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Glossary of Legal Terms
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) - program designed for defendants with little or no criminal record. The defendant must agree to a probationary sentence with conditions imposed by the judge, such as restitution to the victim. If defendant completes the program his/her record is automatically expunged. If not completed, the case will go to trial. In some specific cases the defendant cannot be admitted to the ARD program unless the victim agrees.

Acquittal - a verdict of not guilty for an accused criminal defendant

ADA - Assistant District Attorney

Adjudication - the act of giving a judicial ruling

Adjudicatory Hearing - a juvenile court hearing equivalent to a non-jury trial in an adult court. The ADA, the defense attorney, victim and witnesses, and police officer participate. Testimony is taken so that the presiding judge can determine the proper disposition of the case.

Affidavit - a written document where the signer swears under oath that the contents of the document are true

Allegation - a statement of claimed fact

Allocution - a formal speech, usually used in reference to a statement by the defendant at a sentencing hearing, after he has been found guilty

Appeal - to ask a higher court to reverse the decision of a lower court after a final judgment has been made

Arraignment - the first hearing before a court where charges are formally brought against a defendant

Arrest - to take or hold a suspected criminal under legal authority

Assistant District Attorney - prosecuting attorney representing the Commonwealth

Bail - the money or bond used to release a charged criminal from jail and guarantee his/her appearance

Bailiff - a court official who maintains order in the courtroom

Bench Warrant - a warrant issued by a judge usually ordering an individual to be taken into custody if that defendant or witness did not appear in court when told to by subpoena

Bond - a monetary or other form of security given in exchange for release from jail or prison; meant to insure the appearance of the defendant at further proceedings.

Bring-down - an order to transport a prisoner from a prison to court

C.P. Number - if a case involving a felony is held for court at a preliminary hearing, a bill of information is issued and a Common Pleas Court number (C.P. number) is assigned to the case.

Call of the List - after court is called to order by the court Crier, the Crier will call the list. This means that they will call each case, usually by number, on the list to check status.

Certification Hearing - a hearing about whether to have a juvenile, age 14 and older, tried as an adult rather than in the juvenile court system

Certiorari - an order from a higher court to a lower court to make all documents from a case available for review to the higher court

Chambers - the private office of a judge

Commitment - the order to confine a person to custody

Competent to Stand Trial - sufficiently mentally able to be tried before a criminal court

Complainant - person against whom a crime was alleged to have been committed

Complaint - the first document filed with a court charging the defendant with a crime

Concurrent Sentences - when sentences for multiple crimes are served simultaneously

Consecutive Sentences - when sentences for multiple crimes are served one after another

Consent decree - a written agreement made by juveniles in juvenile cases promising to meet conditions set by the court during a certain time period. If the juvenile upholds the agreement, the case may be dropped. If not, the consent decree may be extended, or the court may issue a different order.

Continuance - a postponement in date of a court appearance or trial

Conviction - when a criminal defendant is found guilty as the verdict of a trial

Court Clerk - an employee or official who handles the business of the courtroom

Court Intake - the initial hearing after a juvenile arrest to determine if the juvenile should be held for prosecution or released

Court Reporter - a stenographer who witnesses and writes down what is said in the courtroom

Cross-Examination - when an attorney questions a witness who testified for the opposing side

Defendant - the party charged with a crime in a criminal prosecution

Defense Lawyer - the attorney representing the defendant in a criminal prosecution

Deferred Adjudication - the postponement of a judicial decision as to whether or not a juvenile will be found delinquent

Deferred Prosecution Agreement - an agreement to suspend prosecution for a specific period of time if the defendant complies with certain conditions. Prosecution may resume if the defendant fails to comply with the conditions. Upon successful completion of the agreement the court will drop the charges.

Deferred Sentence - a delay between the time a defendant is found guilty by judge or jury and the time when sentence will be imposed

Delinquency - in juvenile cases, this is the equivalent of being convicted of a crime in adult court. Among other sanctions, a delinquent child may be ordered into treatment, counseling or out-of-home placement in a juvenile detention facility

Detention - holding a person in custody

Discharged - the dismissal of charges or release of a defendant from custody

Discovery - a formal legal procedure enabling one party to obtain information about the case from the other party

Dismissal - terminating a criminal charge

Disposition - a court's final determination on a criminal charge

Docket Number - the number that the court clerk designates a case in the court's docket. Depending on the case, this may be a C.P. or an M.C. number.

Due Process - the protection of private rights, such as the right to a fair trial, during a legal proceeding in accordance with stated rules and principles

Evidence - proof legally presented at the trial

Felony - the most serious grade of crime, generally having a maximum penalty of imprisonment for more than five years

Foreperson - the leader of a jury

Grand Jury - a body of 23 jurors who listen to evidence presented by the District Attorney in order to determine whether an individual or entity should be indicted with a criminal charge

Guardian Ad Litem - an individual appointed by the court to take legal action on behalf of a minor or an incapable adult

Hearsay - evidence presented by a witness as second-hand, that is, what the witness was told by another person

Held for Court - the decision made at the preliminary hearing, in cases involving a felony charge, where the judge has determined that there is enough evidence to hold the defendant for trial in Common Pleas Court.

Held Under Advisement - after hearing evidence or argument in a case, the judge needs more time to render a decision

Hold Order - instructions notifying prison officials that charges against a prisoner are pending from another jurisdiction and to inform the authorities of that jurisdiction instead of releasing the prisoner

Hung Jury - a deadlocked jury that can decide neither to convict nor acquit. When that occurs, the judge must declare the case a mistrial

Incarceration - the period of confinement the defendant may be sentenced to serve by the court following a finding of guilt as to the commission of a crime

Indictment - a charge of a felony levied by an investigating grand jury after hearing evidence presented by the District Attorney

Informal Adjustment - a Youth Study Center intake interview to determine if a juvenile should be considered for programs other than being prosecuted for a crime.

Initial Appearance - a defendant's first appearance in court. A judge reads the charges, sets bail and appoints an attorney, if one is needed. In felony cases, a date is often set for arraignment or preliminary hearing. In misdemeanors, the initial appearance is also the arraignment and the defendant enters a plea.

Judge - an elected official who hears and decides legal matters in a courtroom

Jurisdiction - a particular geographic area where a court has the legal authority to hear cases and make legal decisions

Jury - a group of 12 persons who hear the evidence, come to a decision concerning the facts and the law and present a verdict as to the guilt or non-guilt of the accused.

Juvenile - an individual who has not reached the legal age to be tried in criminal court as an adult (currently the age of majority is 18 years of age)

M.C. Number - at the preliminary hearing each case is assigned a Municipal Court (M.C.) term number.

Mediation - a dispute resolution method that involves a neutral third party to resolve a Private Criminal Complaint by agreement

Miranda - a famous court case requiring law enforcement officers to inform those arrested of their rights

Misdemeanor - a grade of crime not as serious as a felony, but more serious than a summary offense, generally having a maximum penalty of imprisonment of less than five years

Mistrial - a trial that is ended prematurely, without a verdict, due to a hung jury or some legal error that cannot be fixed otherwise

Motion - a request that a judge receives to make an order or judgment

Must Be Tried (MBT) - an order by the judge that the case must be tried at the next listing. The MBT order may be placed on the Commonwealth or on the defense.

Negotiated Plea - discussion or agreement between defense and prosecution about a possible confession of guilt by a defendant for certain considerations

Nole Contendere - a plea entered by the defendant which means he/she has no defense to the charges against him/her, but is not specifically pleading guilty

Nolle Prosequi / Nolle Prose - decision by the prosecution to withdraw criminal charges

Objection - a challenge by a lawyer to the propriety of a question or a statement by the opposing lawyer or a witness, on the ground, for example, that it is hearsay, immaterial, leading, or lacking foundation. An objection can either be sustained or overruled.

Overruled - the decision by a judge to reject an objection made by an attorney

Parole - the release of a convicted criminal from prison before the end of his or her maximum sentence. However, those on parole must maintain good behavior and report to a parole officer

Perjury - deliberate lying under oath

Petition Number - the tracking device given to a formal document listing the charges against a juvenile defendant. Example:00835-0310 (00835=incident number, 03=year-2003, 10=month-October)

Plea - a criminal defendant's response, either guilty or not guilty, to a charge brought against him or her

Preemptory Challenge - an attorney's rejection of a potential juror. Both the Commonwealth and the defense are given a limited number of preemptory challenges to use during jury selection

Pre-sentence Investigation - a court-ordered report investigated by a probation officer into a convicted defendant's personal background to be used by the court at sentencing

Preliminary Arraignment - initial court proceeding after arrest where charges are read to the defendant and bail is set

Preliminary Hearing - a hearing to determine whether an individual charged with a felony shall be tried. The preliminary hearing determines whether there is enough evidence to bring the case to trial

Pretrial Conference - a meeting between attorneys and the judge before a trial begins to determine the legal or evidentiary issues of the case

Private Criminal Complaint - misdemeanor charges filed directly by a citizen, without a police arrest in the District Attorney's Office on the 6th floor, 34 South 11th Street

Private Written Allegation - a private criminal complaint against a juvenile, handled by the Probation Department, 1801 Vine Street, Room 233, (215) 686-8370

Probable Cause - the basis on which a police officer may arrest an individual. There must be sufficient reason based on known facts and evidence to make the arrest.

Probation - a sentence given to convicted criminals where they remain out of prison as long as they observe certain court ordered conditions. A violation of probation can result in jail time.

Public Defender - an attorney appointed for the defendant by the court. This usually occurs when defendants cannot afford to hire their own attorney. An example would be the Defender's Association of Philadelphia.

Ready In The Room (RIR) - when the court officers call the list at the beginning of a court session, they will determine whether the attorneys and necessary witnesses are present and ready to proceed. If so, the case will be marked ready in room (RIR).

Ready On Call - most of the witnesses are in the room, but some - usually police officers busy performing other duties - may be "on call" and ready to appear after phone notice.

Recidivist - a person convicted of committing a crime after having been previously convicted of another criminal act

Release on own Recognizance (ROR) - a judge's decision to allow a person charged with a crime to be free while awaiting trial without posting bail

Remand - after the preliminary hearing, the judge may decide that the evidence does not constitute a felony crime. The judge will then dismiss the felony charges and remand the case to the Municipal Court for trial on the misdemeanor charges.

Restitution - returning property or the value of lost property to the proper owner or the victim of a crime

Restraining Order - a court order that prohibits one person from having contact with another, such as in cases of domestic violence or witness intimidation.

Search Warrant - an order by a judge allowing law enforcement officers to search a particular place

Sentencing - the punishment determined for a person convicted of a crime

Sequester - to keep separate. Witnesses are generally required to leave the courtroom while other witnesses give testimony. In rare instances, juries may be sequestered, which means they will be required to stay in a hotel during the length of the trial, or during their deliberations, in order to avoid publicity or other undue influence concerning the case.

Show Cause Order - an order telling a party to come to court in order to explain some action or lack thereof

Subpoena - an order of the court for a witness to appear to present evidence

Subpoena Duces Tecum - an order to appear and bring records or documents

Summary Offense - a minor violation of criminal law which may be disposed of by fine or up to 90 days imprisonment or both

Sustained - a judge's determination that an attorney's objection is valid

Testimony - evidence given under oath in response to questions asked by attorneys at a trial or disposition

Trial - the examination of evidence and law as heard before a judge with authority to preside over the matter

Verdict - the decision of a trial judge or jury concerning the matter submitted in a trial

Victim Impact Statement - a statement read into the record during sentencing to inform the judge and jury of the relevance of the crime to the victim

Voir Dire - the questioning of potential jurors in court by the judge and attorneys. The process is used to determine if any potential jurors may have a bias toward either side

Warrant - authority for a person's arrest on specific charges

Witness - person who gives evidence and testimony as to the facts regarding any legal proceeding

Writ of Habeas Corpus - an order to get a person out of jail

Youth Aid Panel - a program for first-time juvenile offenders who admit their guilt. A panel of local volunteers creates a contract into which the juvenile enters, providing an alternative to jail or other traditional criminal punishments