It’s not uncommon to hear some complicated terminology in the courtroom. These are some definitions of common terms you hear in criminal defense situations.


Abuse: Mistreatment of another either mental or physical. It can mean corrupt practices, physical misuse or to victimize or violate a policy or person.

Abuse Excuse: A claim where defendants can attempt to justify their criminal actions due to years of former child or spousal abuse.

Acquittal: To free or clear one’s self. Judgement that the defendant is not guilty as a finding by judge or jury.

Admissible Evidence: Evidence in a case that can be considered when a jury or judge is determining a verdict.

Admission: A statement made by the defendant outside of court that is offered into evidence by the prosecution.

Affidavit: A statement of facts in writing that are written under oath.

Age of Consent: Minimum age when a person is legally capable of giving consent to sexual activities.

Aggravated Offense: An offense that can face harsher and more serious penalties because of the nature of the crime. Sometimes a minor offense that can be heightened due to circumstances.

Alibi: A form of defense where the defendant tries to prove they were in another place or with another person at the time the crime was committed.

Allegation: The prosecutor’s accusation that someone has violated the law. This is done in the form of a formal criminal complaint.

Appeal: A request made for another courts review of a decision.

Arson: A crime of malicious burning or attempting to burn a dwelling or other property.

Arraignment: a formal proceeding where the defendant is read the document that contains their criminal charges. This is where the defendant is informed of their charges and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

Arrest: When a police officer or law enforcement holds a person with the intent of bringing criminal charges against them.

Assault: An attempt or threat to bring harmful contact or unlawful touching to another person.


Bail: The release of a suspect from jail under the terms that they will return for trial. This involves putting up some form of collateral to ensure the return to trial by the defendant.

Bailiff: An on-duty law enforcement or legal officer who ensures and maintains order in the courtroom.

Battery: The unlawful touching of another person.

Bench Trial: A trial that is conducted without a jury and decided by a judge.

Bill of Rights: The constitutional amendments 1-10

Booking: The process in which law enforcement gathers records about a person who has been placed into custody.

Bribery: Corrupt solicitation, transfer or acceptance of value in exchange for official action.

Burglary: unlawfully entering a premise or dwelling with the intention of committing a crime.


Capital Offense: A crime in which the defendant may face the death penalty if convicted.

Chambers: The office of the judge.

Child Pornography: The visual representation of minor children under the age of 18 engaging in sexual activity.

Circumstantial Evidence: evidence that relies on an inference in order to connect it to a fact. The evidence can allow for more than one explanation.

Closing Argument: The final arguments made my both the prosecutor and the defense in an attempt to persuade the jury or judge or innocence or guilt.

Complaint: A formal written statement stating the wrong doings of the defendant.

Consecutive Sentences: More than one sentence served back to back. This happens when the defendant is found guilty of multiple crimes.

Contempt of Court: Disobedience of laws, regulations of the court. This is punishable by fine or imprisonment.

Continuance: the postponement of a court action to a later deadline.

Conviction: Proving that a person is guilty of a crime by the court.

Counsel: Legal advice or a lawyer in a case.

Criminal Defense Attorney: The attorney who represents the defendant in a criminal case.

Cybercrime: Crimes that have been committed electronically. This includes crimes such as cybersquatting, cyberstalking, cyber theft and internet fraud.


Defendant: The person who has been charged or accused of committing a crime. In a civil suit, the defendant is the person being sued.

Deposition: A statement made before a court representative to of out of court oral testimony with an attorney present.

Discovery: In a criminal case, the discovery is the information that the defense and prosecution discover that the opposing side has and intends to use in court against the other party. This helps lawyers and persecutors prepare for trial.

Domestic Violence: Violence or abuse in a family setting.

DUI/ DWAI: A criminal offense involving alcohol. Driving under the influence, or driving while ability impaired.

Drug Crime: Crimes relating to controlled substances such as possession, manufacturing, transportation, distribution or trafficking.


Entrapment: behavior by law enforcement that attempts to prompt a person into a crime in order to press charges on them.

Evidence: Information regarding a case that intends to prove or innocence or guilt.

Ex Post Facto Law: Known as “after the fact” laws. This is a law that attempts to penalize a criminal act that was not illegal at the time the criminal act took place.

Exclusionary Rule: Rule that states that any evidence in a case the police seize illegally is inadmissible in a trial.

Expert Witness: Someone who is authorized to give their opinion about certain facts in a trial. These people become authorized to give their opinions due to being specialized in certain fields or areas.

Expunge: To remove a charge from one’s criminal record.


Failure to Register: Failure to register as a sex offender with the state or community.

Federal Crime: A criminal act that has been made illegal by US federal regulation. This can be prosecuted under federal court.

Felony: A crime considered more serious than a misdemeanor. It can be punishable by more than a year in prison.

Forfeiture: Laws that permit law enforcement to seize property that was connected with criminal activities.

Forgery: Creating a false document or altering a real one.

Fraud: Knowing or misrepresenting the truth or concealment of a material fact in order to benefit from doing so.


Grand Jury: A group of citizens selected by the court who decide whether there is enough probable cause to believe the person should be charged with a crime.


Hate Crimes: A crime committed due to particular hostility toward a group to which the victim belongs.

Hearing: A legal proceeding where the law and evidence is presented to help determine the issue. These are shorter and more relaxed than trials.

Homicide: The murder of killing of a person by another. Homicide can be considered lawful or unlawful.


Identity Theft: Fraudulent acquisition or use of someone’s private identifying information.  

Immunity: Being exempt from penalties or prosecution.

Inadmissible: Evidence that is not permitted to be part of the court record.

Indictment: The formal written charge stating that a person has been charged or committed an illegal act.

Injunction: An order by the court preventing or instructing certain actions or behaviors to prevent further damage or injury.  

Insanity Plea: A disease that can interfere with a defendant’s judgement or ability to control his or her actions. This can sometimes be grounds that a defendant may not be held criminally responsible for their behavior.


Judge: The person responsible for deciding the facts of a case and administer the law in a courtroom setting.

Jurisdiction: The legal geographic reach that a court or law enforcement have in regards to enforcing or interpreting the law.

Jury: A group of citizens selected to decide a verdict of guilty or not guilty of criminal charges defined by a judge.

Juvenile: A person who is treated as a minor in court.



Larceny: Taking property that belongs to another person or business with the intent of keeping it. Also known as theft.


Manslaughter: The intentional killing of another person without deliberation, premeditation or malice. It is considered a lesser degree of murder.

Miranda Rights: Also known as Miranda warning. This is a right to silence stated by the police to suspects in police custody.

Misdemeanors: Crimes that are punishable by no more than a year in jail. These are less serious offenses than felonies.

Mistrial: A trial that ends before a normal conclusion and has no legal effect.

Money Laundering: The act of transferring money that has been made illegally through legal accounts in order to keep the money untraceable. This is a federal crime.

Murder: The unlawful killing of another.


No Contest: A plea entered where the defendant does not admit guilt of the crime but will be punished as if they were guilty. This term is also known as Nolo contendre and makes it so that the plea cannot be considered an admission of guilt regarding civil liability.


Objection: A disagreement with a statement made by the opposing party.

Opening Statement: An introduction made by both the defense and the prosecution before the start of a trial.

Overrule: When a judge denies an objection.


Petty Offense: Less severe offense which is punishable by less than six months in prison.

Precedent: A similar case with a court decision that is used to dispute a current case before the court.

Probation: Community supervision with officers and other actions or behaviors to be performed during a period of time specified by the court.

Probable Cause: A reasonable suspicion for actions to be taken by law enforcement. This must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Pro Bono: Legal services that are provided for free or for a reduced fee.

Pro Se: Someone representing themselves in court with no legal counsel.

Prosecute: To charge a suspect with a crime. In a criminal case, the prosecutor represents the state or federal government.

Plea Bargain: A negotiation on an outcome of a criminal case between the defense and prosecution.

Pretrial Conference: A meeting before a trial to discuss details about the case where sometimes an agreement can be reached. This meeting is between the prosecutor, the judge and the defense.


Rape: Illegal sexual contact without the consent of that person.

Reasonable Doubt: Doubt after serious consideration of an issue, the facts and the evidence.

Robbery: Taking or attempting to take belongings from another by force threat or violence.


Sanction: Fines on for the defense attorney or prosecutor for improper conduct.

Sidebar: A short meeting between judge and lawyers that cannot be heard by a jury.

Statute of Limitations: The time limit where criminal charges can be filed. Murder and other serious crimes may not have a statute of limitations.

Subpoena: An order to give testimony


Testimony: Spoken evidence by a witness

Time Served: Time that can be credited towards a sentence if a defendant spends time in jail while awaiting trial.

Trial: A examination by judge or jury of facts and legal issues for a civil or criminal case.


Vandalism: Intentional destruction of property without the knowledge of the owner.

Verdict: The decision made by the jury regarding the guilt of the defendant.


Warrant: An order from a judge permitting law enforcement to arrest a suspect or to conduct a search.

Witness: Someone who testifies in court.