Someone who intentionally helps another person commit a felony by giving advice before the crime or helping to conceal the evidence or the perpetrator. An accessory is usually not physically present during the crime.

Someone who helps another person (known as the principal) commit a crime. Unlike an accessory, an accomplice is usually present when the crime is committed. An accomplice is guilty of the same offense and usually receives the same sentence as the principal.

A decision by a judge or jury that a defendant in a criminal case is not guilty of a crime. An acquittal is not a finding of innocence; it is simply a conclusion that the prosecution has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Admissible Evidence
The evidence that a trial judge or jury may consider, because the rules of evidence deem it reliable.

A court appearance in which the defendant is formally charged with a crime and asked to respond by pleading guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere. Other matters often handled at the arraignment are arranging for the appointment of a lawyer to represent the defendant and the setting of bail.

A crime that occurs when one person tries to physically harm another in a way that makes the person under attack feel immediately threatened. Actual physical contact is not necessary; threatening gestures that would alarm any reasonable person can constitute an assault.

The money paid to the court, usually at arraignment or shortly thereafter, to ensure that an arrested person who is released from jail will show up at all required court appearances. The amount of bail is determined by the local bail schedule, which is based on the seriousness of the offense.

Blue Law
A statute that forbids or regulates an activity, such as the sale of liquor on Sundays.

A finding by a judge or jury that the defendant is guilty of a crime.
The person against whom a lawsuit is filed. In certain states, and in certain types of lawsuits, the defendant is called the respondent.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
The crime of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs. Complete intoxication is not required; the level of alcohol or drugs in the driver’s body must simply be enough to prevent him from thinking clearly or driving safely.

The many types of information presented to a judge or jury designed to convince them of the truth or falsity of key facts.

Expert Witness
One having special knowledge of the subject about which he or she is testifying. The person must be accepted by the court and must normally testify about facts rather than the law.

Freed from any question of guilt.

To intentionally destroy, obliterate or strike out records or information in files, computers and other depositories.

A serious crime, usually punishable by a prison term of more than one year or, in some cases, by death.

Grand Jury
In criminal cases, a group that decides whether there is enough evidence to justify an indictment (formal charges) and a trial. A grand jury indictment is the first step, after arrest, in any formal prosecution of a felony.

Habeas Corpus
Latin for “You have the body.” A prisoner files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in order to challenge the authority of the prison or jail warden to continue to hold him. If the judge orders a hearing after reading the writ, the prisoner gets to argue that his confinement is illegal. These writs are frequently filed by convicted prisoners who challenge their conviction. Habeas writs are different from and do not replace appeals, which are arguments for reversal of a conviction based on claims that the judge conducted the trial improperly.

The killing of one human being by the act or omission of another. The term applies to all such killings, whether criminal or not.

A crime, less serious than a felony, punishable by no more than one year in jail.

Personal Injury
An injury not to property, but to your body, mind or emotions

The person, corporation or other legal entity that initiates a lawsuit.

Plea Bargain
A negotiation between the defense and prosecution (and sometimes the judge) that settles a criminal case.

A lawyer who works for the local, state or federal government to bring and litigate criminal cases.

Public Defender
A lawyer appointed by the court and paid by the county, state, or federal government to represent clients who are charged with violations of criminal law and are unable to pay for their own defense.

A court order issued at the request of a party requiring a witness to appear in court.

White Collar Crime
Generally encompasses a variety of nonviolent crimes usually committed in commercial situations for financial gain.