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LEGAL TERMS

INFORMED CONSENT

An agreement to do something or to allow something to happen, made with complete knowledge of all relevant facts, such as the risks involved or any available al... (more...)
An agreement to do something or to allow something to happen, made with complete knowledge of all relevant facts, such as the risks involved or any available alternatives. For example, a patient may give informed consent to medical treatment only after the healthcare professional has disclosed all possible risks involved in accepting or rejecting the treatment. A healthcare provider or facility may be held responsible for an injury caused by an undisclosed risk. In another context, a person accused of committing a crime cannot give up his constitutional rights--for example, to remain silent or to talk with an attorney--unless and until he has been informed of those rights, usually via the well-known Miranda warnings.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY (D.A.)

A lawyer who is elected to represent a state government in criminal cases in a designated county or judicial district. A D.A.'s duties typically include reviewi... (more...)
A lawyer who is elected to represent a state government in criminal cases in a designated county or judicial district. A D.A.'s duties typically include reviewing police arrest reports, deciding whether to bring criminal charges against arrested people and prosecuting criminal cases in court. The D.A. may also supervise other attorneys, called Deputy District Attorneys or Assistant District Attorneys. In some states a District Attorney may be called a Prosecuting Attorney, County Attorney or State's Attorney. In the federal system, the equivalent to the D.A. is a United States Attorney. The country has many U.S. Attorneys, each appointed by the President, who supervise regional offices staffed with prosecutors called Assistant United States Attorneys.

HABEAS CORPUS

Latin for 'You have the body.' A prisoner files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in order to challenge the authority of the prison or jail warden to continu... (more...)
Latin for 'You have the body.' A prisoner files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in order to challenge the authority of the prison or jail warden to continue to hold him. If the judge orders a hearing after reading the writ, the prisoner gets to argue that his confinement is illegal. These writs are frequently filed by convicted prisoners who challenge their conviction on the grounds that the trial attorney failed to prepare the defense and was incompetent. Prisoners sentenced to death also file habeas petitions challenging the constitutionality of the state death penalty law. Habeas writs are different from and do not replace appeals, which are arguments for reversal of a conviction based on claims that the judge conducted the trial improperly. Often, convicted prisoners file both.

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.

ARREST WARRANT

A document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes the police to arrest someone. Warrants are issued when law enforcement personnel present evidence to ... (more...)
A document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes the police to arrest someone. Warrants are issued when law enforcement personnel present evidence to the judge or magistrate that convinces her that it is reasonably likely that a crime has taken place and that the person to be named in the warrant is criminally responsible for that crime.

BAILIFF

A court official usually classified as a peace officer (sometimes as a deputy sheriff, or marshal) and usually wearing a uniform. A bailiff's main job is to mai... (more...)
A court official usually classified as a peace officer (sometimes as a deputy sheriff, or marshal) and usually wearing a uniform. A bailiff's main job is to maintain order in the courtroom. In addition, bailiffs often help court proceedings go smoothly by shepherding witnesses in and out of the courtroom and handing evidence to witnesses as they testify. In criminal cases, the bailiff may have temporary charge of any defendant who is in custody during court proceedings.

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.

BURDEN OF PROOF

A party's job of convincing the decisionmaker in a trial that the party's version of the facts is true. In a civil trial, it means that the plaintiff must convi... (more...)
A party's job of convincing the decisionmaker in a trial that the party's version of the facts is true. In a civil trial, it means that the plaintiff must convince the judge or jury 'by a preponderance of the evidence' that the plaintiff's version is true -- that is, over 50% of the believable evidence is in the plaintiff's favor. In a criminal case, because a person's liberty is at stake, the government has a harder job, and must convince the judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

CRIMINAL LAW

Laws written by Congress and state legislators that make certain behavior illegal and punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. By contrast, civil laws are not p... (more...)
Laws written by Congress and state legislators that make certain behavior illegal and punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. By contrast, civil laws are not punishable by imprisonment. In order to be found guilty of a criminal law, the prosecution must show that the defendant intended to act as he did; in civil law, you may sometimes be responsible for your actions even though you did not intend the consequences. For example, civil law makes you financially responsible for a car accident you caused but didn't intend.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

Magruder v. Com.

... Because the procedure provided in Code § 19.2-187.1 adequately protects a criminal defendant's rights under the Confrontation Clause and because the defendants in these appeals failed to utilize that procedure, we conclude that they waived the challenges under the ...

McCain v. Com.

... 335, 340, 288 SE2d 475, 478 (1982). Under well-settled principles of law, police officers may stop a person for the purpose of investigating possible criminal behavior even though no probable cause exists for an arrest. Terry, 392 US at 22, 88 S.Ct. 1868. ...

McMorris v. Com.

... This was all contemporaneous. Therefore[,] the robbery statute applies." In refusing McMorris' petition for appeal, the Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence established that McMorris shared the criminal intent of those who did steal Ottey's telephone and other items. ...