man is on trial for stealing money from his company.
an open-and-shut case
- a legal matter that is simple and uncomplicated
It was an open-and-shut case after the lawyer presented the evidence to the judge.
pick holes in an argument
- find all the flaws in an argument
The experienced lawyer found it very easy to pick holes in the argument of the main witness.
- plead guilty to a crime or decide not to fight against a charge in order to try and receive a light punishment (usually done in a negotiation between the defendant and his or her lawyer and the prosecutor)
The man decided to plea bargain in order not to have to endure a long trial with an uncertain result.
- the appropriate but chance reward or punishment by someone who deserves it
It was poetic justice when the supervisor who was harassing the workers lost his job because the president did not want him to work for the company anymore.
raise an objection (to/about someone or something)
- make an objection about someone or something
The defense lawyer stood up during the trial to raise an objection about the testimony of the witness.
the responsible party
- legally or morally obliged to do something or accept the blame for something
The judge determined that the man was the responsible party for the damage and must pay a large penalty.
send (someone) up the river
- send someone to prison
The judge sent the man up the river for three years.
settle (something) out of court
- reach an agreement without having to go through a court of law
It was very difficult but we were finally able to settle the dispute out of court.
sit in judgement of (someone)
- make a judgement of someone
The tribunal members were sitting in judgement of the group involved in the trade dispute.
to stand trial
- to be tried in court
The man had to stand trial for stealing the credit cards.
swear on a stack of bibles
- pledge to tell the truth about something (in a court of law someone may swear to tell the truth by placing his or her hand on a bible or other religious text)
The man swore on a stack of bibles that he had never seen the accused criminal before.
take an oath
- make an oath, swear to something
Before the trial began I had to take an oath and promise to tell the truth.
take the Fifth
- in the United States a witness at a trial has the right to refuse to incriminate him or herself because of the protection of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States
The business executive decided to take the Fifth rather than give testimony at the trial.
take the stand
- sit in the witness chair in a courtroom
The main witness at the trial took the stand after the other witnesses were finished.
throw oneself at the mercy of the court
- ask a judge for mercy when being sentenced for a crime
The man knew that he had no excuse for what he had done so all that he could do was throw himself at the mercy of the court and hope for a light sentence.
throw the book at (someone)
- charge or convict someone of as many crimes or for as much time as possible
The criminal showed almost no remorse so the judge decided to throw the book at him.
a travesty of justice
- a legal action that is an insult to the system of justice
The trial was a travesty of justice and nobody was happy with the result.
- to take and be bound by an oath
The man explained what had happened at the scene of the crime while he was under oath at the trial.