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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.

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.

HUNG JURY

A jury unable to come to a final decision, resulting in a mistrial. Judges do their best to avoid hung juries, typically sending juries back into deliberations ... (more...)
A jury unable to come to a final decision, resulting in a mistrial. Judges do their best to avoid hung juries, typically sending juries back into deliberations with an assurance (sometimes known as a 'dynamite charge') that they will be able to reach a decision if they try harder. If a mistrial is declared, the case is tried again unless the parties settle the case (in a civil case) or the prosecution dismisses the charges or offers a plea bargain (in a criminal case).

MENS REA

The mental component of criminal liability. To be guilty of most crimes, a defendant must have committed the criminal act (the actus reus) in a certain mental s... (more...)
The mental component of criminal liability. To be guilty of most crimes, a defendant must have committed the criminal act (the actus reus) in a certain mental state (the mens rea). The mens rea of robbery, for example, is the intent to permanently deprive the owner of his property.

ELEMENTS (OF A CRIME)

The component parts of crimes. For example, 'Robbery' is defined as the taking and carrying away of property of another by force or fear with the intent to perm... (more...)
The component parts of crimes. For example, 'Robbery' is defined as the taking and carrying away of property of another by force or fear with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Each of those four parts is an element that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

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 f... (more...)
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.

PROSECUTE

When a local District Attorney, state Attorney General or federal United States Attorney brings a criminal case against a defendant.

INFRACTION

A minor violation of the law that is punishable only by a fine--for example, a traffic or parking ticket. Not all vehicle-related violations are infractions, ho... (more...)
A minor violation of the law that is punishable only by a fine--for example, a traffic or parking ticket. Not all vehicle-related violations are infractions, however--refusing to identify oneself when involved in an accident is a misdemeanor in some states.

WARRANT

See search warrant or arrest warrant.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

People v. Thomas

... II. Untimeliness of Appeal. CAR 4(b) governs criminal appeals and requires that an appeal must be filed within forty-five days of entry of the judgment or order being appealed. ... P. 35. The rules of criminal procedure do not authorize a motion to reconsider postconviction orders. ...

People v. Martinez

... Once inside, the officer observed neither evidence of drug activity nor other criminal activity by any person inside the house, including the defendant. ... The stop was not based on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and therefore constituted an unconstitutional seizure. ...

People v. Thompson

... We hold that the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act ("the 1144 CCJRA"), sections 24-72-301 to -309, CRS (2007), requires the indictment to be released for public inspection in its entirety, subject only to the deletion of identifying information of any alleged sexual assault ...