Criminal Law Terms

Abuse:  Abuse is broadly defined as any type of cruelty inflicted upon a person, including mental abuse, physical harm, neglect, and sexual abuse or exploitation. The specific crimes charged in instances of abuse can include assault and battery.

Accessory:  A person that helps someone else commit a crime, either before or after the crime

Accomplice:  A person who knowingly and voluntarily participates with another in a criminal activity.

Accused:  A person or persons charged in a court of law with a crime, offense, etc.

Actual Fraud:  Defined in bankruptcy as “any deceit, artifice, trick, or design involving direct and active operation of the mind, used to circumvent and cheat another–something said, done, or omitted with the design of perpetrating what is known to be a cheat or deception.”

Acquittal:  A jury verdict that a criminal defendant is not guilty, or the finding of a judge that the evidence is insufficient to support a conviction.

Affidavit:  A written declaration upon oath made before an authorized official.

Affirmative Defense:  A defense raised in a responsive pleading (answer) relating a new matter as a defense to the complaint; affirmative defenses might include contributory negligence or estopped in civil actions; in criminal cases insanity, duress, or self-defense might be used.

Aggravated Assault:  An unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury. This type of assault usually is accompanied by the use of a weapon or by means likely to produce death or great bodily harm.

Aggravating Factor/Circumstance:  Factors that increases the severity or culpability of a criminal act, including, but not limited to, heinousness of the crime, lack of remorse, and prior conviction of another crime. Recognition of particular aggravating circumstances varies by jurisdiction.

Aid and Abet:  To actively, knowingly, or intentionally assist another person in the commission or attempted commission of a crime.

Alibi:  A defense claim that the accused was somewhere else at the time a crime was committed.

Allegation:  A statement of claimed fact contained in a complaint (a written pleading filed to begin a lawsuit), a criminal charge, or an affirmative defense (part of the written answer to a complaint). Until each statement is proved it is only an allegation. Some allegations are made “on information and belief” if the person making the statement is not sure of a fact.

Allocution:  The direct address between the judge and the convicted defendant prior to sentencing.  During the address, the judge speaks directly to the defendant and asks if the defendant has anything to add prior to hearing the sentence.

Appeal:  To ask a higher court to reverse the decision of a trial court after final judgment or other legal ruling.

Arraignment:  A proceeding in which a criminal defendant is brought into court, told of the charges in an indictment or information, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

Arson:  Any willful or malicious burning or attempt to burn, with or without intent to defraud, a dwelling house, public building, motor vehicle or aircraft, personal property of another, etc.

Assault:  The threat or attempt to strike another, whether successful or not, provided the target is aware of the danger.

Assault and Battery:  The combination of the two crimes of threat (assault) and actual beating (battery). They are both also intentional civil wrongs for which the party attacked may file a suit for damages.

Assault with A Deadly Weapon:  Charges of “assault with a deadly weapon” must prove not only that the defendant … assaulted the victim, but did so with a device that was capable of causing death. Some laws list … “deadly weapons per se,” which are weapons that by themselves are likely to cause death.

Attorney General:  The chief law enforcement officer of the United States or of a state government, typically serving in an Executive Branch position. The individual represents the government in litigation and serves as the principal advisor to government officials and agencies in legal matters.

Bail:  Money or other security (such as a bail bond) provided to the court to temporarily allow a person’s release from jail and assure their appearance in court. “Bail” and “Bond” are often used interchangeably. (Applies mainly to state courts.)

Bail Bond: An obligation signed by the accused to secure his or her presence at the trial. This obligation means that the accused may lose money by not properly appearing for the trial. Often referred to simply as “bond.”

Bail Exoneration:  When you get your bail back. Or when a bail bondsman or insurance (“surety”) company isn’t responsible for your bail anymore.

Bail Forfeiture:  A court order to let the court keep the bail deposit because the defendant didn’t go to court when they were supposed to

Bailiff:  An individual who is entrusted with some authority, care, guardianship, or jurisdiction over designated persons or property. One who acts in a managerial or ministerial capacity or takes care of land, goods, and chattels of another in order to make the best profit for the owner. A minor officer of a court serving primarily as a messenger or usher. A low-level court official or sheriff’s deputy whose duty is to preserve and protect orderly conduct in court proceedings.

Bank Fraud:  Bank fraud is the use of potentially illegal means to obtain money, assets, or other property owned or held by a financial institution, or to obtain money from depositors by fraudulently posing as a bank or other financial institution. In many instances, bank fraud is a criminal offence. While the specific elements of particular banking fraud laws vary depending on jurisdictions, the term bank fraud applies to actions that employ a scheme or artifice, as opposed to bank robbery or theft. For this reason, bank fraud is sometimes considered a white-collar crime.

Bankruptcy Fraud:  The deliberate attempt to discharge or restructure debts without needing to do so. One may accomplish bankruptcy fraud in a variety of ways, such as hiding assets or filing frequently. In the United States, bankruptcy fraud is punishable by five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine

Battery:  A beating, or wrongful physical violence. The actual threat to use force is an “assault;” the use of it is a battery, which usually includes an assault.

Bench Trial:  A type of trial in which there is no jury.  The judge must determine both questions of law and … questions of fact.

Bench Warrant:  An order issued by a judge for the arrest of a person.

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. This standard of proof does not require that the state establish absolute certainty by eliminating all doubt, but it does require that the evidence be so conclusive that all reasonable doubts are removed from the mind of the ordinary person.

Bill of Particulars:  A statement of the details of the charge made against the defendant

Bind Over: To hold a person for trial on bond (bail) or in jail. If the judicial official conducting a hearing finds probable cause to believe the accused committed a crime, the official will bind over the accused, normally by setting bail for the accused’s appearance at trial. (This is a state court procedure.)

Booking: The process of photographing, fingerprinting, and recording identifying data of a suspect. This process follows the arrest.

Bribery:  The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties.  The expectation of a particular voluntary action in return is what makes the difference between a bribe and a private demonstration of goodwill.  To offer or provide payment in order to persuade someone with a responsibility to betray that responsibility is known as seeking Undue Influence over that person’s actions.  When someone with power seeks payment in exchange for certain actions, that person is said to be peddling influence.  Regardless of who initiates the deal, either party to an act of bribery can be found guilty of the crime independently of the other.

Burglary:  The act of illegal entry with the intent to steal.

Capital Case:  A criminal case where the defendant can get the death penalty.

Capital Punishment:  (1) The penalty of death for the commission of a crime. (2) The practice or legal sanction of allowing the imposition of the penalty of death for people convicted of committing certain crimes.

Carjacking:  The criminal taking of a motor vehicle from its driver by force, violence, or intimidation.

Character Evidence:  Proof or attestations about an individual’s moral standing, general nature, traits, and reputation in the general community.

Charge:  Instruction given by a judge to a jury about the law, its application, and the weighing of evidence.  A claim of wrongdoing; an accusation: a charge of murder; pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Child Abuse:  (Social Welfare) physical, sexual, or emotional ill-treatment or neglect of a child by those responsible for its welfare.

Circumstantial Evidence:  Information and testimony presented by a party in a civil or criminal action that permit conclusions that indirectly establish the existence or nonexistence of a fact or event that the party seeks to prove.

Citation:  A court order or summons that tells a defendant what the charges are. Also tells the defendant to go to court and/or post bail.

Citing Authority or Agency:  An agency related to the court, like the city police or the Arizona Highway Patrol that can arrest people for breaking the law.

Civil Law: (1) The body of law of a state or nation governing the behavior of individuals and corporations. (2) The law determining private rights and liabilities, as opposed to criminal law and other public law.

Civil Process:  Court papers that tell the people in a civil case that it has started. Or papers that try to force the court to reach a judgment.

Clemency or Executive Clemency:  Act of grace or mercy by the president or governor to ease the consequences of a criminal act, accusation, or conviction. (Sometimes known as commutation or pardon.)

Commit:  To do something. “To commit” a crime. To put someone in a sheriffs custody. To use a court order to send a person to jail.

Community Service:  Special condition the court imposes that requires an individual to work–without pay–for a civic or nonprofit organization.

Commutation:  The reduction of a sentence, as from death to life imprisonment.

Competence Order:  An order from a superior court that says a defendant is mentally able to go to trial. Tells the trial court to go ahead with the criminal case.

Competency:  Physical, mental, financial, or legal power to perform

Complaint (Criminal):  (1) A formal statement initiating a lawsuit by specifying the facts and legal grounds for the relief sought. (2) A formal charge, made under oath, of the commission of a crime or other such offense.

Concurrent Jurisdiction:  Concurrent jurisdiction exists where two or more courts from different systems simultaneously have jurisdiction over a specific case.  This situation leads to forum shopping, as parties will try to have their civil or criminal case heard in the court that they perceive will be most favorable to them.

Concurrent Sentence:  Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served at the same time, rather than one after the other. Example: Two five-year sentences and one three-year sentence, if served concurrently, result in a maximum of five years behind bars.

Conditions of Release:  Release of an accused or convict from custody or imprisonment, under conditions which bar him or her from certain activities or associations. Breach of any condition will revoke the release order.

Consecutive Sentence:  Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served one after the other. Example: Two five-year sentences and one three-year sentence, if served consecutively, result in a maximum of 13 years behind bars.

Constructive Fraud:  Comprises all acts or omissions or concealments involving breach of equitable or legal duty or trust or confidence.

Constructive Possession:  The condition in which a person does not have physical custody or possession, but is in a position to exercise dominion or control over a thing.

Contempt:  An act of deliberate disobedience or disregard for the laws, regulations, or decorum of a public authority, such as a court or legislative body.

Continuance:  The adjournment or postponement of an action pending in a court to a later date of the same or another session of the court, granted by a court in response to a motion made by a party to a lawsuit.  The entry into the trial record of the adjournment of a case for the purpose of formally evidencing it.

Conviction:  A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.

Count:  An allegation in an indictment or information, charging a defendant with a crime. An indictment or information may contain allegations that the defendant committed more than one crime. Each allegation is referred to as a count.

Counterfeiting:  The process of fraudulently manufacturing, altering, or distributing a product that is of lesser value than the genuine product.

Court:  A person or body of persons that presides over the hearing of cases; a judge or panel of judges. The building, hall, or room where cases are heard. The session at which cases are heard.

Court-appointed Attorney:  Attorney appointed by the court to represent a defendant, usually with respect to criminal charges and without the defendant having to pay for the representation.

Credit Card Fraud:  Wide-ranging term for theft and fraud committed using or involving a payment card, such as a credit card or debit card, as a fraudulent source of funds in a transaction. The purpose may be to obtain goods without paying, or to obtain unauthorized funds from an account. Credit card fraud is also an adjunct to identity theft

Crime:  Something you do, or don’t do, that breaks a law that says you can’t do it or must do it. If you are found guilty, you can be punished by one or more of the following:  (1) death; (2) jail or prison; (3) fine; (4) being removed from office; or (5) being unable to hold any office of honor, trust, or profit.

Crimes against Property:  Offenses in this category include robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. One offense is counted for each distinct operation, except in the case of motor vehicle theft for which one offense is counted for each stolen vehicle.

Crimes against the Person:  Offenses in this category include criminal homicide, forcible rape, and aggravated assault. One offense is scored for each victim.

Criminal Case:  A court case that starts because of a crime.

Criminal Code:  A criminal code (or penal code) is a document which compiles all, or a significant amount of, a particular jurisdiction’s criminal law. Typically a criminal code will contain offences which are recognized in the jurisdiction, penalties which might be imposed for these offences and some general provisions (such as definitions and prohibitions on retroactive prosecution).

Criminal Homicide:  The willful killing of one human being by another.

Cross-examination:  The questioning of a witness or party during a trial, hearing, or deposition by the party opposing the one who asked the person to testify in order to evaluate the truth of that person’s testimony, to develop the testimony further, or to accomplish any other objective.  The interrogation of a witness or party by the party opposed to the one who called the witness or party, upon a subject raised during direct examination—the initial questioning of a witness or party—on the merits of that testimony.

Cultivation:  A deliberate and calculated association with a person for the purpose of recruitment, obtaining information, or gaining control for these or other purposes.

Custody:  (1) When someone is under the physical control of the court to make sure they go to court when they’re supposed to; (2) when the court imprisons a person after they are found guilty of a crime; (3) the care and control of children.

Cybercrime:  Crime committed by means of a computer network.

Cyberstalking:  The practice of using electronic communications to harass someone persistently.

Cyber theft:  Stealing of financial and/or personal information through the use of computers for making its fraudulent or other illegal use.

Defendant:  In a civil case, the person or organization against whom the plaintiff brings suit; in a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

Defense Lawyer:  The lawyer representing the defendant.

Defense of Property:  Affirmative defense in criminal law or tort law where force was used to protect one’s property.

Delinquent:  A young offender.

Disorderly Conduct:  Any behavior that tends to disturb the public peace or decorum, scandalize the community, or shock the public sense of morality.

Discovery:  Compulsory pretrial disclosure of documents relevant to a case; enables one side in a litigation to elicit information from the other side concerning the facts in the case.

Dismiss/Dismissal:  Cease to consider; put out of judicial consideration. This case is dismissed!

Distribution:  The commercial activity of transporting and selling goods from a producer to a consumer.

Diversion:  The process of removing some minor criminal, traffic, or juvenile cases from the full judicial process, on the condition that the accused undergo some sort of rehabilitation or make restitution for damages.

Domestic Violence:  Physical or emotional abuse of a household member, especially one’s spouse or domestic partner.

Double Jeopardy:  Putting a person on trial more than once for the same crime. It is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI):  Driving or operating a motor vehicle or common carrier while mentally or physically impaired as the result of consuming an alcoholic beverage or using a drug or narcotic.

Drug Abuse Violations:  The violation of laws prohibiting the production, distribution, and/or use of certain controlled substances and the equipment or devices utilized in their preparation and/or use. The unlawful cultivation, manufacture, distribution, sale, purchase, use, possession, transportation, or importation of any controlled drug or narcotic substance. Arrests for violations of state and local laws, specifically those relating to the unlawful possession, sale, use, growing, manufacturing, and making of narcotic drugs.

Due Process of Law:  The right of all persons to receive the guarantees and safeguards of the law and the judicial process. It includes such constitutional requirements as adequate notice, assistance of counsel, and the rights to remain silent, to a speedy and public trial, to an impartial jury, and to confront and secure witnesses.

Elements of a Crime:  Specific factors that define a crime which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction: (1) that a crime has actually occurred, (2) that the accused intended the crime to happen, and (3) a timely relationship between the first two factors.

Embezzlement:  The unlawful misappropriation or misapplication by an offender to his/her own use or purpose of money, property, or some other thing of value entrusted to his/her care, custody, or control.

Entrapment:  The act of inducing a person to commit a crime so that a criminal charge will be brought against him.

Evidence:  Any matter of fact that a party to a lawsuit offers to prove or disprove an issue in the case. A system of rules and standards that is used to determine which facts may be admitted, and to what extent a judge or jury may consider those facts, as proof of a particular issue in a lawsuit

Examination in Chief:  Examination which is made of a witness by a party calling him.

Exclusionary Rule:  Doctrine that says evidence obtained in violation of a criminal defendant’s constitutional or statutory rights is not admissible at trial.

Exculpatory Evidence:   Evidence indicating that a defendant did not commit the crime.

Excusable Homicide:  The killing of a human being, when the party killing is not altogether free from blame, but the necessity which renders it excusable, may be said to be partly induce by his own act.

Exhibit:  (1) A document or object (including a photograph) introduced as evidence during a trial. These are subject to objections by opposing attorneys just like any evidence. (2) A copy of a paper attached to a pleading (any legal paper filed in a lawsuit), declaration, affidavit, or other document, which is referred to and incorporated into the main document.

Expert Testimony:  Testimony about a scientific, technical, or professional issue given by a person qualified to testify because of familiarity with the subject or special training in the field.

Extortion:  The obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.

Extradition:  The surrender of an accused criminal by one state to the jurisdiction of another.

Extrinsic Fraud:  Fraudulent acts which keep a person from obtaining information about his/her rights to enforce a contract or getting evidence to defend against a lawsuit. This could include destroying evidence or misleading an ignorant person about the right to sue. Extrinsic fraud is distinguished from “intrinsic fraud,” which is the fraud that is the subject of a lawsuit.

Federal Court:  A court establish by the authority of a federal government. The judiciary of the United States which is responsible for interpreting and enforcing federal laws.

Federal Public Defender:  An attorney employed by the federal courts on a full-time basis to provide legal defense to defendants who are unable to afford counsel. The judiciary administers the federal defender program pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act.

Federal Rules of Evidence:  First adopted in 1975, the Federal Rules of Evidence codify the evidence law that applies in United States federal courts. In addition, many states in the United States have either adopted the Federal Rules of Evidence, with or without local variations, or have revised their own evidence rules or codes to at least partially follow the federal rules.

Felony:  A serious crime, usually punishable by at least one year in prison.

Felony Murder:  A murder that occurs in the commission of a serious felony.

First-degree Murder:  a murder that is committed with premeditation or during the course of a serious felony (as kidnapping) or that otherwise (as because of extreme cruelty) requires the most serious punishment under the law.

Forgery and Counterfeiting:  The altering, copying, or imitating of something without authority or right, with the intent to deceive or defraud by passing the copy or thing altered or imitated as that which is original or genuine; or the selling, buying, or possession of an altered, copied, or imitated thing with the intent to deceive or defraud.

Fraud:  A false representation of a matter of fact which is intended to deceive another.

Gambling:  To unlawfully bet or wager money or something else of value; assist, promote, or operate a game of chance for money or some other stake; possess or transmit wagering information; manufacture, sell, purchase, possess, or transport gambling equipment, devices or goods; or tamper with the outcome of a sporting event or contest to gain a gambling advantage.

Grand Jury:  A body of 16-23 citizens who listen to evidence of criminal allegations, which is presented by the prosecutors, and determine whether there is probable cause to believe an individual committed an offense. See also indictment and U.S. attorney.

Guilty:  A finding of legal culpability.

Guilty Plea:  When someone admits, out loud or in writing, that they committed a certain crime.

Habeas Corpus:  Latin, meaning “you have the body.” A writ of habeas corpus generally is a judicial order forcing law enforcement authorities to produce a prisoner they are holding, and to justify the prisoner’s continued confinement. Federal judges receive petitions for a writ of habeas corpus from state prison inmates who say their state prosecutions violated federally protected rights in some way.

Hate Crime:  A criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin; also known as a bias crime.

Health Care Fraud:  Deceptive, dishonest, and unlawful misrepresentations to a health insurer (such as Medicare) made by a provider or a patient in order to obtain money or services to which one is not entitled.

Hearing:  A legal proceeding where an issue of law or fact is tried and evidence is presented to help determine the issue.

Hearsay:  A statement made out of court that is offered in court as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.

Home Confinement:  A special condition the court imposes that requires an individual to remain at home except for certain approved activities such as work and medical appointments. Home confinement may include the use of electronic monitoring equipment–a transmitter attached to the wrist or the ankle–to help ensure that the person stays at home as required.

Homicide:  The killing of one human being by another.

Hung Jury:  A trial jury duly selected to make a decision in a criminal case regarding a defendant’s guilt or innocence, but who are unable to reach a verdict due to a complete division in opinion.

Identity Theft:  The act of obtaining and fraudulently using passwords, account numbers, or other personal or company information, typically for financial gain.

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

Impeachment:  (1) The process of calling a witness’s testimony into doubt. For example, if the attorney can show that the witness may have fabricated portions of his testimony, the witness is said to be “impeached;” (2) The constitutional process whereby the House of Representatives may “impeach” (accuse of misconduct) high officers of the federal government, who are then tried by the Senate.

Incarceration:  Imprisonment in a jail or penitentiary.

Incriminate:  To hold yourself or another person responsible for criminal actions.

Inculpatory Evidence:  Evidence indicating that a defendant did commit the crime.

Indictment:  The formal charge issued by a grand jury stating that there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial; it is used primarily for felonies.

Indigent:  Needy or impoverished. A defendant who can demonstrate his or her indigence to the court may be assigned a court-appointed attorney at public expense.

Information:  Accusatory document, filed by the prosecutor, detailing the charges against the defendant. An alternative to an indictment, it serves to bring a defendant to trial.

Infraction:  A violation of law not punishable by imprisonment. Minor traffic offenses generally are considered infractions.

Initial Appearance:  The defendant comes before a judge within hours of the arrest to determine whether or not there is probable cause for his or her arrest.

Innocent:  Found by a court to be not guilty of criminal charges; acquitted.

Insanity:  (1) Unsoundness of mind sufficient to render a person unfit to maintain a contractual or other legal relationship or sufficient to warrant commitment to a mental health facility. (2) Incapacity to form the criminal intent necessary for legal responsibility, as when a mental disorder prevents a person from knowing the difference between right and wrong. (3) Incapacity because of a mental disorder to participate adequately as a defendant in criminal proceedings or to understand the imposition of a criminal punishment, particularly the death penalty.

Instructions:  The explanation of constitutional rights given by a judge to a defendant.

Insurance Fraud:  Any act committed with the intent to obtain a fraudulent outcome from an insurance process. This may occur when a claimant attempts to obtain some benefit or advantage to which they are not otherwise entitled, or when an insurer knowingly denies some benefit that is due. According to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation the most common schemes include: Premium Diversion, Fee Churning, Asset Diversion, and Workers Compensation Fraud. The perpetrators in these schemes can be both insurance company employees and claimants. False insurance claims are insurance claims filed with the intent to defraud an insurance provider.

Internet Fraud:  The use of Internet services or software with Internet access to defraud victims or to otherwise take advantage of them; for example, by stealing personal information, which can even lead to identity theft. A very common form of Internet fraud is the distribution of rogue security software. Internet services can be used to present fraudulent solicitations to prospective victims, to conduct fraudulent transactions, or to transmit the proceeds of fraud to financial institutions or to others connected with the scheme. Research suggests that online scams can happen through social engineering and social influence. It can occur in chat rooms, social media, email, message boards, or on website.

Intrinsic Fraud:  An intentionally false representation that goes to the heart of what a given lawsuit is about, in other words, whether fraud was used to procure the transaction. (If the transaction was fraudulent, it probably does not have the legal status of a contract.) Intrinsic fraud is distinguished from extrinsic fraud (a/k/a collateral fraud) which is a deceptive means of keeping a person from discovering and/or enforcing legal rights. It is possible to have either intrinsic or extrinsic frauds, or both.

Investigation:  Criminal investigation. The work of a Private investigator. The work of a Detective.

Investment Fraud:  Also known as stock fraud and securities fraud, is a deceptive practice in the stock or commodities markets that induces investors to make purchase or sale decisions on the basis of false information, frequently resulting in losses, in violation of securities laws.

Involuntary Manslaughter:  The act of unlawfully killing another human being unintentionally.

Jeopardy:  Risk to a defendant of possible conviction and punishment. In a criminal case, the defendant is usually said to be “in jeopardy” after the preliminary hearing has taken place and the jury has been sworn in.

Join/Joinder:  The union in one lawsuit of multiple parties who have the same rights or against whom rights are claimed as co-plaintiffs or co-defendants. The combination in one lawsuit of two or more causes of action, or grounds for relief. At Common Law the acceptance by opposing parties that a particular issue is in dispute.

Judge:  A public officer chosen or elected to preside over and to administer the law in a court of justice; one who controls the proceedings in a courtroom and decides questions of law or discretion.

Judgment of Conviction:  A final judgment of guilty in a criminal case and the punishment that is imposed.

Jurisdiction:  The power, right, or authority to interpret, apply, and declare the law (as by rendering a decision) [to be removed to the State having of the crime].

Jury Trial:  A trial in which a jury serves as the trier of fact called also trial by jury see also Article III Article VI and VII Amendments VI and VII to the Constitution in the back matter compare bench trial. NOTE: The right to a jury trial is established in the U.S. Constitution, but it is not an absolute right. The Supreme Court has stated that petty crimes (as those carrying a sentence of up to 6 months) do not require trial by jury. The right to a jury trial in a criminal case may be waived by the “express and intelligent consent” of the defendant, usually in writing, as well as, in federal cases, the approval of the court and consent of the prosecutor. There is no right to a jury trial in equity cases. When a civil case involves both legal and equitable issues and procedure, either party may demand a jury trial (and failure to do so is taken as a waiver), but the judge may find that there is no right to jury trial because of equitable issues or claims.


Justice of the Peace:  A local judicial official who is empowered chiefly to administer oaths, perform marriage ceremonies, certify documents, and in some states may have additional judicial powers.

Justifiable Homicide:  The killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty or the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.

Juvenile:  A person younger than the legal age of adulthood, which usually is 18 years but in some cases is 21 years.

Juvenile Delinquency:  A violation of the law committed by a juvenile that would have been a crime if committed by an adult.

Leniency:  Recommendation for a sentence less than the maximum allowed.

Liquor Laws:  The violation of state or local laws or ordinances prohibiting the manufacture, sale, purchase, transportation, possession, or use of alcoholic beverages, not including driving under the influence and drunkenness.

Mail Fraud:  Fraud committed by use of the postal service esp. as described in title 18 section 1341 of the U.S. Code.

Malicious Prosecution:  An action instituted with intention of injuring the defendant and without probable cause, and which terminates in favor of the person prosecuted.

Manslaughter:  The crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or otherwise in circumstances not amounting to murder.

Manslaughter by Negligence:  The killing of another person through gross negligence.

Mayhem:  Unlawfully and violently depriving a person of a part of his or her body or disabling, disfiguring, or making it useless (includes injury to eyes, tongue, nose, ears, etc.).

Mens Rea:  As an element of criminal responsibility, a guilty mind; a guilty or wrongful purpose; a criminal intent.  Guilty knowledge and willfulness.

Mental Health Treatment:  Special condition the court imposes to require an individual to undergo evaluation and treatment for a mental disorder. Treatment may include psychiatric, psychological, and sex offense-specific evaluations, inpatient or outpatient counseling, and medication.

Misdemeanor:  A criminal offense lesser than a felony and generally punishable by a fine and/or by incarceration other than in a prison.

Mistrial:  A courtroom trial that has been terminated prior to its normal conclusion.  A mistrial has no legal effect and is considered an invalid or nugatory trial.  It differs from a “new trial,” which recognizes that a trial was completed but was set aside so that the issues could be tried again.

Mitigating Circumstances:  Those which do not constitute a justification or excuse for an offense but which may be considered as reasons for reducing the degree of blame.

Mitigation:  A reduction, abatement, or diminution of a penalty or punishment imposed by law.

Modification:  A change or alteration, like modification of a sentence (where the terms of punishment for a defendant are changed) or of a probation order (where a new probation order is issued changing the terms of the original order).

Money Laundering:  The concealment of the origins of illegally obtained money, typically by means of transfers involving foreign banks or legitimate businesses.

Motion:  An application made to a court or judge to obtain an order, ruling, or direction.

Motion to Dismiss:  A motion asking the judge to throw out one or more claims or an entire lawsuit.  Sometimes, the plaintiff or a prosecutor makes a motion to dismiss a case because it has been settled out of court.

Motive:  Something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act NOTE: In criminal law, motive is distinguished from intent or mens rea. Although motive is not an element of a crime, evidence regarding motives can be introduced to help establish intent. In contract law, motive is usually distinguished from cause or consideration.

Murder:  The unlawful killing of a human being with deliberate intent to kill: (1) murder in the first degree is characterized by premeditation; (2) murder in the second degree is characterized by a sudden and instantaneous intent to kill or to cause injury without caring whether the injury kills or not.

Murder and No negligent Manslaughter: The willful (no negligent) killing of one human being by another.

Negligent Homicide:  Homicide caused by a person’s criminally negligent act.

No Bill:  This phrase, endorsed by a grand jury on the written indictment submitted to it for its approval, means that the evidence was found insufficient to indict.

Not-Guilty Plea:  Plea of a person who claims not to have committed the crime of which he/she is accused, made in court when arraigned.

Not-Guilty:  Innocent, especially of a formal charge.

Oath:  A solemn attestation of the truth of one’s words or the sincerity of one’s intentions.

Objection:  A formal attestation or declaration of disapproval concerning a specific point of law or procedure during the course of a trial; a statement indicating disagreement with a judge’s ruling.

Offender:  An accused defendant in a criminal case or one convicted of a crime

Offense:  An act that violates (breaks) the law.

Order:  Direction of a court or judge normally made or entered in writing, and not included in a judgment, which determines some point or directs some step in the proceedings.

Own Recognizance:  When a person is released from custody and not required to pay bail because of his or her promise to come to court to answer a criminal charge. If the defendant does not return to court when promised, he or she can be charged with a misdemeanor.

Pandering:  To pimp; to cater to the gratification of the lust of another.  To entice or procure a person, by promises, threats, Fraud, or deception to enter any place in which prostitution is practiced for the purpose of prostitution.

Pardon:  An act of grace from governing power which mitigates punishment and restores rights and privileges forfeited on account of the offense.

Parole:  The release of a prison inmate–granted by the U.S. Parole Commission–after the inmate has completed part of his or her sentence in a federal prison. When the parolee is released to the community, he or she is placed under the supervision of a U.S. probation officer.  The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 abolished parole in favor of a determinate sentencing system in which the sentence is set by sentencing guidelines. Now, without the option of parole, the term of imprisonment the court imposes is the actual time the person spends in prison.

Party in Interest:  A party who has standing to be heard by the court in a matter to be decided in the bankruptcy case. The debtor, the U.S. trustee or bankruptcy administrator, the case trustee and creditors are parties in interest for most matters.

Penalty:  Punishment for breaking a law.

Perjury:  The criminal offense of making a false statement under oath.

Personal Recognizance:  To set free from confinement [was released on personal recognizance].

Petty Offenses:  A federal misdemeanor punishable by six months or less in prison.

Plea:  The first pleading by a criminal defendant, the defendant’s declaration in open court that he or she is guilty or not guilty. The defendant’s answer to the charges made in the indictment or information.

Plea Bargain:  Negotiation between the prosecuting attorney and the person accused of a crime or that person’s lawyer to exchange a guilty plea for conviction of a lesser charge, if the court approves.

Possession:  The act, fact, or condition of having control of something.

Pre-Sentence Report:  A report prepared by the probation department for the judge when sentencing a defendant. Describes defendant’s background: financial, job, and family status; community ties; criminal history; and facts of the current offense. A presentence report must be done in felony cases and may be requested in misdemeanor cases.

Preponderance of the Evidence:  The evidence meeting this standard [plaintiffs must show by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant’s negligence proximately caused the injuries].

Presentment:  Declaration or document issued by a grand jury that either makes a neutral report or notes misdeeds by officials charged with specified public duties. It ordinarily does not include a formal charge of crime. A presentment differs from an indictment.

Pretrial Services:  A function of the federal courts that takes place at the very start of the criminal justice process–after a person has been arrested and charged with a federal crime and before he or she goes to trial. Pretrial services officers focus on investigating the backgrounds of these persons to help the court determine whether to release or detain them while they await trial. The decision is based on whether these individuals are likely to flee or pose a threat to the community. If the court orders release, a pretrial services officer supervises the person in the community until he or she returns to court

Privilege Against Self-Incrimination:  The constitutional right of people to refuse to give testimony against themselves that could subject them to criminal prosecution. The right is guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Asserting the right is often referred to as “taking the Fifth.”

Probable Cause:  1. Reasonable suspicion of the presence of evidence of criminality, allowing the search of the person or premises for such evidence by authorities.  2. Reasonable grounds for believing a person is guilty of a criminal act, allowing the arrest, prosecution, or trial of such person.

Probation:  An 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. A violation of probation can lead to its revocation and to imprisonment.

Probation Officer:  Officers of the probation office of a court. Probation officer duties include conducting presentence investigations, preparing presentence reports on convicted defendants, and supervising released defendants.

Probation Report:  (See also pre-sentence report.)

Pro Se:  For himself, for herself, for themselves.

Procedural:  Of or concerning procedure, especially of a court of law or parliamentary body.

Prosecutor:  A government attorney who presents the state’s case against the defendant in a criminal prosecution.

Prosecuting Attorney:  A public officer that prosecutes criminal cases on behalf of the state; sometimes referred to as “district attorney.”

Prostitution:  The act or practice of engaging in sexual activity indiscriminately esp. for money.

Public Defender:  A lawyer appointed by the court, usually to represent a defendant in a criminal case that can’t afford to hire a lawyer.

Public Offense:  A crime. Compare to private or civil wrongs that violate “private laws,” for example, a contract between two parties. The difference between civil/private and criminal/public wrongs is that public offenses focus on the behavior of the offender while the law of civil wrongs focuses on making an injured person whole.

Pyramid Schemes:  A form of investment (illegal in the US and elsewhere) in which each paying participant recruits further participants, with returns being given to early participants using money contributed by later ones.

Quasi-criminal Action:  A classification of actions such as violation of a city ordinance that is not also violation of a criminal statute, which are wrongs against the public punishable through fines but are not usually indictable offenses.

Qui Tam:  In common law, a writ of qui tam is a writ whereby a private individual who assists a prosecution can receive all or part of any penalty imposed.

Racketeer Influences and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO):  A United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. The RICO Act focuses specifically on racketeering, and it allows the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for the crimes which they ordered others to do or assisted them in doing, closing a perceived loophole that allowed a person who instructed someone else to, for example, murder, to be exempt from the trial because they did not actually commit the crime personally.

Rap Sheet:  A written summary of a person’s criminal history.

Reasonable Doubt:  An accused person is entitled to acquittal if, in the minds of the jury, his or her guilt has not been proved beyond a “reasonable doubt;” that state of minds of jurors in which they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction as to the truth of the charge.

Reasonable Suspicion:  An objectively justifiable suspicion that is based on specific facts or circumstances and that justifies stopping and sometimes searching (as by frisking) a person thought to be involved in criminal activity at the time.  NOTE: A police officer stopping a person must be able to point to specific facts or circumstances even though the level of suspicion need not rise to that of the belief that is supported by probable cause. A reasonable suspicion is more than a hunch.

Recidivism:  The act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or have been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior.  It is also used to refer to the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested for a similar offense

Recidivist:  Habitual criminal, repeat offender.

Remand:  Send back.

Remanding Order:  An order to the sheriff to hold a defendant in custody until his or her next court appearance, or until bail is posted.

Restitution:  When a court orders restitution it orders the defendant to give up his/her gains to the claimant.  When a court orders compensation it orders the defendant to pay the claimant for his or her loss.

Return:  A report to a judge by police on the implementation of an arrest or search warrant. Also, a report to a judge in reply to a subpoena, civil or criminal.

Revocation: The act of voiding or canceling something, usually probation or a driver’s license.

Robbery:  The taking or attempted taking of anything of value from the care, custody, or control of a person or persons by force or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the victim in fear.

Search and Seizure:  A procedure used in many civil law and common law legal systems whereby police or other authorities and their agents, who suspect that a crime has been committed, do a search of a person’s property and confiscate any relevant evidence to the crime.

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

Securities Fraud:  Also known as stock fraud and investment fraud, is a deceptive practice in the stock or commodities markets that induces investors to make purchase or sale decisions on the basis of false information, frequently resulting in losses, in violation of securities laws.

Self-Defense:  The claim that an act otherwise criminal was legally justifiable because it was necessary to protect a person or property from the threat or action of another.

Self-Surrender:  When a person turns him or herself in voluntarily to the jail, police, or the court.

Sentence:  The punishment ordered by a court for a defendant convicted of a crime.

Sentencing Guidelines:  A set of rules and principles established by the United States Sentencing Commission that trial judges use to determine the sentence for a convicted defendant.

Severance:  The act of dividing, or the state of being divided.

Severance of Actions:  To separate multiple criminal actions, defendants, causes of action, or cross-complaints for separate trials.

Sexual Harassment:  Employment discrimination consisting of unwelcome verbal or physical conduct directed at an employee because of his or her sex; also the tort of engaging in such discrimination.  NOTE: Sexual harassment has been found by federal courts to violate the protection in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against discrimination in employment. There are also state statutes under which sexual harassment actions may be brought. In order to recover against an employer under a sexual harassment suit, the plaintiff has to show that the harassment affected the employment (as by being severe or pervasive) and that the employer is liable under respondent superior because of actual or constructive knowledge of the harassment. Strict liability is often imposed for harassment of an employee by a supervisor or for quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Simple Assault:  All assaults and attempted assaults which are not of an aggravated nature and do not result in serious injury to the victim.

Speedy Trial:  A trial conducted according to prevailing rules and procedures that takes place without unreasonable or undue delay or within a statutory period.

Stalking:  The act or crime of willfully and repeatedly following or harassing another person in circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to fear injury or death esp. because of express or implied threats.

State Court:  A court established in accordance with a state constitution and having jurisdiction to adjudicate matters of state law.

Statute:  An act of a legislature that declares, proscribes, or commands something; a specific law, expressed in writing.

Statute of Limitations:  A type of federal or state law that restricts the time within which legal proceedings may be brought.

Stolen Property:  Buying, receiving, possessing, selling, concealing, or transporting any property with the knowledge that it has been unlawfully taken, as by burglary, embezzlement, fraud, larceny, robbery, etc.

Sua Sponte:  On the courts own motion or initiative.

Subpoena:  A formal document that orders a named individual to appear before a duly authorized body at a fixed time to give testimony.

Substance Abuse Treatment:  A special condition the court imposes that requires an individual to undergo testing and treatment for abuse of illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol. Treatment may include inpatient or outpatient counseling and detoxification.

Substantive:  Of or relating to a matter of substance as opposed to form or procedure [an issue] [the instructions to the jury] [was dismissed on procedural and grounds].

Summons:  A written notification that one is required to appear in court.

Supervised Release:  Term of supervision served after a person is released from prison. The court imposes supervised release during sentencing in addition to the sentence of imprisonment. Unlike parole, supervised release does not replace a portion of the sentence of imprisonment but is in addition to the time spent in prison. U.S. probation officers supervise persons on supervised release.

Suppress:  To forbid the use of evidence at a trial because it is improper or was improperly obtained.

Surety:  One (as an accommodation party) who promises to answer for the debt or default of another.

Surety Bond:  A bond purchased at the expense of the estate to insure the executor’s proper performance. Also referred to as “fidelity bond.”

Suspect:  A person apprehended for but not yet charged with an offense.

Suspended Sentence:  In criminal law, this means the defendant doesn’t have to serve the sentence at the time the sentence is imposed.

Suspicion:  Arrested for no specific offense and released without formal charges being placed.

Tax Evasion:  A willful and esp. criminal attempt to evade the imposition or payment of a tax.

Tax Fraud:  Federal offense of willfully attempting to evade or defeat the payment of taxes due and owing.

Terrorism:  The unlawful use or threat of violence esp. against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion.

Testify:  To make a solemn declaration under oath or affirmation for the purpose of establishing a fact.

Testimony:  Evidence furnished by a witness under oath or affirmation and either orally or in an affidavit or deposition.

Theft:  A criminal taking of the property or services of another without consent; Grand theft: theft of property or services whose value exceeds a specified amount or of a specified kind of property (as an automobile) NOTE: Grand theft is a felony; Identity theft: the unauthorized use of another’s means of identification (as name or social security number) for the purpose of committing theft or another crime; Petty theft; theft of property or services whose value is below a specified amount called also petit theft NOTE: Petty theft is a misdemeanor but may be aggravated by prior convictions.

Vagrancy:  The violation of a court order, regulation, ordinance, or law requiring the withdrawal of persons from the streets or other specified areas; prohibiting persons from remaining in an area or place in an idle or aimless manner; or prohibiting persons from going from place to place without visible means of support.

Vandalism:  To willfully or maliciously destroy, injure, disfigure, or deface any public or private property, real or personal, without the consent of the owner or person having custody or control by cutting, tearing, breaking, marking, painting, drawing, covering with filth, or any other such means as may be specified by local law.

Verdict:  The usually unanimous finding or decision of a jury on one or more matters (as counts of an indictment or complaint) submitted to it in trial that ordinarily in civil actions is for the plaintiff or for the defendant and in criminal actions is guilty or not guilty.

Violation:  A breach of a right, duty, or law.

Voir Dire:  The act or process of questioning prospective jurors to determine which are qualified (as by freedom from bias) and suited for service on a jury.

Waiver of Rights Form:  A form signed by a defendant and the judge recording which, if any, legal rights are waived (or given up) by the defendant.

Warrant:  Most commonly, a court order authorizing law enforcement officers to make an arrest or conduct a search. An application seeking a warrant must be accompanied by an affidavit which establishes probable cause by detailing the facts upon which the request is based.

Weapons:  Carrying, Possessing, etc.  The violation of laws or ordinances prohibiting the manufacture, sale, purchase, transportation, possession, concealment, or use of firearms, cutting instruments, explosives, incendiary devices, or other deadly weapons.

White Collar Crime:  Crime that is committed by salaried professional workers or persons in business and that usually involves a form of financial theft or fraud (as in securities dealing)

Wire Fraud:  Fraud committed by using a means of electronic communication (as a telephone)

Witness:  One who testifies or is legally qualified to testify in a case or to give evidence before a judicial tribunal or similar inquiry [or before a congressional committee] [no person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.