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LEGAL TERMS

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.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT

The burden of proof that the prosecution must carry in a criminal trial to obtain a guilty verdict. Reasonable doubt is sometimes explained as being convinced '... (more...)
The burden of proof that the prosecution must carry in a criminal trial to obtain a guilty verdict. Reasonable doubt is sometimes explained as being convinced 'to a moral certainty.' The jury must be convinced that the defendant committed each element of the crime before returning a guilty verdict.

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).

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.

BOOKING

A quaint phrase that refers to the recording of an arrested person's name, age, address and reason for arrest when that person is brought to jail and placed beh... (more...)
A quaint phrase that refers to the recording of an arrested person's name, age, address and reason for arrest when that person is brought to jail and placed behind bars. Nowadays, the book is likely to be a computer. Usually, a mug shot and fingerprints are taken, and the arrestee's clothing and personal effects are inventoried and stored.

DISCOVERY

A formal investigation -- governed by court rules -- that is conducted before trial. Discovery allows one party to question other parties, and sometimes witness... (more...)
A formal investigation -- governed by court rules -- that is conducted before trial. Discovery allows one party to question other parties, and sometimes witnesses. It also allows one party to force the others to produce requested documents or other physical evidence. The most common types of discovery are interrogatories, consisting of written questions the other party must answer under penalty of perjury, and depositions, which involve an in-person session at which one party to a lawsuit has the opportunity to ask oral questions of the other party or her witnesses under oath while a written transcript is made by a court reporter. Other types of pretrial discovery consist of written requests to produce documents and requests for admissions, by which one party asks the other to admit or deny key facts in the case. One major purpose of discovery is to assess the strength or weakness of an opponent's case, with the idea of opening settlement talks. Another is to gather information to use at trial. Discovery is also present in criminal cases, in which by law the prosecutor must turn over to the defense any witness statements and any evidence that might tend to exonerate the defendant. Depending on the rules of the court, the defendant may also be obliged to share evidence with the prosecutor.

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.

SENTENCE

Punishment in a criminal case. A sentence can range from a fine and community service to life imprisonment or death. For most crimes, the sentence is chosen by ... (more...)
Punishment in a criminal case. A sentence can range from a fine and community service to life imprisonment or death. For most crimes, the sentence is chosen by the trial judge; the jury chooses the sentence only in a capital case, when it must choose between life in prison without parole and death.

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

Coleman v. Com.

... KELSEY, Judge. On appeal, Armand Monet Coleman challenges the sufficiency of the evidence underlying his conviction for felony eluding in violation of Code § 46.2-817(B). We find the evidence sufficient and affirm Coleman's conviction. I. ...

Waller v. Com.

... OPINION BY Senior Justice HARRY L. CARRICO. In a bench trial held in the Circuit Court of Pittsylvania County, the defendant, James Lester Waller, was convicted of the possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a violent felony. ...

Ferguson v. Com.

... Appellant also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to convict him of the felony child neglect charge. A panel ... conviction. Legette, 33 Va.App. 221, 532 SE2d 353. B. THE FELONY CHILD NEGLECT CHARGE. Appellant ...