AZ DPS

Crime Victims Services - Criminal Justice System - Glossary of Terms

Accused

A person or persons formally charged but not yet tried for committing a crime.

Acquittal

A legal judgment, based on the decision of either a jury or a judge, that an accused is not guilty of the crime for which he/she has been charged or tried.

Admissible evidence

Evidence that is relevant and proper for consideration in reaching a decision.

Affidavit

A written, sworn statement in which the writer swears that the information stated therein is true.

Appeal

A request by either the defense or the prosecution parties to a case that the results of a decision on certain motions or of a completed trial be reviewed by a higher court for error.

Arraignment

Generally means an accused person’s appearance in a court at which the court may inform him/her of the charges against him/her, advise him/her of his/hers rights, appoint a lawyer for him/her, and/or hear his/her plea.

Bail

Money or property promised or given to the court as security when an accused person is released before and during his/her trial with the agreement that the defendant will return to court when ordered to do so. Bail is forfeited if the defendant fails to return to the court.

Bench

Where the judge sits during court proceedings; the term is often used for referring to the judge.

Bench trial

A trial in which the judge hears the case without a jury and decides whether the accused is guilty.

Bench warrant

A court order which directs that an accused person who has been released before trial and fails to return when ordered to do so be brought to court.

Beyond a reasonable doubt

The degree of proof needed for a jury or judge to convict an accused person of a crime.

Case law

The law as formed by past court decisions, opinions, interpretations, or traditions.

Change of venue

Transfer of a pending case in one county or district to another county or district; often sought because of claimed prejudicial publicity in the original county or district.

Charge

A formal accusation filed by the prosecutor’s office that a specific person has committed a specific crime, also referred to as pressing charges.

Civil law

The law of private, not criminal, matters in which one party sues another for remedy of an alleged wrong.

Complainant

A formal written statement filed in court by any person, often a prosecutor or a victim, which accuses a specific person of committing a specific crime.

Concurrent or consecutive sentences

Concurrent sentences are sentences for different offenses running together or served at the same time; consecutive sentences are successive sentences served one after another.

Confidentiality

Requirement that certain facts about a proceeding or nature of a proceeding be withheld from public discussion or scrutiny ostensibly to serve the interests of justice.

Continuance

A delay or postponement of a court hearing; the case is said to be “continued” when it has been delayed or postponed.

Conviction

A judgment of the court, based either on the decision of a jury or a judge or on the guilty plea of the accused, that the defendant is guilty of the crime for which he/she has been tried.

Corroborating witness

A person who is able to give information that supports the statements made by either the victim or the accused.

Count

Each separate offense listed in a complaint, information or indictment accusing a person of committing a crime.

Criminal

A person who has been convicted by a court of committing a crime.

Criminal justice system

The entire network of government agencies charged with law enforcement, prosecution, trial, and the punishment and supervision of those arrested and/or convicted of having violated the criminal law.

Criminal law

The law whose violation is considered an offense against the state that is punishable upon conviction by imprisonment, fine, or other penalties.

Cross examination

The questioning of a witness by an opposing party.

Defendant

A person who has been formally charged with committing a crime.

Defense Attorney

The lawyer who represents the defendant in a legal proceeding.

Detention

The act of holding a person in custody.

Dismissal

A decision by a judicial officer to end a case for legal or other reasons.

Disposition

The final judicial decision which ends a criminal proceeding by judgment of acquittal or dismissal or which sets the sentence if the defendant is convicted.

Docket

The formal record maintained in brief of the court proceedings; “trial docket” sometimes refers to the list of cases to be tried on any given day or in a given period of time.

Due process

All legal statements concerning procedural and substantive due process standards which must be applied in a disciplinary hearing or trial, including those raised primarily as defenses.

Evidence

Testimony and objects used to prove or corroborate the statements made by the victim, the accused, or other witnesses.

Eye witness

A person who sees a crime taking place.

Felony

A serious crime for which the punishment is imprisonment, usually for one year or more.

Grand jury hearing

A legal process in which citizens selected by law and sworn to investigate criminal activity and the conduct of public officials and to hear the evidence against accused persons sit as a jury to decide if enough evidence exists to bring an accused to trial; grand jury hearings are generally closed to the public and their proceedings are kept secret by law. This hearing is held in lieu of a preliminary hearing.

Guilty

A verdict of a judge or jury that a person accused of committing a crime did commit it.

Guilty plea

A formal response by a person accused of committing a specific crime admitting that the charges are true.

Hearing

A legal proceeding in which arguments, witnesses, and/or evidence are heard by a judicial officer or an administrative body.

Hung jury

A jury whose members cannot agree whether the accused is guilty or innocent.

Indictment

A formal written accusation, made by a grand jury and filed in court, alleging that a specific person has committed a specific crime.

Information

A criminal complaint.

Innocent

Not guilty.

Investigation

The gathering of evidence by law enforcement officials and in some cases prosecutors, for presentation to a grand jury or in court, to prove the facts of the case.

Jury

A group of citizens selected by law and sworn to determine certain facts by listening to testimony in order to decide whether the accused is guilty or not.

Jury selection

The process by which the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney screen citizens who have been called to jury duty to determine if they will give a fair hearing in a particular trial.

Juvenile

A person accused of an offense who is too young at the time of the alleged offense to be subject to criminal court proceedings and is handled in the juvenile justice system. The age limit for juveniles in most states is eighteen.

Misdemeanor

A crime that is less serious than a felony and for which the punishment can include imprisonment for up to one year, usually in a jail or other local facility.

Mistrial

A trial which is invalid because of some fundamental error in procedure or other wrong doing.

Motion

A verbal or written request made by the prosecutor or the defense attorney before, during, or after a trial that the court issues a rule or an order.

Negligence

The failure to do something which an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent person under like circumstances would do, or the doing of something which an ordinary, reasonable and prudent person under like circumstances would not do.

Nolo contendre

A defendant’s formal answer in court to the charges in which the defendant states that he or she does not contest the charges. The nolo contendre plea is not an admission of guilt but carries the same legal consequences as a guilty plea.

Not guilty

A verdict by a judge or jury that a person accused of a crime did not commit it or that not enough evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime.

Not guilty plea

A formal response by a person accused of committing a specific crime in which he/she says that the charges are untrue.

Notice

A written order to appear in court at a certain time and place.

Objection

A protest or argument made concerning the activity of the other party in court.

Parole

The conditional release of a convicted offender from a jail or prison before the end of his sentence based upon requirements for the offender’s behavior set and supervised by a parole agency.

Parole revocation hearing

Normally a two-step process. The first step consists of a preliminary hearing. At the hearing the parolee may present letters, documents and individuals as evidence of his/her good behavior during the time of his/her release. If probable cause is not found, the parolee is released. If probable cause is found, a final revocation hearing is held to evaluate all the facts and to determine if parole should be revoked. Sometimes called probation revocation hearing.

Plea

A defendant’s formal answer in court to the charge that he/she committed a crime.

Plea bargain

An agreement between the prosecutor and the defense attorney that the defendant will plead guilty to a crime in exchange for some concession from the state, usually a lesser charge, the dismissal of other pending charges, or a recommendation by the prosecutor for a reduced sentence.

Preliminary hearing

A legal proceeding before a judicial officer in which arguments, witnesses, and/or evidence are presented to determine if there is sufficient cause to hold the accused for trial. Sometimes called a probable cause hearing or a pretrial hearing.

Pre-sentence report

A document which details the past behavior, family circumstances, and personality of a convicted adult offender and gives information about the crime he or she committed. It is prepared by a probation agency or other authority in order to assist the court in determining the most appropriate sentence.

Pre-trial conference

A meeting between the judge and all attorneys to establish the issues and guidelines of a trial, or to attempt to conclude the matter before a trial.

Probable cause

The degree of proof needed to arrest and begin prosecution against a person suspected of committing a crime; the evidence must be such that a reasonable person would believe that this specific crime was committed and that it is probable that the person being accused committed it.

Probable cause hearing

See preliminary hearing.

Probation

Conditional freedom granted to an offender by the court after conviction or a guilty plea with requirements for the offender’s behavior set and supervised by the court.

Probation revocation hearing

See parole revocation hearing.

Prosecutor

An attorney for the community employed by a government agency to represent the interests of the general public, including crime victims, in court proceedings against people accused of committing crimes. Some jurisdictions use other terms for the prosecutor, such as U.S. Attorney (a federal prosecutor), district attorney, or state’s attorney.

Public defender

An attorney employed by a government agency to represent defendants who are unable to hire private counsel.

Statute

Any law passed by a local, state, or federal legislative body.

Stipulation

An agreement between the parties or their attorneys, generally relating to evidence at trial.

Subpoena

A court order requiring a witness to attend and give testimony; it may also order him or her to bring books or records with them.

Summons

The document by which a defendant is notified to appear in court, and answer charges or claims against him/her.

Testimony

Evidence given by competent witness, under oath; as distinguished from evidence derived from writings and other sources.

Tort

An injury or wrong committed, either with or without force, to the person or property of another.

Transcript

The official record of proceedings of a trial or hearing.

Trial

A proceeding, either civil or criminal, in court, where the law and evidence are reviewed, and the guilt, liability, or other issues are determined by jury or judge.

Venue

The county in which a prosecution or an action is brought to trial.

Waiver

Voluntary surrender of a right, claim or privilege.

With prejudice

The term, as applied to judgment of dismissal, is as conclusive of rights of parties as if action had been prosecuted to final adjudication adverse to the plaintiff.

Without prejudice

A dismissal “without prejudice” allows a new suit to be brought on the same cause of action.