Legal Terms

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Glossary of Legal Terms

Acquittal

In a criminal case, a verdict by a jury or judge that the defendant is not guilty of the offense.

Adjudication

The formal decision of the court in a given case as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

Affiant

A person who makes an affidavit.

Affidavit

A written statement which the affiant swears to be true.

Allegation

The statement of the issue, which must be proven.

Appeal

Review by a higher court of a lower court’s decision.

Arraignment

An appearance before a court of law for the purpose of pleading to a criminal charge.

Bail

A monetary or other form of security given to insure the appearance of the defendant at every stage of the proceedings.

Bench Warrant

An order for arrest issued by a judge to answer a charge of contempt or failure to appear.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The degree of proof needed for a jury or a judge to legally find a defendant guilty.

Capias

A writ from a judge to law enforcement, commanding them to take a defendant into custody.

Community Control

A program in which the freedom of the offender is restricted within the community to his/her home, work, or a non- institutional residential placement. Specified sanctions are imposed and enforced as part of the program by a community control officer.

Continuance

A delay or postponement of a court hearing or trial.

Criminal Justice System

The governmental agencies charged with enforcement, prosecution of alleged violators of the criminal laws, the court hearing of charges against the accused, and the punishment and supervision of the convicted.

Defendant

A person who has been formally charged with the commission of a crime.

Deposition

The recorded sworn testimony of a witness given outside open court.

Discovery

A procedure by which one party gains information or evidence held by another party.

Disposition

The final settlement of a criminal case.

Felony

A serious crime for which the person may be imprisoned for more than one year.

Habeas Corpus

A procedure for obtaining a judicial determination of the legality of an individual’s custody.

Hearsay Evidence

Statements made by a witness, based upon what someone else told him/her, and not upon personal knowledge or observation which are normally inadmissible as evidence but this is subject to exceptions.

Indictment

A formal written accusation made by a grand jury and filed with the court alleging that a specific person has committed a specific crime.

Minor

A person under the age of 18.

Misdemeanor

A crime for which the punishment may be a fine and/or imprisonment in a local jail or facility for less than one year.

Motion

An application to a court of law for the purpose of obtaining some particular order or ruling.

Nolo Contendere (No Contest)

“I will not contest it.” A plea to a criminal charge that, although it is not an admission of guilt, generally has the same effect as a plea of guilty.

Not Guilty

A verdict by a judge or jury that a person accused of a crime did not commit it or that there is not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime.

Nolle Prosequi (Nol Pross)

A decision by the prosecuting attorney, filed with the court, that a case will not be further prosecuted.

Parole

The conditional release from prison of a person who has served a part of his/her sentence before the end of the sentence with requirements for the offender’s behavior set and supervised by a parole agency.

Perjury

The crime of lying under oath.

Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI)

A document prepared by the Department of Corrections to assist the court in determining an appropriate sentence. The document details the past behavior, prior criminal history and convictions, family circumstances and personality of the offender and gives information about the crime committed.

Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI)

A diversionary program with probationary sanctions including restitution. A program for first-time offenders of non-violent crimes which must have the approval of the state attorney and the victim of the crime. It basically functions as “pre-trial probation.” If the offender successfully completes the program, the charges are dropped. If the offender does not fulfill the terms of the program, the charges are reactivated and full prosecution through the court will be pursued.

Probable Cause

The degree of proof needed to arrest and begin prosecution against a person suspected of committing a crime; the evidence must be such that a reasonable person would believe that this specific crime was committed and that it is probable that the person being accused committed the offense.

Probation

Conditional freedom granted to an offender by the court after conviction or guilty plea with requirements for the offender’s behavior set and supervised by the court through the Department of Corrections or other agency authorized to supervise said defendants.

Reasonable Doubt

Refers to the degree of certainty required for a juror to legally find a criminal defendant guilty. It is not a possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt.

Release On Own Recognizance (ROR)

The release of an accused person by a judicial officer in lieu of bail upon the promise of the accused that he/she will return to court when ordered to do so.

Rights of The Defendant

The powers and privileges which are constitutionally guaranteed to any person arrested or accused of committing a crime, such as the right to remain silent; the right to an attorney at all stages of the proceedings; the right to a court appointed attorney if the defendant does not have the financial means to hire his/her own counsel; the right to release on reasonable bail; the right to a speedy public trial before a judge or jury; the right to the process of the court to subpoena and produce witnesses; the right to see, hear and question the witnesses during the trial; and the right to refuse to incriminate oneself.

Sentencing

The legal process in which a defendant who has been found guilty of a crime hears in court what punishment will be imposed against him.

Subpoena

A judicial order to appear at a certain place and time to give testimony.

Summons

A written order by a judge requiring a defendant to appear in court at a specific time and place to answer the charge.

Suspended Sentence

A court decision to postpone the pronouncing of sentence on a convicted person or to postpone the execution of sentence that has been pronounced by the court.

Testimony

Evidence given by a witness who has been sworn to tell the truth.

Trial

An examination of issues of fact and law before a judge and sometimes a jury at which time the evidence is presented to determine whether or not the accused person is guilty of committing a specific crime.

Verdict

The decision of a judge or jury at the end of a trial.

Witness

One who gives evidence in a case before a court and who attests or swears to facts or gives or bears testimony under oath.

Writ

A judge’s order requiring that something be done outside the courtroom or authorizing that it be done.