Glossary of Common Legal Terms Used in Arizona

Posted by Craig Penrod | Nov 21, 2013 | 0 Comments

Abet - To encourage, incite, or set another on to commit a crime. To facilitate the commission of a crime, promote its accomplishment, or help in advancing or bringing it about.

Abeyance - A condition of being undetermined or in a state of suspension or inactivity.

Abscond - To go in clandestine manner out of the jurisdiction of the courts, or to lie concealed, in order to avoid their process. To hide, conceal, or absent oneself clandestinely, with the intent to avoid the legal process.

Accessory - One who commands, incites, aids, or abets another to commit a crime, but who is not present at the time of the crime. May be an accessory before or after the fact and do not have to have constructive knowledge that the crime is going to be committed or has been committed.

Accomplice - One who knowingly, voluntarily and with common intent unites with the principal offender in a crime.

Accuse - To bring a formal charge against a person, to the effect that he is guilty of a crime or punishable offense, before a court or magistrate having jurisdiction to inquire into the alleged crime.

Accused - The generic name for the defendant in a criminal case.

Acquit - To set free, release or discharge as from an obligation, burden or accusation. To legally certify the innocence of one charged with a crime.

Acquittal - The legal and formal certification by a jury that the state has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Adjudication - The formal giving or pronouncing a judgment or decree in a case; also the judgment given. The entry of a decree by a court in respect to the parties in a case.

Admissions - Confessions, concessions or voluntary acknowledgements made by a party of the existence of certain facts.

Adult - One who has attained the legal age of majority; generally 18 years-old.

Adversary system - The jurisprudential network of laws, rules and procedures characterized by opposing parties who contend against each other for a result favorable to themselves.

Advocate - One who assists, defends, or pleads for another. One who renders legal advice and aid and pleads the cause of another before a court.

Affirm - In the practice of appellate courts, to affirm a judgment, decree, or order, is to declare that it is valid and right and must stand as rendered below; to ratify and reassert it; to concur in its correctness and confirm its efficacy.

Alford plea - Same as a no contest plea. Defendant makes no admission of guilt, however based on the undisputed facts that the state can prove beyond a reasonable doubt; the court enters a plea of guilty for the purposes of sentencing.

Allege - To make an allegation; to state, recite, assert or charge.

Alias - Term used to indicate another name by which a person is known.

AKA - Also known as.

Appellant - The party who takes an appeal from one court or jurisdiction to another.

Appearance bond - Type of bail bond required to insure presence of a defendant in a criminal case.

Arbitrary and capricious - Anything a judge does without jurisdiction or contrary to law, such as mitigating sentence is five years and the judge sentences defendant to three years. Either side can appeal and decision will be reversed by appellant court, saying the judge acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

Arizona Revised Statutes - The collection of laws passed, promulgated and codified by the legislative branch of government. Title 13 of the Arizona Revised Statutes is the enumerated criminal laws; Title 28 contains the Transportation Laws.

Arraignment - Procedure whereby the accused is brought before the court to plead to the criminal charge in the indictment or information.

Arrest - To deprive a person of his liberty by legal authority. Taking, under real or assumed authority, custody of another for the purpose of holding or detaining him to answer a criminal charge or civil remand.

Arrest record - Official form completed by police department when a person is arrested. Also, cumulative record of instances in which a person has been arrested.

Arrest warrant - Issued by the court on complaints, information or indictments. A bond amount is set on these warrants.

Assistance of counsel - 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing accused in criminal prosecution assistance of counsel for his defense, means effective assistance, as distinguished from bad faith, sham, mere pretense or want of opportunity for conferences and preparation.

Bail - To procure release of one charged with an offense by insuring his future attendance in court and compelling him to remain within jurisdiction of court.

Bail bond - A written undertaking, executed by the defendant or one or more sureties, that the defendant designated in such instrument will, while at liberty as a result of an order fixing bail and of the execution of a bail bond in satisfaction thereof, appear in a designated criminal action or proceeding when his attendance is required and otherwise render himself amenable to the orders and processes of the court, and in the event that he fails to do so, the signers of the bond will pay to the court the amount of money specified in the order fixing of bail.

  • Cash bail bond - A sum of money, in the amount designated in an order fixing bail, posted by a defendant or by another person on his behalf with a court or other authorized public officer upon condition that such money will be forfeited if the defendant does not comply with the directions of a court requiring his attendance at the criminal action or proceeding involved and does not otherwise render himself amenable to the orders and processes of the court.
  • Unsecured bail bond - A bail bond for which the defendant is fully liable upon failure to appear in court when ordered to do so or upon breach of a material condition of release, but which is not secured by any deposit of or lien upon property. Also known as a signature bond.

Bailable - Capable of being bailed; admitting of bail; authorizing or requiring bail.

Bench warrant - Process issued by the court itself for the attachment or arrest of a person. A person arrested on a bench warrant is held without bond until an appearance before the judge.

Beyond a reasonable doubt - A doubt based upon reason. It is not an imaginary doubt or a possible doubt, but one, which may arise in your mind after careful impartial consideration of all the evidence or lack of it.

Bona fide - In or with good faith; honestly, openly and sincerely; without deceit or fraud.

Bondsman - An independent agent who assumes the responsibility of posting a bond in exchange for a fee.

Booking - Administrative steps taken after the arrested person is brought to the police station, which involves entry of the person's name, the crime for which the arrest was made, and other relevant facts, and which may include photographing, fingerprinting, and the like.

Breathalyzer test - Test to determine content of alcohol in one arrested for operating motor vehicle or under influence of liquor. The results of such test, if properly administered, are admissible as evidence.

Cash bail - Sum of money posted by a criminal defendant to insure his presence in court; used in place of a surety bond and real estate.

Change of venue - The removal of a trial from one county to another county, or from one state to another at the federal level. This is done in criminal cases if the court feels the defendant cannot receive a fair trial in a given county because of prejudice or if the action is filed in the wrong jurisdiction.

Citation - An order, issued by law enforcement, to appear before a magistrate or judge at a later date. Usually used for minor violations, such as traffic violations; avoids the taking of a suspect into immediate physical custody.

Cite - To summon; to command the presence of a person; to notify a person of legal proceedings against him and require his appearance thereto.

Citizen's arrest - A private citizen as contrasted with a police officer may, under certain circumstances, make an arrest only if the offense takes place in their presence.

City court - Court, which tries persons, accused of violating municipal (city) ordinances and has jurisdiction over minor state criminal cases.

Clemency - Kindness, mercy, leniency. As when the governor of a state commutes a death sentence to life imprisonment, or grants a pardon.

Clerk - Officer of court who files pleadings, motions, judgments, etc., issues process, and keeps records of court proceedings.

Client's privilege - Right of client to require attorney to keep secret communications made to him in the attorney-client relationship and to prevent disclosure on the witness stand.

Co-defendant - More than one defendant charged in same complaint or indictment with same charge.

Commit - To send a person to prison or county jail by virtue of a lawful authority, for any crime or contempt, or to a mental health facility, workhouse, reformatory, or the like, by authority of a court or magistrate.

Commitment - A warrant, order, or process by which court or magistrate directs an officer to take a person to a penal institution or mental health facility.

Common law - The list of acts that early courts recognized as legal or illegal, arising from natural reason; by common understanding, common experience or popular consent, as distinguished from those laws legislated by elected bodies.

Commutation - The change of a punishment to one, which is less severe; as from execution to imprisonment.

Competency proceedings - Hearings conducted to determine a person's mental capacity. May be held within criminal context to determine competency or to stand trial, or to be sentenced, or to determine whether at time of offense the accused was legally sane.

Competency to stand trial - A person lacks competency to stand trial if he or she lacks capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings, to consult with counsel, and to assist in preparing his or her defense.

Complaint - A charge, brought before a magistrate having jurisdiction, that a person named, or an unknown person, has committed a specified offense, with an offer to prove the fact, to the end that a prosecution may be instituted. In some instances, the word complaint may be interchangeable with to word information. The complaint is a written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged.

Complicity - A state of being an accomplice; participation in guilt.

Concurrent - Running together; simultaneous.

Concurrent sentences - Two or more terms of imprisonment or probation, all or part of which is served simultaneously and the prisoner/probationer is entitled to discharge at the expiration of the longest term specified. An example would be when a defendant is sentenced to two years in prison for a burglary, and is sentenced to three years in prison for a theft the defendant would be released after serving three years.

Conditional release - A discharge of obligation based on some condition, the failure of which defeats the release. Term may also be applied to a substituted form of release from custody subject to applicable statutes and rules and regulations of board of parole.

Confess - To admit as true. To admit the truth of a charge or accusation.

Confession - A voluntary or involuntary statement made by a person charged with the commission of a crime or misdemeanor, communicated to another person, wherein he acknowledges himself to be guilty of the offense charged, and discloses the circumstances of the act or the share and participation which he had in it.

Confinement - To be shut in or imprisoned.

Consecutive sentences - When one sentence of confinement or probation is to follow another in point of time; the second sentence is deemed to be consecutive. As an example, a defendant receives a five-year sentence for possession of cocaine and a 10-year sentence for child molesting, the defendant would have to serve 15 years.

Constable - An officer of a county, usually elected. He is to execute the process of justice of the peace courts, serve writs, and discharge other functions ‘sometimes assigned by local law or by statute.

Contempt - A willful disregard or disobedience of a public authority.

Continuance - The adjournment or postponement of a session, hearing, trial or other proceeding to a subsequent day or time.

Contraband - In general, any property which is unlawful to produce or possess.

Conviction - In a general sense, the result of a criminal trial, which ends in a judgment or sentence that the accused is guilty as, charged.

Corpus delicti - The body of a crime. The body, material substance, upon which a crime has been committed, such as the corpse of a murdered man, the charred remains of a house burned down.

Correctional institutions - A generic term describing prisons, jails, reformatories and other places of correction and detention.

Court reporter - A person who transcribes by shorthand or stenographically takes down testimony during court proceedings, or at trial related proceedings such as depositions.

Crime - A positive or negative act in violation of penal law; an offense against the state or United States.

Criminal procedure - Criminal procedure is concerned with the procedural steps through which a criminal case passes, commencing with the initial investigation of a crime and concluding with the final disposition of the case.

Custody - Imprisonment or physical detention.

Dangerous offense - Designated by statute to be classified as a dangerous offense, a deadly weapon must be involved and/or a dangerous instrument causing serious physical injury to the victim.

Decriminalize - An official act generally accomplished by legislation, in which an act or omission, formerly criminal, is made non-criminal and without punitive sanctions.

De facto - After an event occurs something happens.Defendant - The person defending or denying; the accused in a criminal case.

Defense attorney - A lawyer who files an appearance on behalf of a defendant and represents such in a criminal case.

De jure - Descriptive of a condition in which there has been total compliance with all requirements of the law. Of right; legitimate; lawful; by right and just title.

Demeanor - As respect to a witness or other person, relates to physical appearance; mannerisms; outward behavior.

Deposition - The taking of testimony from a witness, conducted under oath, outside of a courtroom.

Detain - To arrest, to check, to delay, to hinder to keep in custody, to stop.

Detainer - The restraint of a man's personal liberty against his will.

Determinate sentencing - Sentence to confinement for a fixed period as specified by statute as contrasted by indeterminate sentence, the duration of which is only partly governed by statute.

Directed verdict - Can also mean judgment of acquittal. On motion the court shall enter a judgment of acquittal of one or more offenses charged after the evidence on either side is closed, if there is no substantial evidence to warrant a conviction.

Discovery - Trial practice. The pretrial 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.

Dismissal - An order or judgment finally disposing of an action, suit, motion, etc., without trial of the issues.

  • Dismissal with prejudice - An adjudication on the merits, and final disposition, barring the right to bring or maintain an action on the same claim or cause. Charges cannot be re-filed.
  • Dismissal without prejudice - The right of the complainant to sue or charge again on the same cause of action. Charges can be re-filed against the defendant.

Disposition - The sentencing or other final settlement of a criminal case.

Diversion program - A system of recent origin by which certain defendants in criminal cases are referred to community agencies prior to trial which their criminal complaints or indictments are held in abeyance. The defendant may be given job training, counseling, and education. If he responds successfully within a specified period of time, the charges against him are commonly dismissed.

Docket - The list or calendar of cases set to be tried at a specific time, prepared by the clerks for the use of the court and bar.

Double jeopardy - Common-law and constitutional (5th Amendment) prohibition against a second prosecution after a first trial for the same offense.

Due process of law - Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a course of legal proceedings according to those rules and principles, which have been, established in our systems of jurisprudence for the enforcement and protection of private rights.

Entrapment - The act of officers or agents of the government in inducing a person to commit a crime not contemplated by him, for the purpose of instituting a criminal prosecution against him.

Equal protection of the law - Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantee of equal protection of laws means that no person or class of persons shall be denied the protection of the laws which is enjoyed by other persons or other classes in like circumstances in their lives, liberty, property, and in their pursuit of happiness.

Excessive bail - Bail in a sum more than will be reasonably sufficient to prevent evasion of the law by flight or concealment; bail which is per se unreasonably great and clearly disproportionate to the offense involved, or shown to be so by the special circumstances of the particular case.

Exclusionary rule - It is the body of law developed by the courts, which has resulted in a series of rules that command that where evidence has been obtained in violation of the privileges guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the evidence must be excluded at the trial.

Exonerate - The removal of a burden, charge, responsibility, or duty.

Ex parte - On one side only; by or for one party. A judicial proceeding is said to be ex parte when it is taken or granted at the instance and for the benefit of one party only, and without notice to, or contestation by, any person adversely interested.

Expunge - To destroy; blot out; obliterate; erase. The act of physically destroying information-including criminal records in files computers and other depositories.

Expungement of record - Process by which record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed after expiration of time. Once a record has been expunged, information cannot be given out regarding that arrest.

Extradition - The surrender by one state or country to another of an individual accused or convicted of an offense outside its own territory and within the territorial jurisdiction of the other, which, being competent to try and punish him, demands surrender.

Felony - A crime of a graver or more serious nature than those designated as misdemeanor. An offense punishable by death or imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.

Forfeit of bond - A failure to perform the condition upon which obligor was to be excused from the penalty in the bond. With respect to a bail bond, occurs when the accused fails to appear for trial or any other court date where the defendant's presence is required.

Fugitive - One who flees to avoid prosecution or other sanctions of the criminal justice system.

Furlough - A leave of absence, which can be granted to sentenced inmates. Furlough from a correctional setting can be for the following reasons: seeking employment, maintaining family ties, attending classes.

Grand jury - Body of citizens whose duties consist in determining whether probable cause exists that a crime or crimes has been committed and if a person or persons committed such a crime(s) whether an indictment or true bill should be returned against one for such a crime. This is called a grand jury because it comprises a greater number of jurors than the ordinary trial jury.

Guilty - The word used by an accused in pleading to a crime(s) when he confesses to the charges. The term is also used by the jury in convicting a defendant.

Guilty plea - Formal admission in court as to guilt, which a defendant may make if he or she does so intelligently and voluntarily.

Guilty verdict - Formal pronouncement by a jury that they adjudge the defendant guilty of the offense charged.

Habeas corpus - In common usages this term means: produce the body. The office of the writ is not to determine a prisoner's guilt or innocence; the only issue, which it presents, is whether the prisoner is restrained of his liberty by due process.

Habitual criminal - A legal category created by statute in many states by which severe penalties ranging from life imprisonment can be imposed on criminals convicted of any crime the third or fourth time. In general, habitual offender statutes impose greater sentences on an offender for repeated crimes, with life imprisonment being imposed upon commission of several felonies.

Hearsay - Evidence not proceeding from the personal knowledge of the witness, but from the mere repetition of what he has heard others say.

In limine motion - Motion made prior to trial for admission or non-admission of factual matters at the time of trial. Generally used to limit or include evidentiary matters, such as to preclude prior convictions.

Indictment - A formal written accusation originating with a prosecutor and issued by a grand jury against a party charged with a crime. An indictment is referred to as a true bill. An indictment is merely a charge, which must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt before a defendant may be convicted.

Indigent defendant - A person indicted or complained of who is without funds or ability to hire a lawyer to defend him and who, in most instances, is entitled to appointed counsel with the protections of the 6th and 14th Amendments.

Ineffective assistance of counsel - A two-prong test must be met before a court can rule the defendant's counsel was ineffective.The defendant must show that trial counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonably effective assistance under prevailing professional norms.Trial counsel's performance must have prejudiced the defendant's case. The defendant must show that, but for trial counsel's error, there is a “reasonable probability” that the result would have been different.

Information - An accusation in the nature of an indictment. It differs from an indictment in that information is presented to a judge at a preliminary hearing as opposed to a grand jury.

Innocent - Free from guilt.

Insanity - The criminal definition means the defendant is unable to assist counsel in preparation for trial and or the defendant was unable to differentiate between right from wrong or understanding the nature or consequences of their acts. In law, the term is used to denote that degree of mental illness, which negates the individual's legal responsibility or capacity to assist counsel.

Involuntary confession - Confession is involuntary if it is not the product of an essentially free and unrestrained choice of its maker or where makers will is overborne at the time of the confession. A confession is involuntary if it is a result of a promise, reward or other benefit.

Jail - A place of confinement. It is usually used to hold persons either convicted of misdemeanors (minor crimes) or persons awaiting trial.

Jane Doe - Used in legal proceedings as a fictitious name to designate an unknown female until her real name can be ascertained.

John Doe - Used in legal proceedings as a fictitious name to designate a party until his real name can be ascertained.

Judicial immunity - The absolute protection from civil liability arising out of the discharge of judicial functions which every judge enjoys.

Judicial officer - A judge, magistrate or justice of the peace.

Jump bail - To abscond, withdraw, or secrete one's self, in violation of the obligation of a bail bond.

Jury - A certain number of men and women selected according to law, and sworn to inquire to certain matters of fact, and declare the truth upon evidence to be laid before them.

Jury trial - Trial of matter or cause before jury as opposed to trial before judge.

Justice of the peace - A judicial magistrate having limited jurisdiction by statute in civil matters and jurisdiction over minor criminal offenses. A justice of the peace does not have to be an attorney.

Juvenile - A young person who has not yet attained the age at which he or she should be treated as an adult for purposes of criminal law. In Arizona, a person under the age of 18 is considered to be a juvenile.

Lawful arrest - The taking of a person into custody either under a valid warrant or on probable cause for believing that he has committed a crime. Term is used in connection with the right to search a person and his immediate surroundings without a warrant as an incident of the arrest.

Litigation - A lawsuit, or legal action, including all proceedings therein.

Magistrate - A judicial officer with limited jurisdiction. Magistrates are the judges that are appointed to hear cases in city court, a lower jurisdiction court. A magistrate must be a licensed attorney.

Magistrate's courts - A court of limited jurisdiction. Commonly their jurisdiction is restricted to the handling of minor offenses, small claims, or preliminary hearings. Magistrate courts hear cases that involve violation of city ordinances as well as misdemeanor violations of statutes that occurred within the city limits.

Mandate - A command, order, or direction, written or oral, which a court is authorized to give and a person, is bound to obey.

Mandatory statutes - Generic term describing statutes, which require and not merely permit a course of action. Mandatory statutory provision is one, which must be observed.

Mandatory sentence - Statutes in some jurisdictions require a judge to sentence a convicted defendant to a penal institution and allow no room for discretion. These statutes generally provide that the sentence may not be suspended and that no probation may be imposed, leaving the judge with no alternative but commitment.

Material witness - A person who can give testimony no one else, or at least very few, can give. In an important criminal case, the government against his or her will may hold a material witness. He may be the victim or an eyewitness.

Mens rea - A guilty mind, a guilt or wrongful purpose; a criminal intent.

Miranda rule - Prior to any custodial interrogation, that is questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom in any significant way, the person must be warned:

  • That he or she has a right to remain silent;
  • That any statement he does make may be used as evidence against he or she;
  • That he or she has the right to the presence of an attorney; and
  • That if he or she cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them prior to any questioning if he or she so desires.

Misdemeanant - A person guilty of a misdemeanor; one sentenced to punishment upon conviction of a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor - Offenses lower than felonies and generally those punishable by fine or imprisonment other than in a penitentiary. Any offenses other than a felony are classified as a misdemeanor. In Arizona, a person convicted of a misdemeanor can be sentenced to up to one year in jail.

Mistrial - Trial, which has been terminated by the court prior to final adjudication.

Mitigating circumstances - Such as do not constitute a justification or excuse of the offense in question, but which, in fairness and mercy, may be considered as extenuating or reducing the degree of moral culpability.

Necessarily included offense - That which occurs when an offense cannot be committed without necessarily committing another offense. Often used in giving instructions to a jury as to offenses of which the defendant can be found guilty, such as a defendant charged with burglary also includes the lesser offense of criminal trespass.

No bill - This phrase, endorsed by a grand jury on the indictment, is equivalent to not found, no indictment, or not a true bill. It means in the opinion of the jury, evidence was insufficient to warrant the return of a formal charge.

Nolo contendere - Type of plea which may be entered with leave of court to a criminal complaint or indictment by, which the defendant does not admit or deny charges, though a fine or sentence maybe imposed pursuant to it. The principal difference between a plea of guilty and a plea of nolo contendere is that the latter may not be used against the defendant in a civil action based upon the same acts.

Not guilty - Plea entered by the accused to criminal charge. The form of the verdict in criminal cases, where the jury acquits the defendant.

Obstructing justice - The act by which one or more persons attempt to prevent, or do prevent, the execution of lawful process, such as hindering witnesses from appearing, assaulting a process server, influencing jurors, obstructing court orders or criminal investigations.

Offender - Commonly used in statutes to indicate person implicated in the commission of a crime and includes person guilty of a misdemeanor or traffic offense.

Offense - A criminal act either a felony or misdemeanor.

Omnibus hearing - Hearing prior to trial in which all motions, evidentiary matters, stipulations are resolved prior to trial.

Overrule - To supersede; annul; reverse. To refuse to sustain, or recognize as sufficient, an objection made in the course of a trial, as to the introduction of particular evidence, etc.

Pardon - An act of grace from a governing power, which mitigates the punishment the law demands for the offense and restores the rights and privileges forfeited on account of the offense.

Parole - A conditional release of a prisoner who has served part of the term for which he was sentenced to prison.

Parole board - The state and federal administrative bodies empowered to decide whether inmates shall be conditionally released from prison before completion of their sentences.

Penal - Punishable; inflicting a punishment; ‘containing a penalty or relating to a penalty.

Perjury - A person is guilty of perjury if in any official proceeding he makes a false statement under oath or equivalent affirmation, or swears or affirms the truth or a statement previously made, when the statement is material and he does not believe it to be true.

Personal recognizance - Pretrial release based on person's own promise, no bond required, that he or she will show up for trial. It is used in place of a bail bond when the judge or magistrate is satisfied that the defendant will appear without the need of a surety bond or other form of security. Also referred to as release on own recognizance.

Plaintiff - A person who brings an action.

Plea - In a criminal proceeding, a plea is the defendant's response to the charge, such as guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere.

Plea bargaining - The process whereby the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval. It usually involves the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser offense or to only one of some of the counts of a multi-count indictment in return for a lighter sentence than that possible for a more serious charge.

Polling the jury - A practice whereby the jurors are asked individually whether they assented, and still assent, to the verdict. If upon the poll there is not unanimous concurrence, the jury may be directed to retire for further deliberations or may be discharged.

Preliminary hearing - The hearing by a judge to determine whether a person charged with a crime should be held for trial. A hearing held in felony cases prior to indictment during which the state is required to produce sufficient evidence to establish that there is probable cause to believe:

  • That a crime has been committed, and
  • That the defendant committed the crime.

Preponderance of evidence - Evidence, which is of greater weight or more convincing than the evidence, which is offered in opposition to it.

Pre-sentence investigation - Investigation of the relevant background of a convicted offender usually conducted by a probation officer attached to the court, designed to act as a sentencing guide for the sentencing judge.

Pre-sentence report - The report prepared from the pre-sentence investigation, which is designed to assist the judge in passing sentence on a convicted offender. Pre-sentence reports vary in scope and focus, but should contain the following items:

  • Complete description of the situation surrounding the criminal activity;
  • Offender's educational background;
  • Offender's employment background;
  • Offender's social history;
  • Residence history of the offender;
  • Offender's medical history;
  • Information about the environment to which the defendant will return;
  • Information about any resources available to assist the offender;
  • Probation officer's view of the offender's motivations and ambitions;
  • Full description of the defendant's criminal history; and,
  • Recommendation as to disposition or sentencing.

Presumption of innocence - A constitutional guarantee that a person is presumed innocent unless the government proves the burden of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Pretrial conference - Any time after the filing of the indictment or information the court upon motion of any party or upon its own motion may order one or more conferences to consider such matters as will promote a fair and expeditious trial. Usually at the pretrial conference a determination is made as to whether the defendant will go to trial or take a plea, if one is offered.

Prima facie - In common parlance the term prima facie is used to describe the apparent nature of something upon initial observation. In legal practice the term generally is used to describe two things: the presentation of sufficient evidence by a civil claimant to support the legal claim or a prima facie case, or a piece of evidence itself or prima facie evidence.

Prison - The words prison and penitentiary are used to designate institutions for the imprisonment of persons convicted of a felony.

Privilege against self-incrimination - It requires the government to prove a criminal case against the defendant without the aid of the defendant as a witness against himself, though it protects only communications, not physical evidence such as handwriting and fingerprints.

Privileged communications - Those statements made by certain persons within a protected relationship such as attorney-client.

Probable cause - Reasonable cause; having more evidence for than against. An apparent state of facts found to exist upon reasonable inquiry, which would induce a reasonably intelligent and prudent man to believe, in a criminal case, that the accused person had committed the crime charged.

Probation - A system of allowing a person convicted of an offense to avoid imprisonment, under a suspension of sentence, during good behavior, and generally under the supervision of a probation officer.

Probationer - A convicted offender who is allowed to go at large, under suspension of sentence, during good behavior.

Probation officer - One who supervises a person placed on probation by a court in a criminal proceeding. He is required to report to the court the progress of the probationer and to surrender the probationer if he violated the terms and conditions of his probation.

Pro bono - Used to describe work or services, such as legal services, done or performed free of charge.

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt - Such proof as precludes every reasonable hypothesis except that which it tends to support and which is wholly consistent with the defendant's guilt and inconsistent with any other rational conclusion. This test is also used in determining death penalty sentences. The court must find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances before imposing the death penalty.

Proof evident or presumption great - As used in constitutional provisions that the accused shall be bailable unless for capital offenses when the proof is evident or presumption great, means evidence clear and strong, and which leads to the judgment that the accused committed the offense, and the defendant will be convicted.

Prosecutor - One who prosecutes for a crime in the name of the county or state government.

Pro-tempore - For the time being; temporarily. A judicial officer who acts as a substitute on a temporary basis.

Public defender - An attorney appointed by a court or employed by a government agency whose work consists primarily in defending indigent defendants in criminal cases.

Punitive - Relating to punishment; having the characteristics of punishment or penalty; inflicting punishment or a penalty.

Quash - To vacate; to make void.

Quid pro quo - What for what; something for something.

Recidivist - A habitual criminal; a criminal repeater.

Recusation - In state court, for reasons generally of conflict of interest a judge refuses to hear a case. This is a voluntary action on the part of the judge.

Reinstate a case - To place case again in same position as before dismissal.

Release on own recognizance - Release of a defendant on personal recognizance when, having acquired control over his person, the court permits him to be at liberty during the pendency of the criminal action or proceeding upon his written promise to appear whenever his attendance before court may be required and to render himself amenable to the orders and process of the court.

Remand - To send back. This term is used for cases appealed to the next court level and the higher court sends the case back to the lower level.

Reprieve - Temporary relief from or postponement of execution of criminal punishment or sentence.

Restraining order - An order in the nature of an injunction. An order, which may issue upon filing of an application for an injunction forbidding the defendant to do the threatened act until a hearing on the application can be heard.

Revoke - To annul or make void by recalling or taking back; to cancel, rescind, repeal, or reverse.

ROR - Release on own recognizance.

Rule 11 - Process to determine a defendant's competency to stand trial or assist counsel in preparation for trial.

Rules of court - Such regulate practice and procedure before the various courts; In most jurisdictions, these rules are issued by the court itself, or by the highest court in that jurisdiction, while others, are adopted or enacted by the legislature.

Rules of evidence - Rules of court, which govern the admissibility of evidence at trials and hearings.Sanity - Sound understanding; the normal condition of the human mind; the reverse of insanity.

Sanity hearing - An inquiry into the mental competency of a person to stand trial, though it may be held at any time within the criminal proceeding.

Search warrant - An order in writing, issued by a justice or other magistrate, in the name of the state, directed to a sheriff or other officer, authorizing him to search for and seize any property that constitutes evidence of the commission of a crime, contraband, the fruits of crime, or things otherwise criminally possessed. A warrant may be issued upon an affidavit or sworn testimony. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that no warrant shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

Self-incrimination - Acts or declaration either as testimony at trial or prior to trial by which one implicated himself in a crime. The 5th Amendment prohibits the government from requiring a person to be a witness against himself involuntarily or to furnish evidence against himself. It is the burden of the government to accuse and to carry the burden of proof. The defendant cannot be compelled to aid the government in this regard.

Sentence - The judgment formally pronounced by the court or judge upon the defendant after his conviction in a criminal prosecution, imposing the punishment to be inflicted.

  • Aggravated sentence - An aggravated sentence is the maximum length of time a judge can sentence a defendant to imprisonment.
  • Concurrent sentence - A sentence imposed which is to be served at the same time as another sentence imposed earlier or at the same proceeding.
  • Consecutive sentence - Separate sentences, each additional to the others, imposed upon a defendant who has been convicted upon an indictment containing several counts, each of such counts charging a distinct offense, or who is under conviction at the same time for several distinct offenses; one of such sentences being made to begin at the expiration of another.
  • Deferred sentence - A sentence, the execution of which is postponed until a future date.
  • Determinate sentence - A sentence for a fixed period of time.
  • Indeterminate sentence - A sentence to incarcerate with a spread of time between a minimum date of parole eligibility and a maximum discharge date.
  • Mandatory sentence - Statutes in some jurisdictions require a judge to sentence a convicted defendant to a penal institution and furnish no room for discretion. These statutes generally provide that the sentence may not be suspended and that no probation may be imposed, leaving the judge with no alternative but commitment.
  • Mitigating sentence - The least time in which an offender must spend in prison before becoming eligible for parole or release.
  • Presumptive sentence - Presumptive sentencing is the mid-range sentence where the court finds no aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
  • Sentence in abstentia - Sentencing of a defendant in his or her absence.
  • Straight or flat sentences - Fixed sentence without a maximum or minimum.
    • Half-time - A defendant will be required to serve half of the imposed prison sentence if the offense convicted of is non-dangerous and non-repetive, except for narcotic charges and dangerous crimes against children.
    • Two-thirds time - A defendant will be required to serve two-thirds of the prison sentence if convicted of an offense that is classified as dangerous and/or repetitive. Probation is not available for dangerous and/or repetitive crimes.

Sentencing - The post-conviction stage of the criminal justice process in which the defendant is brought before the court for imposition of sentence. Sentencing has been held to be a critical stage of a criminal proceeding requiring assistance of appointed counsel.

Set aside - To reverse, vacate, cancel, annul or revoke an order.

Severance - Separation or a case with two or more defendants or counts can be severed in regards to one or more or the defendants, meaning there would be two trials or two separate court trials.

Show cause order - An order to a person or corporation to appear in court and explain why the court should not take a proposed action. If the person or corporation fails to appear or to give sufficient reasons why the court should take no action, the court will take action.

Stare decisis - To abide by, or adhere to, decide cases. Policy of the courts to stand by precedent and not to disturb settled point.

State's attorney - An officer who represents the state in securing indictments and in prosecuting criminal cases. In Arizona, a prosecutor is called the county attorney or attorney general.

Statute - An act of the legislature declaring, commanding, or prohibiting something; a particular law enacted and established by the will of the legislative department of government.

Stay - To stop, arrest, or forbear. To stay an order, a legal proceeding or a decree means to hold it in abeyance, or refrain from enforcing it.

Subpoena - A command to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony upon a certain product.

Subpoena duces mecum - A process by which the court, at the instance of a party, commands a witness who has in his possession or control some document or paper that is pertinent to the issues of a pending controversy, to produce it at the trial.

Substantive due process - The constitutional guarantee that no person shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life, liberty or property; the essence of substantive due process is protection from arbitrary and unreasonable action.

Summons - A written notification requiring an individual to appear in court at a specified time or place.

Surety - One who guarantees to pay money.

Suspended sentence - A conviction of a crime followed by a sentence that is given formally, but not actually served. The defendant is not required at the time sentence is imposed to serve the sentence. Probation is given in-lieu of a suspended prison sentence.

Sustain - To carry on; to maintain. To grant, as when a judge sustains an objection to testimony or evidence, he or she agrees with the objection and gives it effect.

Tampering with jury - The act of attempting to influence a juror corruptly by promises, threats, persuasions, entreaties, money or any other means except the production of evidence in open court.

Testimony - Evidence given by a competent witness under oath or affirmation.Transcript - An official copy of the record of proceedings in a trial or hearing.

Trial court - The court of original jurisdiction; the first court to consider litigation. Used in contrast to appellate court.

True bill - The endorsement made by a grand jury upon a bill of indictment, when they find it sustained by the evidence laid before them, and is satisfied of the truth of the accusation. The endorsement made by the grand jury when they find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal charge.

Unlawful act - Act contrary to law, and presupposes that there must be an existing law.

Vacate - To annul, to set aside; to cancel or rescind. To render an act void.

Verdict - The formal decision or finding made by a jury.

Vice crimes - Generic term applied to crimes of immorality such as prostitution, lewd and lascivious behavior and obscenity.

Victim - The person who is the object of a crime.

Victimless crime - The term applied to a crime, which generally involves only the criminal as in the crime of illegal possession of drugs.

Vindicate - To clear of suspension, blame or doubt.

Voir dire - A French phrase which means: to speak the truth. This phrase denotes the preliminary examination, which the court may make one presented as a witness or juror, where his competency, interest, etc., is objected to.

Wanton act - Act done in reckless disregard of the rights of others, evincing a reckless indifference to consequences to the life, or limb, or health, or reputation or property rights of another and is more than negligence or gross negligence.


  • Arrest warrant - A written order, which is made on behalf of the state and is based upon a complaint issued pursuant to statute and/or court rule and which commands a law enforcement officer to arrest a person and bring him before a magistrate. This warrant has a bond amount set.
  • Bench warrant - Process issued by the court itself for the attachment or arrest of a person. No bond is set on this warrant.
  • Outstanding warrant - An order for arrest of a person, which has not been executed.

Willful - Voluntary; intending the results which actually come to pass; designed; intentional.

Willful and wanton act - An act or omission that is not only negligent, but exhibits conscious disregard for safety of others.

Witness - In general, one who, being present, personally sees or perceives a thing. One who testifies to what he has seen, heard, or otherwise observed.

Work release program - A post sentencing correctional program which allows an inmate to leave the institution for the purposes of continuing regular employment during the daytime, but reporting back to lockup nights and weekends.

Writ - An order issued from a court requiring the performance of a specified act, or giving authority to have it done.

Writ of certiorari - An order by the appellate court and the supreme court, which is used when the court has discretion on whether or not to hear an appeal. If the writ is denied, the court refuses to hear the appeal and, in effect the judgment stands unchanged. If the writ is granted, when it has the effect of ordering the lower court to certify the record and send it up to the higher court, which has used its discretion to hear the appeal.

About the Author

Craig Penrod

Craig W. Penrod was born and raised in Arizona and has practiced criminal defense for over 30 years. Mr. Penrod is a member of the State Bar of Arizona, Maricopa County Bar Association, State of Nevada Bar Association, American Bar Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.


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