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Legal Terms


acquittal: A decision by the trial jury or judge that a person is not guilty of an offense.

adjournment: A postponement of a criminal case.

ACD or Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal: defined in 170.55 and 170.56 of the CPL, it is effectively a pre-adjudication disposition where the defendant promises to stay out of trouble for a period of time - usually six months to one year and the court agrees that if the defendant is successful, the case will be dismissed.

affirmance: A decision by an appeals court that upholds the decision of a lower court.

alternate jurors: Extra jurors chosen in case one of the twelve (or six) jurors become unavailable to serve during the trial.

appeal: A request for review by a higher court of proceedings in a lower court.

appellate judges (Appeals Court): Judges that decide an appeal.

appellate argument: A court proceeding at which an appeal is orally argued before appellate judges.

application for a stay: A request to be released while an appeal is pending.

arraignment: A court proceeding at which a person is informed of the charges against him or her.

arrest: The act of being taken into custody by the police.

bail: Money ordered to be paid to the court in exchange for release from jail while a criminal case is pending.

bench warrant: A court order for a person's arrest that is issued when a person fails to appear in court on a scheduled date.

beyond a reasonable doubt: The burden of proof that the prosecutor must meet at trial in proving that a person is guilty of an offense.

brief: A written legal argument.

calendar part: A courtroom where a case is scheduled for further proceedings.

calendared: Setting a date for court action to occur in a case.

Central Booking: Police Department office where fingerprints and photographs are taken after an arrest.

challenge for cause: A motion to excuse a juror from serving on a jury because he or she could not be fair or for some other reason allowed by law.

charge: Accusation of an offense.

complaint: Verified written accusation by a person.

concurrent sentences: Sentences that are served at the same time.

conditional discharge: A sentence allowing for release from jail without supervision by the Department of Probation, but which requires compliance with conditions set by the court.

consecutive sentences: Sentences that must be served one after another.

conviction: A finding of guilt of an offense, following either a guilty plea or a trial verdict.

Court of Appeals: The highest court in New York State, located in Albany, New York.

Criminal Court: The court where criminal proceedings begin. Misdemeanor cases remain in this court.

cross-examination: Questioning of a witness by the lawyer who has not called the witness.

defendant: A person who has been charged with an offense.

defense: Evidence or arguments presented on behalf of a person accused of an offense.

deliberations: A secret meeting at which the jury considers the evidence presented at trial to decide if a person is guilty of charged offenses.

direct examination: Questioning of a witness by the lawyer who called that witness.

discovery: A process lawyers use to find out information about a case.

evidence: Testimony and exhibits introduced at a hearing or trial.

exhibits: Physical evidence introduced at a hearing or trial.

felony: An offense which is punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of more than one year, or a sentence of death for murder in the first degree.

felony complaint: The first document filed with the court that sets out the initial charges in a felony case.

fine: A sentence that requires the payment of money.

fingerprints: Reproductions of unique finger marks, which are used to identify people.

fingerprint report (rap sheet): A summary of a defendant's prior and/or currently pending arrests and convictions.

grand jury: A group of citizens who decide if the prosecutor has enough evidence to pursue felony charges against a person.

hearing: A court proceeding where testimony is given, exhibits are reviewed, and/or legal arguments are made, to help a judge decide an issue in a case.

homicide: An offense involving the killing of one person by another.

hung jury: A term used to describe a trial jury that cannot reach a unanimous verdict.

indictment: A document that contains the felony (and perhaps also misdemeanor) charges that were voted by the grand jury.

jurors (jury): A group of citizens who decide at trial if a defendant is guilty or not guilty of charges.

jury box: where jury is seated.

jury charge or jury instructions: Explanation of the law read by the judge to the jury.

jury panel: A large number of people from whom the jury is selected.

Juvenile Offender (J.O.): A person who is charged with certain kinds of felony offenses that were committed when the person was thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen years old.

The Legal Aid Society: A private non-profit organization that provides legal representation to people who do not have enough money to pay for a lawyer.

life imprisonment without the possibility of parole: Sentence of imprisonment without the possibility of release.

misdemeanor: An offense punishable by up to one year in jail.

misdemeanor complaint: A document filed with the court that sets out the initial charges in a misdemeanor case.

mistrial: A decision by a judge to end a trial before a verdict is reached.

motion: A request for a judicial order.

objection: A request to a judge for an order prohibiting or excluding certain evidence.

opening statement: Argument to the jury or judge made at the beginning of a trial.

no-bill: Is short hand for 'no True Bill of Indictment". Its effective meaning is that the Grand Jury has heard the case and voted to dismiss it.

order of protection: Is a court order prohibiting contact between a defendant and the crime victim or witness. Usually used in domestic violence cases pre-disposition and/or as part of a sentence in a domestic violence or sex case.

People's appeal: An appeal brought by the prosecutor.

peremptory challenge: A motion to excuse a juror from serving on a jury without any reason given.

plea bargain: An agreement between a defendant, a judge, and a prosecutor, in which the defendant admits guilt, usually in exchange for a promise that a particular sentence will be imposed.

plead guilty (guilty plea): Where a defendant admits to having committed a charged offense.

post bail: pay bail.

pre-sentence memoranda: Documents prepared by the prosecutor and the defendant to help the judge determine a sentence.

pre-sentence report: Report prepared by the Department of Probation containing information to help the judge determine a sentence.

preliminary hearing: A hearing upon a felony complaint.

probation: A sentence that does not involve prison, but requires compliance with certain conditions for a specified period of time under the supervision of the Department of Probation.

Probation, Department of: An agency that prepares a written report concerning a defendant's background and the circumstances surrounding the offense. The Department of Probation also supervises defendants sentenced to probation.

probation officer: An employee of the Department of Probation who prepares pre-sentence reports and supervises defendants placed on probation.

prosecutor: A lawyer who represents the government in criminal cases (also known as the assistant district attorney or A.D.A., the People, or the prosecution).

public defender: Is the embodiment of our 6th Amendment Right to Counsel. "If you cannot afford counsel, a lawyer will be appointed to represent you". So, in essence a Public defender is a free criminal defense lawyer furnished to uphold the indigent defendant's 6th Amendment Rights.

rap sheet (fingerprint report): A summary of a defendant's prior and/or currently pending arrests and convictions.

rebuttal: Evidence or argument made in response to an argument.

remand or remanded to custody: To be sent to jail.

remit: An order by an appeals court sending a case back to a lower court for further proceedings.

restitution: A sentence that requires the payment of money to a victim.

reversal: A decision by an appeals court that rejects the decision of a lower court.

R.O.R.'d (release on recognizance): To be released from jail without bail while a case is pending.

sentence: A punishment imposed by a judge following a conviction.

sentencing: A court proceeding at which a sentence is imposed.

sentencing proceeding: Trial before a jury to determine if a sentence of death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole should be imposed.

split sentence: A jail sentence followed by a period of probation.

summation: Closing argument made at trial.

Superior Court Information (S.C.I.): A written accusation filed by the prosecutor containing felony and perhaps also misdemeanor charges.

suppression order: A court order that prohibits the admission of specific evidence at trial.

Supreme Court: The court where cases involving felonies are heard.

surcharge: A payment of money that is required upon conviction.

surrebuttal: The stage of the trial when a party may offer evidence in response to rebuttal evidence.

sworn oath: A promise to tell the truth.

temporary order of protection: A court order that forbids a person from contacting or being in the presence of a specific person for a specified period of time.

testify (testimony): To speak under oath.

transcripts: Official record of everything that is said in court.

trial: A court proceeding at which a judge or jury decides whether a person is guilty or not guilty of the charges against him or her.

unconditional discharge: A sentence which does not require either any imprisonment or conditions.

vacate: To cancel a court order. A vacated court order has no legal effect.

verdict: The trial judge or jury's decision as to whether a person is guilty or not guilty of charged offenses.

violation: An offense punishable by up to fifteen days in jail and/or a fine.

waive: To give up a legal right.

well: The section of the court containing the tables at which the defendant, prosecutor and lawyers sit.

Youthful Offender (Y.O.): A thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen year old person whose conviction is replaced by a youthful offender adjudication by the court at the time of sentence..