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LEGAL TERMS

CRIMINAL LAW

Laws written by Congress and state legislators that make certain behavior illegal and punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. By contrast, civil laws are not p... (more...)
Laws written by Congress and state legislators that make certain behavior illegal and punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. By contrast, civil laws are not punishable by imprisonment. In order to be found guilty of a criminal law, the prosecution must show that the defendant intended to act as he did; in civil law, you may sometimes be responsible for your actions even though you did not intend the consequences. For example, civil law makes you financially responsible for a car accident you caused but didn't intend.

ARRAIGNMENT

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... (more...)
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.

JUSTICE SYSTEM

A term lawyers use to describe the courts and other bureaucracies that handle American's criminal legal business, including offices of various state and federal... (more...)
A term lawyers use to describe the courts and other bureaucracies that handle American's criminal legal business, including offices of various state and federal prosecutors and public defenders. Many people caught up in this system refer to it by less flattering names.

AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES

Circumstances that increase the seriousness or outrageousness of a given crime, and that in turn increase the wrongdoer's penalty or punishment. For example, th... (more...)
Circumstances that increase the seriousness or outrageousness of a given crime, and that in turn increase the wrongdoer's penalty or punishment. For example, the crime of aggravated assault is a physical attack made worse because it is committed with a dangerous weapon, results in severe bodily injury or is made in conjunction with another serious crime. Aggravated assault is usually considered a felony, punishable by a prison sentence.

NOLO CONTENDERE

A plea entered by the defendant in response to being charged with a crime. If a defendant pleads nolo contendere, she neither admits nor denies that she committ... (more...)
A plea entered by the defendant in response to being charged with a crime. If a defendant pleads nolo contendere, she neither admits nor denies that she committed the crime, but agrees to a punishment (usually a fine or jail time) as if guilty. Usually, this type of plea is entered because it can't be used as an admission of guilt if a civil case is held after the criminal trial.

CRIMINAL CASE

A lawsuit brought by a prosecutor employed by the federal, state or local government that charges a person with the commission of a crime.

CONTINGENCY FEE

A method of paying a lawyer for legal representation by which, instead of an hourly or per job fee, the lawyer receives a percentage of the money her client obt... (more...)
A method of paying a lawyer for legal representation by which, instead of an hourly or per job fee, the lawyer receives a percentage of the money her client obtains after settling or winning the case. Often contingency fee agreements -- which are most commonly used in personal injury cases -- award the successful lawyer between 20% and 50% of the amount recovered. Lawyers representing defendants charged with crimes may not charge contingency fees. In most states, contingency fee agreements must be in writing.

BAIL BOND

The money posted by a 'bondsman' for a defendant who cannot afford his bail. The defendant pays a certain portion, usually 10%. If the defendant fails to appear... (more...)
The money posted by a 'bondsman' for a defendant who cannot afford his bail. The defendant pays a certain portion, usually 10%. If the defendant fails to appear for a court hearing, the judge can issue a warrant for his arrest and threaten to 'forfeit,' or keep, the money if the defendant doesn't appear soon. Usually, the bondsman will look for the defendant and bring him back, forcefully if necessary, in order to avoid losing the bail money.

CHARGE

A formal accusation of criminal activity. The prosecuting attorney decides on the charges, after reviewing police reports, witness statements and any other evid... (more...)
A formal accusation of criminal activity. The prosecuting attorney decides on the charges, after reviewing police reports, witness statements and any other evidence of wrongdoing. Formal charges are announced at an arrested person's arraignment.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

McCarthy v. BROWNSTOWN TOWNSHIP

... On March 19, 2007, a local business owner, whose son had been prosecuted for a DUI in Brownstown, came to a board [of trustees] meeting to discuss an anonymous letter alleging a township officer received preferential treatment relating to a DUI stop. ...

People v. Ward

... In State v Eaton, [13] the defendant was arrested for driving while under the influence (DUI) and transported to the county jail. ... Defendant was charged with one count of DUI and one count of possession of a controlled substance. ...

People v. Ward

... In State v. Eaton, [13] the defendant was arrested for driving while under the influence (DUI) and transported to the county jail. ... Defendant was charged with one count of DUI and one count of possession of a controlled substance. ...