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LEGAL TERMS

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.

LARCENY

Another term for theft. Although the definition of this term differs from state to state, it typically means taking property belonging to another with the inten... (more...)
Another term for theft. Although the definition of this term differs from state to state, it typically means taking property belonging to another with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. If the taking is non forceful, it is larceny; if it is accompanied by force or fear directed against a person, it is robbery, a much more serious offense.

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.

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.

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).

CONSTABLE

A peace officer for a particular geographic area -- most often a rural county -- who commonly has the power to serve legal papers, arrest lawbreakers and keep t... (more...)
A peace officer for a particular geographic area -- most often a rural county -- who commonly has the power to serve legal papers, arrest lawbreakers and keep the peace. Depending on the state, a constable may be similar to a marshal or sheriff.

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.

MCNAGHTEN RULE

The earliest and most common test for criminal insanity, in which a criminal defendant is judged legally insane only if he could not distinguish right from wron... (more...)
The earliest and most common test for criminal insanity, in which a criminal defendant is judged legally insane only if he could not distinguish right from wrong at the time he committed the crime. For example, a delusional psychotic who believed that his assaultive acts were in response to the will of God would not be criminally responsible for his acts.

JUSTICE SYSTEM

A term lawyers use to describe the courts and other bureaucracies that handle American's criminal legal business, including offices of various state and federal... (more...)
A term lawyers use to describe the courts and other bureaucracies that handle American's criminal legal business, including offices of various state and federal prosecutors and public defenders. Many people caught up in this system refer to it by less flattering names.

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. ...