• Appeal - A request to a higher court to overturn a decision made by a lower court. Appeals are for the sole purpose to address legal and procedural problems and errors. Appeals are not requests to resubmit evidence. For instance you may have grounds for appeal under these conditions: evidence that should not have been submitted in the first place, evidence was excluded that should not have been, the defendant was adequately represented by counsel, the jury was ill informed, or informed of evidence that they should not have had access to.
• Arraignment - This is the initial appearance only. Many people are confused and think their lawyer should present evidence at this court appearance so the “misunderstanding” can be cleared up. However, it is not designed for that. No evidence or testimony is presented to the court. The defendant is given a formal written statement of the charges. A not guilty plea is entered and the next court date is set.
• Bail - This is an amount, usually cash, that is posted to the court to secure the release of a criminal defendant until the case has been resolved or trial has begun.
• Bond - This is usually a security posted by a bondsman to secure bail for a criminal defendant.
• Discovery - The prosecutor must provide to the defense any witness statements and any evidence that might tend to help the defendant. The defendant may also be required to share evidence with the prosecutor.
• Double Jeopardy - A constitutional provision that guarantees a person may not be tried twice for the same crime. The modern day definition is a little more complex and even allows for circumstances which appear to be exceptions to the law. This may mean in the lower courts that a defendant may plead autrefois acquit or autrefois convict. This simply means that the defendant has been acquitted or convicted of the same offense. If the question is raised, it may appear before the court and evidence will be placed with the court.
• Habeas Corpus - Means that the defendant has the right to trial by jury. Historically this has been an important method of protecting and safeguarding the individuals’ freedom against arbitrary state action. This simply means that an incarcerated person will be brought before a court to decide is there is a cause to hold the person. This is a commonly used method, in recent times, of determining if a prisoner is being held in violation of their rights.
• Miranda – This is simply a constitutionally required advisement of the right to remain silent, and the right to an attorney, before law enforcement can question a suspect.
• Motion - A written request filed in court requesting the judge make a determination on some issue.
• Parole – A release of a convicted prisoner before the completion of the sentence. The convict will be made subject to restrictions and monitoring. You may be advised of your eligibility of parole during your sentencing. However, if you are eligible, you still need to be reviewed by a parole board and parole can still be granted or denied. If you are in violation of the conditions of your parole you will be returned to serve the remainder of your sentence.
• Plea Bargain - A plea that is agreed to by both the the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney.
• Preliminary Hearing - The prosecution presents evidence and testimony before a judge who decides whether there is sufficient evidence to go to trial. If not, the matter may be dismissed.
• Probation – This is different than parole. Probation is granted to a criminal defendant along with their initial sentence and it is either partially or wholly suspended as long as they comply with the terms of the probation. While parole is granted after part of a sentence has been fulfilled, probation is ordered at sentencing. If you have been offered parole you are usually required to submit to restrictions such as avoiding drugs and alcohol, reporting to a parole officer, and maintaining or seeking active employment. There may be other terms and condition related to the original sentence. These terms may include attending classes related to the offense, paying restitution, and refraining from contact with the victims. If any of the conditions are violated, the defendant will be required to fulfill most or the entire suspended sentence.
• Restitution – Means to return the property or its value to the victim of the crime. Often probation is made conditional on these terms. The idea behind restitution is to pay back the value of the crime, or return the victim to their former position.
• Sentencing - This will normally be between 48 hours and 1 month after the verdict. The defendant has a right to a presentence report. Usually the sentence starts immediately upon pronouncement of the sentencing.
• Trial - In a trial the prosecutor first gives his opening statement and then the defense lawyer can either give his opening statement, or wait until the beginning of the defense case. Next the prosecutor calls witnesses and the defense attorney cross-examines them. Also, items can be entered as evidence. When the prosecutor finishes calling witnesses, the defense begins calling his witnesses and the prosecution may cross-examine them. At the end of all of this, the judge will give instructions to the jury. Then the prosecutor gives a closing argument and the defense follows with a closing argument. The prosecutor then gets to present a rebuttal. Then the jury or judge comes up with the verdict.
• Vacate – When a judge sets aside or invalidates previously entered evidence or order. This can include an order of conviction, or other orders carried out by the court in relation to the case. This may even include excluding evidence or requiring records or evidence to be presented.
• Verdict - The decision of the judge or jury as to guilt or innocence.
It is very helpful to understand the terms used in criminal law so you’ll better understand what is happening to your case and how that affects you. Knowing these basic terms should help you to better understand your case as we discuss the possibilities.