CALIFORNIA CAREGIVERS UNION, CORP
 
Glossary of Criminal Procedure Legal Terms you should know.

AFFIDAVIT: A written statement made under oath.

APPEAL: A request to a supervisory court, usually composed of a panel of judges, to overturn the legal ruling of a lower court.

ARRAIGNMENT: The initial appearance before a judge in a criminal case. At an arraignment, the charges against the defendant are read, a lawyer is appointed if the defendant cannot afford one, and the defendant's plea is entered.

BAIL: The money a defendant pays as a guarantee that he or she will show up in court at a later date. For most serious crimes, a judge sets bail during the arraignment.

BAIL SCHEDULE: The list that sets the amount of bail a defendant is required to pay based on what the charge is. A judge may be able to reduce the amount.

BENCH TRIAL: Also called court trial. A trial held before a judge and without a jury.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT: The highest level of proof required to win a case. Necessary to get a guilty verdict in criminal cases.

BILL OF RIGHTS: The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

BOOKING: Part of the process of being arrested in which the details of who a person is and why he or she was arrested are recorded into the police records.

BRIEF: A written document that outlines a party's legal arguments in a case.

BURDEN OF PROOF: The duty of a party in a lawsuit to persuade the judge or the jury that enough facts exist to prove the allegations of the case. Different levels of proof are required depending on the type of case.

CASE LAW: Also known as common law. The law created by judges when deciding individual disputes or cases.

CERTIORARI: Latin that means "to be informed of." Refers to the order a court issues so that it can review the decision and proceedings in a lower court and determine whether there were any irregularities. When such an order is made, it is said that the court has granted certiorari.

CHALLENGE FOR CAUSE: Ask that a potential juror be rejected if it is revealed that for some reason he or she is unable or unwilling to set aside preconceptions and pay attention only to the evidence.

CHANGE OF VENUE: A change in the location of a trial, usually granted to avoid prejudice against one of the parties.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE: Indirect evidence that implies something occurred but doesn't directly prove it. If a man accused of embezzling money from his company had made several big-ticket purchases in cash around the time of the alleged embezzlement, that would be circumstantial evidence that he had stolen the money.

CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE: The level of proof sometimes required in a civil case for the plaintiff to prevail. Is more than a preponderance of the evidence but less than beyond a reasonable doubt.

COMMON LAW: Also known as case law. The law created by judges when deciding individual disputes or cases.

CONCURRENT SENTENCES: Criminal sentences that can be served at the same time rather than one after the other.

CONTEMPT OF COURT: An action that interferes with a judge's ability to administer justice or that insults the dignity of the court. Disrespectful comments to the judge or a failure to heed a judge's orders could be considered contempt of court. A person found in contempt of court can face financial sanctions and, in some cases, jail time.

CROSS EXAMINATION: The questioning of an opposing party's witness about matters brought up during direct examination.

DECISION: The judgment rendered by a court after a consideration of the facts and legal issues before it.

DEFENDANT: In criminal cases, the person accused of the crime. In civil matters, the person or organization that is being sued.

DEPOSITION: Part of the pre-trial discovery (fact-finding) process in which a witness testifies under oath. A deposition is held out of court with no judge present, but the answers often can be used as evidence in the trial.

DIRECT EVIDENCE: Evidence that stands on its own to prove an alleged fact, such as testimony of a witness who says she saw a defendant pointing a gun at a victim during a robbery.

DIRECT EXAMINATION: The initial questioning of a witness by the party that called the witness.

DIRECTED VERDICT: A judge's order to a jury to return a specified verdict, usually because one of the parties failed to prove its case.

DISCOVERY: Part of the pre-trial litigation process during which each party requests relevant information and documents from the other side in an attempt to "discover" pertinent facts.

DISMISSAL WITH PREJUDICE: When a case is dismissed for good reason and the plaintiff is barred from bringing an action on the same claim.

DISMISSAL WITHOUT PREJUDICE: When a case is dismissed but the plaintiff is allowed to bring a new suit on the same claim.

DOUBLE JEOPARDY: Being tried twice for the same offense.

DUE PROCESS: The idea that laws and legal proceedings must be fair. The Constitution guarantees that the government cannot take away a person's basic rights to "life, liberty or property, without due process of law." Courts have issued numerous rulings about what this means in particular cases.

EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE: Portion of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prohibits discrimination by state government institutions. The clause grants all people "equal protection of the laws," which means that the states must apply the law equally and cannot give preference to one person or class of persons over another.

ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE: Portion of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constituion that prohibits government from "establishing" a religion.

EVIDENCE: The various things presented in court to prove an alleged fact. Includes testimony, documents, photographs, maps and video tapes.

EX PARTE: Latin that means "by or for one party." Refers to situations in which only one party (and not the adversary) appears before a judge. Such meetings are often forbidden.

EXPERT WITNESS: A witness with a specialized knowledge of a subject who is allowed to discuss an event in court even though he or she was not present. For example, an arson expert could testify about the probable cause of a suspicious fire.

FELONY: Serious crime punishable by incarceration for a year or more. Includes rape, murder, robbery, burglary, and arson.

GRAND JURY: A group of citizens convened in a criminal case to consider the prosecutor's evidence and determine whether probable cause exists to prosecute a suspect for a felony.

HABEAS CORPUS: Latin phrase meaning "you have the body." Prisoners often seek release by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate to a prison official ordering that an inmate be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisoned lawfully.

HEARSAY: Secondhand information that a witness only heard about from someone else and did not see or hear himself. Hearsay is not admitted in court because it's not trustworthy, though there are many exceptions.

HUNG JURY: A jury that is unable to reach a verdict.

IMMUNITY: Exemption from a legal duty, penalty or prosecution.

IMPAIRMENT: When a person's faculties are diminished so that his or her ability to see, hear, walk, talk and judge distances is below the normal level as set by the state. Typically, impairment is caused by drug or alcohol use, but can also be caused by mental illness. Even if a person's alcohol level is lower than the legal intoxication level, he can still be convicted if the state can show his abilities were impaired.

IMPLIED CONSENT LAWS: (also called express consent) Laws adopted by all states that apply to testing for alcohol in the blood, breath or urine (most states have such laws that apply to testing for the use of drugs). The principle underlying these laws is that any licensed driver who operates a vehicle has consented to submit to approved tests to show intoxication.

IN CAMERA: Latin for "in chambers." Refers to a hearing or inspection of documents that takes places in private, often in a judge's chambers.

INDICTMENT: A formal accusation of a felony, issued by a grand jury after considering evidence presented by a prosecutor.

INDIGENT: Lacking in funds; poor.

INFORMATION: A formal accusation of a crime, issued by a prosecutor. An alternative to an indictment.

INFRACTIONS: Sometimes called violations. Minor offenses, often traffic tickets, which are punishable only by a fine.

INTERLOCUTORY ORDER: Temporary order issued during the course of litigation. Typically cannot be appealed because it is not final.

INTERROGATORIES: Part of the pre-trial discovery (fact-finding) process in which a witness provides written answers to written questions under oath. The answers often can be used as evidence in the trial.

JUDGMENT: A court's official decision on the matters before it.

JURISDICTION: A court's authority to rule on the questions of law at issue in a dispute, typically determined by geographic location and type of case.

JURY CHARGE: The judge's instructions to the jurors on the law that applies in a case and definitions of the relevant legal concepts. These instructions may be complex and are often pivotal in a jury's discussions.

JUST CAUSE: A legitimate reason. Often used in the employment context to refer to the reasons why someone was fired.

LESSER INCLUDED OFFENSES: Charges that contain elements of the most serious charge against a defendant. For instance, a person charged with first-degree murder (which requires premeditation) could be convicted of second-degree murder (a killing done without premeditation) or manslaughter (a killing done in the heat of passion)

LIABILITY: Any legal responsibility, duty or obligation.

MANDATORY SENTENCE: A criminal sentence set by a legislature that establishes the minimum length of prison time for specified crimes and thus limits the amount of discretion a judge has when sentencing a defendant.

MIRANDA WARNING: The statement recited to individuals taken into police custody. It warns of their right to remain silent and to have an attorney.

MISDEMEANOR: Crime that is punishable by less than one year in jail, such as minor theft and simple assault that does not result in substantial bodily injury.

MOTION: A request asking a judge to issue a ruling or order on a legal matter.

MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL: Request in which a losing party asserts that a trial was unfair due to legal errors that prejudiced its case.

MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE: A request to a judge to keep out evidence at a trial or hearing, often made when a party believes the evidence was unlawfully obtained.

NOTICE OF APPEAL: The document a person must file with the trial court in order to pursue an appeal.

OWN RECOGNIZANCE: Sometimes called personal recognizance. A person who promises to appear in court to answer criminal charges can sometimes be released from jail without having to pay bail. This person is said to be released on his or her own recognizance.

PAROLE: A system for the supervised release of prisoners before their terms are over. Congress has abolished parole for people convicted of federal crimes, but most states still offer parole.

PERJURY: A crime in which a person knowingly makes a false statement while under oath in court. In some jurisdictions, making a false statement in a legal document can also be considered perjury.

PERSONAL RECOGNIZANCE: Sometimes called own recognizance. A person who promises to appear in court to answer criminal charges can sometimes be released from jail without having to pay bail. This person is said to be released on his or her personal recognizance.

PETIT JURY: The jurors empaneled to hear a civil or criminal trial. Distinguised from a grand jury.

PETITION: A written application to the court asking for specific action to be taken.

PETTY OFFENSES: Minor crimes, such as traffic violations, which are generally punishable by a fine or short jail term.

PLEA BARGAIN: An negotiated agreement between the defense and the prosecution in a criminal case. Typically the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a specified charge in exchange for an oral promise of a lower sentence.

PRELIMINARY HEARING: Legal proceeding used in some states in which a prosecutor presents evidence to a judge in an attempt to show that there is probable cause that a person committed a crime. If the judge is convinced probable cause exists to charge the person, then the prosecution proceeds to the next phase. If not, the charges are dropped.

PRE-SENTENCING REPORT: A report prepared by a probation department for a judge to assist in sentencing. Typically contains information about prior convictions and arrests, work history and family details.

PRE-TRIAL DIVERSION: Also known as adjournment in contemplation of dismissal or conditional dismissal. A program in which a defendant essentially is put on probation for a set period of time and his or her case does not go to trial during that time. If the defendant meets the conditions set by the court, then the charge will be dismissed.

PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION: Conversation that takes places within the context of a protected relationship, such as that between an attorney and client, a husband and wife, a priest and penitent, and a doctor and patient. The law often protects against forced disclosure of such conversations.

PRO SE: (pronounced pro say) Latin phrase that means "for himself." A person who represents himself in court alone without the help of a lawyer is said to appear pro se.

PROBABLE CAUSE: A reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime.

PROBATION: The release into the community of a defendant who has been found guilty of a crime, typically under certain conditions, such as paying a fine, doing community service or attending a drug treatment program. Violation of the conditions can result in incarceration. In the employment context, probation refers to the trial period some new employees go through.

PROSECUTOR: The government lawyer who investigates and tries criminal cases. Typically known as a district attorney, state's attorney, or United States attorney.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: A lawyer who works for a state or local agency representing clients accused of a crime who cannot afford to pay.

QUASH: To nullify, void or declare invalid.

REASONABLE DOUBT: The level of certainty a juror must have to find a defendant guilty of a crime.

RE-CROSS EXAMINATION: Questioning a witness about matters brought up during re-direct examination.

RE-DIRECT EXAMINATION: Questioning a witness about matters brought up during cross examination.

RIGHT AGAINST SELF-INCRIMINATION: Granted by the Fifth Amendment. Allows a person to refuse to answer questions that would subject him or her to accusation of a criminal act.

SERVICE OF PROCESS: The act of notifying the other parties that an action has begun and informing them of the steps they should take in order to respond.

STARE DECISIS: Latin for "to stand by that which is decided." Refers to the principle of adhering to precedent when deciding a case.

SUBPOENA: An order compelling a person to appear to testify or produce documents.

SUMMATION: The closing argument in a trial.

SUMMONS: A legal document that notifies a party that a lawsuit has been initiated and states when and where the party must appear to answer the charges.

VERDICT: The formal decision issued by a jury on the issues of fact that were presented at trial.

VOIR DIRE: A French phrase that means "to speak the truth." The process of interviewing prospective jurors. Pronounced "vwa dear."

WARRANT: An official order authorizing a specific act, such as an arrest or the search of someone's home.

WITNESS: Person who comes to court and swears under oath to give truthful evidence.

WRIT: A judicial order.


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