Common Legal Terms and Definitions
10/20/life Law – A law in Florida, which enhances penalties where firearms are allegedly involved.
Abscond – To unlawfully leave a jurisdiction after being ordered to remain. Absconding is usually a term used in situations where a defendant flees the jurisdiction of the court to avoid prosecution of either a substantive criminal case or probation sentence. Absconders that are caught are usually sentenced to heavy jail sentences and fines.
Absentia – Latin for “in the absence of”. Most often used in the term “Plea in Absentia” which means a plea of guilty or no contest entered in court by a criminal defense attorney on behalf of a criminal defendant without the defendant being present in court.
Accessory – Usually not present during the commission of the crime but actively and knowingly assists after the crime has already been committed.
Accomplice – Someone who actively participates or assists in the commission of a crime and is usually present while the crime is being committed.
Acquittal – The legal term of being found Not Guilty at trial.
Adjudication – Also known as a Conviction, an adjudication cannot be removed from your criminal record.
Admission – An admission is also known as a “statement against interest”. It is something that you said that the state is trying to use against you.
Affidavit – a document signed and sworn to that the contents are true and correct. Lying on a sworn affidavit is perjury and can be punished by contempt of court or through criminal prosecution.
Aggravated – A term that is used to describe conduct that is more serious or could describe a more severe penalty. Aggravated Assault, Aggravated Battery or Aggravated Sentencing guidelines are often referred to.
Alias – A name that you or someone else is often referred to other than your birth name or legal name.
Alibi – An offer to the prosecution that you were not at the location where the crime allegedly occurred.
Allegation – Allegations are merely statements without evidence that something happened, or someone said something.
Appeal – Appeal describes a process in our legal system where a negative decision or outcome can be argued to a higher court to attempt at reaching a different decision or outcome.
Arraignment – The first appearance by a criminal defendant whereby he or she is read the official charges the government has brought. A plea of not guilty is often entered at the arraignment and the Discovery process begins.
Arrest – Action by the police to take someone into custody on allegations that a crime has been committed and that the person has committed a crime.
Bail – The money or property provided as collateral to the Court in exchange for that persons release from custody.
Bail Bondsman – If you are unable to afford to pay a bail bond in cash directly to the court, a bail bondsman will help you. In exchange for a fee and your promise to appear at all court appearances; the bail bondsman will pay the bail amount to the court to secure your release from jail.
Bailiff – An in court official, usually in a police uniform is there to make sure that the courtroom is quiet and that everyone is behaving appropriately. A bailiff has the ability to take people into custody on order of the judge.
Bench warrant – A bench warrant is an order to have someone arrested. Bench warrants are usually ordered when someone fails to appear in court
Calendar Call – A scheduled conference between the Defense, State Attorney and Judge. The calendar call hearing is to determine whether the case is ready to go to trial.
Citation – Otherwise referred to as a Ticket, a Citation is the official document given to you by the police officers to inform you of a violation of the law.
Circuit Court – For criminal cases, Circuit Court hears felony cases.
Confession – A statement made by a suspect under investigation or arrest for a crime allegedly acknowledging the unlawful behavior and admitting to it.
Conspiracy – The act of people working together to commit a crime. Conspiracies are chargeable as entirely separate offenses of their own.
Continuance – Most cases require quite a bit of time to work on. A continuance is the actual postponement of a hearing or trial date.
Corpus Delicti – Latin for “Body of the Crime”. Corpus Delicti is a legal concept that describes what the state attorney needs to prove in order to find you guilty. There can be no crime without actual evidence of one. For example, you go to a police officer and say that you drove drunk last night. While it is a crime to drive drunk, you cannot be arrested because apart from your statement there is no evidence or “body of the crime”. That was just an example, please always be careful with what you say to police and when.
County Court – For criminal cases, County Court deals with traffic violations and misdemeanor offenses.
Criminal Punishment Scoresheet – In felony court each crime is given a corresponding point value. The more serious the offense, the higher the score. The more prior criminal offenses, the higher the score. The higher the score the more likely the sentence you will receive will include jail or prison. Scoresheet points are often enhanced and aggravated by certain factors including: use of weapon, victim injury, gang affiliation and whether you were on probation at the time of the offense.
Delinquency – describes an area of criminal law, which prosecutes juveniles accused of committing crimes. Juveniles cases are heard in Circuit Court and the records of those proceedings are sealed.
Deposition – the act of taking the statement of a witness under oath outside of court. Depositions are a helpful tool and are not available in every jurisdiction. Florida is one of few states that allows attorneys to take depositions in criminal cases.
Disposition – The disposition is the final judgment given in criminal court. It is a piece of paper which indicates the charge, attorney on the case and what the outcome was: Dismissal, Not Guilty or Plea.
Diversion Program – A program offered by many prosecutors offices for first time offenders. Usually requiring no arrests for a period of time, fines to be paid and community service hours to be completed. In exchange for successfully completing these terms and conditions, the case will usually be dismissed leaving your record eligible for a seal or expunge.
Docket – The court’s schedule for the day.
Entrapment – when law enforcement induces a person to commit that person would have otherwise been unlikely to commit.
Felony – A category of crimes, which are punishable by over 1 year in prison. Examples of Felonies include: Possession of Cocaine, Possession of marijuana over 20 grams, Grand Theft, Aggravated Assault, Trafficking in cocaine, Sexual Battery, Burglary.
Fifth Amendment – your constitutional right to remain silent and not to make statements against your own interest.
Fruit of the poisonous tree – A term used to describe evidence obtained from illegal police conduct. If the police acted illegally in obtaining evidence, then any fruits of that illegality are considered fruit of the poisonous tree and must not be considered by the court or jury.
Hearsay – a statement made out of court that is being offered in court as a true statement.
Incriminating – Statements or evidence which allegedly tends to prove guilt of the accused.
Information – An Information is the actual charging document which the State Attorney files in court making allegations of a defendants criminal actions.
Jurisdiction – Either the particular geographic area or legal topic within which a Court may make rulings and hear evidence.
Juvenile – Anyone under the age of 18.
Magistrate – a type of hearing officer. Also used to describe hearings involving probable cause and bond.
Miranda warnings – anyone in custody of law enforcement and subjected to questioning must be given the warning that anything they say can and will be used against them and that they have the right to refuse questioning and request and attorney be present.
Misdemeanor – a level of crime, which is punishable by less than 1 year in jail. Common Misdemeanors include: Trespassing, possession of cannabis, assault, battery, Petit Theft.
Motion to Suppress – a request made to the court to throw out certain evidence based on any number of legal grounds. Sometimes referred to as the Exclusionary Rule.
No Contest – Also stated as “Nolo Contendere” literally means no contest. No contest is a plea to the court which neither admits nor denies the charges brought against the defendant. A person pleads no contest and receives a sentence to close the case. Plea of No Contest is also known as a Plea Of Convenience. It is called this because to many defendants, it is more convenient and less time consuming to not admit to the charges, but still receive a sentence and end the case.
Nolle Prosequi – The best thing you can hear in criminal court as a defendant. It means that the state attorney is dismissing your case.
Plea – An answer to criminal charges in court. Plea can be Guilty, No Contest or Not Guilty.
Prima Facie – Latin for “on its face”. Usually used by attorneys to describe the level of evidence or lack thereof. Also used to describe language in a statute.
Probable Cause – The standard of evidence that is required for a police officer to make an arrest or obtain a warrant to arrest or to search a place. These are facts and pieces of evidence that lead a police officer to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed the crime. Lack of probable cause is one of the first thing a defense attorney looks for when fighting any case.
Prosecutor – A government attorney who tries to prove that the defendant committed a crime.
Quash – to overthrow or make void. To cancel a prior order of the court.
Reasonable Doubt – Lack of proof that prevents a jury from finding the defendant guilty of committing a crime.
Restitution – usually in the form of money, restitution is described as something that will make the alleged victims in case whole again.
Restraining Order – an order of the court which prevents the person being served with the restraining order from contacting the person who filed it.
Retainer – a payment made to an attorney in advance of legal services being rendered.
Seal – the process by which a criminal record is hidden from access by the general public.
Search and Seizure – an area of criminal law, which deals with the methods police use to detect crime and collect evidence.
Sidebar – the area next to or in front of the judges bench where attorneys and the judge can have a conversation without anyone else in the courtroom hearing.
Subsequent – After.
Vacate – Term used to describe an order by the court removing a previous order entered either in error. Sometimes courts vacate prior orders because of a change in the defendants change in circumstances or a change in the law.
Warrant – An order of the court which directs law enforcement to locate and arrest a person.