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LEGAL TERMS

ACQUITTAL

A decision by a judge or jury that a defendant in a criminal case is not guilty of a crime. An acquittal is not a finding of innocence; it is simply a conclusio... (more...)
A decision by a judge or jury that a defendant in a criminal case is not guilty of a crime. An acquittal is not a finding of innocence; it is simply a conclusion that the prosecution has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

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.

PROBABLE CAUSE

The amount and quality of information police must have before they can arrest or search without a warrant or that a judge must have before she will sign a searc... (more...)
The amount and quality of information police must have before they can arrest or search without a warrant or that a judge must have before she will sign a search warrant allowing the police to conduct a search or arrest a suspect. Reliable information must show that it's more likely than not that a crime has occurred and the suspect is involved.

CONTINGENCY FEE

A method of paying a lawyer for legal representation by which, instead of an hourly or per job fee, the lawyer receives a percentage of the money her client obt... (more...)
A method of paying a lawyer for legal representation by which, instead of an hourly or per job fee, the lawyer receives a percentage of the money her client obtains after settling or winning the case. Often contingency fee agreements -- which are most commonly used in personal injury cases -- award the successful lawyer between 20% and 50% of the amount recovered. Lawyers representing defendants charged with crimes may not charge contingency fees. In most states, contingency fee agreements must be in writing.

MISTRIAL

A trial that ends prematurely and without a judgment, due either to a mistake that jeopardizes a party's right to a fair trial or to a jury that can't agree on ... (more...)
A trial that ends prematurely and without a judgment, due either to a mistake that jeopardizes a party's right to a fair trial or to a jury that can't agree on a verdict (a hung jury) If a judge declares a mistrial in a civil case, he or she will direct that the case be set for a new trial at a future date. Mistrials in criminal cases can result in a retrial, a plea bargain or a dismissal of the charges.

CRIME

A type of behavior that is has been defined by the state, as deserving of punishment which usually includes imprisonment. Crimes and their punishments are defin... (more...)
A type of behavior that is has been defined by the state, as deserving of punishment which usually includes imprisonment. Crimes and their punishments are defined by Congress and state legislatures.

LEGISLATIVE IMMUNITY

A legal doctrine that prevents legislators from being sued for actions performed and decisions made in the course of serving in government. This doctrine does n... (more...)
A legal doctrine that prevents legislators from being sued for actions performed and decisions made in the course of serving in government. This doctrine does not protect legislators from criminal prosecution, nor does it relieve them from responsibility for actions outside the scope of their office, such as the nefarious activities of former Senator Bob Packwood.

MOTION IN LIMINE

A request submitted to the court before trial in an attempt to exclude evidence from the proceedings. A motion in limine is usually made by a party when simply ... (more...)
A request submitted to the court before trial in an attempt to exclude evidence from the proceedings. A motion in limine is usually made by a party when simply the mention of the evidence would prejudice the jury against that party, even if the judge later instructed the jury to disregard the evidence. For example, if a defendant in a criminal trial were questioned and confessed to the crime without having been read his Miranda rights, his lawyer would file a motion in limine to keep evidence of the confession out of the trial.

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

Commonwealth v. Gunter

... Paul Gunter was convicted of murder in the first degree on a theory of felony-murder, in violation of GL c. 265, § 1; armed assault in a dwelling with intent to commit a felony, in violation of GL c. 265, § 18A; and illegal possession of a firearm, in violation of GL c. 269, § 10 (a). This ...

Commonwealth v. Womack

... Catherine Langevin Semel, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth. SPINA, J. The defendant was convicted of felony-murder in the first degree. The underlying felony was an armed robbery while masked. The defendant appealed. ...

Commonwealth v. Young

... relief in both cases from a single justice of this court pursuant to GL c. 211, § 3, contending that possessory firearm offenses come within § 58A (1), which permits the Commonwealth to move for pretrial detention if a defendant has been charged with "any other felony that by its ...