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Beginner's Guide to Criminal Case Terms

Recently arrested? Charged with a crime? When you show up for court or speak with an attorney, sometimes you face a flurry of strange words that don't make sense and sound very serious. Check out our handy guide to legal terms!

  • Acquit: to be found not guilty of criminal charges at trial
  • Affidavit: a written statement that is sworn to, such as a police report or notarized statement by a witness
  • Capias: a warrant for arrest
  • Credibility: believability, trustworthiness of a witness
  • Deposition: a witness’s sworn out-of-court testimony. Usually only conducted for felony cases, witnesses are usually ordered to show up to an office where they are placed under oath, then questioned by opposing counsel
  • Discovery: evidence that the State Attorney or Defense possesses, such as police reports, witness statements, witness lists, videos, fingerprints, 911 calls, DNA evidence, lab results, items seized during investigation, depositions, and business and medical records
  • Docket: a list of pending cases for trial
  • Exculpatory evidence: evidence that is favorable to the defendant and tends to help prove innocence or demonstrate reasonable doubt as to guilt
  • Hearsay: an out-of-court statement used to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Not every statement is hearsay—if the statement is made in court (the witness is testifying), it is not hearsay. If the statement does not prove a fact at issue in the case, it is not hearsay. Even if a statement is hearsay, there are many exceptions to the rule that will still allow the statement to be admitted in trial.
  • Nolle Prosequi: a prosecutor’s decision to drop, or dismiss, the charges and end prosecution
  • Probable Cause: the standard required for police to obtain a search warrant or make an arrest. The officer must possess trustworthy facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable belief that a crime occurred
  • Speedy Trial: The right to have a trial within a proscribed time period. From the date of arrest, the State Attorney has 90 days to file charges and bring a defendant to trial on a misdemeanor. For a felony, the time period is 175 days.
  • Subpoena: a court order to attend a hearing, trial, or deposition. May also be used to order witnesses/companies to turn over records, videos, or other evidence
  • Voir Dire: jury selection.
  • Waiver: giving up the requirement to appear in court. If a waiver of appearance is filed, the defendant is agreeing to have their attorney show up on their behalf so that they do not need to be present.

Questions abut your legal case? Need explanations for these terms or other confusing legal words? Give us a call at (407) 705-3220!