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LEGAL TERMS

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).

BURGLARY

The crime of breaking into and entering a building with the intention to commit a felony. The breaking and entering need not be by force, and the felony need no... (more...)
The crime of breaking into and entering a building with the intention to commit a felony. The breaking and entering need not be by force, and the felony need not be theft. For instance, someone would be guilty of burglary if he entered a house through an unlocked door in order to commit a murder.

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.

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.

BAIL

The money paid to the court, usually at arraignment or shortly thereafter, to ensure that an arrested person who is released from jail will show up at all requi... (more...)
The money paid to the court, usually at arraignment or shortly thereafter, to ensure that an arrested person who is released from jail will show up at all required court appearances. The amount of bail is determined by the local bail schedule, which is based on the seriousness of the offense. The judge can increase the bail if the prosecutor convinces him that the defendant is likely to flee (for example, if he has failed to show up in court in the past), or he can decrease it if the defense attorney shows that the defendant is unlikely to run (for example, he has strong ties to the community by way of a steady job and a family).

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.

INFORMATION

The name of the document, sometimes called a criminal complaint or petition in which a prosecutor charges a criminal defendant with a crime, either a felony or ... (more...)
The name of the document, sometimes called a criminal complaint or petition in which a prosecutor charges a criminal defendant with a crime, either a felony or a misdemeanor. The information tells the defendant what crime he is charged with, against whom and when the offense allegedly occurred, but the prosecutor is not obliged to go into great detail. If the defendant wants more specifics, he must ask for it by way of a discovery request. Compare indictment.

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.

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.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

People v. Albillar

... Code, §§ 261, subd. (a)(2), 264.1), forcible sexual penetration while acting in concert (id., §§ 289, subd. (a)(1), 264.1), and active participation in a criminal street gang (id., § 186.22, subd. (a)). The jury further found that the sex ...

In re Lawrence

... 1189 Carrie L. Hempel, Michael J. Brennan and Heidi L. Rummel for Petitioner Sandra Davis Lawrence. Munger, Tolles & Olson, Blanca F. Young and Hailyn J. Chen for Stanford Criminal Justice Center as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner Sandra Davis Lawrence. ...

People v. Vazquez

... (b)-(d)), and that he committed the murder for the benefit of, at the direction of, and in association with a criminal street gang (§ 186.22, subd. (b)(1)(C)). Appellant was sentenced to a total term in state prison of 50 years to life. ...