Glossary of commonly used “criminal justice” words

ACQUITTAL : A disposition of a case in which the defendant is found not guilty

ADA : Abbreviation for Assistant District Attorney. See also Assistant District Attorney.

ADJOURN : To suspend a proceeding to a later time and perhaps different place.

AFFIANT : One who makes an affidavit.

AFFIDAVIT : A written statement of facts submitted in the course of a legal proceeding.

ARRAIGNMENT : An early stage in the criminal justice process, occurring after an arrest. The defendant is brought before a judge or a magistrate and informed of the charges pending against him or her. A plea is entered. If applicable, bail is set.

ARREST : In the majority of cases, an arrest is the first stage in the criminal justice process. In some cases, an investigation precedes the arrest. In a typical arrest, a defendant is charged by the police and taken into custody. In general, the police have the authority to arrest a suspect if the crime is a felony; the crime is a misdemeanor committed in their presence or if the complaining witness files a citizen’s arrest; or the crime is a violation of a court protective order.

ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY (ADA) : Assistant District Attorneys are lawyers hired by the District Attorney to prosecute cases as representatives of the People of Hinds County.

BAIL : Cash or bond posted by a defendant as collateral to ensure that he or she returns to court on a future date.

BAILIFFS : Distinguished by their uniforms, badges, and shoulder patches, and they are responsible for security in the court room. They often assist the clerk of the court with clerical duties.

BENCH WARRANT : A warrant issued by a judge when an individual fails to appear in court at a specified date and time.

COMPLAINANT : A person who files a complaint.

COMPLAINT : The legal instrument filed by District Attorney that initiates a criminal action. The complaint states the alleged crime of the defendant in legal language.

CONTRABAND : Goods barred by law. Contraband generally includes specific weapons or drugs prohibited by law.

CONVICTION : A disposition of a case in which the defendant is found guilty by trial or plea.

COURT CLERK : The Court Clerk assists the judge in record-keeping and other clerical duties.

COURT NUMBER : Cases are numbered, and tracked by the Court with a docket number.

COURT REPORTER : Takes verbatim record of court proceedings.

CROSS-EXAMINATION : The questioning of a witness presented by the opposing party at trial.

DEFENDANT : The person alleged to have committed the crime.

DEFENSE LAWYER : The lawyer who represents the defendant in a criminal case. The defense of those who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer is provided by the Public Defender, or by private attorneys assigned by the court or hired by the defendant.

DISCHARGE : In some cases, the prosecutor may decide not to proceed against a defendant, in which case the prosecutor declines to prosecute the case. A prosecutor may decline to prosecute for a number of reasons, for example, if there is insufficient evidence, if further investigation is needed or if referral to a program such as Community Court is warranted.

DISMISSAL : The disposition of a case in which the charges against a defendant are removed. Only a judge can dismiss a case.

DISPOSITION : Once a case has been concluded, it is said to be disposed. Possible dispositions include: conviction by trial or plea, dismissal and acquittal.

FELONY : An offense which is the most serious crime category. Examples of felonies are robbery, burglary, grand larceny, sale of narcotics, and murder.

GRAND JURY : Grand Juries are empowered to hear evidence presented by prosecutors and to file charges, known as indictments, in felony cases. The Grand Jury can also conduct independent investigations.

HEARSAY : Evidence based upon the reports of others, rather than on the first-hand experience of a witness.

HOLDING ORDER : Known locally as being “held to answer.” Decision made by the judge after a preliminary hearing, ordering the defendant to stand trial. A holding order is based on findings that one or more crimes has been committed and that there is sufficient cause to believe the defendant identified at the preliminary hearing committed the crime.

HUNG JURY : A jury that cannot reach a unanimous verdict is called a hung jury. When there is a hung jury, the case may be retried.

INDICTMENT : A written statement charging a party with the commission of a crime or other offense, drawn up by a prosecuting attorney, and voted and filed by a Grand Jury.

INFRACTION : An offense carrying the lowest sanctions, primarily monetarily sanctions.

INTERPRETER : Provides language translation for non-English speaking or hearing impaired witnesses and defendants.

JUDGE : Presides over all courtroom proceedings and trials (including hearings, motions, arraignments).

JURISDICTION : The territorial range over which the authority to interpret and apply the law extends.

MISDEMEANOR : Misdemeanors are offenses for which imprisonment up to one year in county jail may be imposed. Examples of misdemeanors are shoplifting, trespassing in a building, vandalism.

PLEA : A defendant may enter different pleas at arraignment. Guilty pleas are dispositions in which the prosecutor and the defendant agree on a guilty charge through a plea bargain. Often, pleas will have a sentencing recommendation. A judge must approve the plea. A defendant pleads not guilty when he does not admit to the charges brought against him. If a defendant pleads not guilty, his case will continue until trial, dismissal, or such time that the defendant decides to plead guilty. A defendant can also plead no contest.

PLEA BARGAIN : Coming to the terms and conditions of what the plea is going to be.

PRELIMINARY HEARING : In felony cases, a preliminary hearing is held before a judge to determine if there is sufficient cause to believe the defendant committed the crime. If so, the defendant will be ordered to stand trial in Superior Court. Victims and witnesses are usually subpoenaed to testify at this hearing.

PRETRIAL CONFERENCE : In felony cases, a pretrial meeting in the presence of a judge between counsel for both sides and sometimes the parties to settle all preliminary questions of pleading, to determine the scope of the dispute and to secure agreements as to facts not really at issue. Plea bargains as to sentencing are discussed this time.

PROBATION DEPARTMENT : The department responsible for the supervision of persons placed on probation in lieu of imprisonment. This department also conducts pre-sentence investigations used by judges when determining sentences.

RELEASED ON OWN RECOGNIZANCE (OR) : When the court determines that a defendant is likely to appear in court as required by law, bail my be deemed unnecessary and the defendant is released without posting bail.

SENTENCING : As a sentence, a judge may impose a fine, imprisonment in county jail or state prison, batterer’s treatment, substance abuse treatment etc. A victim may make a victim statement to the court that the judge may consider at sentencing.

SUBPOENA : A mandatory legal notice to appear in court.

TRIAL : A criminal trial is a formal examination of evidence before a judge or a jury to determine whether a defendant is guilty of the charges brought beyond a reasonable doubt.

VOIR DIRE : Voir Dire is the name given to jury selection. When prospective jurors are brought to the courtroom, the judge will explain certain principles of law and question the prospective jurors. The ADA then questions the jurors. After the ADA has finished, the defense attorney asks further questions. Out of hearing of the jury and following established rules, the attorneys will excuse jurors they believe should not sit on the case. The remaining jurors are sworn in. The process continues until the full number of jurors and alternates is chosen.

WARRANT : A judicial writ authorizing an officer to execute a search, seizure, or arrest.