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Criminal Law Glossary

Town Law Publishing Jan. 1, 2024

1. Acquittal: A judgment of court, based on the decision of either a jury or a judge, that a person accused is not guilty of the crime for which he has been tried.

2. Affidavit: A written statement of facts confirmed by the oath of the party making it.

3. Arraignment: A proceeding in which an individual who is accused of committing a crime is brought into court, told of the charges, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

4. Bail: Security given for the release of a criminal defendant or witness from legal custody to secure his/her appearance on the day and time set by the court.

5. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: The standard in a criminal case requiring that the jury be satisfied to a moral certainty that every element of a crime has been proven by the prosecution.

6. Capital Offense: A crime punishable by death.

7. Charge: The formal accusation filed by the prosecutor's office that a specific person has committed a specific crime.

8. Conviction: A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.

9. Criminal Procedure: The rules and process by which a criminal case is handled.

10. Defendant: In a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

11. Defense Attorney: The lawyer who represents accused offenders and convicted offenders in their dealings with criminal justice.

12. Double Jeopardy: The prosecution of a person twice for the same offense.

13. Due Process: The constitutional guarantee that a defendant will receive a fair and impartial trial.

14. Extradition: The process by which one jurisdiction surrenders a person accused or convicted of committing a crime in another jurisdiction, over to the other's law enforcement.

15. Felony: A serious crime, in contrast to a misdemeanor, punishable by a year or more in prison.

16. Grand Jury: A body of persons sworn to inquire into crime and, if appropriate, bring accusations (indictments) against the suspected criminals.

17. Habeas Corpus: A writ (court order) that commands an individual or a government official who has restrained another to produce the prisoner at a designated time and place so that the court can determine the legality of custody.

18. Immunity: Grant by the court, which assures someone will not face prosecution in return for providing criminal evidence.

19. Indictment: A formal charge by a grand jury stating there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial.

20. Juvenile Delinquency: Criminal activities committed by minors.

21. Misdemeanor: A crime less serious than a felony, punishable by less than a year of imprisonment.

22. Miranda Warning: The constitutional rights of a detained person, including the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney.

23. No Contest: A plea by the defendant that allows the judge to find him/her guilty without admitting guilt.

24. Parole: Supervised release of a prisoner from imprisonment on certain prescribed conditions.

25. Plea Bargain: An agreement in a criminal case where a prosecutor and a defendant arrange to end the case against the defendant before it goes to a judge or jury trial.

26. Probation: A sentencing alternative to imprisonment allowing a person found guilty of an offense to stay in the community, usually under conditions and under the supervision of a probation officer.

27. Prosecution: The lawyer(s) who represent the state or federal government in criminal cases.

28. Public Defender: Government-employed lawyers who represent defendants who can't afford to hire private counsel.

29. Restitution: The act of compensating a victim for an injury, damage, or loss caused by a crime.

30. Search Warrant: A written order issued by a judge that allows a law enforcement officer to search a specific area for a specific piece of evidence.

31. Self-Incrimination: The act of exposing oneself to prosecution, especially by giving evidence or testimony.

32. Sentencing: After a defendant is convicted or pleads guilty, a judge will decide on the appropriate punishment during the sentencing phase of a criminal case.

33. Subpoena: A command, issued under authority of a court or other authorized government entity, to a witness to appear and give testimony.

34. Summary Offense: A minor crime that can be punished by a fine or a short jail sentence.

35. Testimony: The evidence given by a witness under oath.

36. Trial: The examination of facts and law presided over by a judge (or, in limited cases, a jury) to determine criminal guilt or innocence or to resolve a civil dispute.

37. Victim Impact Statement: A written or spoken statement made as part of the judicial legal process, allowing crime victims the opportunity to speak during the sentencing of the defendant, or at subsequent parole hearings.

38. Voir Dire: The process by which attorneys select, or perhaps more appropriately reject, certain jurors to hear a case.

39. Witness: A person who has knowledge related to a case, who makes a statement under oath.

40. Writ: A written court order directing a person to take, or refrain from taking, a certain act.

41. White-Collar Crime: Non-violent crime for financial gain committed by means of deception by persons with special professional status or with opportunity for controlled decision-making.

42. Criminal Insanity: A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a defendant to understand the wrongfulness of his acts.

43. Malfeasance: The commission of an act that is unequivocally illegal or completely wrongful.

44. Obstruction of Justice: Any attempt to hinder the discovery, apprehension, conviction or punishment of anyone who has committed a crime.

45. Perjury: The intentional act of swearing a false oath or falsifying an affirmation to tell the truth, whether spoken or in writing, concerning matters material to a judicial proceeding.

46. Probable Cause: A reasonable ground for belief that the offender violated a specific law.

47. Recidivism: A person's relapse into criminal behavior, often after receiving sanctions or undergoing intervention for a previous crime.

48. Statute of Limitations: The time within which a criminal prosecution must begin.

49. Pretrial Conference: A meeting of the judge and lawyers to plan the trial, to discuss which matters should be presented to the jury, to review proposed evidence and witnesses, and to set a trial schedule.

50. Precedent: A court decision in an earlier case with facts and legal issues similar to a dispute currently before a court. Judges will generally "follow precedent" - meaning that they use the principles established in earlier cases to decide new cases that have similar facts and raise similar legal issues.