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LEGAL TERMS

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 continu... (more...)
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 on the grounds that the trial attorney failed to prepare the defense and was incompetent. Prisoners sentenced to death also file habeas petitions challenging the constitutionality of the state death penalty law. 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. Often, convicted prisoners file both.

ARREST

A situation in which the police detain a person in a manner that, to any reasonable person, makes it clear she is not free to leave. A person can be 'under arre... (more...)
A situation in which the police detain a person in a manner that, to any reasonable person, makes it clear she is not free to leave. A person can be 'under arrest' even though the police have not announced it; nor are handcuffs or physical restraint necessary. Questioning an arrested person about her involvement in or knowledge of a crime must be preceded by the Miranda warnings if the police intend to use the answers against the person in a criminal case. If the arrested person chooses to remain silent, the questioning must stop.

WARRANT

See search warrant or arrest warrant.

CAPITAL CASE

A prosecution for murder in which the jury is also asked to decide if the defendant is guilty and, if he is, whether he should be put to death. When a prosecuto... (more...)
A prosecution for murder in which the jury is also asked to decide if the defendant is guilty and, if he is, whether he should be put to death. When a prosecutor brings a capital case (also called a death penalty case), she must charge one or more 'special circumstances' that the jury must find to be true in order to sentence the defendant to death. Each state (and the federal government) has its own list of special circumstances, but common ones include multiple murders, use of a bomb or a finding that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.

NOLLE PROSEQUI

Latin for 'we shall no longer prosecute.' At trial, this is an entry made on the record by a prosecutor in a criminal case stating that he will no longer pursue... (more...)
Latin for 'we shall no longer prosecute.' At trial, this is an entry made on the record by a prosecutor in a criminal case stating that he will no longer pursue the matter. An entry of nolle prosequi may be made at any time after charges are brought and before a verdict is returned or a plea entered. Essentially, it is an admission on the part of the prosecution that some aspect of its case against the defendant has fallen apart. Most of the time, prosecutors need a judge's A1:C576 to 'nol-pros' a case. (See Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48a.) Abbreviated 'nol. pros.' or 'nol-pros.'

CRIMINAL INSANITY

A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to ditinguish right... (more...)
A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to ditinguish right from wrong. Defendants who are criminally insane cannot be convicted of a crime, since criminal conduct involves the conscious intent to do wrong -- a choice that the criminally insane cannot meaningfully make. See also irresistible impulse; McNaghten Rule.

ARREST WARRANT

A document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes the police to arrest someone. Warrants are issued when law enforcement personnel present evidence to ... (more...)
A document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes the police to arrest someone. Warrants are issued when law enforcement personnel present evidence to the judge or magistrate that convinces her that it is reasonably likely that a crime has taken place and that the person to be named in the warrant is criminally responsible for that crime.

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.

ACCESSORY

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 acces... (more...)
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. For example, hiding a robber who is being sought by the police might make you an 'accessory after the fact' to a robbery. Compare accomplice.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

Clements v. State

... Following a jury trial, Belinda Clements appeals her conviction of theft by shoplifting (felony), [1] arguing that the trial court erred in precluding her from impeaching a State witness with a prior misdemeanor conviction for theft by conversion, and in denying her motion for new trial ...

Stryker v. State

... ADAMS, Judge. Patrick Stryker appeals from his conviction in a bench trial of the misdemeanor offense of obstruction of an officer. We affirm. ... 507, 512(3) (1871). But these cases have no application here because force is no longer an element of misdemeanor obstruction. ...

In re DH

... any person who is charged with possession of marijuana, which possession is of one ounce or less, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punished by imprisonment for a period not to exceed 12 months or a fine not to exceed $1,000.00, or both, or public works not to exceed 12 ...