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Glossary of Vernaculars for the Criminal Justice Verticals

All of a sudden, you're living your worst nightmare. You've been busted! Now you're facing a set of complex challenges as frighteningly foreign as any you've ever experienced, for stakes as enormous as years of your freedom. You need every advantage you can possibly muster just to survive the overwhelm of this grueling ordeal. First, you faced the shockingly brutal reality of your arrest, booking, and lock-up. As that horrible shockwave began to subside, leaving you nothing but numb, the second shockwave engulfed you. While apologizing profusely to family and friends for your gross imposition, you repeatedly recall your embarrassing tale, while you plead for bail money and a signer's support to spring you from jail. Your impatience is mounting, you've got to get out, they've all got their questions, a story with no fault is bound to cast doubt. After numerous recastings, your long tale's told right, breathing fresh air you realize, victory's in persuasion -- words win this fight. With that lesson in hand, take some time to review the specialized vernacular of the legal system's verticals that for centuries has sustained the elitists' control of justice's hallowed hall while continuing to maintain the status quo of the educated over the masses. Boil a royal stew, Magna Carta, stir in concepts called divine, and the justice that you've cooked up, even eight wise ones can't define. As you can concentrate on retaining the most effective counsel possible and then work to build the strongest case possible for your upcoming day in court, pay special attention to the crucially careful selection of words chosen to portray your actions and intentions, for your future just may depend upon it.

AFFIDAVIT: An individual's written statement, given voluntarily, under oath, before a notary public or official authorized to administer oaths.
ANSWER: A formal statement, generally written, stating the defense of a legal case. 
APPEAL: A request to take a case to a higher court for review. No new evidence may be introduced during the appellate process; the reviewing court considers only whether errors occurred during prior proceedings.
APPEARANCE BOND: In a criminal proceeding, a document representing a commitment guaranteeing that an individual, accused of a crime, will appear in court whenever ordered to do so until the matter at hand is resolved.
APPELLATE COURT: A court having jurisdiction of appeals-not a trial court.
APPELLATE JURISDICTION: The power of a court to review a case that has already been tried by a lower court.
ARRAIGNMENT: The accused is brought before the court to plead to the charge against him.
ATTORNEY: A lawyer; one who is licensed to act as a representative for another in a legal proceeding; an individual licensed to practice law.
ACQUITTAL: A finding by a judge or jury that a person tried for committing a crime is not guilty.
BAIL: To set free a person arrested or imprisoned (pending trial or resolution of an appeal), in exchange for security such as cash. Bail is forfeited if the person fails to appear in court as directed.
BOND: A written instrument in which one party (principle) agrees to perform some act for the benefit of the second party (obliged) and the third party (surety) agrees to pay the sum of money that has been fixed as the penalty if the principle fails to perform. A surety bond assures the appearance of the defendant or the payment of the defendant's bail if the defendant fails to appear.
BOND POSTER: Person who posts an appearance bond
BOND RECALL: The accused has been returned to custody after the bonding agent or other surety financially responsible on a previously set bond elected to be relieved of that obligation by the court.
BONDSMAN: One who gives surety for another
BRIEF: A written document presented to the court by a lawyer setting forth the facts of the case and the law which supports the lawyer's case.
BURDEN OF PROOF: In the law of evidence, the necessity, or duty of affirmatively proving a fact or facts in a dispute.
CAPIAS: A writ commanding the arrest of a person so that he/she may be compelled to appear before the court.
CIVIL CASE: A matter or case pertaining to the private right of an individual.
CHARGES: A formal accusation of having committed a criminal offense.
CODE: A collection of laws arranged into chapters, table of contents, and index, and published by legislative authority. For example, the Iowa Code is a collection of laws approved by the Iowa legislature.
COLLATERAL SECURITY: Something of value given by, or on behalf of, the principal to protect the surety from loss.
COMMON LAW: Law based upon previous decisions of courts.
CONCURRENCE: An agreement.
CONTEMPT BOND: Given in civil contempt cases to guarantee the principal will obey court orders in the future.
CONTEMPT OF COURT: An act which shows disrespect for the court's authority. Contempt usually means a person has failed to obey a court order. Contempt can be punished by a fine or imprisonment.
CONTRACT: A mutual agreement between two or more parties, in which each party gives up something of value but gains something else.
CONVERT: Use of the bond money to pay what the defendant was ordered by the court to pay. The order could include victim restitution, fines and surcharges, attorney fees, or jail fees
CONVICTION: Finding that a person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing a crime.
CRIMINAL CASE: A case concerning an act considered harmful to the general public that is forbidden by law and punishable by fine, imprisonment, or community service.
DAMAGES: An amount of money which may be recovered in the courts by any person who has suffered loss, detriment, or injury through the unlawful act or negligence of another.
DECREE: A decision or order of the court. A final decree is one which fully and finally disposes of litigation; an interlocutory decree is a preliminary decree which disposes of a particular issue within the litigation.
DEFAULT: A "default" in an action at law occurs when a defendant fails to appear at the trial or to plead within the time allowed. Typically, when a defendant defaults, the court enters an order in favor of the plaintiff.
DEFENDANT: A person sued in a civil suit or accused of a crime.
DEPOSITION: The testimony of a witness not taken in open court, but pursuant to authority given by statute or court rule to take testimony elsewhere. Deposition testimony may be introduced as evidence in a court proceeding.
DISSENT: A term denoting the disagreement of one or more judges of a court with the decision of the majority.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: A lawyer elected or appointed to serve as a prosecutor for the state in criminal cases.
DOCKET: A list or index of cases and case events maintained by the clerk of court. A list of cases on a court calendar.
EVIDENCE: A fact presented before a court such as a statement of a witness, an object, etc., that bears on or establishes a point in question.
EXONERATE: To remove a burden or release from a duty.
EXTRADITION: The legal process by which a person who has committed a crime in one state and fled to another state may be returned to the state where the crime was committed
FELONY: A crime considered to be of a graver nature than a misdemeanor. Examples of felonies include murder, kidnapping, manslaughter, burglary, robbery, and certain types of sexual abuse.
FORFEITURE: To surrender something as a penalty for having failed to comply with a legally recognized obligation.
FUGITIVE: One who leaves the jurisdiction of a court or who hides within the jurisdiction to avoid prosecution.
GRAND JURY: A group of citizens whose duty it is to inquire into a crime to determine if an indictment against a suspected criminal is warranted.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM: Appointed by the court to represent an infant or child in a particular litigation.
HABEAS CORPUS: "You have the body." A petition to bring a person before a court or a judge. In most common usage, it is directed to the official person detaining another, commanding that the person to produce the body of the prisoner or person detained so the court may determine if such a person had been denied his or her liberty without the process of law.
INCARCERATION: Confinement in a jail or prison.
INDICTMENT: An accusation in writing found and issued by a grand jury, charging that a person named has done some act, or is guilty of some omission, which by law is a crime.
INFORMATION: A formal accusation of crime, based on an affidavit of a person allegedly having knowledge of the offense.
INSTRUCTIONS: Directions given by the judge to the jury concerning the law of the case.
INTERLOCUTORY: Preliminary. An interlocutory appeal involves an appeal of a matter within a case before the case is concluded or final.
INTERROGATORIES: Written questions propounded by one party and served on an adversary, who must provide written answers under oath; a discovery procedure in preparation for a trial.
JURISDICTION: The right and power to interpret and apply the law. The extent of authority or control.
JURY: A number of people, selected according to law, sworn to inquire of certain matters of fact and declare the truth upon evidence laid before them.
JUVENILE CASES: Matters involving children (under 18 years old), including neglected or abused children or those accused of delinquent acts.
LIEN: An encumbrance upon property, usually as security for a debt or obligation.
MANDAMUS: The name of a writ which is issued from a court of superior jurisdiction, directed to a lower court or a public officer, commanding the performance of a particular act.
MISDEMEANOR: Offenses considered less serious than felonies. There are three classes of misdemeanors-simple, serious, and aggravated. Examples of misdemeanors include minor traffic violations, thefts of property not exceeding $500 in value, trespass, and disorderly conduct.
MOTION: An application to the court requesting action in a pending case. Usually, a motion concerns an issue with the court's discretion.
NEGLIGENCE: The omission or neglect of reasonable precaution, care, or action.
NOTICE OF APPEAL: A filing made with an appellate court to appeal a ruling made by a lower court.
OPINION: A formal statement by a judge or justice of the law bearing on a case.
ORDINANCE: A law passed by a city, town, or county legislative body.
ORIGINAL JURISDICTION: The power of a court to hear a case for the first time instead of waiting for the case to be tried in a lower court.
ORIGINAL NOTICE: A document filed in court to begin a law suit. The notice of the filing of a lawsuit served on a defendant, stating a time in which a response must be filed.
PARTIES: The persons who are actively concerned in the prosecution or defense of a legal proceeding.
PETITION: Written application to a court requesting a remedy available under law.
PLAINTIFF: A person who brings an action; the party who complains or sues in a personal action and is so named on the record.
PLEADING: A formal statement, generally written, propounding the case of action or the defense of a legal case.
POWER OF ATTORNEY: A written instrument authorizing an agent to perform certain acts on behalf of the principle.
PRELIMINARY HEARING: Synonymous with preliminary examinations; the hearing given before a magistrate or a judge to determine whether a person charged with a crime should be held for trial.
PRESENTENCE INVESTIGATION REPORT: A report, generally prepared by a probation officer, which presents pertinent information needed by a judge to sentence a person convicted of a crime.
PRIMA FACIE: So far as can be judged; presumably; a fact presumed to be true unless disproved by some evidence to the contrary.
PROBABLE CAUSE: A constitutionally prescribed standard of proof; a reasonable ground for belief in the existence of certain facts. The burden of proof necessary for an indictment or trial information.
PROBATION: A type of criminal sentence in which an offender agrees to certain court imposed conditions rather than go to jail or prison.
PROSECUTE: To initiate legal or criminal court action against an accused.
PROSECUTOR: One who initiates an accusation against a party suspected of committing a crime; also one who takes charge of a case or performs the function of a trial lawyer in a criminal case on behalf of the state or the people.
PUBLIC DEFENDER: A lawyer employed by the government to represent a person accused of a crime but who cannot afford to hire a lawyer.
PUNITIVE DAMAGES: Damages in excess of actual damages that are assessed as a form of punishment. Typically, punitive damages apply when a defendant's behavior is found to have been willful or malicious.
REBUTTAL EVIDENCE: Evidence given to explain or disprove facts given in evidence by the opposing party.
RECOGNIZANCE: An obligation of record that is entered into before a court or magistrate, containing a condition to perform a particular act, such as making a court appearance.
RESTITUTION: An equitable remedy under which a person is restored to his or her original position prior to loss or injury.
SCHEDULED VIOLATION: An offense, typically a traffic offense, in which the exact amount of fine is set by law. (See Uniform Citation)
SENTENCE: Judgment formally pronounced by a judge upon defendant after the defendant's conviction in the criminal prosecution.
SERVICE OF PROCESS: The act of providing an opposing party with notice of a pleading or action to assure that the opposing party is aware of the action and is given an opportunity to appear.
STATUTE: A law adopted by the legislature.
STIPULATION: An agreement by attorneys on opposite sides of a case as to any manner pertaining to the proceedings or trial; stipulations must be in writing and agreed to by the parties.
SURETY: One who undertakes to pay an accused is delivered to the proper authorities.
TESTIMONY: Spoken evidence given by a confident witness, under oath, as distinguished by evidence derived by writings and other sources.
TORT: An injury or wrong committed against another person or another person's property.
TRANSCRIPTS: A copy of the record of a trial, hearing, or other proceeding as prepared by a court reporter.
TRIAL INFORMATION: A document filed by the prosecutor, which states the charges and evidence against a defendant in a criminal case.
UNIFORM CITATION: A statutory procedure which allows a peace officer to issue a citation in lieu of arrest. Typically, uniform citations are authorized for traffic offenses and other types of violations that are considered less serious offenses.
VERDICT: The formal decision or finding made by a jury and accepted by the court.
VOIRE DIRE: An inquiry of prospective jurors, by the attorneys and by the judge, to determine if such jurors are fit for jury duty in a given case.
WARRANT: A writ or order authorizing a law enforcement officer to make an arrest, conduct a search, or to perform some other designated act.
WITNESS: One who testifies to what he or she has seen, heard, or otherwise observed or testifies to his or her opinion based on a hypothetical statement.
WRIT: An order issued from a court requiring the performance of a specified act, or giving authority and commission to having it done.

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