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Law & Order         Law & Order: SVU          Law & Order: CI
Legal Terms
Accessory -- A person who intentionally helps another commit a felony through action taken before or after the crime. An accessory is usually not present during the commission of the crime.
Accomplice -- A person who assists another (the principal) in the commission of a crime. An accomplice is usually present during the criminal act and is usually deemed to be guilty of the same offense, and may receive the same sentence, as the principal.
Admission -- (1) An out-of-court statement offered into evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule. (2) During discovery, a statement by one side that certain facts are true in response to a request from the other side.
Affirmative defense -- An explanation for a defendant's action intended to justify or excuse behavior. Self-defense, insanity and intoxication are examples of affirmative defenses in certain circumstances.
Aggravated assault -- A physical attack made worse by the fact that it was committed with a deadly weapon, in the commission of another crime, or resulted in serious bodily injury.
Amicus -- A "friend of the court"; an entity that is neither plaintiff nor defendant in a legal proceeding but which can demonstrate a strong interest in the case or is in possession of material relevant to the case. An amicus brief is a legal document by which such an entity explains its interest.
Appellant -- A party to a case who appeals a losing decision to a higher court in hopes of having that decision modified or reversed.
Appellate court -- A higher court established to review the decision of a lower court when an appellant files an appeal.
Arraignment -- A court procedure by which the accused is formally charged with a crime and answers with a plea of guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendre. During this procedure, arrangement may be made for the appointment of an attorney for the defendant, and bail may be set unless the defendant is remanded or released on his own recognizance.
Arrest warrant -- A document issued by a judge or magistrate authorizing the authorities to arrest an individual, usually after the authorities have produced sufficient evidence to convince the judge or magistrate that a crime has taken place and that it is reasonably likely that the person(s) named in the warrant is criminally responsible for the commission of the crime.
Assault -- A crime that occurs when a person or persons physically harm another, or act in such a way as to make another feel immediately threatened. Actual physical contact is not necessary. (See Aggravated assault.)
Attorney-client privilege -- A rule making communications between an attorney and his client confidential and therefore inadmissible as evidence and, usually, exempt from discovery.
Avowal -- A statement made by a witness after a judge has deemed his testimony inadmissible at trial, and which is therefore preserved so that it may be considered in case of an appeal.
Bail -- Money paid to the court, usually at arraignment, as a guarantee that a defendant released from jail will make a scheduled court appearance. Bail is usually based on the seriousness of the offense; it may be increased if the prosecutor convinces the arraignment judge that the defendant is a flight risk, or decreased if the defense attorney persuades the arraignment judge that the defendant is unlikely to flee (due to strong ties to the community, etc.)
Bail bond -- Money posted by a bondsman for a defendant's bail. The defendant normally pays 10% of the total. If the defendant fails to appear in court the bondsman may seek to catch and return the defendant, forcibly if necessary, to avoid forfeiting the bond to the court.
Bailiff -- A uniformed court official, classified as a peace officer, responsible for maintaining order in a courtroom. In criminal cases, bailiffs normally take charge of defendants who are in custody during the court proceedings.
Battery -- A crime consisting of physical contact with the intent to harm.
Bench trial -- A trial without a jury, in which the judge alone makes the determination of guilt or innocence.
Best evidence rule -- A rule of evidence requiring that the original of a document, photograph, recording, etc. be used as evidence in a trial rather than a copy. A copy may be allowed if the original is unavailable.
Beyond a reasonable doubt -- The burden of proof carried by the prosecution in a criminal case, to convince a jury, usually to a "moral certainty", that a defendant committed each element of a crime.
Binding precedent -- Decisions made by higher courts setting legal standards for similar cases in lower courts in the same jurisdiction.
Blanket search warrant -- An unusually broad authorization issued by a judge allowing police to search multiple areas for evidence without specifying what they are looking for. The constitutionality of such warrants have been challenged.
Booking -- The process by which an arrested person's name, age, address, reason for arrest, etc. are recorded by the authorities. A mug shot and fingerprints are usually taken, and the arrestee's personal effects are inventoried and stored.
Brief -- A document setting forth a legal argument or contention supported by precedent or legal authority.
Capital case -- Also known as a "death penalty case"; a prosecution for murder in which the jury is asked to decide whether a defendant, if found guilty, should be put to death. The prosecutor is required to present and prove one or more special circumstances.
Challenge for cause -- A request that a judge dismiss a potential juror requiring a valid legal reason, such as potential bias.
Chambers -- A judge's office.
Circumstantial evidence -- Evidence that goes to the proving of a fact by inference. For example, if a defendant's fingerprints are the only ones on a murder weapon, the jury may infer that he committed the crime in question even though there were no witnesses to the act.
Closing argument -- A speech made by each party after all the evidence has been presented and all testimony has been given, in which explanations are given as to why a jury should decide one way or the other.
Contempt of court -- Behavior that disrupts, shows disregard for, or violates the order of a court, punishable by fine or inprisonment. Witnesses, attorneys and defendants may be found in contempt.
Corpus delicti -- In Latin, the "body of the crime"; usually refers to, but is not limited to, the corpse of a murder victim.
Criminal facilitation -- A person is guilty of criminal facilitation when, acting in the knowledge that another person has committed or intends to commit a crime, he knowingly engages in conduct which provides that person with the means or opportunity to commit the crime.
Criminal insanity -- A mental defect or condition that prevents a defendant from being able to distinguish between right or wrong, or, more specifically, the wrongfulness of his act(s). A criminally insane defendant cannot be found guilty of a crime since criminal conduct involves the conscious intent to do wrong.
Cross-examination -- The opportunity, at trial, to question any witness that testifies against you on direct examination.
Directed verdict -- A ruling made by a judge after the prosecution has presented The People's case, and is usually a determination that the prosecution has failed to meet the burden of proof.
Disclosure -- Pre-trial formal investigation, allowing one party to question other parties and, sometimes, witnesses, and during which the parties are required to produce requested documents and physical evidence. Discovery may also include interrogatories -- written questions which the other party must answer -- or depositions -- during which one party may ask questions of another party, who is under oath, while a written transcript is made.
District Attorney -- A lawyer elected to represent The People in a state, county or other judicial district. The D.A. reviews police arrest reports and makes determinations regarding whether to bring criminal charges against arrested persons, and then prosecuting the cases in court. The D.A. supervises assistant district attorneys. In some states the D.A. is called the prosecuting attorney, state's attorney or county attorney.
Exclusionary rule -- A rule that disallows the use of illegally obtained evidence in a criminal case.
Felony -- A serious crime (as opposed to a misdemeanor), the punishment for which may usually entail imprisonment. Murder, extortion and kidnapping are examples of felonies.
Grand jury -- The next step, after an arrest, in the prosecution of a felony. A group of citizens called upon to determine whether sufficient evidence exists for an indictment and trial.
Guardian ad litum -- A person appointed by a court to protect and represent the interests of a child or incapacitated adult during a trial.
Hearing -- A legal proceeding presided over by a judge, during which motions are entertained, or evidence and arguments presented to resolve a factual or legal issue in dispute.
Hearsay rule -- A rule of evidence prohibiting the consideration of secondhand testimony in a trial.
Homicide -- The killing of one person by the act or omission of another. Killing may be justified or excused in certain circumstances, as in self-defense or in attempting to prevent a violent felony. Criminal homicide occurs when a person knowingly, recklessly or negligently causes the death of another.
Hung jury -- A jury unable to reach a decision, a situation that usually results in a mistrial.