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Criminal Law Glossary

Trying to decipher an acronym? Attempting to understand legal jargon? The Criminal Law glossary gives you access to definitions for the Criminal legal terminology commonly used in documents and trials. This Criminal Law glossary will help you understand the legal terms and phrases which are relevant to criminal investigations, arrests, and other areas of criminal law.

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Criminal Law Glossary

  • Beyond A Reasonable Doubt
    The standard in a criminal case that must be met by the prosecution in order to convict the defendant. It means the evidence is fully satisfied, all the facts are proven and guilt is established.
  • Carjacking
    : theft by force or intimidation of an auto that has a driver or passenger present
  • Character Evidence
    see evidence
  • Circumstantial Evidence
    see evidence
  • Crime
    [Middle French, from Latin crimen fault, accusation, crime] 1 : conduct that is prohibited and has a specific punishment (as incarceration or fine) prescribed by public law compare delict, tort 2 : ...
  • Criminal Civil Rights Violation
    A criminal civil rights violation requires that the offender use force or the threat of force against the victim. An assault that is committed because of the victim's race or sexual orientation (i.e. ...
  • Criminal Law
    : public law that deals with crimes and their prosecution compare civil law NOTE: Substantive criminal law defines crimes, and procedural criminal law sets down criminal procedure. Substantive ...
  • Due Process Clause
    : a clause in a constitution prohibiting the government from depriving a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law ;specif often cap D&P&C : such a clause found in the ...
  • Evidence
    [Medieval Latin evidentia, from Latin, that which is obvious, from evident- evidens clear, obvious, from e- out of, from + videns, present participle of videre to see] : something that furnishes or ...
  • Exclusionary Rule
    : any of various rules that exclude or suppress evidence ;specif : a rule of evidence that excludes or suppresses evidence obtained in violation of a defendant's constitutional rights see also fruit ...
  • Expert Testimony
    Testimony given in relation to some scientific, technical, or professional matter by experts, i.e., persons qualified to speak authoritatively by reason of their special training, skill, or ...
  • Federal Rules Of Evidence
    Rules which govern the admissibility of evidence at trials in the Federal District Courts and before U.S. Magistrates. Many states have adopted evidence rules patterned on these federal rules.
  • Felony
    pl: -nies : a crime that has a greater punishment imposed by statute than that imposed on a misdemeanor ;specif : a federal crime for which the punishment may be death or imprisonment for more than ...
  • Guilty Verdict
    a verdict convicting a criminal defendant of a charge or charges. When a verdict of guilty is returned, the court orders a presentence investigation of the defendant and sets a sentencing date.
  • Hearsay
    : a statement made out of court and not under oath which is offered as proof that what is stated is true called also hearsay evidence
  • Insanity
    1 : unsoundness of mind or lack of the ability to understand that prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or that ...
  • M'naghten Test
    [after Daniel M'Naghten, defendant in 1843 murder case heard before the British House of Lords who was acquitted due to his insanity] : a standard under which a criminal defendant is considered to ...
  • Mens Rea
    pl: men·tes re·ae [men-tēz-rē-ē, men-tās-rā-ī] [New Latin, literally, guilty mind] : a culpable mental state ;esp : one involving intent or knowledge and ...
  • Misdemeanor
    : a crime that carries a less severe punishment than a felony ;specif : a crime punishable by a fine and by a term of imprisonment not to be served in a penitentiary and not to exceed one year ...
  • Motive
    [Anglo-French motif, from Middle French motif adjective, moving, from Medieval Latin motivus, from Latin motus, past participle of movēre to move] : something (as a need or desire) that causes a ...
  • Murder
    [partly from Old English morthor; partly from Old French murdre, of Germanic origin] : the crime of unlawfully and unjustifiably killing another under circumstances defined by statute (as with ...
  • Preponderance Of The Evidence
    ;also : the evidence meeting this standard [plaintiffs must show by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant's negligence proximately caused the injuries] compare clear and convincing, ...
  • Procedural
    : of or relating to procedure [sentence reversed as result of error in sentencing "National Law Journal"] compare substantive pro·ce·dur·al·ly adv
  • Prosecution
    1 : the act or process of prosecuting ;esp : the institution and carrying on of a criminal action involving the process of seeking formal charges against a person and pursuing those charges to final ...
  • Public Defender
    : a lawyer usually holding public office who represents criminal defendants unable to pay for legal assistance
  • Reasonable Doubt
    : a doubt esp. about the guilt of a criminal defendant that arises or remains upon fair and thorough consideration of the evidence or lack thereof [all persons are presumed to be innocent and no ...
  • Reasonable Suspicion
    : an objectively justifiable suspicion that is based on specific facts or circumstances and that justifies stopping and sometimes searching (as by frisking) a person thought to be involved in ...
  • Recidivism
    : relapse into criminal behavior
  • Rico (Racketeer Influenced And Corrupt Organization Act)
    A federal (or state) law designed to investigate, control and prosecute organized crime, and to combat the infiltration of organized crime into legitimate business.
  • Search And Seizure
    The body of law that covers the issues of examining a person's property with the intention of finding evidence not in plain view (search) and taking possession of that property against the will of ...
  • Speedy Trial
    : a trial conducted according to prevailing rules and procedures that takes place without unreasonable or undue delay or within a statutory period NOTE: The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed to ...
  • Substantive
    1 : of or relating to a matter of substance as opposed to form or procedure [a issue] [the instructions to the jury] [was dismissed on procedural and grounds] compare procedural 2 : affecting ...
  • Testimony
    pl: -nies [Latin testimonium, from testis witness] : evidence furnished by a witness under oath or affirmation and either orally or in an affidavit or deposition former testimony : testimony that a ...
  • Witness
    [Old English witnes knowledge, testimony, witness, from wit mind, sense, knowledge] 1 a : attestation of a fact or event [in whereof the parties have executed this release] b : evidence (as of the ...