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Legal Terms & Definitions
|Legal Terms Defined
The following is a list of common legal terms.
Appeal: a request to a higher court to review the decision of a lower court.
Arraignment: a hearing where a defendant is informed of the criminal charges filed against him or her.
Bench trial: a trial held before a judge without a jury. The judge makes the final determination as to whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty.
Beyond a reasonable doubt: the idea that the proven facts of a case establish guilt.
Burden of proof: in criminal cases, the state must prove all the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
Change of plea: when a defendant decides to change a previously entered plea.
Charge: an accusation that a person has committed a crime.
Citation: a police-issued order to appear before a judge or magistrate at a future date.
Contempt of court: any act intended to hinder a court’s ability to pursue justice or lessen the court’s authority.
Decision to preliminary hearing: A pretrial hearing to determine if a preliminary hearing will be held.
Defendant: the person accused of committing a crime.
Dismissal: an order or judgment disposing of an action or case without a trial.
Docket: a brief summary of a court proceeding.
Expungement: a process where a criminal conviction is erased or sealed after passage of time.
Felony: a crime that is more serious than those classified as misdemeanors. If convicted of a felony, offenders may be sentenced to serve prison terms in the Utah State Penitentiary.
Guardian ad Litem: a person designated to represent a child in a case.
Guilty verdict: a formal decision by a jury that they find a defendant guilty of the charged offense.
Hearing: a formal court proceeding before a judge.
Hearsay: testimony relating information that someone else has told the person testifying, as opposed to what the information the testifier knows personally.
Hung jury: a jury that cannot agree upon a unanimous verdict.
Initial appearance: the first appearance of a defendant before a judge.
Jury selection: the process of selecting jury members.
Misdemeanor: a criminal offense that is less serious than a felony. In Utah, there are three classes of misdemeanor: class A, class B, and class c. Class A misdemeanors are more severe than class B or C misdemeanors. Likewise, class B misdemeanors are more severe than class C misdemeanors. If convicted of a misdemeanor, it is possible that an offender may be sentenced to serve a jail sentence in the Weber County Jail.
Mistrial: a trial which has been terminated prematurely due to a prejudicial error.
Not guilty verdict: a verdict rendered by a jury acquitting the defendant of the crime(s) he or she is accused of committing.
Order to Show Cause: a court order to appear and explain why a certain action should or should not be excused.
Petition: a formal written application asking for judicial action in some specific matter.
Plea bargain: the process where a defendant and a prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually acceptable resolution to the case.
Plea: a defendant’s formal declaration regarding his or her guilt or innocence in a criminal case.
Plea in abeyance: a guilty plea suspended for a probationary period during which a defendant may have the case dismissed upon completion of certain criteria.
Preliminary hearing: a hearing where a judge determines whether a person charged with a crime should be held or “bound over” for trial.
Pre-sentence report: a report summarizing the pre-sentence evaluation that is meant to help judges determine appropriate sentencing.
Pre-trial conference: conferences held, after the filing of criminal charges, to promote a fair and expeditious trial. During these conferences, the case status is discussed to determine whether everything is in proper order.
Probation: a sentence allowing the conditional release of the convict into the community under the supervision of a probation officer and requiring that certain criteria be met. It is meant to help the rehabilitation of the offender.
Restitution: money that an offender is ordered to repay as part of his or her sentencing terms when a victim has suffered a monetary loss caused by the criminal act in question.
Search warrant: a written order, from a judge to a law enforcement officer, authorizing the law enforcement officer to search for and seize any property that is evidence of the commission of a crime or that may be used to commit a crime.
Sentence: the judgment pronounced by a judge or jury after a defendant has been convicted of a criminal act. A sentence can range from a fine and probation to incarceration or the death penalty.
Statute: a particular law established by a legislative body defining whether or not certain actions are appropriate.
Suppression hearing: a pretrial hearing where a defendant tries to prevent evidence from being introduced into criminal cases – based on the idea that the evidence was obtained illegally.
Trial: a judicial review and decision resolving a dispute of fact between two parties.
Warrant for arrest: a written order, from the court to a law enforcement officer, to arrest a certain individual and bring them before the judge or magistrate.