Common legal terms used in criminal law
Arrest: The action of law enforcement detaining a person suspected of committing a crime.
Arraignment: A formal court proceeding where the defendant is informed of the charges against them and asked to enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest).
Bail: The amount of money or conditions set by the court to secure a defendant’s release from custody while their case is pending.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: The high standard of proof required in a criminal trial to convict a defendant. It means that the evidence must leave no reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt.
Charge: A formal accusation that a person has committed a specific crime.
Criminal Defense Attorney: A lawyer who represents the accused in criminal proceedings.
Due Process: The constitutional principle that ensures fair treatment and protection of an individual’s rights in the criminal justice system.
Felony: A serious criminal offense, typically punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.
Misdemeanor: A less serious criminal offense, typically punishable by imprisonment for one year or less.
Miranda Rights: The warning police are required to give when taking a suspect into custody, informing them of their right to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning.
Plea Bargain: An agreement between the prosecutor and defendant where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Probation: A period of supervision imposed by the court as an alternative to incarceration, with specific conditions that must be met.
Search Warrant: A legal document that authorizes law enforcement to search a specific location for evidence of a crime.
Subpoena: A court order requiring a person to appear in court as a witness or produce documents or evidence.
Statute of Limitations: The time limit for initiating criminal charges against a suspect after the commission of a crime.
Witness: A person who testifies in court about their knowledge of the events related to a criminal case.
Criminal Intent (Mens Rea): The mental state or intent of a person when committing a crime, which can include purposeful, knowing, reckless, or negligent actions.
Habeas Corpus: A legal action that allows a person in custody to challenge the legality of their detention.
Acquittal: A verdict that declares a defendant “not guilty” of the charges, resulting in their release from criminal liability.
Double Jeopardy: The constitutional protection that prohibits a person from being tried for the same crime twice.
Injunction: A court order that requires or prohibits a specific action, often used to stop ongoing criminal behavior.
Grand Jury: A group of citizens called to determine whether there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges against a suspect.
Criminal Record: A permanent record of a person’s criminal history, which can affect employment, housing, and other aspects of their life.
Evidence: Information presented in court to prove or disprove a fact, often including documents, witnesses, and physical items.
Parole: The release of a prisoner before completing their full sentence, with conditions and supervision.