For the average person, being accused of a crime is a frightening event. To suddenly find yourself facing a conviction on your permanent record and possibly a term of imprisonment is reason enough to feel confused and overwhelmed. On top of that, you may feel like everyone involved is speaking a foreign language that you cannot even identify. To some extent, you are actually correct. Many of the terms that are commonly used in the American legal system are Latin or have Latin origins. There are also a number of terms that mean something slightly different than they do in ordinary language when they are used in the criminal court system. Although you should always consult with your Nebraska criminal defense attorney to find out how a specific term applies to your case, it may make you feel a little less intimidated to learn the meaning of some of the common criminal law terms you may encounter over the course of your case. The following are common criminal law terms that begin with the letters A through I. Please be sure to read through Part II of this series for terms beginning with the letters J through Z.
- Accessory –– someone who intentionally helps another person commit a crime. For example, if you give advice before the crime or help to conceal the evidence or the perpetrator after the crime you might be charged as an accessory. An accessory is usually not physically present during the crime.
- Accomplice — someone who helps another person (known as the principal) commit a crime. Unlike an accessory, an accomplice is usually present when the crime is committed. An accomplice is guilty of the same offense and usually receives the same sentence as the principal.
- Acquittal – a jury verdict that a criminal defendant is not guilty, or the finding of a judge that the evidence is insufficient to support a conviction.
- Admissible — a term used to describe evidence that may be considered by a jury or judge in criminal cases. Some evidence may ultimately be deemed inadmissible for a variety of reasons. In that case, the judge or jury cannot consider the evidence when rendering a verdict.
- Appeal — a request made after a trial by a party that has lost on one or more issues that a higher court review the decision to determine if it was correct. To make such a request is “to appeal” or “to take an appeal.” One who appeals is called the “appellant;” the other party is the “appellee.”
- Arraignment –– a proceeding in which a criminal defendant is brought into court, told of the charges in an indictment or information, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.
- Bail / Bond — The money or property given to the court as security when an accused person is released before and during a trial with the agreement that the defendant will return to court when ordered to do so. Bail is forfeited if the defendant fails to return to court.
- Bench Trial – a trial without a jury in which a judge decides the facts, also known as a “court trial” or “trial by judge.”
- Burden of Proof – in a criminal trial the State has the burden of proof, meaning that the State must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction.
- Capital offense – a crime that is potentially punishable by death.
- Circumstantial Evidence — all evidence except eyewitness testimony. One example is physical evidence, such as fingerprints, from which an inference can be drawn.
- Cross-Examination — the questioning of a witness produced by the other side. For example, a defense attorney might engage in cross-examination of a police officer called by the State during the State’s case.
- Deposition — an oral statement made before an officer authorized by law to administer oaths. Such statements are often taken to examine potential witnesses, to obtain discovery, or to be used later in trial.
- Discovery –– the pre-trial devices that can be used by one party to obtain facts and information about the case from the other party in order to assist the party’s preparation for trial.
- Exclusionary rule — doctrine that says evidence obtained in violation of a criminal defendant’s constitutional or statutory rights is not admissible at trial.
- Expunge — to intentionally remove, or hide from the public, records or information in files, computers and other depositories.
- Habeas corpus — Latin, meaning “you have the body.” A writ of habeas corpus generally is a judicial order forcing law enforcement authorities to produce a prisoner they are holding, and to justify the prisoner’s continued confinement. Federal judges receive petitions for a writ of habeas corpus from state prison inmates who say their state prosecutions violated federally protected rights in some way.
- Hearsay — evidence presented by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. With some exceptions, hearsay generally is not admissible as evidence at trial.
- Hung Jury — jury whose members cannot unanimously agree whether the accused is guilty or innocent.
- Immunity – a grant by the court, which assures someone will not face prosecution in return for providing criminal evidence.
- Impeach — to impeach a witness is to introduce evidence intended to contradict testimony or to question his creditability.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney right away. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.