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Glossary

acquittal
what an accused criminal defendant receives if he/she is found not guilty. It is a verdict (a judgment in a criminal case) of not guilty.

arraignment
to bring a criminal defendant before the court, at which time the charges are presented to him/her, the opportunity to enter a plea is given, a determination of whether the party has a lawyer is made (or whether a lawyer needs to be appointed), if necessary setting the amount of bail, and future appearances are scheduled

arrest
to take or hold a suspected criminal with legal authority, as by a law enforcement officer.

bail
the money or bond put up to secure the release of a person who has been charged with a crime. The theory is that bail guarantees the appearance of the defendant in court when required.

booking
a procedure at a jail or police station following an arrest in which information about the arrest (as the time, the name of the arrested person, and the crime for which the arrest was made) is entered in the police register.

change of venue
the transfer of a case from one county or jurisdiction to another for trial.

circumstantial evidence
evidence in a trial which is not directly from an eyewitness or participant and requires some reasoning to prove a fact.

complaint
the first document filed with the court (actually with the County Clerk or Clerk of the Court) by a person or entity claiming legal rights against another.

concurrent
"concurrent sentences," in which the prison time for more than one crime is served at the same time and only lasts as long as the longest term.

consecutive
"consecutive sentences," in which the terms for several crimes are served one after another.

conviction
the result of a criminal trial in which the defendant has been found guilty of a crime.

crime
a violation of a law in which there is injury to the public or a member of the public and a term in jail or prison, and/or a fine as possible penalties.

cross examination
the opportunity for the attorney (or an unrepresented party) to ask questions in court of a witness who has testified in a trial on behalf of the opposing party.

defendant
the party sued in a civil lawsuit or the party charged with a crime in a criminal prosecution.

defense attorney
the attorney representing the defendant in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution.

deposition
the taking and recording of testimony of a witness under oath before a court reporter in a place away from the courtroom before trial.

direct examination
the first questioning of a witness during a trial or deposition.

disposition
the court's final determination of a lawsuit or criminal charge.

duces tecum (dooh-kess-take-uhm)
a court order requiring a witness to bring documents in the possession or under the control of the witness to a certain place at a certain time. Failure to respond to a subpoena duces tecum may subject the party served with the subpoena to punishment for contempt of court for disobeying a court order.

evidence
every type of proof legally presented at trial (allowed by the judge) which is intended to convince the judge and/or jury of alleged facts material to the case. It can include oral testimony of witnesses, including experts on technical matters, documents, public records, objects, photographs and depositions (testimony under oath taken before trial). It also includes so-called "circumstantial evidence" which is intended to create belief by showing surrounding circumstances which logically lead to a conclusion of fact.

exclusionary rule
the rule that excludes, from trial of the accused, evidence illegally seized or obtained.

felony
a crime sufficiently serious to be punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison.

grand jury
a jury, usually composed of from twelve to twenty-three members, that determines whether or not a suspect should be charged with an offense.

hearsay
second-hand evidence in which the witness is not telling what he/she knows personally, but what others have said to him/her.

indictment
a written accusation filed against the defendant, voted on by a Grand Jury based upon a proposed charge, witnesses' testimony and other evidence presented by the prosecutor and signed by the Grand Jury Foreperson. To bring an indictment the Grand Jury will not find guilt, but only the probability that a crime was committed, that the accused person did it and that he/she should be tried.

information
an accusation or criminal charge brought by the prosecutor without a Grand Jury indictment. This "information" must state the alleged crimes in writing and must be delivered to the defendant at the first court appearance (arraignment).

misdemeanor
a lesser crime punishable by a fine and/or county jail time for up to one year. Misdemeanors are distinguished from felonies, which can be punished by a state or federal prison term. They are tried in the lowest local court such as municipal, police or justice courts.

motion for mistrial
a motion filed by the defense seeking dismissal of the charges because of improper conduct on the part of the prosecution, judge, jury, or witnesses during trial.

parole
the release of a convicted criminal defendant from imprisonment, but not from legal custody, for rehabilitation outside of prison under such conditions and provisions for supervision as the Board of Probation and Parole may determine. Parole is an administrative act and follows incarceration.

plea bargaining
in criminal procedure, a negotiation between the defendant and his attorney on one side and the prosecutor on the other, in which the defendant agrees to plead "guilty" or "no contest" to some crimes, in return for reduction of the severity of the charges, dismissal of some of the charges, the prosecutor's willingness to recommend a particular sentence or some other benefit to the defendant.

plea of guilty
an admission of guilty in open court.

preliminary hearing
in criminal law, a hearing to determine if a person charged with a felony, should be tried for the crime charged, based on whether there is some substantial evidence that he/she committed the crime.

pre-sentence investigation (SAR)
a report prepared by the Board of Probation and Parole detailing the facts of the offense, the defendant’s prior record, social history, and other pertinent information to assist the court in sentencing the defendant.

probable cause
sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected with a crime.

probation
a chance to remain free (or serve only a short time) given by a judge to a person convicted of a crime instead of being sent to jail or prison. Probation is only given under specific court-ordered terms, such as performing public service work, staying away from liquor, paying a fine, maintaining good behavior, getting mental therapy and reporting regularly to a probation officer. Violation of probation terms may result in the person being subjected to the original sentence disposition.

prosecutor
generic term for the government's attorney in a criminal case, including Prosecuting Attorney, District Attorney, States Attorney, U.S. Attorney, Attorney General, Solicitor General, or special prosecutor.

public defender
an elected or appointed public official (usually of a county), who is an attorney regularly assigned by the courts to defend people accused of crimes who cannot afford a private attorney.

release on own recognizance (ROR)
the basis for a judge allowing a person accused of a crime to be free while awaiting trial, without posting bail, on the defendant's own promise to appear and his/her reputation.

sentence
the punishment given to a person convicted of a crime. A sentence is ordered by the judge, based on the verdict of the jury (or the judge's decision if there is no jury) within the possible punishments set by state law).

subpoena
an order of the court for a witness to appear at a particular time and place to testify and/or produce documents in the control of the witness (if a "subpoena duces tecum failure to appear as required by the subpoena can be punished as contempt of court if it appears the absence was intentional or without cause.

summons
an official order notifying the person named that she/he is required to appear in court on a day named and answer the complaint stated in the summons.

suspended execution of sentence
a disposition where the defendant receives an actual sentence for a specific period of incarceration or fine, but is placed on probation for a period of time generally with special conditions, in lieu of serving the sentence. Violations of any of the conditions of probation may result in the defendant’s sentence being ordered served.

suspended imposition of sentence
a disposition where the defendant does not receive an actual sentence for a specific period of incarceration or fine, but is placed on probation for a period of time generally with special conditions, in lieu of serving the sentence. Violations of any of the conditions of probation may result in the court imposing a sentence on the defendant and ordering it served.

verdict
the decision of a jury or judge after a trial.

voir dire
the questioning of prospective jurors by a judge and attorneys in court. Voir dire is used to determine if any juror is biased and/or cannot deal with the issues fairly, or if there is cause not to allow a juror to serve (knowledge of the facts; acquaintanceship with parties, witnesses or attorneys; occupation which might lead to bias; prejudice against the death penalty; or previous experiences such as having been sued in a similar case.

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