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Legal Terms


The finding of not guilty.


The act of seeking a higher court’s review of a lower court’s decision.


A hearing before a judge during which the judge reads the charges to the defendant and the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty.


The taking of a person into custody by an officer of the law.


Money a defendant puts up (usually a bond) to allow his or her release from custody and to guarantee his or her appearance at a future hearing.


The individual in the courtroom who helps the judge manage the evidence and maintain order in the courtroom.

Beyond a reasonable doubt

A standard of proof required to convict a person of a crime. The jury has a high degree of certainty about the defendant’s guilt, although they need not be 100 percent convinced.

Burden of proof

A party’s duty to prove a disputed fact.

Capital offense

An offense that has death as a penalty.


A decision made by a judge to try a juvenile in adult court.


The process of accusing the defendant of a crime.

Circumstantial evidence

Facts or testimony not based on actual personal knowledge or observation, by which other non-substantiated facts can be reasonably inferred.

Civil lawsuit

A lawsuit brought by individuals, companies or agencies against other individuals, companies or agencies to obtain relief for injuries suffered, monetary loss, physical injury, etc.

Closing argument

A speech to the jury by the prosecutor and then the defense to try to convince the jurors how the evidence proves his or her side of the case.


A legal written document by a person bringing a civil lawsuit stating his or her claims against the defendant. Also, the written document charging an alleged criminal defendant.


A final judgment or determination of a court.


A default in an action occurs when a defendant fails to appear at the trial allowing the plaintiff to win.


Person who is sued in a civil case or accused in a criminal case.

Due process

The notion, grounded in the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the U. S. Constitution, of rights in most court and administrative proceedings to receive sufficient notice of the proceeding, to be allowed to defend oneself in an orderly proceeding adapted to the nature of the case, and that every person have the protection of a day in court and the benefit of general law.

Equal protection

This refers to the notion, grounded in the U. S. Constitution, that no person or class of persons be denied the same protection of the laws which is enjoyed by other persons or other classes in like circumstances in their lives, liberty, property and in their pursuit of happiness.


The most serious category of criminal offenses. With penalties of imprisonment ranging from a year and a day to life, or in some states, punishable by death. In Minnesota, a felony is a crime punishable by imprisonment of more than one year, with or without a fine.


The determination of fact by a judge.


The monetary penalty assessed against a defendant.

Grand jury

A panel of at least twelve, but not more than sixteen who hear evidence against a person accused of a crime and determine whether that person should stand trial. A grand jury can also investigate various aspects of government at its own initiative, particularly charges of corruption or mismanagement.

Gross misdemeanor

A crime with penalties of imprisonment from 91 days to one year or a fine of not more than $3,000 or both.


The killing of one human by another, first-degree is the most serious, involves premeditation.


Freedom from or protection against penalty. For example, an accused person may agree to give testimony in return for immunity from the prosecution.


The placement of an individual in a jail or prison.


A written accusation charging that a person has committed a crime.


An order by the court issued to prohibit certain future conduct.


The inability to know what one is doing and to decide if the action is right or wrong.


The step in juvenile process during which a decision is made either to detain the juvenile at a detention center or to release to the parents.

Irrelevant facts

Evidence that does not tend to prove or disprove any issue of fact involved in a case.


The official decision of the court.


A group of citizens that decides the outcome of a civil case, or decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty in a criminal case. In a felony case, the jury will consist of 12 persons. In a misdemeanor or civil case, the jury consists of 6 persons. In a criminal case, the jury must reach a unanimous verdict.

Leading question

A question that instructs the witness how to answer, puts words into the witness’s mouth or suggests the desired answer.

Miranda warning

After arrest and before questioning, arrested persons must be warned that: 1) they have the right to remain silent; 2) any statement they make may be used as evidence against them; 3) they have a right to the presence of an attorney; and 4) if they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them prior to any questioning if they so desire.


To release a convict from prison before his or her term is complete. Release is often conditional on good behavior.


To knowingly and willfully give false testimony under oath.


A person who starts a lawsuit; the party seeking to be paid for an injury or because his or her rights have been violated.

Preponderance of the evidence

The standard of proof that requires the majority of the evidence to prove the case.

Pre-sentence investigation

The procedure after conviction during which the defendant’s criminal history is investigated.

Pre-trial hearing

A court procedure during which the issues to be tried are narrowed and certain facts and admissions are agreed upon in order to speed up the trial.

Probable cause

A strong belief, based on facts, that a crime has been committed, that a particular person has committed the crime and that evidence related to the crime exists.


The process of suspending a sentence, permitting a person to remain free under the supervision of a probation officer instead of serving time in prison.


A public officer who conducts criminal proceedings on behalf of the state.

Public Defender An attorney paid by the county, state, or federal government who is responsible for providing representation to indigent defendants in criminal prosecutions when the courts determine the defendant cannot afford to hire a private attorney.


To permanently change behavior.


Directly related to the issue as it tends either to prove or disprove the point.


Person who answers a petition (lawsuit).


The sentence often used instead of a fine or imprisonment, designed to restore the victim to his or her condition before the crime.


An agreement between plaintiff and defendant in a civil case prior to trial.


The time to be served in a prison or jail; also includes fine, probation, restitution and community service.

Standard of proof

The burden of proof required in particular types of cases.


The party in a criminal trial that represents the public.

Status offense

A class of crimes that concerns the accused’s characteristics; for example - truancy only applies to minors.

Statutory law

A law enacted by a legislature.


A written or oral agreement between attorneys or parties concerning some phase of a lawsuit.


An order compelling a witness to appear and give testimony before a court.

Substantiated facts

The facts that have been verified.


A written notice 1) requiring the named person to appear in court on a specified day; or 2) informing the named person that a lawsuit has been started against him or her and he or she must answer.

Suspended sentence

If certain conditions are met, a jail sentence need not be served. The sentence is then suspended.

Unlawful detainer

A legal action between a landlord and a tenant concerning the right to occupy the premises.


Sanction or authorization, as an arrest warrant authorizes a police officer to take an individual into custody.