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Court Terminology

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CourtTerminology 

Acquittal

The finding of not guilty.

Appeal

The act of seeking a higher court’s review of a lower court’s decision.

Arraignment

A hearing before a judge during which the judge reads the charges to the defendant, informs the defendant of his constitutional rights, and affords the defendant the opportunity to enter a plea.

Arrest

The taking of a person into custody by an officer of the law.

Authorization to Represent

Agreement between defendant and attorney for legal representation in court matters.

Bail

Money a defendant puts up (usually a bond) to allow his or her release from custody and to guarantee his or her appearance at a future hearing.

Bailiff

The individual in the courtroom who helps the judge manage the evidence and maintain order in the courtroom.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

A standard of proof required to convict a person of a crime. The judge has a high degree of certainty about the defendant’s guilty, although he need not be 100 percent convinced.

Burden of proof

A party’s duty to prove a disputed fact.

Cash Only Bail

Designation on a warrant indicating that only cash bail as opposed to bond will be accepted as a condition of release from custody.

Charge

The process of accusing the defendant of a crime.

Circumstantial Evidence

Facts or testimony not based on actual personal knowledge or observation, by which other non-substantiated facts can be reasonably inferred.

City Attorney

Prosecutor appearing on behalf of the City. Also legal advisor to the City on all matters.

Closing Argument

A speech to the judge by the prosecutor and then the defense to try to convince the judge how the evidence proves his or her side of the case.

Complaint

The written document charging an alleged criminal defendant.

Contempt of Court

Deliberate disobedience of a court order

Continuance

Extension of time for appearance.

COP or Change of Plea

Usually from not guilty to guilty or nolo contendere (no contest).

Community Service

Work performed by defendant as alternative to fines or jail time.

Credit for Time Served

Instruction from judge to allow credit for time already spent in jail

toward imposed sentence.

Defendant

The person who is accused in a criminal case.

Disposition

A final settlement or determination.

District Attorney

Prosecutor appearing on behalf of the State.

Due Process

The notion, grounded in the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, of rights in most court and administrative proceedings to defend oneself in an orderly proceeding adapted to the nature of the case, and that every person have the protection of a day in court and the benefit of general law.

DUI

Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or controlled substance.

Felony

The most serious category of criminal offenses. With penalties of imprisonment ranging from a year and a day to life, or in some states, punishable by death.

Finding

The determination of fact by a judge.

Fine

The monetary penalty assessed against a defendant.

Failure to Appear

Failure to appear at scheduled court date.

Failure to Comply

Failure to comply with court-imposed sentence.

Failure to Pay

Failure to pay fines.

Gross Misdemeanor

A crime punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than $2000.00, or by both fine and imprisonment.

Hearing

A scheduled appearance before a judge for determination of facts.

Imprisonment

The placement of an individual in a jail or prison

Judgment

The official decision of the court.

Leading question

A question that instructs the witness how to answer, puts words into the witness’s mouth or suggests the desired answer.

Mandatory Appearance

Defendant must appear in court in person to answer to the charge (s).

Miranda Warning

After arrest and before questioning, arrested persons must be warned that: 1) they have the right to remain silent; 2) any statement they make may be used as evidence against them: 3) they have a right to the presence of an attorney; and 4) if they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them prior to any questioning if they so desire.

Misdemeanor

A crime punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than six months, or by a fine of not more than $1000.00, or by both fine and imprisonment.

Motion

A written or oral application requesting the Court to make a specified ruling or order.

Nolo Contendere

A plea of no contest.

Order

Any command or instruction issued by the judge.

Plaintiff

Person or entity making a charge.

Probable Cause

A strong belief, based on facts, that a crime has been committed, that a particular person has committed the crime and that evidence related to the crime exists.

Proof Date

Date by which an individual must provide proof to the Court that Court instructions have been fulfilled (i.e., proof of completion of community service).

Prosecutor

A public officer who conducts criminal proceedings on behalf of the state or city.

Rehabilitate

To permanently change behavior.

Relevant

Directly related to the issue as it tends either to prove or disprove the point.

Restitution

The sentence often used instead of a fine or imprisonment, designed to restore the victim to his or her condition before the crime.

Review

Periodic appearance ordered by the judge to determine if conditions of sentence are being followed

Sentence

The time to be served in a prison or jail; also includes fine, probation, restitution and community service.

Statutory Law

A law enacted by a legislature.

Stipulation

A written or oral agreement between attorneys or parties concerning some phase of a lawsuit.

Subpoena

An order compelling a witness to appear and give testimony before a court.

Summons

A written notice 1) requiring the named person to appear in court on a specified day; or 2) informing the named person that a lawsuit has been started against him or her and he or she must answer.

Suspended Sentence

If certain conditions are met, a jail sentence need not be served. The sentence is then suspended.

Trial

A formal hearing before a judge to determine guilt or innocence. Witnesses may be called and evidence is presented.

Time Served

A sentence imposed by a judge indicating that the time already served is sufficient to satisfy sentence.

Warrant

Sanction or authorization, as an arrest warrant authorizes a police officer to take an individual into custody.