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Glossary of Legal Terms

Appeal:

A request made after a trial, asking another court (usually the court of appeals) to decide if the trial was conducted properly. To make such a request is "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." One who appeals is called the appellant.

Bail:

The release of an accused from custody pending the trial or conclusion of their case. It may also be granted to a convicted person pending the conclusion of an appeal of their conviction. The release or bail includes conditions that must be followed by the accused or his or her bail may be revoked by the court.

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Bench Warrant:

An order issued by a judge for the arrest of a person.

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Beyond a Reasonable Doubt:

The standard in a criminal case requires that the jury be satisfied to a moral certainty that every element of a crime has been proven by the prosecution. This standard of proof does not require that the state establish absolute certainty by eliminating all doubt. But it does require that the evidence be so conclusive that all reasonable doubts are removed from the mind of the ordinary person.

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Clear and Convincing Evidence:

Standard of proof commonly used in civil lawsuits and in regulatory agency cases. It governs the amount of proof that must be offered in order for the plaintiff to win the case.

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Concurrent Sentence:

Sentences for two or more offenses that are served at the same time, rather than one after the other or consecutively. Where sentences are concurrent, the length of sentence will be that of the longest sentence given.

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Conditional Discharge:

Where a person is found guilty, instead of convicting the person, the judge grants a conditional discharge. When the conditions are satisfied, the discharge becomes absolute.

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Consecutive Sentence:

Sentences for two or more offenses to be served one after the other. An example would be the following: Two six-year sentences and one three-year sentence, if served consecutively, result in a maximum of 15 years behind bars.

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Contributory Negligence:

A legal doctrine that says if the plaintiff in a civil action for negligence also was negligent, he or she cannot recover damages from the defendant for the defendant's negligence. Most jurisdictions have abandoned the doctrine of contributory negligence in favor of comparative negligence.

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Conviction:

In a criminal case, the determination by the court or jury that an accused is guilty of an offense. The "conviction date" occurs when the sentencing of the accused takes place.

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Dismissal:

The termination of a lawsuit. A dismissal without prejudice allows a lawsuit to be brought before the court again at a later time. In contrast, a dismissal with prejudice prevents the lawsuit from being brought before a court at some point.

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Elements of a Crime:

Specific factors that define a crime which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction. The elements that must be proven are (1) that a crime has in fact occurred, (2) that the accused intended the crime to happen, and (3) a timely relationship between the first two factors.

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Exclusionary Rule:

The rule preventing illegally obtained evidence to be used in any trial.

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Indictment:

A formal document containing the charges against the defendant. The charges are presented by the prosecutor and voted on by a majority of the grand jury.

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Joint and Several Liability:

A legal doctrine that makes each of the parties who are responsible for an injury liable for all the damages awarded in a lawsuit if the other parties responsible cannot pay.

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Judgment:

The final decision by the court in a legal proceeding; judgment and decision are often used in the place of each other. Judgment may be written or given orally in court. It may also be reserved by the court at the end of the proceeding and given at a later date, usually in written form.

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Miranda Warning:

Requirement that police tell a suspect in their custody of his or her constitutional rights before they question him or her. So named as a result of the Miranda v. Arizona ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Motion:

A request to the court for an order for the relief or remedy requested which occurs during the course of a court proceeding.

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Perjury:

The criminal offense of making a false statement about an important fact under oath.

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Probation:

A court order made as part of a sentence requiring the accused to keep the peace and be of good behavior and other conditions that the court requires. A probation order is limited to a certain time frame, e.g. two years, and may be unsupervised or require the supervision of a probation officer.

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Recognizance:

A bail document signed by the accused stating the terms and conditions upon which the accused is being released.

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Remand:

To put over a criminal proceeding to another date, a remand requires the court to set a future date when the matter will come back before the court, unlike civil proceedings where an adjournment might be to an unfixed date.

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Service:

The delivering to a person of a copy of a document that has been filed with the court; the manner of service, e.g. priority mail, and time frame within which service must occur is set out in the Rules of Court or in the particular statute governing the case.

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Subpoena:

A command to appear at a specific time and place to give testimony in regard to a particular matter. Some subpoenas may require the person to produce a document or other things in his/her possession.

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Suspended Sentence:

Where a person is found guilty, the court suspends the passing of a sentence and releases the offender on conditions set out in a probation order. Upon the expiration of the probation order, where the person has not been charged with further offenses and has complied with all conditions of a probation order, the court will not sentence the person.

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Warrant:

A command or order of the court. There are numerous warrants in criminal proceedings, such as an arrest warrant, which is an order of the court to arrest an accused person and bring him or her before the court to answer to the offense with which the person has been charged. Or a search warrant, which is an order of the court permitting the search by peace officers of a particular premise for particular things respecting a criminal offense that are to be brought before the court.

**These are common definitions derived from the American Bar Association and the New Jersey State Court Rules**

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