Criminal Law Terms
SOME COMMON CRIMINAL TERMINOLOGY (relevant to Orange County, CA):
Arraignment – The first appearance in a case where the accused is informed of the charges, advised of his rights and enters a plea. An attorney can appear at arraignment with or for the defendant and speak on his behalf in a misdemeanor case or for a traffic ticket. In felony cases, the defendant must appear.
Bail – Security given for the release of the accused to ensure his appearance in court.
Bench Trial – Trial without a jury in which a judge hears the evidence and decides case.
Bench Warrant – A warrant issued by the judge “from the bench” due to nonappearance by the defendant.
Brief – A written statement submitted by parties in a case that explains why the court should decide particular issues in that party’s favor.
Case Law – The law as reflected in the written decisions of the courts.
Chambers – A judge’s office, where attorneys go to discuss cases off the record or outside the presence of a jury.
Commissioner – A judicial officer appointed by judges to preside over criminal and civil matters upon the stipulation of the parties.
Conviction – A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant after a plea of guilty or no contest or verdict of guilty.
Counsel – A licensed attorney that provides legal advice and represents individuals in court.
Cross-examination – The examination of a witness by a party other than the direct examiner upon a matter that is within the scope of the direct examination of the witness.
Defendant – An individual charged with a crime.
Direct examination – The first examination of a witness upon a matter that is not within the scope of a previous examination of the witness.
Discovery – The process that requires the exchange of information between the parties in preparation for trial.
Docket – A record of case proceedings produced by the court clerk summarizing the court proceedings in chronological order.
Elements – The “recipe” of a crime. Each element of a crime must be proven by the State (District Attorney) beyond a reasonable doubt.
Evidence – Testimony, writings, material objects, or other things presented to the senses that are offered to prove the existence or nonexistence of a fact. Either direct or circumstantial evidence is sufficient to prove the guilt of a defendant.
Felony – A crime punishable with prison.
Hearsay – An out of court statement made by the declarant offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.
Hung Jury – when a jury cannot come to a unanimous decision. This event forces the judge to declare a mistrial.
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
Information – A charging document filed by the District Attorney alleging felony crimes on the basis of a finding of probable cause by a magistrate, following a bindover after a preliminary hearing.
Jurisdiction – The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case, and the geographic area over which the court has authority to decide cases.
Jury – The group of persons selected to hear the evidence in a trial and render a verdict on matters of fact.
Jury Instructions – A judge’s directions to the jury before it begins deliberations regarding the factual questions it must answer and the legal rules that it must apply.
Magistrate Judge – A judicial officer who presides over preliminary hearings in felony cases, criminal misdemeanor cases, and signs search warrant applications by law enforcement.
Misdemeanor – A crime for which the punishment includes a fine and/or a maximum of one year of jail.
Mistrial – A trial that ends without a final judgment, caused by a fundamental error. After a mistrial is declared, the trial must start again with the selection of a new jury.
Motion – A request by a litigant to a judge for a decision on an issue relating to the case.
Nolo Contendere – No contest. A plea of nolo contendere has the same effect as a plea of guilty, as far as the criminal sentence is concerned, but may not be considered as an admission of guilt for any other purpose.
Opinion – A judge’s written explanation of the decision of the court.
Plea – The defendant’s statement of “guilty”, “not guilty”, or “no contest” in answer to the charges.
Pre-Plea Report – A report prepared by probation at the request of the court, to assist the court in its decision regarding sentencing.
Pre-Trial Conference – A meeting between the defense attorney and the prosecutor to discuss the facts of the case, exchange discovery information, negotiate plea agreements, and set future hearing dates. The judge may get involved to discuss the case for purposes of settlement and scheduling future hearings.
Probation – A sentencing alternative to imprisonment in which the court suspends sentence and places the defendant on supervised (formal) or unsupervised (informal) probation.
Probation Officer – Officers of the county that supervise individuals who are on probation.
Probation Violation – An allegation that a probationer has failed to comply with a term of probation that if proven, carries the maximum sentence of the underlying crime for which the individual was originally placed on probation.
Pro Per – A Latin term meaning “on one’s own behalf,” referring to people who represent themselves. The old saying goes, “The man who represents himself, has a fool for a client.”
Prosecute – To complain and litigate criminal behavior. A prosecutor represents the government in a criminal case through the U.S. Attorney, the District Attorney or the City Attorney.
Record – A written account of the proceedings in a case, including all pleadings, evidence, and exhibits submitted in the course of the case.
Recross-examination – An examination of a witness by a cross-examiner subsequent to a redirect examination of the witness.
Redirect examination – An examination of a witness by the direct examiner subsequent to the cross-examination of the witness.
Remand – An order by the judge to the bailiff to take a person into custody directly from 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 defendant in a federal case.
Subpoena – A command, issued under authority of a court to a witness to appear in court and give testimony.
Subpoena Duces Tecum – A command to a witness to appear and produce documents.
Testimony – Evidence presented orally by witnesses during trials or before grand juries.
Transcript – A word-for-word document recorded by a court reporter.
U.S. Attorney – A lawyer appointed by the President in each judicial district to prosecute and defend cases for the federal government. The U.S. Attorney employs a staff of Assistant U.S. Attorneys who appear as the government’s attorneys in individual cases.
Verdict – The decision of a trial jury or a judge that determines the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant.
Voir Dire – The process by which judges and lawyers select a trial jury from among the pool of jurors, by questioning them to make certain that they would fairly decide the case.
Warrant – A written order, signed by a judge, authorizing official action by law enforcement officials, directing them to arrest the individual named in the warrant, or search a specific location for specific items, which if found, can be used in court as evidence.
Witness – A person called upon by either side in a lawsuit to give testimony before the court or jury.
Wobbler – A crime that can be punished either with prison or jail.
Writ – A formal written command or order, issued by the court, requiring the performance of a specific act.
If you have been charged with a crime in Orange County, you need the assistance of an experienced and aggressive California criminal defense lawyer. Call the Law Offices of Daniel C. Grupenhagen today for your free consultation.
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