Commonly Used Terms
Acquittal – A release, absolution, or discharge of an obligation or liability. In criminal law, the
finding of not guilty.
Adjudication – Giving or pronouncing a judgment or decree; the judgment given.
Adjudication Withheld – A court decision at any point after filing charges to continue court
jurisdiction but stop short of conviction. The court will not reopen unless the person violates a
condition of behavior.
Affidavit – A written declaration of facts, confirmed by oath of the party making it before a person
with authority to administer the oath.
Affirmed – In the practice of appellate courts, the word means that the decision of the trial court is
Appeal – A proceeding brought to a higher court to review a lower court decision.
Arraignment – The hearing at which the accused is brought before the court to plead to the
criminal charge in the indictment, affidavit, or citation. He/She may plead "guilty," "not guilty," or
where permitted "nolo contendere." (See Preliminary Hearing.)
Bond – A written agreement by which a person insures he/she will pay a certain sum of money if
he does not perform certain duties properly. (See Cash Bond and Surety Bond.)
Capital crime – A crime punishable by death.
Cash Bond – A written agreement in which a defendant, or another person on the defendant’s
behalf, ensures he/she will perform duties as outlined by the Court while awaiting trial by
depositing bail money (cash) with an authorized official equal to the bail bond set by the Court.
Citation – A writ or order issued by a court or law enforcement agency commanding the person
named therein to appear at the time and place named; the written reference to legal authorities,
precedents, reported cases, etc., in briefs or other legal documents.
Concurrent sentences – Sentences for more than one crime that are to be served at the same time,
rather than one after the other.
Consecutive sentences – Successive sentences, one beginning at the expiration of another,
imposed against a person convicted of two or more violations.
Conviction – A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.
Court Appointed Counsel – Government lawyer who provides legal defense services to a person
accused of a crime who cannot afford a private attorney. The defendant must be declared indigent
and is responsible for paying an application fee and any reduced legal fees assessed by the Court.
Defendant – The party charged with a crime in a criminal prosecution.
Diversion – The process of removing some minor criminal, traffic, or juvenile cases from the full
judicial process, on the condition that the accused undergo some sort of rehabilitation or make
restitution for damages.
Extradition – The surrender of an accused criminal by one state to the jurisdiction of another.
Felony – A serious criminal offense. Under federal law, it is any offense punishable by
imprisonment for a term exceeding one year or death.
Grand Jury – A jury of inquiry whose duty it is to receive complaints and accusations in criminal
matters and if appropriate issue a formal indictment.
Hearing Officer – (also known as a Magistrate) Judicial officer exercising some of the functions
of a judge.
Judgment – The official and authentic decision of a court of justice upon the rights and claims of
parties to an action or suit submitted to the court for determination.
Jurisdiction – The power or authority of a court to hear and try a case; the geographic area in
which a court has power or the types of cases it has power to hear.
Jury – A certain number of citizens selected according to law and sworn to try a question of fact or
indict a person for a public offense.
Lien – An official claim against property for payment of a debt or an amount owed for services
Magistrate – (also known as a hearing officer) Judicial officer exercising some of the functions of
Misdemeanor – A criminal offense lesser than a felony and generally punishable by fine or by
imprisonment other than in a penitentiary. Includes criminal traffic violations.
Motion – An application made to a court or judge which requests a ruling or order in favor of the
No True Bill – This phrase, endorsed by a grand jury on the written indictment submitted to it for
its approval, means that the evidence was found insufficient to indict.
No Bill – Issued by the State Attorney when the charges against a defendant are dropped prior to
formal charges being filed by the State.
Nolo Contendere (Nolo) – A plea made by a defendant to a criminal charge, meaning he/she will
not contest the charge, allowing the judge to find him/her guilty. This is also known as a “plea of
Nolle Prosequi – This phrase is made by the prosecution in a criminal case to a judge, meaning the
case against the defendant is being dropped; the State Attorney will no longer prosecute.
Non-jury trial – Trial before the court but without a jury; a bench trial.
Opinion – A judge's written explanation of a decision of the court or of a majority of judges.
Order – A mandate, command, or direction authoritatively given. Direction of a court or judge
made in writing.
Ordinance – A rule established by authority; may be a municipal statute of a city council or a
county statute of a county commission, regulating such matters as zoning, building, safety, matters
of municipality, etc. An ordinance violation can be criminal or non-criminal. A violation could be
punishable by a court appearance, a fine, and possibly by imprisonment in county jail.
Plea – The written or verbal response by an accused defendant to each charge of the commission of
a crime. The defendant's answer to the charges made in the indictment or information.
Preliminary hearing – (also preliminary examination) A hearing by a judge to determine whether
a person charged with a crime should be held for trial. (See Arraignment.)
Pretrial conference – Conference among the opposing attorneys and the judge called at the
discretion of the court to narrow the issues to be tried and to make a final effort to settle the case
without a trial.
Probable cause – A reasonable belief that a crime has or is being committed; the basis for all
lawful searches, seizures, and arrests.
Probation – An alternative to imprisonment allowing a person found guilty of an offense to stay in
the community, usually under conditions and under the supervision of a probation officer. A
violation of probation can lead to its revocation and to imprisonment.
Prosecutor – A trial lawyer representing the government in a criminal case and the interests of the
state in civil matters. In criminal cases, the prosecutor has the responsibility of deciding who and
when to prosecute.
Public Defender – Government lawyer who provides legal defense services to a person accused of
a crime who cannot afford a private attorney. The defendant must be declared indigent and is
responsible for paying an application fee and any reduced legal fees assessed by the Court.
Recuse – The process by which a judge is disqualified from hearing a case, on his or her own
motion or upon the objection of either party.
Regional Counsel – (also known as the Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel)
Government lawyer who provides legal defense services to a person accused of a crime who cannot
afford a private attorney. The defendant must be declared indigent and is responsible for paying an
application fee and any reduced legal fees assessed by the Court.
Released on own recognizance – (also known as ROR) Release of a person from custody without
the payment of any bail or posting of bond, upon the promise to return to court.
Remand – To send a dispute back to the court where it was originally heard. Usually it is an
appellate court that remands a case for proceedings in the trial court consistent with the appellate
Restitution – Returning to the proper owner property or the monetary value of loss.
Reverse – An action of a higher court in setting aside or revoking a lower court decision.
Revoke – To cancel or nullify a legal document.
Sentence – The punishment ordered by a court for a defendant convicted of a crime.
Stay – A court order halting a judicial proceeding.
Subpoena – A command to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony upon a certain
Subpoena Duces Tecum – A court order commanding a witness to bring certain documents or
records to court.
Summons – Instrument used to commence a civil action or special proceeding; the means of
acquiring jurisdiction over a party.
Surety Bond – A written guaranty which is purchased from a bonding company (bail bondsman)
by the defendant or on his/her behalf, to guarantee some form of performance, including showing
up in court.
Trial – A judicial examination of issues between parties to an action. The issues could be
presented solely to the judge for a ruling or also to a jury of the defendant’s peers. (See Jury.)
Vacate – To set aside.
Verdict – A conclusion, as to fact or law, which forms the basis for the court's judgment.
Warrant – Most commonly, a court order authorizing law enforcement officers to make an arrest
or conduct a search. An application seeking a warrant must be accompanied by an affidavit which
establishes probable cause by detailing the facts upon which the request is based.
Writ – A judicial order directing a person to do something.