Legal terms you will hear in court


Common legal terms

ADJOURNMENT:  Postponing a matter until a later date, at request of defendant, Judge, or Prosecuting Attorney.  Adjournments happen for many reasons:  witnesses, attorneys or defendants have scheduling conflicts or are ill; your is not the oldest case on that day’s court docket; necessary motions or legal issues have not been decided, etc.

ADVOCATE:  A person who assists the victim with support, information, resources, etc.

APPEAL:  The process of having a higher court review the lower court’s decisions and/or rulings. 

ARRAIGNMENT:  The defendant is brought before the court and read the charges against him/her.  The defendant is then asked to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest.  Bail is set at this time.

AUTHORIZE:  The Prosecuting Attorney’s decision is to issue a criminal charge.

BAIL OR BOND:  The purpose of bail or bond is to ensure the return of the accused for future court appearances and to ensure public safety.  Bail is generally an amount of money and/or conditions of release set by the court.

BENCH TRIAL: Trial before a judge without a jury.

BOUND OVER:  The District Court transfers a felony case to the Circuit Court after a preliminary examination or a waiver.

COMPLAINT:  The written document which specifies the criminal charge.

DEFENDANT:  The person charged with the crime.

FELONY CASE:  A crime for which a person may be sent to prison for more than one year.

MISDEMEANOR CASE:  A crime for which a person may be sentenced to not more than one year in jail.

MOTION:  Request for a certain ruling or decision on an issue related to a case.

NO CONTEST:  This plea is used when the defendant cannot recall his criminal actions or may be sued civilly for his/her criminal conduct.  Generally the police report, rather than the defendant’s verbal admissions to the judge, make up the factual basis for the plea.  The defendant is treated by a sentencing judge the same as if he was convicted via a guilty plea or a trial verdict.

PERJURY:  A deliberate lie or untruth regarding a material fact made under oath.                                                                                                               

PLEA BARGAIN:  Agreement between parties for the defendant to plead guilty or no-contest under certain terms and conditions (reducing/dismissing charge(s), agreeing to terms of sentence, etc.), subject to the judge’s approval.

PLEA:  The defendant’s response to a criminal charge (guilty, not guilty or no contest).

PRELIMINARY EXAM:  A District Court hearing in felony cases to determine if there is probably cause to believe that a felony has been committed and that the defendant committed the crime.

PRETRIAL CONFERENCE:  An informal meeting between the Prosecutor and the defendant and/or his attorney to resolve the case.

PROBATION:  A sentence that puts a defendant under court supervision, administered by a probation officer.

PROSECUTING ATTORNEY:  Attorney who represents the People of the State of Michigan against a criminal defendant.

PRE-SENTENCE INVESTIGATION:  A review of a convicted offender’s personal and criminal background by a probation officer.  The victim is also consulted on the impact the crime has had upon his/her life and what the victim feels the sentence should include.  A report is prepared and read by the judge before sentencing.

RESTITUTION:  An amount of money, determined by the court, to be paid to a crime victim for property loss or injuries caused by the defendant’s criminal act(s).

SUBPOENA:  A court order directing a person to be present at a time and place for a court hearing.

VICTIM:  A person or entity who suffers direct physical, financial and/or emotional harm, or is threatened as a result of the commission of a crime.

WAIVE:  To give up a right.

WARRANT:  A written order of the court which commands a law enforcement officer to arrest a person and bring that person before the court.