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LEGAL TERMS

DIRECTED VERDICT

A ruling by a judge, typically made after the plaintiff has presented all of her evidence but before the defendant puts on his case, that awards judgment to the... (more...)
A ruling by a judge, typically made after the plaintiff has presented all of her evidence but before the defendant puts on his case, that awards judgment to the defendant. A directed verdict is usually made because the judge concludes the plaintiff has failed to offer the minimum amount of evidence to prove her case even if there were no opposition. In other words, the judge is saying that, as a matter of law, no reasonable jury could decide in the plaintiff's favor. In a criminal case, a directed verdict is a judgement of acquittal for the defendant.

INSANITY

See criminal insanity.

PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE

One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, holding that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the prosecu... (more...)
One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, holding that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each element of the crime charged.

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.

ACTUS REUS

Latin for a 'guilty act.' The actus reus is the act which, in combination with a certain mental state, such as intent or recklessness, constitutes a crime. For ... (more...)
Latin for a 'guilty act.' The actus reus is the act which, in combination with a certain mental state, such as intent or recklessness, constitutes a crime. For example, the crime of theft requires physically taking something (the actus reus) coupled with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the object (the mental state, or mens rea).

CONSTABLE

A peace officer for a particular geographic area -- most often a rural county -- who commonly has the power to serve legal papers, arrest lawbreakers and keep t... (more...)
A peace officer for a particular geographic area -- most often a rural county -- who commonly has the power to serve legal papers, arrest lawbreakers and keep the peace. Depending on the state, a constable may be similar to a marshal or sheriff.

SENTENCE

Punishment in a criminal case. A sentence can range from a fine and community service to life imprisonment or death. For most crimes, the sentence is chosen by ... (more...)
Punishment in a criminal case. A sentence can range from a fine and community service to life imprisonment or death. For most crimes, the sentence is chosen by the trial judge; the jury chooses the sentence only in a capital case, when it must choose between life in prison without parole and death.

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.'

BURDEN OF PROOF

A party's job of convincing the decisionmaker in a trial that the party's version of the facts is true. In a civil trial, it means that the plaintiff must convi... (more...)
A party's job of convincing the decisionmaker in a trial that the party's version of the facts is true. In a civil trial, it means that the plaintiff must convince the judge or jury 'by a preponderance of the evidence' that the plaintiff's version is true -- that is, over 50% of the believable evidence is in the plaintiff's favor. In a criminal case, because a person's liberty is at stake, the government has a harder job, and must convince the judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

People v. Albillar

... Code, §§ 261, subd. (a)(2), 264.1), forcible sexual penetration while acting in concert (id., §§ 289, subd. (a)(1), 264.1), and active participation in a criminal street gang (id., § 186.22, subd. (a)). The jury further found that the sex ...

In re Lawrence

... 1189 Carrie L. Hempel, Michael J. Brennan and Heidi L. Rummel for Petitioner Sandra Davis Lawrence. Munger, Tolles & Olson, Blanca F. Young and Hailyn J. Chen for Stanford Criminal Justice Center as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner Sandra Davis Lawrence. ...

People v. Vazquez

... (b)-(d)), and that he committed the murder for the benefit of, at the direction of, and in association with a criminal street gang (§ 186.22, subd. (b)(1)(C)). Appellant was sentenced to a total term in state prison of 50 years to life. ...