Below are some common terms you may come across when dealing with a criminal matter. Remember, these terms may have a very specific meaning in the context of your situation, so you should always consult with an attorney when deciding upon the proper legal course of action.
Abduction -To take someone away from a place without that person's consent, or by fraud.
Abet - Encouraging or inciting another to do a certain thing, such as a crime.
Absolute Discharge - A sentence of a person guilty of a crime in which the accused is deemed to have not been convicted.
Accessory- Persons who aid or abet the principal offender in the commission of the offence, before or after.
Accomplice - Person(s) that aids, abets, advises, or encourages the commission of the crime.
Accusation - The formal criminal charge against a person which specifies the essential ingredients in regards to the alleged offence such as time and place and the relevant reference to the criminal law allegedly breached.
Accused - A person to whom a formal information containing an allegation of a criminal offence has been delivered, or a person arrested for a criminal offence.
Acquittal - A decision by a judge or jury that a person accused of a crime is not guilty.
Affray - A fight between two or more persons in a public place so as to cause terror to the public.
Alibi - A defence to a criminal charge to the effect that the accused was elsewhere than at the scene of the alleged crime.
Armed Robbery - Robbery committed while the person accused is armed with a dangerous weapon.
Arraignment - The formal appearance of an accused person to hear, and to receive a copy of, the charge against him or her, in the presence of a judge, and to then enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
Arrest - The detainment or restraint of a person or thing for the purposes of determining legal rights as regards a thing, or suspicion of criminal activity as regards a person.
Arson - The intentional setting of a fire to a building.
Assault - The touching of another person with an intent to harm, without that person's consent.
Bail - The pledge of cash or property to secure the release of a thing or person which would otherwise be held in custody.
Battered Woman Syndrome - A species of self-defence to manslaughter or murder in which expert evidence is led to demonstrate that a female defendant in an abusive relationship comes to believe that to save herself she must kill her husband first.
Battery - Offensive and intentional contact, direct or indirect, which causes injury.
Bench - A judge in court session.
Bigamy - Being married to more than one person at the same time; a criminal offence in most jurisdictions.
Blackmail - The obtaining or attempting to obtain something by the use of threats.
Brady Rule -The suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or punishment.
Breathalyzer - A device which records alcohol impairment.
Bribery - A secret payment to a public officer in exchange for preferential treatment.
Burden of Proof - A rule of evidence that makes a person prove a certain thing or the contrary will be assumed by the court.
Burglary - Breaking and entering a residence for the intention of committing a crime or while lawfully within, commit a crime and to thereafter break out.
Challengefor Cause - A challenge of a prospective juror for which the cause is disclosed by the challenging party (or their lawyer), and submitted to the Court for decision.
Circumstantial Evidence -Evidence which may allow a judge or jury to deduce a certain fact from other facts which have been proven.
Common Law - Judge-declared law. Law which exists and applies to a group on the basis of customs and legal precedents developed over hundreds of years.
Concurrent Sentence - A sentence which runs with another.
Conditional Discharge - A sentence of a person found guilty of a crime in which upon completion of specified actions by the accused, no criminal record issues as regards the offense for which a conditional discharge was granted.
Confession - A statement made by a person suspected or charged with a crime, that he (or she) did, in fact, commit that crime.
Confrontation Clause - The constitutional guarantee in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution which requires that an accused person have the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.
Consecutive Sentences - Sentences which run one after the other.
Conspiracy - An agreement between two or more persons to commit a criminal act.
Contempt of Court - Conduct that is disobedient, obstructive or contemptuous to the Court.
Contraband - An item the possession or production of which in itself is a crime.
Conviction - The formal decision of a criminal trial which finds the accused guilty.
Crime - An act or omission which is prohibited by criminal law and punished, usually by fine or imprisonment.
Criminal Negligence - Reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.
Deadly Force -Force which creates a substantial risk of causing death or serious bodily injury.
Defendant - The individual, company or organization who defends a legal action taken by a plaintiff and against whom the court has been asked to order damages or specific corrective action redress some type of unlawful or improper action alleged by the plaintiff.
Defense Attorney - Lawyers who represent persons facing criminal charges.
Directed Verdict - When the Court stops a trial determining that an essential fact has not been proven.
Discharge - A sentence of a person found guilty of a crime in which that person
District Attorney - A lawyer in the USA charged with prosecution of criminal charges on behalf of the government.
DNA - Abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid. A chromosome molecule which carries genetic coding unique to each person with the only exception of identical twins (that is why it is also called 'DNA fingerprinting').
Domestic Violence - An assault or battery upon another member of a family or, in some jurisdictions, threatening words.
Double Jeopardy - A prohibition against being tried or sentenced twice for the same offense.
Due Process - Fundamental procedural legal safeguards of which every citizen has an absolute right when a state or court purports to take a decision that could affect any right of that citizen.
Embezzle - The illegal transfer of money or property that, although possessed legally by the embezzler, is covertly and fraudulently converted to the embezzler's own property.
Evidence - Something (including testimony, documents and tangible objects) that tends to prove or disprove the existence of an alleged fact.
Expunge - To remove permanently; to cancel.
Extortion - Forcing a person to give up property in a thing through the use of violence, fear or under pretense of authority.
Extradition - The arrest and delivery of a fugitive wanted for a crime committed in another country, usually under the terms of a extradition treaty.
False Imprisonment - Intentional and total imprisonment of a person against his or her will and without lawful justification.
Felony - A serious crime for which the traditional punishment is prison for more than a year, or death.
Fifth Amendment- A US Constitution article which provides fundamental rights in regards to legal process such as the immunity in regards to self incrimination.
Forgery - The making of a false document knowing it to be false with intent that it should be used or acted on as genuine to the prejudice of another.
Fourth Amendment - US constitutional protection against unreasonable search or arrest.
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine - Bars the admission of physical evidence and live testimony obtained directly or indirectly through the exploitation of unconstitutional police conduct.
Grand Jury - An American criminal justice procedure whereby, in each court district, a group of 16-23 citizens hold an inquiry on criminal complaints brought by the prosecutor and decide if a trial is warranted, in which case an indictment is issued.
Gravamen - The material part or essence of a charge, grievance or complaint.
Guilty - A person found guilty of a criminal charge, either as a result of an acknowledgment of it by pleading guilty, or as a result of a trial at which the accused was found guilty of the offence changed.
Habeas Corpus - Latin: a court petition which orders that a person being detained be produced before a judge for a hearing to decide whether the detention is lawful.
Hearsay - Traditionally, testimony that is given by a witness who relates not what he or she knows personally, but what others have said, and that is therefore dependent on the credibility of someone other than the witness. Such testimony is generally inadmissible under the rules of evidence.
Homicide - The act or omission of one human being, which ends the life of another.
Hung Jury - A jury which is unable to arrive at a required unanimous or near unanimous verdict.
Identity Theft - The wrongful taking or using another person's identifying information for the purpose of fraud or other criminal activity.
Indictment - The formal document by which the state sets out the claim that a person has committed a crime.
Involuntary Manslaughter - A criminal offence contingent on language in any given jurisdiction but, generally, the unlawful killing of a human being without malice in the commission of an unlawful act or in the commission of an act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.
Juror - A member of a jury; a person who has taken an oath to serve on a jury.
Jury - A group of citizens randomly selected from the general population and brought together to assist justice by deciding which version, in their opinion, constitutes 'the truth' given different evidence by opposing parties.
Jury Nullification - The extraordinary power of a jury to issue a verdict contrary to the law as applied to the proven facts.
Justification - An answer or defence to an allegation of wrongful conduct that the act or omission, though admittedly committed, was not wrongful in all the circumstances.
Larceny - A criminal offence now more commonly referred to as theft, covering the unlawful or fraudulent removal of another's property without the owner's consent.
Malum in se - Latin: something wrong in itself.
Malum prohibitum - Latin: wrong because prohibited.
Manslaughter - Unlawful killing of a human being without malice or deliberation.
Miranda Warning - A requirement that police officers, before any questioning is so begun, warn suspects upon arrest that they have the right to remain silent, that any statement that they make could be used against them in a court of law, that they have the right to contact a lawyer and that if they cannot afford a lawyer, that one will be provided.
Misdemeanor - A crime of lesser seriousness than a felony where the punishment might be a fine or prison for less than one year.
Mistrial - A partial or complete trial which is found to be null and void and of no effect because of some irregularity.
Modus Operandi - Latin: method of operation.
Money Laundering - The conversion or transfer of money obtained by crime for the purposes of frustrating law enforcement.
Moral Turpitude - An act of baseness or depravity contrary to accepted moral standards.
Motion to Strike - A motion put to the Court to strike a pleading or evidence of a witness.
Murder - Intentional homicide (the taking of another person’s life), without legal justification or provocation.
Nolo Contendere - Latin: I will not defend.
Opening Statement - A lawyer or litigant's initial remarks at trial, to the finder of fact, either a judge or jury, setting out their road-map or case theory.
Pardon - A pardon is a government decision to allow a person who has been convicted of a crime, to be free and absolved of that conviction, as if never convicted.
Parole - A conditional release from incarceration during which a prisoner promises to heed certain conditions (usually set by a parole board) and submit to the supervision of a parole officer.
Pedophile - A medical condition causing a sexual preference for young children.
Peremptory Challenge - Also "preemptory challenge"; a party's challenge of a prospective juror for which no reason or justification need be given.
Perjury - An intentional lie given while under oath or in a sworn affidavit.
Plain Error - Limited grounds upon which an appeal alleging deficient jury instructions will be allowed, which were not objected to at the time they were presented to the jury: the error must be so obvious or serious that the public reputation and integrity of the judicial proceeding is impaired.
Plain View Doctrine - The authority for law enforcement officers, otherwise lawfully upon premises gut not armed with a search warrant, to seize any item within their line of sight and reasonably believed to be related to the commission of a crime
Plea Bargaining - Negotiations during a criminal trial in which the accused agrees to admit to a smaller crime in exchange for which the prosecutor agrees to ask for a more lenient sentence than would have been recommended if the original charge had of been proceeded with.
Polygraph - A lie-detector machine.
Preemptory Challenge - Also "peremptory challenge"; a party's challenge of a prospective juror for which no reason or justification need be given.
Premeditation - Specific intent to commit a crime for some period of time, however short, before the actual crime.
Presumption of Innocence - A legal presumption that benefits a defendant in a criminal case and which results in acquittal in the event that the prosecutor does not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Probation - A punishment given out as part of a sentence which means that instead of jailing a person convicted of a crime, a judge will order that the person reports to a probation officer regularly and according to a set schedule.
Psychopath - An individual with an abnormal personality charterised by irresponsibility, lack of emotional control, impulsiveness resulting in unstable adaptations to environment.
Public Defender - An attorney in the USA paid for by the state but representing an indigent individual in a criminal matter.
Racketeering - The interfering with trade or commerce by violence or threats.
Reasonable Doubt - A threshold of proof in criminal cases in most modern criminal law systems which requires the trier of fact to be sure, not certain, of the accused's guilt, before convicting.
Robbery - Theft under threat or use of force.
Rule of Lenity - A rule of construction of statutes: that criminal statute ambiguities are resolved in favor of the defendant or accused.
Search Warrant - A court order that gives a police the permission to enter private property and to search for evidence of the commission of a crime, for the proceeds of crime or property that the police suspect may be used to commit a crime.
Sentence - The judgment given to a person who has been convicted (i.e. found to be guilty) of a crime.
Sexting - The sending of digital text messages containing suggestive, provocative, or explicit sexual photographs.
Speedy Trial - The Sixth Amendment secures the right to a speedytrial. In deciding whether an accused has been deprived of that right, courts generally consider the length of and reason for the delay, and the prejudice to the accused
Statutory Rape - A statutory definition of rape which allows for conviction regardless of the consent, such as with a minor.
Subpoena - Latin: an order of a court which requires a person to be present at a certain time and place or suffer a penalty (subpoena means, literally, under penalty).
Terry Search - A justifiable protective search for weapons, even in the absence of probable cause to arrest, where there is a suspicion that an individual is armed and dangerous.
Theft - To steal an item of property.
Venue - Location or proposed district of a judicial hearing.
Verdict - French: truth told; the decision of a jury.
Voir Dire - A mini-hearing held during a trial on the eligibility of prospective jurors or the admissibility of contested evidence.
Warrant - A document giving a person legal authority to do a certain thing.
Wrongful Conviction - A conviction of a person accused of a crime which, in the result of subsequent investigation, proves erroneous.