20 Key Terms to Know for Your Criminal Case

What Criminal Terms Should I Be Aware of?

The criminal justice system can be confusing and intimidating for anyone, especially if it’s their first time getting criminal charges. Thus, if you are accused of a crime, it is in your best interests to prepare for all stages of the process, beginning with learning some terms that you will likely come across during your case.

Although your lawyer will guide you throughout your case, it doesn’t hurt to get a head start by reviewing the following key terms. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at (559) 484-2112!

Bail: A sum of money or another form of security demanded by the court for the following purposes:

  • in exchange for the release of the accused from custody
  • to guarantee their later appearance in court. If the defendant fails to appear, the bond is forfeited, and a bench warrant may be issued

Bail Bond: A document purchased from a bondsman that is given to the court in place of money for bail. Once it’s signed by the defendant, they are released from custody on the condition that the bond amount will be forfeited if they don’t appear in court at the required time.

Cross-Examination: A process in which one party questions any witness brought by the opposing party. For instance, a defendant may cross-examine a witness brought by the prosecution.

Deferred Entry of Judgment: A judgment is postponed until a later date. If a defendant successfully completes a deferred entry of judgment program, their arrest will be deemed to have never occurred.

Direct Examination: The first interrogation or examination of a witness by the party who brought them.

Discovery: A process that emphasizes the right of the defense and prosecution to access any evidence necessary to prepare their case.

Judgment: A judge gives a legal ruling of guilty and determines the punishment.

Jurisdiction: The territory, subject matter, or people over which the court may exercise lawful authority according to the Constitution or statute.

Motion: A party makes an oral or written request to the court for a ruling or an order on a specific matter.

Nolo Contendere or No Contest: Also known as "nolo," nolo contendere is a Latin phrase meaning "I do not wish to contest.," which is synonymous with guilty. However, a plea of "nolo contendere" to a misdemeanor cannot be used as evidence of liability in a civil suit, while a "nolo" plea to a felony can be used against the defendant as evidence of liability in a civil suit. In addition, the court’s approval is required to enter this plea.

Plea Bargain: A negotiation between the prosecutor and the accused to exchange a guilty plea for conviction of a lesser charge.

Preliminary Hearing: A hearing held in felony cases prior to indictment in which the state must produce sufficient evidence to establish that there is probable cause to believe:

  • that a crime has been committed; and
  • that the defendant committed it.

Probation: A sentence given to a defendant when a judge believes there is a good chance for rehabilitation without sentencing them to maximum incarceration. In other words, probation is an alternative to incarceration.

Restitution: The act of restoring or giving the equivalent for an injury, damage, or loss to the victim.

Search Warrant: A written order issued by a judge that directs a peace officer to search a defined location for person(s), thing(s), or personal property, and bring whatever they find to the judge.

Subpoena: A process by which a witness is ordered to appear in court.

Trial: The hearing and determination of factual issues and law, following prescribed legal procedures, in order to reach a disposition.

  • Bench: A court trial that is heard and decided by a judge
  • Jury: A trial that is heard and decided by a jury, which usually consists of 12 people and one alternate

Witness: A person who testifies as to what was seen, heard, or otherwise known in a reported crime.

Get Started on Your Defense Today

With these legal terms in mind, you may feel more confident and prepared as you brace yourself for the criminal justice system. Remember, though, that you’re not alone. You should not defend yourself alone but rather hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has what it takes to help you come out on top.

At The Law Office of Brian C. Andritch, our Fresno criminal defense attorney is a former prosecutor with over 20 years of legal experience. As such, Mr. Andritch has critical insights into both sides of the criminal justice system and can use that knowledge to help build your defense. Waste no longer to begin fighting for your freedom with the help of our team.

Contact us at (559) 484-2112 now!

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