When is a good time to learn “legalese” (the language of the court system)? If you’re a defendant, the answer is now! Whether you’re a total novice to the criminal justice system, an avid small claims TV court fan, or English is your second language, it’s best to learn basic legal terminology or you risk letting your own trial go straight over your head.
For a little assistance in legal terminology, we’ve provided a list of important words and phrases you’ll be likely to hear in court related to the arrest, sentencing, booking, bail-out, and more. If you understand these terms, you’ll have a grasp on what’s going on around you and how your case is being played out in court.
An arraignment is the defendant’s appearance in court to testify their plea to any charges leveled against them.
Miranda Warning / Miranda Rights
The Miranda Rights are a set of statements known as a “Miranda Warning” to let a person being arrested know their rights immediately. The rights included in the Miranda Warning are a defendant’s right to remain silent, the warning that anything spoken may be used against you in a court of law, and the warning that if you do choose to answer questions, you can also choose to stop, and may also receive counsel from an attorney before you answer any police questions .
A defendant is the person being accused in a court of law.
A bond forfeiture results when the defendant misses their court date, and whoever put up the defendant’s bond must now pay the full amount. The bond that’s been forfeited can’t be refunded.
A surety bond is when the principal (the defendant), the surety (a bail bond company), and the obligee (the court) demanding the bond enter into a contract with each other, and the principal agrees to follow the rules set by the terms written in the bond, like appear in court on their appointed date.
A misdemeanor is a much less severe crime than a felony, but still punishable with time in jail. 1st and 2nd degree misdemeanors are the two classifications for misdemeanors, and all are dealt with in the local County Court. Hit-and-runs, petty crime and drunk driving for the first time are all examples of misdemeanors.
A public defender is an attorney appointed by the court for indigent defendants who are not able to get their own private attorney.
Booking is a step in the arrest process that records the person arrested and the reasons for their arrest in police records.
An accessory is one who assists a person to commit a crime. Mary Surratt, a Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War, was an accessory to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the first female ever tried and hung by the federal government of the United States. An accessory to a murder is a severe crime that faces punishment sometimes as high as the murder itself.
An accomplice, similar to an accessory, is one who helps someone else carry out a crime. However, an accomplice is unlike the accessory in that the accomplice is typically present during the crime (the accessory may have given advice to – or helped conceal evidence for – the criminal). Accomplices are convicted of the crime and again usually sentenced the same punishment as the criminal proper.
An acquittal is a judgment pronouncing that the defendant is not guilty of the crime.
A bail or bond is the amount of money paid to the court as a pledge that the accused will return to the court for their assigned court date. The bail becomes null and void, however, if the defendant doesn’t show up to court.
“Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”
This is a phrase commonly used to assert that the prosecution must provide evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” or provide the burden of proof to convince the jury that the accused is in fact guilty. A defendant can’t be “mildly guilty”, so if there is even a hint of doubt in the defendant’s case, the jurors must dismiss it and declare the accused person innocent altogether. Even if the evidence seems reasonable enough, it must go above and beyond to prove the defendant’s guilt.
Coercion is using physical force to make someone do something that was against their wishes.
Circumstantial evidence is all the evidence around the crime besides eyewitness testimonies. These forms of evidence comprise fingerprints, DNA evidence, a bullet that matches a particular gun in their possession, etc.
This is evidence that further supports or strengthens the primary evidence.
The cross-examination is when the witness is questioned for the second time, either by the defense or the prosecution.
Disclosure is unveiling or revealing a previously hidden fact.
A dismissal is bringing an end to formal charges against the defendant.
Due Process of Law
Due process is the standard procedure followed to protect a person’s Constitutional rights.
False imprisonment is the unlawful restraint of a person by physical force when such force is plainly unnecessary.
A felony is an extremely severe offense that uses punishment ranging from imprisonment to even death. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, which include crimes such as murder, kidnapping, and extortion. Felonies fit under the categories of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree and capital.
An immunity is a grant from the court which guarantees a person won’t be prosecuted if he or she agrees to hand over criminal evidence.
A plea is the defendant’s first pleading. The defendant can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest in response to the charges laid against them.
Above is a general list of terms to help you get started if you find yourself a defendant in court. If you need a bail bond agency or a family member needs help, DDD Bail Bonds offers fast assistance to post a bond for someone you care about. DDD Bail Bonds agents service the Dallas area 24/7 and are available anytime to offer a free quote, from our family to yours.