Glossary of Court Terms

pexels-photo-cranberry-bog-boardwalkcropAdmissible:  A term used to describe evidence that may be considered by a jury or a judge in civil and criminal cases.

Affirmed:  The Court of Appeals has concluded that the lower court decision is correct and will stand as rendered by the lower court.

Alternate Juror:  A juror selected in the same manner as a regular juror, who hears all the evidence but does not help decide the case unless called upon to replace a regular juror.

Appeal:  A request made after a trial by a party that has lost on one or more issues. A higher court reviews the proceedings to determine if an error of law was made during the trial.

Arraignment:  The court hearing in which the defendant is formally charged with a crime and enters a plea of guilty or not guilty.

Bail:  An amount of money which is sometimes imposed by the court to ensure the defendant´s appearance at future court hearings. A defendant held in custody is required to post bail in order to be released. Bail can be posted either at court or at the House of Correction.

Bench Trial:  A trial without a jury, in which the judge serves as the fact-finder.

Brief:  A written statement submitted in a trial or appellate proceeding that explains one side’s legal and factual arguments.

Brother/Sister:  When speaking to the court, attorneys often refer to opposing counsel as “My Brother” or “My Sister”. The attorneys are not related, they use this reference because they are looked upon as brethren in the law.

Burden of Proof:  The duty to prove disputed facts. In criminal cases, the Commonwealth must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Chambers:  The offices of a judge and his/her staff.

Charging the Jury:  At the conclusion of all evidence and arguments in a case, the judge instructs the jury on how to apply the evidence they heard at trial to the elements of law in each crime charged.

Clerk of court:  An officer of the court who oversees the administrative functions. The clerk manages the flow of cases through the court.

Complaint:  A written statement that begins a case. It details the claims against the defendant.

Concurrent Sentence:  Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served at the same time, rather than one after the other.

Consecutive Sentence:  Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served on and after, or, one after the other. Continuance: A postponement of a case marked for trial or hearing to a later date.

Conviction:  A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.

Counsel:  A term that is used to refer to lawyers in a case. A second definition is to provide legal advice.

Court:  The Government entity authorized to resolve legal disputes. Judges sometimes use “court” to refer to themselves in the third person.

Court Reporter:  A person who makes a word-for-word record of what is said in court. The court reporter generally uses a stenographic machine or an audio recording machine to produce a transcript of the proceedings.

Default:  A defendant´s failure to appear at a required legal proceeding.

Defendant:  A person formally charged with a crime.

Discovery:  disclosure of evidence before trial.

Docket:  A chronological log containing the complete history of each case.

Evidence:  Information presented in the testimony of live witnesses or in documents to the finder of facts (judge or jury) in each case.

Exculpatory Evidence:  Evidence indicating that a defendant did not commit the crime.

Ex Parte:  A proceeding brought before the court by one party only, without notice to or challenge by the other side.

Felony:  A crime punishable by incarceration in the state prison for a period of years.

Grand Jury:  A group of 23 people that hear evidence presented by a prosecutor to determine if a formal criminal charge (indictment) shall be issued in a case.

Habeas Corpus:  A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial order forcing law enforcement authorities to produce a prisoner they are holding, and to justify the prisoner’s continued confinement.

Hearsay:  Evidence presented by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question, but heard about it from someone else. Hearsay is not admissible evidence at trial.

Impeachment:  The process of calling a witness’s’ testimony into doubt.

In Camera:  Reviewing evidence with the court in private, outside the presence of a jury and the public.

Inculpatory Evidence:  Evidence indicating that a defendant did commit the crime.

Indictment:  The formal charge issued by a grand jury stating that there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial. It is used primarily for felonies.

Judge:  An official of the Judicial branch who has the authority to decide lawsuits brought before the court.

Jurisdiction:  The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case. It is a synonym for venue, meaning the geographical area over which a court has territorial jurisdiction to decide cases.

Jury: The group of persons selected to hear the evidence in a trial and render a verdict on matters of fact.

Jury Instructions:  A judge’s directions to the jury before they begin their deliberations. The judge instructs the jury on the factual questions they must answer and the legal rules they must apply.

Misdemeanor:  A crime punishable by a fine or incarceration in the House of Correction for a maximum of 2 1/2 years.

Mistrial:  An invalid trial caused by fundamental error. When a mistrial is declared, the trial must start again with the selection of a new jury.

Motion:  A request by an attorney to the court for a decision on an issue relating to the case.

Motion in Limine:  A pre-trial motion requesting the court to prohibit the other side from presenting or even referring to evidence on matters said to be so highly prejudicial that no steps taken by the court can prevent the jury from being unduly influenced.

Objection:  A lawyer makes an objection when they feel that opposing counsel has violated a rule of evidence. The judge must rule on the objection immediately and either overrule, or sustain the objection.

Overruled:  When an objection is overruled, the judge has made the determination that the objection was invalid. The question may stand, and the witness must answer the question.

Pre-Trial Conference:  The hearing in which the prosecutor and the defense report the status of the case to the court.

Probation: The defendant is placed under the supervision of a probation officer and is required to fulfill certain conditions set forth by the court for a specified period of time.

Probation Officer:  Probation officer duties include conducting presentence evaluations, preparing presentence reports on convicted defendants, and supervising released defendants.

Pro Se:  Representing oneself. Serving as one’s own lawyer.

Prosecute:  To charge someone with a crime.

Prosecutor/Assistant District Attorney tries a criminal case on behalf of the Commonwealth.

Restitution: In some cases, the Judge may order the defendant to pay the out-of-pocket expenses that the victim may have incurred as a result of the crime. Advocates are available to assist in documenting the losses.

Sentencing Recommendations:  When a defendant has pled guilty or has been found guilty after trial, the Judge will consider (but is not required to accept) the recommendations made by the prosecutor, defense attorney and the victim and/or family through Victim Impact Statements.

Sequester:  To separate.

Statute:  A law passed by the legislature

Statute of Limitations:  The timeframe in which criminal prosecution must begin. The deadline can vary depending upon the crime charged.

Sustained:  When an objection is sustained, a judge has made the determination that it is a valid objection. That means the question was improper under the rules of evidence. The witness may not answer the question.

Subpoena/Summons:  A Court Order which requires a person’s appearance at court. Failure to appear under court order is considered as a Contempt of Court.

Testimony:  Evidence presented orally by a witness in a trial, or to a Grand Jury.

Transcript:  A word-for-word record of what was said during a trial, or Grand Jury.

Venue:  The geographical area in which a court has jurisdiction. A change of venue is a transfer of a case from one judicial district to another.

Verdict:  The decision of a trial jury or a judge that determines whether the criminal defendant is guilty or not guilty of the crimes charged.

Voir Dire: Jury selection process of questioning prospective jurors individually to ascertain their qualifications and determine any basis for a challenge.

Warrant: Court authorization for law enforcement officers to conduct a search or make an arrest.

Witness:  A person called upon by either side in a lawsuit to give testimony before the court or jury.