Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms 2017-10-24T13:21:51+00:00

Accused

A person who is suspected of committing a crime but has not yet been charged. (See also Defendant and Offender.)

Acquittal

A decision made by a judge or jury that the accused was not proved guilty of committing the crime.

Appeal

To take a case to a higher court for review. The higher court can affirm (approve), overturn (reverse and dismiss), or remand (send back to the lower court to be retried because of a legal mistake).

Arraignment

The initial court hearing at which a person accused of a crime is brought before a judge, informed of the charges against them, and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. (See also Presentment.)

Arrest

To take a person suspected of committing a crime into legal custody so that the person can be charged and tried for committing the crime.

Charge

The specific law that the prosecutor accuses the defendant of having violated.

Civil Protection Order (CPO)

A court order that prohibits contact between two persons; establishes temporary custody and visitation schedules in cases of domestic violence; and designates treatment programs for alcohol or drug abuse, domestic violence, or parenting skills as a response to domestic violence issues. The respondent (the person whose behavior will be restrained by the order) has a right to be present for the CPO hearing.

Criminal Justice Act (CJA) Attorney

An attorney appointed and paid by the court to represent a criminal defendant who cannot otherwise afford a lawyer. (See also Public Defender.)

Continuance

A delay or postponement of a court hearing to another date or time.

Conviction

A decision made by a judge or jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing the crime for which the defendant was tried.

Court

An agency of the judicial branch of government with legal authority to decide questions of law and disputes brought before it.

Defendant

A person who has been charged with committing a crime. (See also Accused and Offender.)

Defense Attorney

The lawyer for the defendant.

Domestic Violence

A systematic pattern of behavior in which one person uses various forms of abusive behavior such as hitting, threatening, destroying property, or emotional abuse to control others in intimate and family relationships.

Evidence

Testimony, information, and exhibits presented in court by the prosecutor and the defense.

Felony

A serious crime typically punishable by more than one year in a prison and/or a fine. Felonies include crimes such as murder, rape, burglary, and robbery.

Grand Jury

A group of up to 23 D.C. residents who hear evidence presented by the prosecutor and decide whether there is enough evidence to charge and try the accused.

Guilty

A decision of a judge or a jury in a criminal case that the defendant committed the crime as charged.

Guilty Plea

A formal admission in court by the defendant that they committed the crime.

Indictment (in-DITE-ment)

A written accusation made by a grand jury charging the accused with committing a crime.

Investigation

The gathering of evidence by police and prosecutors to determine whether a crime was committed and who committed the crime, which continues until the police and/or prosecutors have sufficient evidence to charge and prosecute a particular person for the crime.

Judge

In the District of Columbia, a person recommended to the President of the United States by the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission, appointed by the President, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to preside over legal proceedings in a court of law.

Jury

A group of D.C. residents who hear the evidence presented in court and decide whether the government has or has not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

Mandatory Minimum

This is a sentence that is written into the law. When a defendant is convicted of a crime with a mandatory minimum, the judge must use the sentence prescribed by law.

Misdemeanor

A crime that is less serious than a felony and is typically punishable by no more than one year in jail and/or a fine. Misdemeanors include offenses such as petty theft, most traffic violations, and possession of marijuana.

No Contest Plea

A statement to the court by the defendant denying responsibility for the charges but agreeing to accept punishment.

Not Guilty Plea

A statement to the court by the defendant denying that they committed the crime.

Offender

A person who has been convicted of a crime.

Papering

The decision made by the prosecutor about whether to file charges against the accused.

Perjury

A lie told while a person is under oath to tell the truth.

Personal Recognizance

The written promise made by the accused to the judge that they will return to court when ordered to do so; a frequent form of pretrial release in D.C. criminal cases.

Plea

A defendant’s formal answer in court denying or admitting that they committed the crime they are accused of.

Plea Bargain

An agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant that the defendant will plead guilty.

Preliminary Hearing

A hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to continue with the case.

Pre-sentence Report

A report by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) describing the past behavior, family circumstances, and personality of the defendant, as well as specifics about the crime committed. This report helps the judge determine the sentence. (See also Victim Impact Statement.)

Presentment

In D.C. Superior Court, the initial court hearing at which a person accused of a felony is brought before a judge, informed of the charges against them, and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. (See also Arraignment.)

Pretrial Detention

When a defendant is held in jail after being charged with a crime and before the trial.

Probable Cause

The amount of proof needed by the police, the prosecutor, and the judge to believe that a crime was committed and that the case should proceed.

Probation

A court sentence allowing the offender to go free under supervision of a probation, or community supervision, officer.

Proffer

A preliminary offering or preview of testimony or evidence that will be said or shown. Also known as an offer of proof.

Prosecutor

In a criminal case, the lawyer representing the government; in D.C., the prosecutor is an Assistant U.S. Attorney or an Assistant D.C. Attorney General.

Public Defender

An attorney employed by The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia or the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia who represents defendants who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. (See also Criminal Justice Act Attorney.)

Sentence

The punishment a judge orders for a defendant who has been found guilty of a crime.

Status Hearings

Court hearings to provide updates about the status of the case and determine whether the prosecution and defense are ready for trial.

Subpoena

A written order requiring a person to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony about a crime either in court or before a grand jury.

Suspect

A person who is thought to have committed a crime and is under investigation, but has not been arrested or charged.

Temporary Protection Order (TPO)

A court order that restrains someone from specific behaviors. The TPO lasts for 14 days, at which time there will be a hearing to determine if a Civil Protection Order (CPO) should be granted. The respondent (the person whose behavior will be restrained by the order) need not be present in order for a TPO to be issued.

Testimony

Statements made in court by witnesses who are under oath to tell the truth.

Trial

A court proceeding at which evidence is presented for a judge or a jury to decide whether or not the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.

Verdict

The decision of the judge or jury at the end of a trial that the defendant is either guilty or not guilty of the crime.

Victim

A person directly or proximately harmed as a result of a crime. This can include (among others) the individual against whom a crime, or an attempted crime, was committed, and the family of an individual who was murdered.

Victim Impact Statement

A victim’s description of the physical, emotional, psychological, and financial impact of the crime on the victim’s life and the victim’s family, which is used by the judge at the time of sentencing. (See also Pre-sentence Report.)

Witness

A person who has seen or knows something about a crime. The victim is usually a witness, too.

Witness Conference

A discussion between the victim, the witness, and the prosecutor to prepare for trial.