Glossary of Criminal Terms

Arraignment - A court appearance at which the defendant is formally charged and is asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest.  In felony cases, an arraignment follows a preliminary hearing.

Bound Over - At the completion of the preliminary hearing, if the judge finds that it is reasonable to believe that the defendant committed a felony, the defendant is "bound over" to stand trial.

Complaint- A legal document prepared by the DA based on police reports.  It lists the charges and some of the evidence against the defendant.  The complaint is filed in Court.

Defendant-  The person accused of or charged with a criminal offense.  This is the person alleged to have committed a particular crime.

Deferred Prosecution -  Offender is diverted from the criminal process under a contract with certain conditions.

Decline- The office of the District Attorney decides not to issue any criminal charges.

Dismissal - The charge or charges against the defendant are dismissed.  No conviction.  This may occur at any time, at the prosecutors discretion - and without advance notice to you.

District Attorney - Under state law, the prosecuting attorney who represents the state in each county.

Assistant District Attorney - An attorney who acts on the District Attorneys behalf. 

Felony- A crime punishable by confinement in a state prison, for one year or more.

First Offender Program -  Offender is diverted from the criminal process (when they have no prior criminal record) and enters into a contract with certain conditions.

Initial Appearance - A defendants first appearance in court.  A judge may read the charges, set bail (either cash or personal recognizance and determines the conditions of release if any).  In felony cases the timing of the preliminary hearing is discussed.  In misdemeanors, the initial appearance is also the arraignment where the defendant enters an initial plea.

Misdemeanor - A crime punishable by  confinement in a county jail, for one year or less.

Motions - Oral or written requests about legal questions made by the prosecutor or the defendant before, during or after a trial.  Motions ask the court to issue a ruling or order regarding the case.

Plea  - A person accused admits or denies commission of a crime by pleading guilty (no contest) or not guilty.  The accused can be convicted on his/her plea of guilty (no contest).  Pleas can occur at regularly scheduled "Plea Hearing but can also occur at Status hearings or Motion hearings.  If you desire to be present for the plea or sentencing- you may be well advised to attend all regularly scheduled hearings.

Preliminary Hearing - In felony cases, an evidentiary hearing at which the state must prove to the judge that there is enough evidence to believe the defendant committed a felony.

Pretrial Conference - A hearing before a case proceeds to trial.  The parties discuss the case and either settle it or ask that it be scheduled for trial.

Probable Cause - A judicial determination that there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial.

Restitution - An amount of money set by the court to be paid to the victim of a crime for property losses or injuries caused by the crime.

Sentencing - The hearing at which the court imposes sentence.  Sentencing follows a guilty plea or a finding of guilt by a jury or judge.  This may occur immediately after trial or a plea of guilty, or may be scheduled at a later date.  If its your desire to be present at the sentencing you may be well advised to attend any regularly scheduled "Plea Hearing".

Subpoena - A written order requiring a person to appear in court to testify.  The subpoena states the date, time, place and proceeding at which the witness must appear.

Trial - A hearing for presenting physical and testimonial evidence to a judge or jury for a determination of whether an accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or not guilty of the crime(s) charged.  A defendant may be found guilty of all, some, or none of the charges.  If the defendant is found guilty, s/he can then be sentenced for that crime by the judge at that time or at a later hear; if the defendant is found not guilty of a crime, the charge is dismissed.