Legal Glossary

Legal Glossary


A

Absentia

Absent; proceeding without defendant being present.

Accessory

One who aids a criminal, before or after the crime occurs, having knowledge of the commission of the crime.

Acquit

To find a person not guilty of a criminal charge. Acquittal: A finding of not guilty by a judge or jury.

Adjudication

A process or act of a judge convicting a defendant of a crime. It amounts to a final judgment. A judgment rendered by the court after a finding of guilt.

Adjudication Withheld

A process or act of a judge withholding final judgment of guilt or conviction on a case, but always after a finding of guilt.

Affidavit

A written statement sworn to before a notary, officer of the court, or a law enforcement officer. The statement usually has to do with information the person giving the affidavit has about a particular criminal case.

Affidavit of Insolvency

A form signed by the defendant under oath attesting to his or her inability to pay.

Allegation

A statement made by another which, in the context of criminal law, is usually in the form of an accusation that someone has committed a crime. Such allegations may or may not be proven as true.

Answer to Demand

A document filed by the State Attorney’s office responding to a “Notice of Discovery” by a defense attorney, setting forth witnesses in the case, information about the case, and allowing duplication of case information and reports.

Appeal

The legal procedure by which a decision by a judge is brought for review to a higher court with the intention of having the decision by the lower court changed.

Arraignment

(Argn.; ARN) A formal proceeding in open court at which a defendant stands before a judge with his or her lawyer, to be advised of the charges made against them. This is usually done by the Judge or prosecutor reading to the defendant the Indictment or Information. If the defendant has no lawyer the Court (Judge) will make inquiry and advise the defendant of his right to a public defender and his duty to otherwise procure a lawyer. Matters concerning bail and probable time for the trial are discussed, and the defendant may ask questions of the judge about procedures. At arraignment the defendant is required to enter his or her “plea”, that is, to advise the Judge whether he or she is guilty of the charge, or not guilty of the charge.

Arrest

The act of physically taking a person accused of a crime into custody.

Assistant State Attorney (ASA)

Attorney appointed by the State Attorney to represent all interests of the State of Florida.

Asylum State

The state holding the defendant.

Attorney of Record

The attorney retained and or assigned to represent a client.


B

Bail

The amount of money set by the court for the release of a person accused of a crime. It is designed to assure the person’s presence for trial and to protect the community. Also, referred to as bond.

Bailiff

A court deputy employed by the Sheriff to keep order in the courtroom and to have custody of the jury. Term no longer used in Orange County.

Bench Warrant

Warrant issued by the judge when a defendant fails to appear for a scheduled court appearance. See Capias.

Bond

See Bail

Bond Amounts

Cash or surety to be posted for release on bail.

Bond Reduction

A judge’s decision to reduce the amount of bail required for a defendant’s release from jail.

Booking

This is the procedure of recording in the “book” the fact of a person’s arrest and entry into the jail. Recorded are name, address, date of birth and some summary of the crime or reason for the arrest. Fingerprints and photos are usually taken at this time. Some persons may be released on bail or “their own recognizance” immediately after booking.


C

Capias

A warrant issued for the purpose of arresting a person who has been charged by an Indictment or Information.

Capital Crime

A crime for which the possible sentence is death.

Certified Copy

A document that is authenticated, signed, and sealed by the Clerk of Court, or notary public or records custodian.

Change of Venue

Moving the location of a trial from one county to another, and selecting a jury of residents of the new county. Usually done when a question of obtaining a fair and unbiased trial has arisen.

Charges

Offenses listed in an information, indictment or charging document.

Charging Document

A citation, information, indictment, petition, or notice to appear, indicating that the named person(s) is accused of committing a specific criminal offense or civil infraction.

Charging a Jury

The act of the judge in reading to the jurors, after all the evidence and final arguments are completed by both sides, the “jury instructions” which apply to the case. The instructions which the judge will read are determined by him with the help of the lawyers at a “charge conference”, and both sides know in advance what the judge will read to the jury. Most of the instructions are contained in the “Standard Jury Instructions” recommended by the Florida Supreme Court.

Circuit Court

Court that hears felony cases.

Circumstantial Evidence

Facts that might lead one, indirectly, to the conclusion of guilt or innocence in a particular case.

Citation

The traffic summons delivered by hand or mailed to the defendant indicating the offense committed.

Civil matter

The type of case involving private rights and remedies of citizens.

Clerk of Court

The person elected to ensure all original paperwork is received and stored properly and available for the courts and litigants.

Co-defendant

Person(s) accused of committing the same criminal incident with another defendant.

Community Control

Form of probation limiting or restricting defendant’s movements. Companion Cases: Cases involving the same defendant arrested in different criminal incidents.

Complaint

A written accusation made by a person, alleging a certain person or persons committed specific crimes.

Concurrent

Two or more terms of imprisonment to be served at the same time, thereby making the defendant serve only one term;

Consecutive

Terms of imprisonment levied by the court on two or more charges that are to be served one after the other;

Contempt of Court

Any act that is designed to embarrass, hinder, or obstruct the court in the administration of justice, or an act that directly or deliberately disobeys an order of the judge in a case (can be either civil or criminal, direct or indirect).

Continuance

Postponing a trial or hearing to a later date.

Corroborating Evidence

Evidence tending to support or verify, or lend truth to other evidence.

County Court

Court that hears misdemeanor, traffic cases, municipal ordinance violations, etc.

Court Reporter

A person who records (by shorthand, stenorette machine or electronic recording) that which is said during a trial or other legal proceeding.

Criminal Courts

The Criminal Court System is known as the Judiciary whose main function is the adjudication of cases to fairly determine guilt or innocence and the proper sentencing of those found guilty.

Criminal Traffic Offenses

Specifically listed violations of the traffic laws punishable by imprisonment of up to one year in the County Jail. Examples include driving under the influence, reckless driving, driving on a suspended driver’s license, and fleeing and attempting to elude an officer.

Cross Examination

The questioning of a witness by an attorney who represents an opposing party to the side who called the witness to testify.

 


D

Defendant

The person against whom a criminal case is pending.

Demurrer

A legal answer to a document or pleading as to its sufficiency. Pleads for dismissal in the instance that even when the facts in a complaint are true, there is no legal basis to the complaint.

Discovery

A demand by the defense attorney to the State Attorney to furnish material information on a case. For a felony case the discovery must be sent within 15 days of the demand; for a juvenile case discovery must be sent within 5 days of a demand. The proper procedure is the defense files a “Notice of Discovery.” A modern, pre-trial procedure by which one side in a case is permitted by law or rule to gain vital information concerning a case held by the other side. Items such as witness lists, witness statements, victim statements, or items that can prove that a person has committed a crime.

Department of Corrections (DOC)

Department of Corrections, State Prison Facility or County Jail can be either Orange or Osceola counties or Florida.

Deposition

A pretrial proceeding that consists of a statement of a witness or victim under oath, taken in question and answer form as it would be in court, with opportunity given to the other side in the case to be present and cross-examine, with all of this recorded by a court reporter. When taken by the defense the time, place, etc., “must be” coordinated with the prosecutor.

Direct Examination

Questioning of a witness by the attorney who has called that witness.

Direct File

An information filed by our office on a juvenile transferring the case from the juvenile jurisdiction to the criminal jurisdiction.

Directed Judgment of Acquittal

An action by the judge ordering the jury to find the defendant not guilty, when, at the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, the court decides that the guilt of the accused has not been legally proven.

Discharge of Bond

A court order to release bond, usually once the case is disposed.

Dismissal

A decision by a judge to terminate a case upon some legal basis, or because undisputed facts do not establish a prima facie case or guilt.

Disposition

The outcome of a case.

Docket

A list of cases pending before the court.

Doubt, Beyond a Reasonable

Beyond such a doubt as a reasonable man or woman would have after careful investigation and consideration of all the evidence.

The legal barrier the prosecution must pass before a trier of fact can return a verdict of guilty in a criminal case.

 


 E

Entrapment

The act of officers in inducing a person to commit a crime he or she otherwise had no intention of committing, for the purpose of starting a criminal prosecution against him or her. But, to merely furnish an opportunity to commit a crime to a person with the requisite criminal intent is not entrapment.

Estreature of Bond

A court order to forfeit a bond to the county. Also known as bond estreature.

Evidence

Any type of proof in a case, that shows or tends to show the truth or falseness of an allegation against the defendant.

Evidence Log

A list of all items entered as evidence either at an ongoing evidence room or in a trial.

Exhibits

Any paper or object offered in court that is marked for identification or evidence.

Expert Witness

A person who testifies in a trial who is an expert in any specialized field or endeavor.

Expungement (or Expunction)

To close or seal a criminal record by court order. Handled “exclusively” by the Appellate Advocacy Section in Specialized Prosecution Unit.

Extradition

Surrender by one state to another state, of a person accused or convicted of an offense outside its own territory and within territorial jurisdiction of the other state.

 


 F

Felony

Crimes that are punishable by imprisonment for more than one year in the State Department of Corrections or by death. Examples include murder, sexual battery, burglary and grand theft.

First Appearance

See Initial Appearance.

Forfeiture of Bond

Giving up the money put up on a bond, as a penalty for violating the terms of the bond.

Fugitive

One who flees to avoid prosecution or punishment of a crime. Fugitive Warrant: A warrant for a person who flees to avoid prosecution or punishment of a crime.

 


 G

Grand Jury

A body of not fewer than 18 or more than 23 citizens who hear evidence against a person and decide if that person should be held for trial. If the Grand Jury decides the state’s evidence is sufficient to show that the defendant probably committed a crime, it will file a written accusation against him or her called an Indictment. Otherwise, it will return to the judge “No True Bill.”


H

Habeas Corpus

A written order, called a “writ” requiring that a prisoner be brought before a judge or administrative body for the government to show why he or she is being held.

Hearing

A legal proceeding in which arguments, witnesses or evidence are heard by a judge or administrative body.

Hearsay

An out-of-court statement, offered in court to prove the truth of the matter stated, through a witness other than the person who originally made the statement.

Hung Jury

A jury which has failed to arrive at a verdict.


I

Immunity

Either exemption from prosecution (“transactional” immunity), or a promise that the answers a witness gives will not be used against him (“use” immunity).

Impeachment of a witness

An attack on the credibility of a witness by the introduction of evidence or by the testimony of other witnesses.

Implied Consent

Requirement to take a chemical test when arrested for driving under the influence.

Incarceration

Confinement in a prison or jail.

Indictment

A written accusation against someone, based upon sworn testimony, handed down by a grand jury.

Indigent

A person who is unable to afford representation by an attorney. If a judge determines after examination, that a defendant in a criminal case cannot afford to hire an attorney to defend himself or herself, he or she can declare the defendant indigent and either appoint the public defender or a private attorney to represent his interests in court. See “insolvent.”

Information

A written accusation against someone, based upon sworn testimony supplied by the material witness. It is signed by the State Attorney or his or her designated assistant.

Infraction

A non-criminal traffic, marine or civil offense.

Initial Appearance (IA)

The first appearance before a judge by persons in jail charged with crimes; usually occurring within 12-24 hours of the arrest.

Injunction

A civil order issued by a judge for the protection of one party from another. Commonly known as a “restraining order,” it can be against Domestic Violence or Repeat Violence (non-domestic parties).

Inquest

A legal inquiry to determine the cause of the death of a person, usually conducted by a county court judge. The hearings are open to the public.

Insolvent

Unable to pay debts. The financial condition of a defendant that would enable a judge to appoint free legal counsel for him or her. See “indigent.”

Intake

The bureau of the State Attorney’s Office in which criminal complaints are first reviewed to see whether or not evidence will justify any charges being filed.


J

Judge

A public official appointed or elected to hear and decide cases in a court of law.

Judgment

A decision or sentence of the law given by a court.

Judiciary

The main function of the Judiciary (or Judges) is the adjudication of cases to fairly determine guilt or innocence and the proper sentencing of those found guilty.

Jurat

The clause appearing at the end of an affidavit giving the date, location and person before whom the statement was sworn.

Jurisdiction

The legal authority of a court to make judgments over parties and items.

Juror

A person selected from a list of voters, or driver’s license bureau records, who is sworn to decide the results of facts and legal questions presented to them. A juror sits on a panel of other jurors called a jury and determines whether or not the evidence introduced in court is sufficient to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jury

A certain number of people selected from a list of registered voters, or driver’s license bureau records, who are sworn to decide the results of facts and legal questions presented to them. A jury determines whether or not the evidence introduced in court is sufficient to prove a defendant guilty beyond every reasonable doubt.

Juvenile

A child under the age of 18 years of age.


L

Leading Question

A question that instructs a witness how to answer; that puts words into his or her mouth to be echoed back. This type of question is prohibited on direct examination, but permitted during cross-examination.

Lesser included

Any less serious offense whose definition is included within the definition of the original charge.


M

Mandate

The official decree by a court of appeal to the lower court. Minutes: A written account of what took place in court by the Clerk of the

Court.

Misdemeanor

Crimes that are punishable by imprisonment for up to one year in the County Jail. Examples are petit theft, simple battery, prostitution and trespasses.

Mistrial

A trial which, for some extraordinary circumstance, has been terminated and declared void prior to the jury’s returning a verdict. A mistrial is usually declared after the court agrees that some fundamental legal error has occurred that is prejudicial to one of the parties.

Motion

A formal request to the court asking for an order or ruling in favor of the person making the request. Can either be made before, during or after a trial.

Motion in Limine

Motion for order against admission of prejudicial statements or questions.

Motion to Mitigate Sentence

A motion to reduce sentence.

Motion to Seal

A motion to close a record to public inspection. See expungement. Motion to Suppress: A motion to prevent admission of evidence in a case.


N

No Bill

Document indicating formal charges will not be filed by the State Attorney. Also known as No Information or No True Bill. Charges may be filed at a later date.

No Information

Document indicating formal charges will not be filed by the State Attorney. Also known as No Bill or No True Bill. Charges may be filed at a later date.

Nolle Prosequi

(Nol Pros) A formal entry made on the record in a case by which the state attorney says he or she will cease the prosecution of a case after charges have been filed. Charges may be re-filed at a later date.

Nolo Contendere

(Nolo) A plea to a charge when the defendant neither admits nor denies guilt, but allowing the court to sentence him or her as the court sees fit. In other words, the defendant does not contest the allegations. Also known as a “No Contest” plea.

Notice of Appearance(NTA)

A notice issued by a law enforcement officer to a defendant to appear before a judge in a courtroom for an offense or an ordinance, etc.

Nunc Pro Tunc

An entry made now for an act done previously and to have the effect as if it were done on a prior date. (Now as then)


O

Oath

Any form of solemn pledge to a Supreme Being by which a person signifies he or she is bound in conscience to tell the truth.

Order

A document signed by the judge making an award or ruling or verbally issued in an official proceeding.

Ordinance

A municipal or county law.

Overrule

The term used when the court denies any objection raised by either side in a case; such as “objection overruled.”


P

Pardon

An act by the governor and cabinet which removes the penalties and other legal consequences from a person convicted of a crime.

Parole

The status of a person conditionally released from prison prior to the completion of a sentence, and placed under the supervision of a probation and parole agency.

Perjury

To lie while under oath about a material fact.

Petition

A formal charging document issued by the State Attorney wherein the named juvenile is accused of committing a specific offense.

Plaintiff

The person initiating and lawsuit.

Plea

Guilty, No Contest, Not Guilty – A defendant’s formal answer in court to the charges brought against him or her in a complaint, information or indictment.

Plea Bargaining

Negotiations between the defense counsel and the prosecution seeking an agreement under which the defendant enters a plea of guilty or nolo contendere.

Preliminary Hearing (PH)

A hearing before a County Court Judge held to determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed the crime prior to filing of an Information.

Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI)

An investigation ordered by the court prior to the sentencing of a convicted defendant that thoroughly explores the past behavior, family background and personality of the defendant. The report acts as a guide to the court in sentencing.

Praecipe

A written request for the issuance of a subpoena by the clerk’s office.

PreTrial Diversion (PTD)

A program designed to allow first time offenders, for non-violent crimes only, to receive rehabilitative counseling, attend special programs, pay fines, etc. in lieu of prosecution, if the State Attorney and Court Alternative personnel think the person is a proper candidate, a successful completion usually leads to all charges being dropped.

PreTrial Intervention

A county program to aid certain qualified defendants by diverting them from court proceedings upon successful completion of a outlined program.

PreTrial Release (PTR)

A court related program designed to identify persons charged with crimes who would be good risks for release without monetary bail prior to trial.

Prima Facie Case

A case which indicates “on it’s face” that the defendant is guilty. On the face of it; factually. If a Prima Facie case is not established by the prosecution, the court may grant the defendant’s motion to dismiss or for a directed judgment of acquittal.

Probable Cause (PC)

A set of facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe that a crime was committed and that the suspect committed it.

Probation

A plan whereby a defendant, found guilty of a crime, is released by the court without imprisonment under the supervision of a probation officer for a specific length of time and with specific restrictions placed on his or her lifestyle.

Prosecutor

An attorney who represents the State of Florida and whose job it is to represent the State’s interests in a variety of legal schemes.

PSI

See Pre-Sentence Investigation

Public Defender

An attorney employed by the State of Florida whose official duty is to represent defendants. If they are unable to hire private attorneys they are appointed by a judge to represent them in criminal prosecutions.

Public Defender Lien

Upon order of the judge, a debt to be paid by the defendant for legal services rendered by the Public Defender in the future.


Q

Quash

A term meaning to crush out, make void. When a judge grants a motion to quash a subpoena in a particular case, it means the person subpoenaed is released from the obligation to appear.


R

Reasonable Doubt

A doubt that is not fleeting or speculative but one to which a definite reason can be assigned. If such a doubt exists, a defendant must be found not guilty.

Rebuttal

Producing evidence to disprove evidence offered by an opponent in a criminal case or trial. State rebuttal witnesses testify after defense witnesses.

Recidivist

A repeat offender. Recidivism: The rate of repeat offending.

Recusal

A judge excuses himself or herself from hearing or considering a case due to some conflict or the appearance of one.

Relevant

Applicable to a question at issue.

Release on Recognizance (ROR)

Release of an accused person without monetary bond by a judge upon the accused’s promise to appear in court as required for criminal proceedings.

Remand

Put back into custody after release. Also, when an appellate court returns a case to a trial court for further action.

Restitution

To pay back. Usually a special condition of probation requiring the defendant to reimburse the victim of a crime for any financial losses incurred as a result of the crime.

Reversal

The cancellation, annulment or alteration of a lower court ruling by a superior court. Rule (invoking the) This is an order of the court requiring all witnesses who may testify for either side in a trial to remain out of the courtroom and sequestered until they are called to testify. These witnesses are not to talk about their testimony with anyone other than the attorneys.


S

Score sheet

A form used for sentencing utilizing the points system mandated by the legislature, known as “sentencing guidelines”.

Search Warrant

An order issued by the judge directing law enforcement officers to conduct a search of a particular place for specific persons or things and to bring them before the court.

Sentence

The penalty imposed on a defendant after he or she has been convicted of a crime. Sentences can be: Consecutive: terms of imprisonment levied by the court on two or more charges that are to be served one after the other; Concurrent: two or more terms of imprisonment to be served at the same time, thereby making the defendant serve only one term; Suspended: withholding or postponing the sentencing of a defendant after conviction.

Sequestered

In certain high profile cases juries can be isolated from the public, friends, relatives, and media so their deliberations as a jury won’t be tainted.

Speedy Trial Rule

The time limits prescribed by law within which a defendant must be brought to trial if he or she is available. The time runs from the date of defendant’s arrest for the crime charged. The time limit is 175 days for felonies, 90 days for misdemeanors, 90 days for juvenile delinquency cases and 180 days for juvenile dependency cases.

Statement of Particulars

A detailed statement of the offense charged, sufficient to enable the defendant to properly prepare his or her defense. Only provided after court order.

Statute

Any law passed by a state or federal legislative body.

Statute of Limitations

The time limit during which a person may be charged with a crime. There are no time limitations on crimes that carry the death penalty.

Subpoena

A court order issued for a person to appear or give testimony in a courtroom or specified location before a judge, defense attorney, or prosecuting attorney. This can be for a hearing, trial or other specified reason at a specified time. This is obtained by a praecipe (or request for the subpoena).

Subpoena DucesTecum

A court order that not only requires a witness to appear, but also requires him or her to bring with them records and documents he or she may have.

Summons

An official notice for a person to appear at a given time and place in order to perform some function required in litigation, or to file some pleading in response.

Suspect

A person, adult or juvenile, who is considered by a criminal justice agency to be someone who may have committed a specific crime, but who may not been arrested or charged.

Suspended

Withholding or postponing the sentencing of a defendant after a finding of guilt.


T

Tangible Evidence

Evidence one can see, hold, feel, etc. The term is also used to mean “real” evidence rather than mere testimony of a witness.

Testify

To give evidence under oath in a case, usually from a witness stand.

Time Served

The actual number of days a defendant has served in jail. Transcript: The official record of proceedings in a trial, hearing or deposition. Traverse: A formal denial of allegations.

Trial

The examination of issues of fact and law in a case, beginning when the jury has been selected and sworn, or when the first witness has been sworn in a non-jury trial, and concluding when a verdict is reached by the jury or a judge or the case is dismissed.

Trial Clerk

The administrative officer of the court who keeps its’ records. True Copy: An exact copy of a written document.


V

Verdict

A decision of a jury or judge issued after the facts have been submitted.

Victim

A person who has suffered death, physical or mental suffering, or loss of property as a result of an actual or attempted criminal offense committed by another person.

Voir Dire

Examination of a jury panel by the judge, defense counsel, and the state attorney for selection to serve on a case.


W

Waiver

An intentional and voluntary giving up or surrendering of some known right. In a criminal case, this might be waiving a speedy trial, waiving a preliminary hearing, waiving a jury trial, etc.

Warrant

A written document that is issued by a judge, or clerk for the judge authorizing a law enforcement officer to make an arrest, make a search, or carry out a judgment of the court.

Witness

A person who has directly seen, or is involved in an event or thing, or who has knowledge relevant to a case.

Work-up

The sheet that each attorney uses to work-up or list all parties, synopsis of cases, etc. for the clerk or secretary to use for inputting information.

Writ

A written document and or order requiring the performance of a specified act, or giving authority and commission to have it done.

Writ of Habeas Corpus Ad Prosequendum

A writ of the court ordering that a prisoner be brought before the court to be prosecuted.

Writ of Habeas Corpus Ad Testificandum

A writ of the court ordering that a prisoner be brought before the court to give testimony or testify.

Written Plea of Not Guilty

A defendant’s plea in writing to the court that is filed in lieu of a personal appearance by either the defendant or counsel.

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