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Criminal Glossary

Terms and Definitions

Arrest Warrant
Orders a peace officer to arrest and bring to court the person accused of a crime to begin legal action.
Bench Warrant
A judge's order to arrest and bring a person to court because the person has failed to appear in court when they were supposed to, because they were cited to appear on that date or signed a “promise to appear” for that date.
Conflict Attorneys/law firms
Law firms who contract with the county to act as appointed counsel for defendants who cannot be represented by the Public Defender’s Office due to a conflict of interest.
A record with the complete history of each case a court hears. It contains short chronological summaries of the court proceedings.
Due Process
The U.S. Constitution says that everyone has to have a day in court, has the right to be represented by a lawyer and the right to benefit from court procedures that are speedy, fair and impartial.
Exonerate Bail
When the court orders a return of money or property to the bondsman or another who posts bail on behalf of a defendant.
Where defendant has fulfilled the conditions of probation for the entire period of probation, or has been discharged prior to the termination of the period of probation, or in any other case in which a court, in its discretion and the interests of justice, determines that a defendant should be granted the relief available under this section, the defendant shall, at any time after the termination of the period of probation, if he or she is not then serving a sentence for any new offense, on probation for any offense, or charged with the commission of any offense, be permitted by the court to withdraw his or her plea of guilty or plea of nolo contendere and enter a plea of not guilty, or the court shall set aside the verdict of guilty and, in either case, the court shall thereupon dismiss the case pursuant to PC section 1203.4.
A serious crime that can be punished by more than one year in state prison or by death.
Foreperson of the Jury
When the jury first meets to decide a case they vote to pick one member of the jury as their foreperson (spokesperson). The foreperson is in charge of making sure that discussions take place in an orderly way, that the case and issues are fully and freely discussed and that every juror has a chance to participate in the discussion. When the jury finishes deciding the case, the foreperson counts the votes and completes and signs the verdict form.
Formal Probation
A sentencing alternative to imprisonment in which the court releases a convicted defendant under supervision of a probation officer who makes certain that the defendant follows certain rules (e.g., gets a job, gets drug counseling).
Grand Jury
A group of 16 to 23 citizens that listen to the prosecutor's evidence of criminal allegations and decide whether there is probable cause to believe a person committed a crime and to charge them with that crime.
Statements by a witness that did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. Hearsay usually cannot be used as evidence in court.
Held to Answer
A judge's decision at the end of a preliminary hearing in a trial court saying there is enough evidence against the defendant to have a trial.
Holding Cell
A cell inside a courthouse where prisoners are held in custody before and after their court appearance.
When one person kills another directly, has someone else kill that person or the person is killed by the omission of another (that is, by their failure to act when the law requires them to act). It is not always a crime. Homicide can be (1) excusable - the result of a lawful act when no hurt was intended or from an act of self-defense (2) criminal - the result of any wrongful act without any excuse or justification in law or (3) justifiable - the result of an intentional but lawful act such as the execution of a death sentence by an agent of the law (can also apply to self-defense).
The formal charge issued by a grand jury saying there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial. This is used primarily for felonies.
Informal (Court) Probation
A defendant convicted of a misdemeanor or an infraction may be ordered placed on informal court probation which means that the individual must, for the term ordered (usually three years or less), obey all laws and report any change of address to the court at the criminal clerk’s office.
It is presented in court by a prosecuting officer under oath and does not come from a grand jury. It is a written accusation charging a person with a crime.
A minor violation of a law, contract or right that is not a misdemeanor or a felony and cannot be punished by time in prison.
In limine motions
Latin for "at the beginning" or "at the threshold" such as a motion in limine at the beginning of trial to ask that certain evidence be excluded.
(1) The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case (2) the geographic area over which the court has authority to decide cases or (3) the territory, subject matter or persons over which lawful authority may be exercised by a court.
Unlawfully and violently depriving a person of a part of his or her body or disabling, disfiguring or making it useless (includes injury to eyes, tongue, nose, ears, etc.).
The unlawful but unintended killing of a person. Can be voluntary, as when someone is killed unlawfully under circumstances that do not include a premeditated intent to kill or involuntary, as when someone is killed unintentionally as a result of someone else performing another unlawful act or negligently performing a lawful act.
Marsden Hearing
This hearing is held when a defendant who is represented by court-appointed counsel, states to the judge in open court that the attorney-client relationship has broken down and he/she does not believe that he/she is receiving adequate representation. The hearing is conducted with everyone being excused from the courtroom.
Miranda Warning
Refers to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says when a person is arrested or questioned by police, he or she must first be told about certain rights against self-incrimination.
A trial that has been ended and declared void (of no legal effect) due to prejudicial error in the proceedings or other extraordinary circumstances.
The unlawful killing of a person by another with premeditated malice, either expressed (said) or implied (suggested)
No Contest Plea
A plea of No Contest, or “Nolo Contendere” (latin for I do not wish to contend), operates the same as an admission of guilt. The defendant states that he/she will not contest the charge(s). The plea has the same effect as a guilty plea except that the conviction cannot be used against the defendant in a civil lawsuit.
Not Guilty Plea
The defendant is stating that he/she did not commit the crime(s) for which the defendant has been charged.
Own Recognizance (OR)
When a person is released from custody and not required to pay bail because of his or her promise to come to court to answer a criminal charge. If the defendant does not return to court when promised he or she can be charged with a misdemeanor.
When the chief executive of a state or country releases a convicted person from the punishment given him or her by a court sentence.
The release of a convicted individual from imprisonment in state prison on certain conditions to be observed by the individual and suspension of sentence during the period the liberty is granted. If the convicted individual is not successful while on parole, he/she will be returned to state prison to serve any unexpired time on the original sentence. Conviction on a new crime committed during the period of parole may result in additional terms of incarceration being imposed.
Peremptory Challenge
A challenge to a potential juror in a case, by either the defense attorney or the prosecuting attorney, that usually results in that person's disqualification from service on the jury and does not require either attorney to say why the challenge is made. The law limits the number of peremptory challenges allowed.
A witness, under oath, makes a statement as to a matter of fact, opinion, belief or knowledge, as part of his/her evidence, whether made in open court or in a written affidavit (declaration), that the witness knows is false.
Plea Bargain
Negotiation between the prosecuting attorney and the person accused of a crime or that person's lawyer to exchange a guilty plea for conviction of a lesser charge, if the court approves.
Preliminary Hearing
A proceeding before a judicial officer in which evidence is presented so that the court can determine whether there is probable (sufficient) cause to hold the accused for trial (held to answer, also referred to as bind over) on a felony charge.
Presentence Report
A report prepared by the probation department for the judge when sentencing a defendant. Describes defendant's background: Financial, job and family status, community ties, criminal history and facts of the current offense. A presentence report must be done in felony cases and may be requested in misdemeanor cases.
Pretrial conference
A meeting of the judge and lawyers to plan a trial, discuss which matters should be presented to the jury, review proposed evidence and witnesses and set a trial schedule. Typically, the judge and the lawyers also discuss the possibility of settling the case.
Probable Cause
A reasonable basis for assuming that a charge or fact is well founded.
Probation Officer
A probation officer's duties include conducting presentence investigations, preparing presentence reports on convicted defendants and supervising released defendants.
One who prosecutes another for a crime in the name of the government (e.g., The People vs. John Smith). In the Superior Court prosecutors may be members of the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office or the State Office of the Attorney General.
Rap Sheet
A written summary of a person's criminal history.
Reinstated Bail
When bail that had been forfeited, exonerated or reduced is reestablished in its original amount.
Search Warrant
An order based on a finding of probable cause directing law enforcement officers to conduct a search of specific premises for specific persons or things and to bring them to the court.
Voir dire
The process by which judges and lawyers select members of the jury by questioning them to make sure they can fairly decide the case.
A written order issued and signed by a judge or judicial officer directing a peace officer to take specific action.
Warrant Recall
An order to remove from Department of Justice and state police computers information about canceled warrants to avoid mistaken arrests.

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