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Criminal Law


actus reus (Latin) An act. For example, an “actus reus” is a “wrongful deed” (such as killing a person) which, if done with mens rea, a “guilty mind” (such as “malice aforethought”), is a crime (such as first-degree murder).
arraignment The hearing at which a defendant is brought before a judge to hear the charges and to enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, etc.).
arrest The physical or implied seizure or taking into custody of a person by police, significantly restricting the person’s freedom of movement and subjecting him or her to the authority of the officer.
bail The amount of money or property that a defendant must post to be released; assurance to the court that the defendant will return to court when required to do so.
beyond a reasonable doubt The burden of proof borne by the state in a criminal trial; proof of sufficient weight to exclude any other reasonable explanation than the defendant’s guilt.
book To record basic information, possibly including fingerprints, from a suspect.
capital crime A crime for which a person can receive the death penalty.
causation The link among the intent, the act, and the harm.
civil law Law that defines the rights of individuals in their relationships with other individuals and establishes a process for righting wrongs, mainly through monetary reimbursement.
common law Traditional law originating in England, recorded in judicial opinions rather than legislative statutes.
complicity Assisting or participating in a criminal endeavor; working as an accomplice to a crime.
conflict of interest Two significant and opposed matters of duty or allegiance, where to act favorably on one of the matters will or may appear to be detrimental to the other.
constructive possession Possession but not physical control of property.
corpus delicti The “body of the crime”; proof that loss or injury occurred as the result of someone’s criminal conduct.
criminal law The branch of law that identifies conduct subject to prosecution and penalty by the state, and the procedure by which it is carried out.
due process Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment right not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without a process that is fundamentally fair and just.
federalism The relationship between the national government and each state, and the relationship among states.
felony The most serious crime; requires a minimum of one year in a state or federal prison (not a county jail).
general intent Intent to commit the act itself, but not necessarily to cause the results.
grand jury A body of citizens that hears evidence regarding possible criminal activity and decides whether that evidence is sufficient to bring an accused to trial; serves the same function as the preliminary hearing.
habeas corpus, writ of Prevents incarceration without justification; requires law enforcement to present the individual before a judge to determine whether the person has been fairly convicted and incarcerated.
harm Actual damage, injury, or loss that must occur as the result of the act for that act to be considered criminal.
inchoate Something that is unfinished or partially finished, i.e., an inchoate crime is an attempted crime.
indictment Criminal charging document produced by the grand jury.
information Criminal charging document produced by a preliminary hearing.
initial appearance First court appearance where the judge informs the accused of the charges and basic rights to an attorney and to remain silent, and sets bail.
knowingly To be aware that a specific type of conduct will almost certainly bring about a particular result, but without necessarily intending that or a related result; a state of awareness that a certain fact or circumstance exists.
legal advice Independent professional judgment based on knowledge of the law and given for the benefit of a particular client; may be offered only by an attorney.
legal precedent (stare decisis) A previous court decision that serves as an authority in a subsequent case with similar issues in question.
mens rea A wrongful state of mind or the intent to commit a crime.
misdemeanor Lesser crime than a felony; penalties include fines and up to one year in a county jail (as opposed to prison).
Model Penal Code and Commentaries A guide by the American Law Institute to reform and unify criminal law in the United States.
negligently Thoughtlessly/carelessly creating a significant, unjustifiable risk of harm w/o realizing the risk has been created or without the intent to create the risk, yet the act is such that a reasonable person would have known that the act created such a risk.
notice Prior warning that specified conduct is prohibited.
omission Failure to act.
parole Release awarded to prison inmates after they serve some of their prison sentence.
petty offense A misdemeanor punished by a maximum of six months’ jail time or $500 fine, or both.
plea bargain Negotiated settlement where the prosecutor reduces the charge, number of charges, or the recommended sentence in return for the defendant’s plea of guilty.
police power The government’s authority to enact laws to promote public health, safety, morals, and welfare, and, pursuant thereto, to establish police departments and prevent crimes.
possession The acquisition of something and then the failure to get rid of it.
preliminary hearing Court appearance to determine if there is probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the crime as charged.
probable cause The quantum of reliable facts under the circumstances that justifies a reasonable person to believe that which is stated or alleged, “more than a bare suspicion” and “less than evidence that would justify...conviction.”
probation A judicial sentence that permits a convicted person to remain free as long as that person meets the conditions imposed by the court.
procedural criminal law The rules that the prosecution, the defense, and the courts must follow for the step-by-step processing of a person from accusation to sentencing and appeal.
procedural due process Requirement that the steps in a criminal proceeding be fundamentally fair, assuring to some degree of certitude that justification exists for arrest, prosecution, and punishment.
professional ethics Rules of conduct that govern the practice of that profession.
proximate cause The act that is most closely and directly responsible for the injury.
purposely Intending to accomplish a specific result.
recklessly Knowing that there is a substantial and unjustifiable risk that conduct might cause a particular result but not intending the harmful result.
rule of law The principle that all people and organizations, both governmental and private, in a nation or state must obey the established laws rather than be above the law or conduct their lives and business any way they choose.
sentence Assessment of penalty for a crime.
specific intent Carrying out an act for the purpose of achieving the resulting harm.
stare decisis Let the decision stand, precedent.
state police powers The power of each state to enact and enforce laws that maintain their citizens’ rights, health, safety, and general welfare.
substantive criminal law Definitions of crimes and principles governing punishment.
substantive due process A constitutional concept that the government must have appropriate justification in order to deprive a person of life, freedom, or property; a guarantee that laws are fair and not arbitrary.
summary trial For minor charges, a brief judicial inquiry of the suspect and the police to determine guilt.
superseding cause A new and independent act of a third person or another force that breaks the causal connection between the original wrong and the injury, and is the proximate cause of the injury.
supremacy clause The second provision of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which declares that the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties are superior to and take precedence over conflicting state constitutions and laws.
transferred intent Criminal liability for the harm to a person other than the intended victim.
violation Noncriminal offense, such as traffic violations and public drunkenness, for which the city, county, or state may only fine the offender.
wantonly Maliciously or arrogantly disregarding the known risk to the rights or safety of others.
zealous representation The act of providing legal advice and services to a client by pursuing all possible remedies and defenses within the boundaries set by the law.
assault An intentional threat, show of force, or movement that could reasonably make a person feel in danger of physical attack or harmful physical contact. It can be a crime or tort.
attempt An effort to commit a crime that goes beyond preparation & that proceeds far enough to make the person who did it guilty of an “attempt crime.”
battery An intentional, unconsented to physical contact by one person (or an object controlled by that person) with another person. It can be a crime or a tort.
capital murder First-degree murder aggravated by specified circumstances and lacking specified mitigating circumstances.
conversion Misappropriation for one’s own use, as in embezzlement.
cybercrime Crime involving computers as targets, tools, and incidental factors.
elements The specific requirements enumerated in statutes or common law that define a particular offense.
extortion The process of taking another’s property by force or illegal threats of harm to that person, another person, property, or reputation.
extortion (Hall) To compel, force, or coerce; for example, to get a confession by depriving a person of food and water. To get something by illegal threats of harm to person, property, or reputation. The process is called extortion.
fighting words Speech likely to provoke violence, not protected by the Constitution.
first-degree murder The highest form of homicide. The killing of another person with malice, premeditation, and cruelty, or done during the commission of a major felony is typically murder in the first degree.
forgery The act of altering a document by including false information or altering an original document to defraud another.
forgery (Hall) Making a fake document (or altering a real one) with intent to commit a fraud.
fraud The act of knowingly and intentionally making a false representation of material past or present fact to cause an owner to give up property or a legal right thereby committing the crime of obtaining property by false pretenses.
insider trading Use of confidential knowledge about a corporation in the purchase or sale of stocks in that corporation.
intangible property “Choses in action”; property not valuable in itself but that conveys value, such as checks, bonds, and promissory notes.
larceny (Hall) Stealing of any kind. Some types of larceny are specific crimes, such as larceny by trick or grand larceny.
lesser included offense (or necessarily included offense) One whose elements are all included among the elements of the more serious crime that is being charged.
lesser related offense One that does not meet the requirements of a lesser included offense, but bears a substantial relationship to the charged offense.
possession The acquisition of something and then the failure to get rid of it.
receiving stolen property The criminal offense of getting or concealing property known to be stolen by another.
riot An act or threat of violence by one or more in an assemblage of three or more presenting clear and present danger of or actual damage or injury to other persons or property.
solicitation Asking for; enticing; strongly requesting. This may be a crime if the thing being urged is a crime.
status Who one is, rather than what one has done.
subornation of perjury The criminal act of forcing, asking or acquiescing to another individual lying under oath.
tangible property Property that is valuable in itself, such as a cow or a coin.
terrorism Criminally violent or dangerous action that appears to be intended to intimidate a civilian population, influence governmental policy or conduct, or retaliate against governmental conduct.
uttering The act of putting a negotiable instrument, such as a check, into circulation; the criminal act of issuing a check without sufficient funds to back it or with a forged signature.
voluntary manslaughter Killings on adequate provocation ( heat of passion).
white-collar crime Nonviolent crimes that usually have financial or regulation avoidance motives, such as embezzlement, extortion, computer crimes, and fraud.
affirmative defense Matter separate from the elements of the crime that is raised by the defense to counteract those elements.
arrest warrant A document that, when signed by a judge or magistrate, authorizes the police to seek and place the defendant in custody.
automatism A legal defense predicated on the principle that a defendant is not responsible for his or her involuntary actions that are the result of a psychological state.
burden of persuasion The responsibility to convince on all the elements of the claim.
clear and convincing evidence Less than beyond a reasonable doubt but greater than a preponderance of evidence.
collateral estoppel A legal principle that prohibits a party in a court proceeding from making a claim or prosecuting a charge based on facts that have already been proven false in a different proceeding.
complainant The person swearing out a complaint.
complaint The document that officially starts the prosecution, provides a basis for arrest, or notifies the accused to come to court, and informs the accused of the specific crime charged.
consent (Hall) Voluntary and active agreement.
docket The court schedule for each day; sets out the name of the case, the attorneys, the charge, and the nature of the appearance.
duress Using threats of physical force or violence to pressure someone into committing an unlawful act that they otherwise would not have committed.
entrapment An act or acts by government or law enforcement officials to induce an individual to commit a criminal act when normally that person would not have engaged in criminal activity.
imperfect defense One that tends to allow conviction on a reduced charge.
intake (prosecutor’s office) The receipt and initial evaluation of accusations to determine whether charges are appropriate and whether formal documents should be drafted and filed.
jury instructions A set of directives given by the judge to the jury to assist the jury in reaching a verdict; the instructions include definitions, elements of the law, information about claimed defenses, and other relevant information.
mitigating circumstances Favorable points about the defendant; not defenses, but possibly influencing a lighter sentence.
PACER (Public Access to Electronic Records) The system for electronic access to federal court file documents.
perfect defense One that leads to the dropping of charges or acquittal, if successful.
preponderance of the evidence The greater weight of all the evidence.
sentence enhancements Automatic additions to the basic sentence for certain circumstances making the crime or the criminal more dangerous to society.
statute of limitations A state or federal law that limits the number of days, months, or years that the government has to bring a criminal action against a suspect for a particular offense.
substantive due process A constitutional concept that the government must have appropriate justification in order to deprive a person of life, freedom, or property; a guarantee that laws are fair and not arbitrary.
summons, criminal A document that, when signed by the clerk of court and served on the defendant, requires the defendant to appear before the stated court at the prescribed date and time.
admission The defendant’s acknowledgment of a fact that helps prove the crime but does not reach the level of a confession.
affidavit A written statement made by an individual who has sworn to tell the truth before an official legally authorized to administer an oath.
anticipatory search warrant A search warrant issued on the basis of a predictable or inevitable future event, the occurrence of which is needed to form the probable cause for the warrant.
confession The defendant’s acknowledgment of guilt.
curtilage The area of land, enclosed or otherwise, around a house or other buildings that is used for domestic purposes.
de novo Review of both the questions of fact and the questions of law in an appellate case.
evanescent evidence Criminal evidence that will change or evaporate in a manner that will destroy its evidentiary value.
exclusionary rule The court-made principle that any violation by the police of the procedural safeguards of the Fourth Amendment necessitates the exclusion from the defendant’s trial of all evidence produced by that illegal search or arrest.
Franks hearing A hearing to determine whether statements made by police officers in an affidavit to obtain a search warrant are false and constitute perjury or reckless disregard for the truth.
hot pursuit The chasing of a suspect or the following of “hot” leads to the suspect.
hypertechnical Excessively specific or overly technical.
immunity A prosecutor’s binding promise that a person will not be prosecuted for certain crimes in exchange for helping to convict others with testimony that, except for the immunity, would incriminate that person of those crimes.
impeachment Attack on a witness’s credibility, showing inconsistent statements.
incriminating testimony That which provides evidence needed to prosecute.
open fields The resident’s lands beyond the curtilage and, therefore, not protected by the Fourth Amendment.
plain view doctrine (Hall) The rule that if police officers see or come across something while acting lawfully, that item may be used as evidence in a criminal trial even if the police did not have a search warrant.
probable cause The quantum of reliable facts under the circumstances that justifies a reasonable person to believe that which is stated or alleged, “more than a bare suspicion” and “less than evidence that would justify...conviction.”
standing The right to challenge a governmental action or bring legal proceeding to protect one’s own interests.
state action Conduct of a state, its employees, and its agents.
stop and frisk (investigatory detention) A brief investigatory stop occurring when a police officer confronts a suspicious-looking person to ask a few questions and to “pat down” their clothing to see if they are carrying weapons.
subpoena duces tecum Command to appear in court with specified documents.
writ of assistance A document granted by the King of England that allowed British soldiers to freely enter into homes and businesses in Colonial America to search for contraband.
arraignment (Hall) The hearing at which a defendant is brought before a judge to hear the charges and to enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, etc.).
attorney work product Trial preparation materials consisting of the attorney’s mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, and legal theories concerning a case.
bill of particulars A document provided by the prosecution upon request from the defense, detailing the when, where, and how of the crime charged in the indictment.
bind over The process of transferring a case to the next court for the succeeding stage in the process.
direct submission Bypassing the preliminary hearing and submitting a case directly to the grand jury.
discovery The process of requesting from, and disclosing to, opponents information pertinent to the trial of a case.
exculpatory evidence Evidence that is inconsistent with guilt, raises doubt about evidence of guilt, or diminishes guilt; evidence favorable to the defendant or information that leads to evidence that is favorable to the defendant.
extradition The process that provides for a fugitive from justice from one state to be arrested in another state and be returned to the original state for trial.
in camera A hearing held in the judge’s chambers without other witnesses or spectators present.
indictment Criminal charging document produced by the grand jury.
indigent Not having the financial means to hire a lawyer.
information Criminal charging document produced by a preliminary hearing.
interlocutory appeal An appellate court review of an issue that does not determine guilt or innocence but is necessary or useful to have decided prior to going to trial.
percent bond Release after posting a specified percentage, usually 10 percent, of a cash bond.
personal recognizance Release on a promise to return to court at the next scheduled appearance.
plea bargain Negotiated settlement where the prosecutor reduces the charge, number of charges, or the recommended sentence in return for the defendant’s plea of guilty.
pretrial conference A meeting of the judge with opposing parties to ensure an efficient and fair processing of the case, encourage plea negotiations, and narrow the issues to be tried.
prima facie case Enough evidence on each element of the crime, absent any evidence of refutation, to conclude that the defendant is guilty.
quash Void an unreasonable demand.
subject witness An individual who is called before the grand jury to testify and who may be involved in some wrongdoing, but is not the focus of the investigation.
supervised release Release under the supervision of a probation or pretrial release officer or, in some cases, to the custody of a third party.
surety or cash bond Release after surrendering to the clerk of court a specified sum of money or evidence of ownership of property sufficient to cover the amount of the bond in case of forfeiture.
target witness The individual who is suspected of a crime and who is the focus of the grand jury.
unsecured bond (personal bond) Release under a signed obligation to pay the court a specified sum of money in the event the defendant fails to appear.
Allen charge Instruction to a deadlocked jury to pay deference to fellow jurors and to reexamine the evidence and their own views to come to a group decision.
allocution The defendant’s due process right to speak in his or her own behalf.
Anders brief A brief submitted by counsel wishing to withdraw from a case, demonstrating to the appellate court that the appeal is wholly frivolous.
appeal by right Appeal to the court level just above the trial court; permission not necessary.
challenge for cause An attorney’s request to remove a potential juror on the grounds of bias or other reason.
circumstantial evidence Evidence from the situations surrounding the event that leads us to believe a person thought and acted in a manner consistent or inconsistent with the alleged wrongful act; indirect evidence proving a point by inference.
concurrence In the context of the components of a crime, the logical and consistent connection that must exist between the perpetrator’s wrongful intent and the wrongful act, and between the wrongful intent and the resulting harm, for criminal liability to attach.
concurrent sentence In the case of multiple crimes, sentences to be served at the same time.
concurring opinion An opinion written by a judge who agrees with the results of an opinion written by another judge, but has reached the conclusion based on another line of reasoning.
consecutive sentence In the case of multiple crimes, sentences to be served one after the other.
definite or determinate sentence Fixed terms chosen from the range allowed by statute and guidelines; no parole.
demonstrative evidence Audiovisual aid designed to enhance the jury’s understanding of the evidence.
direct evidence Evidence based on a witness’s firsthand knowledge that proves a fact in issue without relying on inference or other evidence.
direct examination The questioning of a witness by the attorney for the party that called the witness.
discretionary appeal Appeal to higher-level courts; permission necessary, such as the writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court.
dissenting opinion An opinion written by a judge that outlines disagreement with the reasoning and decision in the majority opinion.
harmless error Trivial error not prejudicial to the rights of the party; does not affect the outcome of the case.
indefinite sentence A maximum and minimum amount of time to be served, allowing for early release on parole if behavior goals have been reached.
indeterminate sentence A flexible prison term responding to the defendant’s progress toward rehabilitation; largely abandoned.
ineffective assistance of counsel A lawyer who has acted in a manner that is inconsistent with the standards of practice either willfully or negligently and has negatively affected the outcome of the client’s case through such conduct.
jury instructions A set of directives given by the judge to the jury to assist the jury in reaching a verdict; the instructions include definitions, elements of the law, information about claimed defenses, and other relevant information.
jury nullification (jury pardon) The right of a jury to find a defendant not guilty even though the law and evidence dictate otherwise.
leading question A question that attempts to influence the witness by suggesting the answer.
majority opinion A court opinion supported by a majority of the judges deciding the case.
mandatory sentence A statutory minimum prison term with no chance for either probation or parole.
material Topically important to a matter in issue.
opening statement The initial presentation made by the attorneys to the jury, giving an overview of the case and the evidence to be presented.
opinion A written document containing the decision handed down by a court of law.
per curiam opinion A court opinion handed down by a judge or panel of judges that is supported by a unanimous vote.
peremptory challenge Authority of an attorney to strike the name of a potential juror without having to express any reason for the strike; limited in number.
plain error Obvious error that merits appellate reversal even if not objected to at trial.
presumption A rule of law that requires the trier of fact to conclude on threshold evidence that an ultimate fact is true.
presumptive sentence The midway point of the sentencing range.
pro se (pro per) representation Self-representation by the defendant.
proportionality The attempt to balance the severity of the punishment with the severity of the crime.
redirect examination The questioning of the witness by the party that called the witness to undo or limit any damage done during cross-examination.
relevant Proving or disproving a material fact.
restitution A payment to the individual victim of the crime; a return of the value that was wrongfully taken.
sentence Assessment of penalty for a crime.
sentence enhancements Automatic additions to the basic sentence for certain circumstances making the crime or the criminal more dangerous to society.
suspended sentence A sentence that is replaced by probation.
venire The list of eligible persons from which jurors are summoned for duty; must be a “fair cross-section” of the community.
voir dire To speak the truth; the in-court questioning of jurors by the judge and the attorneys to screen jurors based on the juror’s bias or other reasons for inability to serve.
writ of certiorari An order by the appellate court having discretion that it will hear an appeal.
Created by: dawnbryant
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