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LEGAL TERMS

IMPEACH

(1) To discredit. To impeach a witness' credibility, for example, is to show that the witness is not believable. A witness may be impeached by showing that he h... (more...)
(1) To discredit. To impeach a witness' credibility, for example, is to show that the witness is not believable. A witness may be impeached by showing that he has made statements that are inconsistent with his present testimony, or that he has a reputation for not being a truthful person. (2) The process of charging a public official, such as the President or a federal judge, with a crime or misconduct and removing the official from office.

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.

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.

LINEUP

A procedure in which the police place a suspect in a line with a group of other people and ask an eyewitness to the crime to identify the person he saw at the c... (more...)
A procedure in which the police place a suspect in a line with a group of other people and ask an eyewitness to the crime to identify the person he saw at the crime scene. The police are supposed to choose similar-looking people to appear with the suspect. If the suspect alone matches the physical description of the perpetrator, evidence of the identification can be attacked at trial. For example, if the robber is described as a Latino male, and the suspect, a Latino male, is placed in a lineup with ten white males, a witness' identification of him as the robber will be challenged by the defense attorney.

MENS REA

The mental component of criminal liability. To be guilty of most crimes, a defendant must have committed the criminal act (the actus reus) in a certain mental s... (more...)
The mental component of criminal liability. To be guilty of most crimes, a defendant must have committed the criminal act (the actus reus) in a certain mental state (the mens rea). The mens rea of robbery, for example, is the intent to permanently deprive the owner of his property.

IRRESISTIBLE IMPULSE TEST

A seldom-used test for criminal insanity that labels the person insane if he could not control his actions when committing the crime, even though he knew his ac... (more...)
A seldom-used test for criminal insanity that labels the person insane if he could not control his actions when committing the crime, even though he knew his actions were wrong.

PLEA BARGAIN

A negotiation between the defense and prosecution (and sometimes the judge) that settles a criminal case. The defendant typically pleads guilty to a lesser crim... (more...)
A negotiation between the defense and prosecution (and sometimes the judge) that settles a criminal case. The defendant typically pleads guilty to a lesser crime (or fewer charges) than originally charged, in exchange for a guaranteed sentence that is shorter than what the defendant could face if convicted at trial. The prosecution gets the certainty of a conviction and a known sentence; the defendant avoids the risk of a higher sentence; and the judge gets to move on to other cases.

ACCOMPLICE

Someone who helps another person (known as the principal) commit a crime. Unlike an accessory, an accomplice is usually present when the crime is committed. An ... (more...)
Someone who helps another person (known as the principal) commit a crime. Unlike an accessory, an accomplice is usually present when the crime is committed. An accomplice is guilty of the same offense and usually receives the same sentence as the principal. For instance, the driver of the getaway car for a burglary is an accomplice and will be guilty of the burglary even though he may not have entered the building.

WARRANT

See search warrant or arrest warrant.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

Commonwealth v. Vick

... Further, the defendant continues, the judge's instruction was highly prejudicial because it improperly suggested to the jury that his statements and actions may have had criminal connotations when, in the defendant's view, the evidence against him was far from overwhelming. ...

Commonwealth v. Bostock

... The underlying policies of Gonsalves urge us not to extend its holding to a case where the police have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. ... Id. at 663. A reasonable suspicion of criminal activity is justification to act in a more intrusive manner. ...

Wenger v. Aceto

... On February 3, the defendant had the formal written demand delivered by hand to the plaintiff. In the letter, the defendant notified the plaintiff of his intent to apply for criminal charges against him if he (the plaintiff) failed to provide payment as promised. ...