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LEGAL TERMS

SELF-DEFENSE

An affirmative defense to a crime. Self-defense is the use of reasonable force to protect oneself from an aggressor. Self-defense shields a person from criminal... (more...)
An affirmative defense to a crime. Self-defense is the use of reasonable force to protect oneself from an aggressor. Self-defense shields a person from criminal liability for the harm inflicted on the aggressor. For example, a robbery victim who takes the robber's weapon and uses it against the robber during a struggle won't be liable for assault and battery since he can show that his action was reasonably necessary to protect himself from imminent harm.

OWN RECOGNIZANCE (OR)

A way the defendant can get out of jail, without paying bail, by promising to appear in court when next required to be there. Sometimes called 'personal recogni... (more...)
A way the defendant can get out of jail, without paying bail, by promising to appear in court when next required to be there. Sometimes called 'personal recognizance.' Only those with strong ties to the community, such as a steady job, local family and no history of failing to appear in court, are good candidates for 'OR' release. If the charge is very serious, however, OR may not be an option.

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.

LINEUP

A procedure in which the police place a suspect in a line with a group of other people and ask an eyewitness to the crime to identify the person he saw at the c... (more...)
A procedure in which the police place a suspect in a line with a group of other people and ask an eyewitness to the crime to identify the person he saw at the crime scene. The police are supposed to choose similar-looking people to appear with the suspect. If the suspect alone matches the physical description of the perpetrator, evidence of the identification can be attacked at trial. For example, if the robber is described as a Latino male, and the suspect, a Latino male, is placed in a lineup with ten white males, a witness' identification of him as the robber will be challenged by the defense attorney.

PROSECUTOR

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

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).

EXCLUSIONARY RULE

A rule of evidence that disallows the use of illegally obtained evidence in criminal trials. For example, the exclusionary rule would prevent a prosecutor from ... (more...)
A rule of evidence that disallows the use of illegally obtained evidence in criminal trials. For example, the exclusionary rule would prevent a prosecutor from introducing at trial evidence seized during an illegal search.

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.

JURY NULLIFICATION

A decision by the jury to acquit a defendant who has violated a law that the jury believes is unjust or wrong. Jury nullification has always been an option for ... (more...)
A decision by the jury to acquit a defendant who has violated a law that the jury believes is unjust or wrong. Jury nullification has always been an option for juries in England and the United States, although judges will prevent a defense lawyer from urging the jury to acquit on this basis. Nullification was evident during the Vietnam war (when selective service protesters were acquitted by juries opposed to the war) and currently appears in criminal cases when the jury disagrees with the punishment--for example, in 'three strikes' cases when the jury realizes that conviction of a relatively minor offense will result in lifetime imprisonment.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

State v. Bare

... 1st. Every law that makes an action done before the passing of the law; and which was innocent when done, criminal; and punishes such action. 2d. ... A. Legislative Intent. Whether a statutory scheme is civil or criminal is first of all a question of statutory construction. ...

Dogwood Dev. & Mgmt. v. White Oak Transport

... For instance, plain error review is available in criminal appeals, Odom, 307 NC at 660, 300 SE2d at 378, for challenges to jury instructions and evidentiary issues, State v. Cummings, 352 NC 600, 613, 536 SE2d 36, 47 (2000), cert. denied, 532 US 997, 121 S.Ct. ...

State v. Styles

... Under Terry and subsequent cases, a traffic stop is permitted if the officer has a "reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot." Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 US 119, 123, 120 S.Ct. 673, 675, 145 L.Ed.2d 570, 576 (2000). ...