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LEGAL TERMS

AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES

Circumstances that increase the seriousness or outrageousness of a given crime, and that in turn increase the wrongdoer's penalty or punishment. For example, th... (more...)
Circumstances that increase the seriousness or outrageousness of a given crime, and that in turn increase the wrongdoer's penalty or punishment. For example, the crime of aggravated assault is a physical attack made worse because it is committed with a dangerous weapon, results in severe bodily injury or is made in conjunction with another serious crime. Aggravated assault is usually considered a felony, punishable by a prison sentence.

INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE

Testimony or other evidence that fails to meet state or federal court rules governing the types of evidence that can be presented to a judge or jury. The main r... (more...)
Testimony or other evidence that fails to meet state or federal court rules governing the types of evidence that can be presented to a judge or jury. The main reason why evidence is ruled inadmissible is because it falls into a category deemed so unreliable that a court should not consider it as part of a deciding a case --for example, hearsay evidence, or an expert's opinion that is not based on facts generally accepted in the field. Evidence will also be declared inadmissible if it suffers from some other defect--for example, as compared to its value, it will take too long to present or risks enflaming the jury, as might be the case with graphic pictures of a homicide victim. In addition, in criminal cases, evidence that is gathered using illegal methods is commonly ruled inadmissible. Because the rules of evidence are so complicated (and because contesting lawyers waste so much time arguing over them) there is a strong trend towards using mediation or arbitration to resolve civil disputes. In mediation and arbitration, virtually all evidence can be considered. See evidence, admissible evidence.

CORPUS DELECTI

Latin for the 'body of the crime.' Used to describe physical evidence, such as the corpse of a murder victim or the charred frame of a torched building.

PLEA

The defendant's formal answer to criminal charges. Typically defendants enter one of the following pleas: guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere. A plea is usual... (more...)
The defendant's formal answer to criminal charges. Typically defendants enter one of the following pleas: guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere. A plea is usually entered when charges are formally brought (at arraignment).

FALSE IMPRISONMENT

Intentionally restraining another person without having the legal right to do so. It's not necessary that physical force be used; threats or a show of apparent ... (more...)
Intentionally restraining another person without having the legal right to do so. It's not necessary that physical force be used; threats or a show of apparent authority are sufficient. False imprisonment is a misdemeanor and a tort (a civil wrong). If the perpetrator confines the victim for a substantial period of time (or moves him a significant distance) in order to commit a felony, the false imprisonment may become a kidnapping. People who are arrested and get the charges dropped, or are later acquitted, often think that they can sue the arresting officer for false imprisonment (also known as false arrest). These lawsuits rarely succeed: As long as the officer had probable cause to arrest the person, the officer will not be liable for a false arrest, even if it turns out later that the information the officer relied upon was incorrect.

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.

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.

MCNAGHTEN RULE

The earliest and most common test for criminal insanity, in which a criminal defendant is judged legally insane only if he could not distinguish right from wron... (more...)
The earliest and most common test for criminal insanity, in which a criminal defendant is judged legally insane only if he could not distinguish right from wrong at the time he committed the crime. For example, a delusional psychotic who believed that his assaultive acts were in response to the will of God would not be criminally responsible for his acts.

SEARCH WARRANT

An order signed by a judge that directs owners of private property to allow the police to enter and search for items named in the warrant. The judge won't issue... (more...)
An order signed by a judge that directs owners of private property to allow the police to enter and search for items named in the warrant. The judge won't issue the warrant unless she has been convinced that there is probable cause for the search -- that reliable evidence shows that it's more likely than not that a crime has occurred and that the items sought by the police are connected with it and will be found at the location named in the warrant. In limited situations the police may search without a warrant, but they cannot use what they find at trial if the defense can show that there was no probable cause for the search.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

People v. Van Schoyck

... The State maintains that defendant's speedy-trial demand pertained only to the misdemeanor charges and not to the subsequent felony charge. ... The statute designates a violation of any of the above as a Class A misdemeanor. ...

People v. Lucas

... predicate felony for a charge of armed violence. He argued that the enhancement of driving while license revoked from a misdemeanor to a felony was intended for sentencing purposes only. The appellate court relied on the plain ...

People v. Bilelegne

... Defendant, Sisay Bilelegne, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of domestic battery to YW, an 11-year-old family member, in that "he struck him in the left shin with a baseball bat, struck him in the left knee with a hammer, and whipped him with an electric cord" on March ...