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Common Criminal Justice Terms

Common Criminal Justice Terms

Posted 8 years ago by Detroit Bail Bonds

Voir Dire? Habeas Corpus? Pro se? … As if you needed more on your mind, if you find yourself involved in legal proceedings, common criminal justice terms might sound foreign to you. Some of the phrases you might have heard before, but you don’t know exactly what they mean; others might be completely new.

Navigating the Criminal Justice System

When someone is arrested, generally defined as the point at which the person is no longer free to leave, a series of events will occur.

The person who is arrested will likely be taken to the local police station, where he or she will either stay there or be picked up by the agency that was originally looking for him or her.

Within 72 hours, the person who is arrested must be arraigned, which is when the charges are defined and a plea is entered. Conditions of release pending the trial may also be set at this time.

A preliminary examination of the evidence against the person who was arrested occurs within about two weeks after the arrest. In some cases, the preliminary examination is waived in order for the case to proceed to the circuit court: the 3rd Judicial Circuit Court in Detroit for Wayne County, the 6th Judicial Circuit Court in Pontiac for Oakland County, or the 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Mount Clemens for Macomb County.

At the circuit court, similar proceedings will occur until the trial, and the defendant has the right to appeal the judge’s decision.

Common Criminal Justice Terms

While the above is very simplistic and basic regarding the arrest and court process, you still read some of the most common criminal justice terms because they are used often.

Following is more information about these phrases and the definition of other common criminal justice terms from sources including the United States Courts and the Partnership for Safety and Justice.

• Appeal: A request by either the defense counsel or prosecutor to have a higher court resolve a dispute with a judge’s decision.

• Arraignment Hearing: A hearing in which a person charged with a crime is brought before the court to plead either guilty or not guilty to the alleged criminal charges, and the person is advised of his or her constitutional rights under law. Arraignment hearings are considered pretrial hearings.

• Bail: The release, prior to trial, of a person accused of a crime, under specified conditions designed to assure that person’s appearance in court when required. Bail also can refer to the amount of bond money posted as a financial condition of pretrial release.

Bail Hearing/Bond Hearing: A hearing to determine whether or not an incarcerated person or convicted offender will be released from custody and to determine what amount he or she must pay as a bond to assure his or her presence at future proceedings, such as the trial. This may also include specific conditions of bail, such as no contact with a victim or witness.

• Conviction: A judgment of the court, based either on the decision of a jury or judge, that the defendant is guilty of the crime for which he or she was tried.

• Count: Each allegation of a crime is referred to as a count.

• Defendant: A person who has been formally charged by a court with committing a specific crime.

• Deposition: The sworn testimony of a witness taken outside of court in the presence of the prosecuting and defense attorneys.

• Disposition: The final decision that ends a criminal proceeding or that ends a disputed matter within the proceeding.

• Felony: A more serious crime, usually punishable by at least one year in prison.

Common Criminal Justice Terms

•  Jail: The local facility where people are held in custody. Defendants awaiting trial and people convicted of lesser crimes are held in jail, as opposed to prison.

• Misdemeanor: An offense punishable by one year of imprisonment or less.

• Motion: A verbal or written request made by a prosecuting or defense attorney before, during or after a trial that the court responds to by issuing a rule or an order.

• Plea Agreement: An agreement between the defendant and the prosecuting attorney that will bring the case to an end if the court approves the agreement. It usually involves the defendant’s plea of guilty to a lesser offense, which could include a recommendation for a lesser sentence.

• Preliminary/Probable Cause Hearing: A legal proceeding before a judge in which arguments, witnesses and/or evidence are presented to determine if there is sufficient probable cause to hold the accused for trial.

• Probable Cause: The degree of proof needed to arrest and begin prosecution against a person suspected of committing a crime.

• Subpoena: A court order requiring a person to appear in court on a specified day and time to give testimony.

• Summons: A court order used to bring a person accused of a crime (who is not in custody) to court.

The above words are some of the most common criminal justice terms, which you will likely come across when facing an arrest or legal proceedings.

(By the way, in case you were wondering, “Habeas Corpus” is a federal process and proceeding in which a prisoner challenges the lawfulness of his or her imprisonment. “Pro Se” is when a defendant represents himself or herself in court, and “Voir Dire” is a procedure in which the prosecutor and defense attorney question potential jurors to pick a jury.)

If you Need Help

We know you don’t need to complicate your life even further with words and proceedings you don’t understand. If you need help navigating the court process, contact us anytime at 313-244-0669. We’ll walk you through it.


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