Legal Words You Are Likely To Hear

This post is just simply listing out words that non-lawyers may hear or not have heard before.  

Acquittal- a verdict of "not guilty" in a criminal trial.

Advocate- one who speaks for and helps someone else.  A victim advocate or a victim assistant is someone trained and dedicated to serve those who are victims of crime, family members of victims of crime, and witnesses to crime.  An advocate may be a paid professional of a government or a private agency or a volunteer.

Appeal- The transfer of a case from a lower court to a higher court for a near hearing on a case. 

Arraignment- The time when a suspect appears before a judge and is charged with a crime.  It usually happens shortly after the suspect has been arrested and served a warrant or after a preliminary hearing. 

Bail or Bond- Money or property that a defendant puts up as a guarantee that he will appear in court.  Not all defendants are required to put up bail.  Some are given personal recognizance (PR) bonds. 

Clemency- Mercy or leniency.  Often refers to a judge's giving a lighter sentence to a defendant because of particular circumstances. 

Competent to stand trial- A decision by the court that a defendant is able to stand trial (usually determined by a doctor to find out his mental condition).

Disposition- Final result of the case. 

Defendant- A person arraigned and charged with a crime. 

Defense attorney- The Lawyer who speaks for the defendant and represents his interest in court. 

Discovery- The right of the defendant to know what evidence the State has against him. 

Family Court- A county court that handles cases involving families and juveniles. 

General Sessions (Circuit) Court- The higher level of county court, where serious crimes are tried. 

Grand Jury- A jury of eighteen people who listen to the evidence and decide whether or not a case should go on to General Sessions Court.  Their meetings are conducted in secret.  The Grand Jury may give a "true bill" (indictment) or a "no bill."

No Bill- A conclusion by a Grand Jury that a case should not be tried. 

True Bill- A conclusion by a Grand Jury that a case should be heard. 

Habeas Corpus- One of a variety of writs that may be issued to bring a person before a court or judge.  Its purpose is to release someone from unlawful restraint or imprisonment. 

Hung Jury- The situation where a jury cannot all agree on a verdict.  When this happens, the case may be tried all over again. 

Incident Report- A police report about something that happened.  Additional reports about the same happening are called Supplemental Reports. 

Indictment- See Grand Jury, True Bill. 

Jury- A grouped of twelve people who must listen to and watch the trial and decide whether or not the defendant is guilty. 

Jury Pool- A group of randomly chosen citizens from which jurors are selected. 

Juvenile- Usually an offender under the age of 17. 

Judge- The person in charge of the courtroom and the trial. 

Magistrate- The judge in the first level of county court. 

Nol Pros- The voluntary withdrawal of criminal charges by the prosecuting attorney. 

Objection- An attorney's telling the court that he believes someone has broke a rule of the court. 

Pardon- An act by a judge, court, governor, or other authoirty that releases the person pardoned from punishment for the crime he committed.  Often pardon provides for expungement (wiping clean) of the offender's criminal record on that particular crime. 

Parole- The conditional early release of a prisoner.  If a prisoner obeys the conditions of his release, he won't have to serve the remainder of his sentence in prison.  If he does not, he may be sent back to prison. 

Petition- A formal, written request for a court or judge to do something, for example, a petition for an appeal. 

Plea- The Defendant's answer to the charge against him.  If he pleads "guilty," a trial is not necessary.  He may plead guilty to a less serious charge than the one for which he was indicted.  If he pleads "not guilty", the case will probably be tried in court. 

Preliminary Hearing- A hearing before a judge to determine if a case has probable cause and should be sent to General Sessions Court.  The defense attorney uses this hearing to find out what evidence the State has against the defendant. 

Pre-Trial Conference- A meeting among you, other witnesses, and the solicitor prior to trial.  You will be able to discuss the case and ask questions.  

Probable Cause- Evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime was committed by the person accused. 

Probation- Releasing a convicted offender instead of sending him to prison.  An offender on probation must agree to follow certain guidelines and limits.  If he "violates probation," that is, fails to keep the agreement, he may be sent to prison. 

Reasonable Doubt- Doubt based on a good reason.  If a jury has reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime, the jury must find him not guilty. 

Recess- "Time Out' in a trial.  It could be brief or last overnight or over a weekend. 

Revocation- The withdrawing of a bond or probation when the defendant fails to obey the requirements of bond or probation.  For example, a defendant released on bond or probation may be required to stay within the state.  If he leaves the state, his bond or probation may be revoked, and he may be locked up in jail or prison.  

Sentence- The punishment or legal consequences given to a convicted defendant. 

Solicitor- An attorney who prosecutes crimes.  In other states they are usually called District Attorneys. 

Subpoena- A court order for someone to appear in court. 

Testimony- the facts as stated by a witness in court. 

Trial- The presentation of the facts of a case in court before a judge (bench trial) or a judge and jury, ending with a decision about the defendant's guilt. 

Verdict- The decision by a judge or jury.

Victim Impact Statement- A victim's form, letter, or oral statement that tells the judge the ways in which the crime has affected him or her, for example, money lost, emotional difficulties, physical problems, jobs problems, etc. 

Voir Dire-The jury selection process.  Both the defense attorney and the solicitor may "strike" (reject) a limited number of people in the jury pool. 

Witness- In court, a witness is a person who testifies in court.  A witness to a crime is a person who sees, hears, or notices something that has to do with the crime. 

Writ- A written order issued by a court commanding someone to do or stop doing a particular act.