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LEGAL TERMS

CRIMINAL INSANITY

A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to ditinguish right... (more...)
A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to ditinguish right from wrong. Defendants who are criminally insane cannot be convicted of a crime, since criminal conduct involves the conscious intent to do wrong -- a choice that the criminally insane cannot meaningfully make. See also irresistible impulse; McNaghten Rule.

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.

ASSAULT

A crime that occurs when one person tries to physically harm another in a way that makes the person under attack feel immediately threatened. Actual physical co... (more...)
A crime that occurs when one person tries to physically harm another in a way that makes the person under attack feel immediately threatened. Actual physical contact is not necessary; threatening gestures that would alarm any reasonable person can constitute an assault. Compare battery.

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.

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.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

Evidence that proves a fact by means of an inference. For example, from the evidence that a person was seen running away from the scene of a crime, a judge or j... (more...)
Evidence that proves a fact by means of an inference. For example, from the evidence that a person was seen running away from the scene of a crime, a judge or jury may infer that the person committed the crime.

NOLLE PROSEQUI

Latin for 'we shall no longer prosecute.' At trial, this is an entry made on the record by a prosecutor in a criminal case stating that he will no longer pursue... (more...)
Latin for 'we shall no longer prosecute.' At trial, this is an entry made on the record by a prosecutor in a criminal case stating that he will no longer pursue the matter. An entry of nolle prosequi may be made at any time after charges are brought and before a verdict is returned or a plea entered. Essentially, it is an admission on the part of the prosecution that some aspect of its case against the defendant has fallen apart. Most of the time, prosecutors need a judge's A1:C576 to 'nol-pros' a case. (See Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48a.) Abbreviated 'nol. pros.' or 'nol-pros.'

ARREST

A situation in which the police detain a person in a manner that, to any reasonable person, makes it clear she is not free to leave. A person can be 'under arre... (more...)
A situation in which the police detain a person in a manner that, to any reasonable person, makes it clear she is not free to leave. A person can be 'under arrest' even though the police have not announced it; nor are handcuffs or physical restraint necessary. Questioning an arrested person about her involvement in or knowledge of a crime must be preceded by the Miranda warnings if the police intend to use the answers against the person in a criminal case. If the arrested person chooses to remain silent, the questioning must stop.

DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE (DUI)

The crime of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs. Complete intoxication is not required; the l... (more...)
The crime of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs. Complete intoxication is not required; the level of alcohol or drugs in the driver's body must simply be enough to prevent him from thinking clearly or driving safely. State laws specify the levels of blood alcohol content at which a person is presumed to be under the influence. Also called driving while intoxicated (DWI and drunk driving).

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

McKnight v. State

... II. Jury instructions. a. Criminal intent under the Homicide by Child Abuse statute. McKnight argues that counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the trial court's charge on the measure of criminal intent required for conviction under the Homicide by Child Abuse (HCA) statute. ...

Zurcher v. Bilton

... The trial court granted Respondents' motion for summary judgment as to each claim on the grounds that Appellant's Alford plea in a previous criminal proceeding collaterally estopped Appellant from litigating a civil claim based on the same facts as the criminal conviction. ...

Price v. Turner

... of Meghan, Rohling, Kelly, Dechert, LLP, of Philadelphia, Susan King Dunn, of Charleston, for Amici Curiae, The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, South Carolina National Office, the Brennan Center for Justice, The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers ...