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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.

IMPRISON

To put a person in prison or jail or otherwise confine him as punishment for committing a crime.

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.

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.

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.

CIVIL

Noncriminal. See civil case.

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.

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.

EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE

The privilege that allows the president and other high officials of the executive branch to keep certain communications private if disclosing those communicatio... (more...)
The privilege that allows the president and other high officials of the executive branch to keep certain communications private if disclosing those communications would disrupt the functions or decisionmaking processes of the executive branch. As demonstrated by the Watergate hearings, this privilege does not extend to information germane to a criminal investigation.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

People v. Leonard

... Defendant Finis Leonard was convicted by a jury of the offenses of habitual armed criminal and unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon and sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment of 30 years and 10 years, respectively. He appealed. We affirm. FACTS. ...

People v. Jackson

... were, therefore, admissible. Defendant also filed a motion in limine to preclude any evidence of his 1998 conviction for criminal sexual assault, which had required him to submit a DNA sample to be placed in a database. At the ...

People v. Pelo

... Interveners-appellants, The Pantagraph newspaper and its reporter Edith Brady Lunny (Pantagraph), filed a petition to intervene and gain access to an evidence deposition in a criminal case, People v. Pelo (Nos. ... The underlying criminal case, People v. Pelo (Nos. ...