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LEGAL TERMS

PROSECUTOR

A lawyer who works for the local, state or federal government to bring and litigate criminal cases.

ACQUITTAL

A decision by a judge or jury that a defendant in a criminal case is not guilty of a crime. An acquittal is not a finding of innocence; it is simply a conclusio... (more...)
A decision by a judge or jury that a defendant in a criminal case is not guilty of a crime. An acquittal is not a finding of innocence; it is simply a conclusion that the prosecution has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

FALSE IMPRISONMENT

Intentionally restraining another person without having the legal right to do so. It's not necessary that physical force be used; threats or a show of apparent ... (more...)
Intentionally restraining another person without having the legal right to do so. It's not necessary that physical force be used; threats or a show of apparent authority are sufficient. False imprisonment is a misdemeanor and a tort (a civil wrong). If the perpetrator confines the victim for a substantial period of time (or moves him a significant distance) in order to commit a felony, the false imprisonment may become a kidnapping. People who are arrested and get the charges dropped, or are later acquitted, often think that they can sue the arresting officer for false imprisonment (also known as false arrest). These lawsuits rarely succeed: As long as the officer had probable cause to arrest the person, the officer will not be liable for a false arrest, even if it turns out later that the information the officer relied upon was incorrect.

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.

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.

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.

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.

FEDERAL COURT

A branch of the United States government with power derived directly from the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts decide cases involving the U.S. Constitution, fe... (more...)
A branch of the United States government with power derived directly from the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts decide cases involving the U.S. Constitution, federal law--for example, patents, federal taxes, labor law and federal crimes, such as robbing a federally chartered bank--and cases where the parties are from different states and are involved in a dispute for $75,000 or more.

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.

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. ...