How to Read Abbreviated Words in Court Records

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In the U.S., most (but not all) court records are public documents and, as such, are open to public inspection. However, for the sake of brevity, conciseness and uniformity, these records employ many abbreviations and acronyms (letters that stand for groups of words, like "ADW" for "Assault with a Deadly Weapon"). Some of these abbreviations are the same as those used in everyday English (like "st." for "street"), but others require more information to interpret.

Step 1

Begin with general overview guides to court record abbreviations designed for the layperson. The site AmeraUSA.net, for example, offers an alphabetical list of common abbreviations used in criminal courts. Also for the layperson, a good introduction to legal abbreviations can be found at YourDictionary.com. This site explains why such abbreviations are used and reviews some basic ones that you might run across in court documents.

Step 2

Consult a standard, comprehensive reference work such as "Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations,'' designed for attorneys, legal secretaries, paralegals and law students. Google.com has the entire text available online for free. The fifth edition (2001) contains over 35,000 abbreviations. A sixth edition was published in 2009, but you have to buy it.

Step 3

Learn how to interpret police testimony in court documents. An excellent source is the site Abbreviations.com. Narrow your search to "Police." As of May 2011, this site contained 1,542 entries that include abbreviations for suspects (race, age, ethnicity, gender), crimes, vehicles, suspicious behavior, drugs, weapons, community agencies, police personnel and departments, mental illness, geographic locations, crime scene details, actions taken and gang terminology.

Step 4

Decipher abbreviations or acronyms used for common words, not necessarily legal ones, by using a site like Acronym Finder. This site offers over 4 million entries, with numerous possible interpretations of each. Easily determine which one is the right one for you by the context or explanation given in parentheses, e.g., DBD = Dead Beat Dad (father in arrears of child support).