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Basic Legal Terminology ~ Finucane & Hartzell, LLP ~ Attorneys and Counselors At Law ~ (585) 586-0220 

Glossary of Legal Terms

By From the Criminal Justice System Handbook by Joint Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the New York Lawyers' Association. The entire handbook is available at
http://nycourts.gov/lawlibraries/glossary.shtml

A,B,C,D | E,F,G,H | I,J,K,L | M,N,O,P | Q,R,S,T | U,V,W,X,Y,Z

 

A,B,C,D
acquittal:
A decision by the trial jury or judge that a person is not guilty of an offense.
adjournment:
A postponement of a criminal case.
affirmance:
A decision by an appeals court that upholds the decision of a lower court.
alternate jurors:
extra jurors chosen in case one of the twelve (or six) jurors become unavailable to serve during the trial.
appeal:
A request for review by a higher court of proceedings in a lower court.
appellate judges (Appeals Court):
Judges that decide an appeal.
appellate argument:
A court proceeding at which an appeal is orally argued before appellate judges.
application for a stay:
A request to be released while an appeal is pending.
arraignment:
A court proceeding at which a person is informed of the charges against him or her.
arrest:
The act of being taken into custody by the police.
bail:
Money ordered to be paid to the court in exchange for release *om jail while a criminal case is pending.
bench warrant:
A court order for a person's arrest that is issued when a person fails to appear in court on a scheduled date.
beyond a reasonable doubt:
The burden of proof that the prosecutor must meet at trial in proving that a person is guilty of an offense.
brief:
A written legal argument.
calendar part:
A courtroom where a case is scheduled for further proceedings.
calendared:
Setting a date for court action to occur in a case.
Central Booking:
Police Department office where fingerprints and photographs are taken after an arrest.
challenge for cause:
A motion to excuse a juror from serving on a jury because he or she could not be fair or for some other reason allowed by law. charge: Accusation of an offense. complaint: Verified written accusation by a person. concurrent sentences: Sentences that are served at the same time.
conditional discharge:
A sentence allowing for release from jail without supervision by the Department of Probation, but which requires compliance with conditions set by the court. consecutive sentences: Sentences that must be served one after another. conviction: A finding of guilt of an offense, following either a guilty plea or a trial verdict. Court of Appeals: The highest court in New York State, located in Albany, New York.
Criminal Court:
The court where criminal proceedings begin. Misdemeanor cases remain in this court.
Criminal Justice Agency (C.J.A.):
An organization whose employees interview individuals who have been arrested to find out about their backgrounds in order to help judges decide whether to set bail, order release without bail (R.O.R.), or order confinement in jail while a case is pending. cross-examination: Questioning of a witness by the lawyer who has not called the witness. defendant: A person who has been charged with an offense. defense: Evidence or arguments presented on behalf of a person accused of an offense.
deliberations:
A secret meeting at which the jury considers the evidence presented at trial to decide if a person is guilty of charged offenses.
Desk Appearance Ticket ("D.A.T."):
A document that charges a person with a violation. The ticket requires one's appearance at a specific court at a specified time. direct examination: Questioning of a witness by the lawyer who called that witness. discovery: A process lawyers use to find out information about a case. 18-B Panel: See "Assigned Counsel Plan."

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E,F,G,H
evidence:
Testimony and exhibits introduced at a hearing or trial.
exhibits:
Physical evidence introduced at a hearing or trial.
felony:
An offense which is punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of more than one year, or a sentence of death for murder in the first degree.
felony complaint:
The first document filed with the court that sets out the initial charges in a felony case.
fine:
A sentence that requires the payment of money.
fingerprints:
Reproductions of unique finger marks, which are used to identify people.
fingerprint report (rap sheet):
A summary of a defendant's prior and/or currently pending arrests and convictions.
grand jury:
A group of citizens who decide if the prosecutor has enough evidence to pursue felony charges against a person.
hearing:
A court proceeding where testimony is given, exhibits are reviewed, and/or legal arguments are made, to help a judge decide an issue in a case. homicide: An offense involving the killing of one person by another. hung jury: A term used to describe a trial jury that cannot reach a unanimous verdict.

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I,J,K,L
indictment:
A document that contains the felony (and perhaps also misdemeanor) charges that were voted by the grand jury.
jurors (jury):
A group of citizens who decide at trial if a defendant is guilty or not guilty of charges.
jury box:
where jury is seated.
jury charge or jury instructions:
Explanation of the law read by the judge to the jury.
jury panel:
A large number of people from whom the jury is selected.
Juvenile Offender (J.O):
A person who is sentenced for certain kinds of felony offenses that were committed when the person was thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen years old.
life imprisonment without the possibility of parole:
Sentence of imprisonment without the possibility of release.

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M,N,O,P
misdemeanor:
An offense punishable by up to one year in jail.
misdemeanor complaint:
A document filed with the court that sets out the initial charges in a misdemeanor case.
mistrial:
A decision by a judge to end a trial before a verdict is reached.
motion:
A request for a judicial order.
objection:
A request to a judge for an order prohibiting or excluding certain evidence.
Opening statement:
Argument to the jury or judge made at the beginning of a trial.
People's appeal:
An appeal brought by the prosecutor.
peremptory challenge:
A motion to excuse a juror from serving on a jury without any reason given.
plea bargain:
An agreement between a defendant, a judge, and a prosecutor, in which the defendant admits guilt, usually in exchange for a promise that a particular sentence will be imposed.
plead guilty (guilty plea):
Where a defendant admits to having committed a charged offense.
post bail:
pay bail.
pre-sentence memoranda:
Documents prepared by the prosecutor and the defendant to help the judge determine a sentence.
pre-sentence report:
Report prepared by the Department of Probation containing information to help the judge determine a sentence.
preliminary hearing:
A hearing upon a felony complaint.
probation:
A sentence that does not involve prison, but requires compliance with certain conditions for a specified period of time under the supervision of the Department of Probation.
Probation, Department of:
An agency that prepares a written report concerning a defendant's background and the circumstances surrounding the offense. The Department of Probation also supervises defendants sentenced to probation.
probation officer:
An employee of the Department of Probation who prepares pre-sentence reports and supervises defendants placed on probation.
prosecutor:
A lawyer who represents the government in criminal cases (also known as the assistant district attorney or A.D.A., the People, or the prosecution).

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Q,R,S,T
rap sheet (fingerprint report):
A summary of a defendant's prior and/or currently pending arrests and convictions.
rebuttal:
Evidence or argument made in response to an argument.
remand or remanded to custody:
To be sent to jail.
remit:
An order by an appeals court sending a case back to a lower court for further proceedings.
restitution:
A sentence that requires the payment of money to a victim. reversal:
A decision by an appeals court that rejects the decision of a lower court.
R.O.R.'d (release on recognizance):
To be released from jail without bail while a case is pending.
sentence:
A punishment imposed by a judge following a conviction.
sentencing:
A court proceeding at which a sentence is imposed.
sentencing proceeding:
Trial before a jury to determine if a sentence of death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole should be imposed. split sentence: A jail sentence followed by a period of probation. summation: Closing argument made at trial.
Superior Court Information (S.C.I.):
A written accusation filed by the prosecutor containing felony and perhaps also misdemeanor charges.
suppression order:
A court order that prohibits the admission of specific evidence at trial.
Supreme Court:
The court where cases involving felonies are heard.
surcharge:
A payment of money that is required upon conviction.
surrebuttal:
The stage of the trial when a party may offer evidence in response to rebuttal evidence.
sworn oath:
A promise to tell the truth.
temporary order of protection:
A court order that forbids a person from contacting or being in the presence of a specific person for a specified period of time.
testify (testimony):
To speak under oath.
transcripts:
Official record of everything that is said in court.
trial:
A court proceeding at which a judge or jury decides whether a person is guilty or not guilty of the charges against him or her.

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U,V,W,X,Y,Z
unconditional discharge:
A sentence which does not require either any imprisonment or conditions.
vacate:
To cancel a court order. A vacated court order has no legal effect.
verdict:
The trial judge or jury's decision as to whether a person is guilty or not guilty of charged offenses.
violation:
An offense punishable by up to fifteen days in jail and/or a fine.
waive:
To give up a legal right.
well:
The section of the court containing the tables at which the defendant, prosecutor and lawyers sit.
Youthful Offender (Y.O.):
A person who is sentenced for an offense that occurred when the person was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen years old.
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