Entering the legal system can be confusing. Often, it can feel like those around you are speaking another language. Sometimes, they actually are since many legal terms have Latin roots. Other times, the words may be familiar to you, but they have different meanings in a legal context.
To help you decipher the legal code, here are some of the most commonly used legal terms that you may encounter when dealing with the criminal justice system.
Common Legal Terms in the Florida Criminal Justice System
In criminal law, an acquittal occurs when a defendant is found not guilty. After an acquittal, an individual cannot be tried again for the same offense.
An adjudication is a formal judgment made by the judge or court. A conviction is a type of adjudication.
Also known as a “withhold,” when an adjudication is withheld, probation may be imposed, but the judges choose not to make a formal conviction. This is more common with first-time misdemeanors.
An affidavit is a written statement of facts that has been made under oath and is meant to be submitted as evidence in court proceedings.
An appeal is the process for reviewing a court decision. In a criminal case, a defendant who is found guilty can use the appeals process to highlight problems with their trial. The appeals process is most commonly used to get a conviction thrown out or to secure a new trial.
An arraignment is the first official court proceeding after an arrest. During an arraignment, the accused is informed of the charges against him or her and asked to enter a plea.
If bail is required to secure a defendant’s release before their trial, they can use a bail bond that is a financial agreement with a bail bondsman. The bondsman charges the defendant a fee (generally a percentage of the total bail) and guarantees the payment of the bail with the court.
A crime that is punishable by the death penalty is considered a capital crime. Florida is one of 28 states that continues to use the death penalty.
Cash bond does not allow for partial payment or a bail bondsman. A cash bond is when a defendant must pay the full amount of bail in order to secure their temporary release before their trial.
A citation is a written order that is issued by a court or law enforcement stating that the person named in the citation must appear at a given time and place to handle a legal matter.
A concurrent sentence is when multiple sentences are allowed to be served simultaneously. For example, an individual with two 3-year sentences will serve a total of 3 years if their sentence is served concurrently.
Consecutive sentences are when punishments follow one another. For example, an individual who receives a 2-year and a 5-year sentence will serve 7 years if the sentence is to be served consecutively.
A conviction occurs when there is a guilty verdict.
Individuals who are unable to afford legal counsel will have a lawyer appointed to defend them. This lawyer is known as court-appointed counsel.
The defendant is the individual charged with a criminal offense.
For a first-time offender charged with misdemeanors, a diversion presents the opportunity to be removed from the criminal justice system by agreeing to enter a drug rehabilitation program or another similar type of program.
Extradition is the act of moving a person from the place of their arrest to the jurisdiction in which they are being charged with a crime.
A felony is a class of serious criminal offenses that carry a punishment of more than one year in prison or more, up to death.
A grand jury is a group of individuals who must consider evidence to determine whether a crime has been committed and whether charges should be drafted against an individual.
A hearing officer is a judicial official who can do some of the things that a judge can. They may also be known as a Magistrate.
A judgment is the official decision of the court.
Jurisdiction refers to the area (either geographical or topical) that a particular court has the power to hear. For example, some cases may fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal court, while others may fall under the jurisdiction of a state’s district court system.
A jury is a group of citizens (peers) who are tasked with hearing the evidence during a trial and reaching a verdict as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
Also known as a hearing officer, a Magistrate is a judicial officer who can complete some of the same actions as a judge.
A misdemeanor is a class of offenses that are deemed less serious. They are generally punishable by less than a year in jail, a fine, or some sort of suspension (like a 60-day suspension on a driver’s license).
A motion is a filing made in the court with a goal of achieving a certain end for the filer. For example, a motion to dismiss may be filed by the defense in an attempt to show that the case has no merit and should thus be dismissed by the court.
No True Bill
If a grand jury does not believe that charges can be brought in a particular case, they will mark the written indictment as “No True Bill.”
When the state chooses to drop a case before bringing charges, the state attorney issues “no bill.”
Nolo contendere is a Latin term that is used by defendants to say that they will not contest the charges against them. This is also called a plea of no contest, or just plain no contest.
When a prosecutor is dropping a case because they no longer have the evidence sufficient to prosecute, they will tell the judge, “Nolle Prosequi.”
In some cases, a defendant can opt for a trial with no jury. This is also known as a bench trial.