Throughout the course of a criminal case, there are many complicated legal terms that get thrown around. For clients, the uncertainty of what terms mean can make an intense legal battle even more difficult. Though your attorney is there to assist you and answer questions you may have about your case, it may be helpful to learn some of these commonly used terms:
Common Legal Terms and Definitions
Affidavit: a written, sworn statement that is voluntarily made about facts that are pertinent to a case.
Allegation: a statement that someone has done something illegal or wrong, that is only taken as an assertion, until proven.
Arraignment: a step in a criminal case that comes after an arrest, but before a formal indictment. This typically happens when a judge informs the defendant of his or her rights and the defendant responds with a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.”
Bail: money that a person gives the court as assurance that he or she will return to court for their court hearings.
Continuance: a court hearing getting postponed until a later date. This typically happens because the defense or state is not fully prepared and needs more time before the court hearing.
Clerk: a person who works at a courthouse and has the official record of a case, processes all court papers, and assigns hearing dates.
Deposition: a meeting, outside the presence of a judge, where a witness or a party answers questions that a lawyer asks for the purposes of discovering information. This information will later be used in the case.
Docket Number: the unique number given to a case for organization in the courthouse and courtroom.
Felony: a criminal charge that carries a possible prison sentence of at least one year.
Writ of Habeas Corpus: a type of post-conviction.
Hearsay Evidence: a witness’ statement of what another person said. This might be objected to at trial.
Jury Charge: the judge’s explanation to the jury on what the law is, before the jury deliberates the case.
Jury Instruction: directions that the judge will give to the jury, before the jury deliberates the case.
Misdemeanor: a criminal charge that carries a possible prison sentence that is no longer than one year and/or a fine of $2,000.
Motion: a written request to the court, asking the judge to allow or not allow something to happen. Motions are filed at the clerk’s office.
No Contact Order: an order from the court that orders a defendant not to contact another person
Oath: a promise or swear not to lie and to give the truth.
Order: a demand from the court that a person do or not do something.
Parole: a defendant’s release from prison, after completing some or most of a sentence.
Perjury: the crime of not telling the truth under oath.
Plea: the response to criminal charges; pleading “not guilty,” “guilty,” “no contest.”
Plea Bargain: a deal that a person can make with the prosecutor, to avoid going to trial.
Pretrial: conferences between the prosecutor, defense counsel, and judge about the status of the case, discovery, or settlement, leading up to the trial.
Probation: an ordered alternative to incarceration due to a suspended sentence in which the defendant must adhere to certain terms and conditions during a certain time period and report to a probation officer.
Protective Order: an issued court order to protect a family or member in the household.
The Record: a complete reference to pleadings, exhibits, and transcripts that make up a case and are put together by the court reporter and clerk.
Statute: a law created by the legislature.
Subpoena: an order to appear in court or court proceeding, like a deposition, to give testimony or provide documents or records.
Violation of Probation: breaking the terms and conditions of probation. This usually results in serious consequences.
Witness: a person who testifies about something they did, saw, watched, observed, or heard.