Common Legal Terms


Acquittal:  The legal certification, usually by jury verdict, that an accused person is not guilty of the charged offense.

Arraignment:  The initial step in a criminal prosecution whereby the defendant is brought before the court to hear the charges and to enter a plea.

Bail:  To obtain the release of (oneself or another) by providing security for future appearance.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt:  The doubt that prevents one from being firmly convinced of a defendant's guilt, or the belief that there is a real possibility that a defendant is not guilty.

Charge:  To accuse a person of criminal conduct.

Conviction:  The act or process of judicially finding someone guilty of a crime.

Court Trial: A trial before a judge without a jury.

Defendant:  A person accused in a criminal proceeding.

Dismissal: Termination of an action or claim without further hearing.

Dismissal without Prejudice:  A dismissal that does not bar the plaintiff from refiling the charge.

Dismissal with Prejudice:  A dismissal barring the plaintiff from prosecuting any later lawsuit on the same claim.

Disposition:  The final determination of a criminal case.

Expungement:  The removal of a conviction from a person's criminal record.

First Appearance:  The defendant is advised of the nature of the criminal charge, advised of his/her rights, bail or release conditions are set, and if qualifies, a public defender may be appointed.

Jury Trial:   A trial in which the factual issues are determined by a jury, not by a judge.

Omnibus Hearing:  A hearing in which many items are discussed and considered.

Party:  A participant in a court case.

Personal Recognizance:  A bond or obligation, made in court, by which a person promises to perform some act or observe some conditions, such as to appear in court.

Plea:  An accused person's formal response of "guilty" or "not guilty" to a criminal charge.

Plea Agreement/Plea Negotiation:  A negotiated agreement between a prosecutor and a criminal defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense or to one of multiple charges in exchange for some concession by the prosecutor.

Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI):  A probation officer's detailed account of a convicted defendant's educational, criminal, family and social background, conducted at the court's request as an aid in passing sentence.  The PSI report will include recommendations for sentencing.

Pre-Trial Conference:  An informal meeting at which opposing attorneys confer, usually with the judge, to work toward the disposition of the case by discussing matters of evidence and narrowing the issues that will be tried.

Prosecutor:  A public official appointed or elected to represent the state in criminal cases in a particular judicial district.

Public Defender:  A lawyer publicly appointed, whose duty is to represent indigent criminal defendants.

Restitution:  Payment ordered by a judge requiring a defendant to repay victims for losses incurred as a the result of a crime.

Subpoena:  A court order requiring a person to appear in court and give testimony.

Victim Impact Statement:  A statement read into the record during sentencing to inform the judge or jury of the financial, physical and psychological impact of the crime on the victim and the victim's family.