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LEGAL TERMS

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.

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.

ACCESSORY

Someone who intentionally helps another person commit a felony by giving advice before the crime or helping to conceal the evidence or the perpetrator. An acces... (more...)
Someone who intentionally helps another person commit a felony by giving advice before the crime or helping to conceal the evidence or the perpetrator. An accessory is usually not physically present during the crime. For example, hiding a robber who is being sought by the police might make you an 'accessory after the fact' to a robbery. Compare accomplice.

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.

PROSECUTE

When a local District Attorney, state Attorney General or federal United States Attorney brings a criminal case against a defendant.

EAVESDROPPING

Listening to conversations or observing conduct which is meant to be private, typically by using devices that amplify sound or light, such as stethoscopes or bi... (more...)
Listening to conversations or observing conduct which is meant to be private, typically by using devices that amplify sound or light, such as stethoscopes or binoculars. The term comes from the common law offense of listening to private conversations by crouching under the windows or eaves of a house. Nowadays, eavesdropping includes using electronic equipment to intercept telephone or other wire communications, or radio equipment to intercept broadcast communications. Generally, the term 'eavesdropping' is used when the activity is not legally authorized by a search warrant or court order; and the term 'surveillance' is used when the activity is permitted by law. Compare electronic surveillance.

OWN RECOGNIZANCE (OR)

A way the defendant can get out of jail, without paying bail, by promising to appear in court when next required to be there. Sometimes called 'personal recogni... (more...)
A way the defendant can get out of jail, without paying bail, by promising to appear in court when next required to be there. Sometimes called 'personal recognizance.' Only those with strong ties to the community, such as a steady job, local family and no history of failing to appear in court, are good candidates for 'OR' release. If the charge is very serious, however, OR may not be an option.

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.

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.