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
citizenís arrest; or the crime is a violation of a court protective
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
CROSS-EXAMINATION : The questioning of a witness presented
by the opposing party at trial.
DEFENDANT : The person alleged to have committed the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
WARRANT : A judicial writ authorizing an officer to
execute a search, seizure, or arrest.