Legal Terminology


Legal Terminology


Acquittal: The legal and formal certification of the innocence of a person who has been charged with crime; a deliverance or setting free a person from a charge of guilt; finding of not guilty.

Arraignment: Procedure whereby the accused is brought before the court to plead to the criminal charge against him in the indictment of information.

Capias: The general name for several species of writs, common characteristic of which is that they require the officer to take a named defendant into custody.

Conviction: The result of a criminal trial which ends in a judgment or sentence that the accused is guilty as charged.

Criminal Complaint: In criminal law, a charge, preferred before a magistrate having jurisdiction, that a person named, has committed a specific offense, with an offer to prove the fact, to the end that a prosecution may be instituted.

Criminal Plea: The defendant’s response to a criminal charge (guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere).

Defendant: The party against whom relief or recovery is sought or the accused in a criminal case.

Discovery: The pre-trial devices that can be used by one party to obtain facts and information about the case from the other party in order to assist the party’s preparation for trial.

Dismissal: An order of judgment finally disposing of an action, suit, motion, etc., without trial of the issues involved.

Dismissal Without Prejudice: Term meaning dismissal without prejudice to the right of the complainant to sue again on the same cause of action.

Dismissal With Prejudice: Term meaning an adjudication on the merits, and final disposition, barring the right to bring or maintain an action on the same claim or cause.

Evidence: Any species of proof, or probative matter, legally presented at the trial of an issue, by the act of the parties and through the medium of witnesses, records, documents, exhibits, concrete objects, for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the court or jury as to their contention.

Expungement of Record: The legal process, imposed by each state, by which a record of criminal conviction is destroyed, sealed after expiration of time, or otherwise removed from the public record.  This process should include authentic files, electronic and computerized systems, microfilm images, or other medium by which the stated record should not appear.

Felony: A grading of crime that is the highest or most serious form to a given criminal statute, clearly a crime more serious in nature than those designated as misdemeanors, summaries, ordinances, violations, or lesser crimes in all judicial jurisdictions.

Grand Jury: Body of citizens, the number of whom vary from state to state, whose duties consist in determining whether probable cause exists that a crime has been committed and whether an indictment should be returned against a person, an Entity, or group of conspirators, for such a crime.  You have local County grand juries, while there are grand juries that reside in U. S. District Court too.

Indictment: A formal written accusation originating with a prosecutor and issued by a grand jury against a party charged with a crime.  An indictment is referred to as a “True Bill”, whereas failure by the grand jurors to indict is called a “No Bill”, in many areas.

Information: An accusation exhibited against a person for some criminal offense, without necessarily an indictment being issued.  A written accusation made by a public prosecutor, without the intervention of a grand jury is another way to describe this circumstance.

Judgment of Conviction: A Judgment of Conviction , or JOC, shall set forth the plea, the verdict or findings, and the adjudication and sentence, on a given criminal case.

Magistrate: A judicial officer, such as a justice of the peace, and generally at a so-called lower court location.  It may be your local filing location for civil and criminal cases that may proceed to a county level court, at a later date, or are adjudicated in this court.  In the federal U. S. District Court system, the Magistrate is the initial officer of the court.

Misdemeanor: Criminal offenses graded lower than felonies and generally are those crimes punishable by fine, penalty, forfeiture, or imprisonment less than one year, based on stutory guidance.

Nolle Prosequi: A formal entry upon the official record by the prosecuting attorney in a criminal action, by which he/she declares that he/she will not seek to further prosecute the case, either as to a defendant, or some of the defendants, or altogether the entire case; while it may also be entered upon a specific count compared to another count, on the same case, by the prosecuting attorney or office.

Nolo Contendere: A so-called “Nolo Plea”, in a criminal case, which has similar legal effect as one pleading guilty, but it is a legal agreement in most instances and provides legal clarity, between the parties to the case.  Generally it is a type of plea agreement, whereby the defendant does not openly admits to or denies a charge, or multiple charges filed.

Parole: Release from jail, prison, or other type of judicial confinement, after actually serving part of the sentence, ordered by the Judge.  A conditional release from imprisonment, which entitles the parolee to serve the remainder of a given term outside the confines of an institution or similar designated facility.

Plaintiff: A person who brings an action in court.  A person who seeks remedial relief for an injury of rights; whereby he/she or an entity designates a complainant that is filed in a given judicial court.

Prosecute: To proceed against a person criminally, or the Prosecuting Attorney’s office.

Quash: To vacate or make void as in to “quash an indictment” in a court proceeding.

Summons: In criminal law, a written order notifying an individual that he or she has been charged with an offense directing the person to appear in court to answer the charge.

Suspended Sentence: In criminal law, a suspended sentence means in effect that the defendant is not required, at the time the sentence is imposed, to serve the sentence.

Warrant for Arrest: A written order of the court which is made on behalf of the state or the United States to apprehend and arrest someone.  It is based upon a formal complaint issued by a Judge or Magistrate pursuant to statute and/or court rule, and  it commands law enforcement officers, with judicial authority, to arrest a person and bring them before the court in question.  Other similar terms used may include: Capias Warrant or Fugitive From Justice warrant.


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