Criminal defendant being found "not guilty" of the crime. An
acquittal is not a declaration of the accused "innocence"; it is a
verdict that a Prosecutor failed to prove the accused guilt beyond a
Postponing or rescheduling a case or court session until another date or time.
Generally, a final judicial determination of a case. In juvenile
delinquency cases, it is the equivalent of a 'conviction' in adult
criminal cases, when the court formally takes jurisdiction of the minor
due to a plea or a trial verdict.
A person who is no longer deemed to be a minor. In Texas, a person
becomes an adult for criminal cases when they turn 17. In some instances
a person younger than the age of 17 may be certified to stand trial as
an adult in a criminal action.
Actions contested by opposing parties.
A person who makes out an affidavit.
Written statement of fact that is verified by oath or affirmation
before a notary public or officer having authority to administer oaths.
(Affidavits are not admissible in criminal trials or hearings in lieu of
testimony because the opposing party has no opportunity to cross-examine
In the practice of the appellate courts, when a lower court order is
declared valid and will stand as rendered in the lower court.
A brief filed by an amicus ("friend of the court") in support of a
party in a lawsuit or pending appeal. The court may have to give the
amicus permission to file the brief, and may limit the issues.
"Friend of the Court" (Latin) A party who volunteers information on some aspect of a case or law to assist the court in its deliberation.
A party's written response to a legal pleading, such as a motion or brief.
Request to a supervisory court, usually composed of a panel of
judges, to change the legal ruling of a lower court. To make such a
request is "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." One who appeals is called
the Appellant; the opposing party is the Appellee.
The record sent by the trial court to the appellate court of what
happened at the trial court. This includes a copy of the docket, the
case file (court documents) and transcripts of court hearings.
A document filed with the court, and provided to other parties, by an
attorney advising that the attorney is representing a specific
The party appealing a decision or judgment to a higher court. In a criminal matter this usually the defendant.
A court that reviews a lower court's decisions. County Courts at Law
is the appellate court for Justice of the Peace or Municipal court
cases. The Third Court of Appeals in Austin, Texas is the appellate court for County Court at Law
and District Court cases from Comal County. The Texas Supreme Court is
the appellate court for Court of Appeals decisions involving civil
matters and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the appellate court
for Court of Appeals decisions in criminal cases.
The party responding to an appeal filed in a higher court.
In a criminal matter this is usually the State of Texas by and
through the District Attorney's office.
Criminal defendant's first appearance before a judge. The primary
purpose is to inform the defendant of the charge(s) he is facing. The
judge may also determine an appropriate bail and decide on a request for
To take into custody by legal authority.
An order issued by a judge or magistrate to a peace officer requiring
the arrest of a named person.
ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY
Lawyer hired by the elected District Attorney to prosecute cases
within that county as representatives of the People of the State of
A lawyer. A person authorized to practice law in a state to represent
the legal interests of another person.
Bond money paid to a court by or on behalf of a criminal defendant as
security that, when released from jail, the defendant will appear at all
future hearings. The court can also set conditions of release (i.e., no
contact with the victim, no alcohol consumption, etc.) If another person
posts the bail money, then that third party vouches that the defendant
will appear at future court dates. Bail can be forfeited if the
defendant fails to appear or violates release conditions.
A court employee who assists the judge in maintaining order in the
courthouse, and who is responsible for the custody of a jury.
Trial held before a judge and without a jury. The judge determines
BOND / BAIL BOND
A promise or contract to do or perform a specified act, or pay a
penalty for failure to perform. This is usually guaranteed by a
'surety', who promises to pay if the 'principal' defaults, or by paying
a cash bond.
In criminal cases, 'bond' means the same thing as 'bail': a financial
obligation signed by the accused or a surety intended to guarantee the
defendant's future appearances in court. The amount of the bond is set
by a judge or magistrate. The bond can include conditions of release
(i.e., no contact with the victim, no alcohol consumption, etc.) Factors
influencing the amount of bond set include the seriousness of the
charge, the defendant's criminal history, and the defendant's ties to
Written arguments submitted by the lawyers for each side in a case
explaining facts and/or law supporting their respective positions (why
the court should decide the case or a particular part of a case in favor
of that lawyer's client).
Crime punishable by death.
CHALLENGES (Jury Selection)
Method for striking prospective jurors. The Michigan Court Rules
allow two types of juror challenges: for cause (unlimited number, the
grounds for which must fit reasons specified in the Texas Court Rules)
and peremptory (limited number depending on the severity of the crime on
trial, the grounds for which do not have to be specified). Appropriate
challenges for cause exist when the juror is shown to be biased for or
against a party, is related to a trial participant, etc. No reason need
be announced for a peremptory challenge, although a purely
racially-based challenge is not permitted.
A party can also "challenge the array", which questions the
qualifications of the entire jury array (panel) summoned for jury duty
(e.g., racial discrimination).
CHARGE TO THE JURY
A judge's instructions to a jury. Information on the laws relating to
the case, definitions of legal terms, and explanations of procedures
relevant to the jury's duties.
CHILD PROTECTIVE PROCEEDINGS
Proceedings in the family division of the district court regarding
children under age 18 who are abused or neglected.
CHILDREN'S PROTECTIVE SERVICES (CPS)
A division in the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Children's Protective Services workers investigate reports of suspected
child abuse or neglect. They can also provide services to families in an
effort to prevent abuse or neglect.
Indirect evidence that implies something occurred but does not
directly prove it. Evidence that suggests something by implication.
Example: circumstantial evidence of embezzlement includes proof that
the defendant-employee had access to missing money and made several
big-ticket purchases in cash around the time of the alleged
The law does not distinguish between the weight to be given to direct
and circumstantial evidence. Jurors are instructed that they may give
more weight to circumstantial evidence than direct evidence if they find
the circumstantial evidence to be more credible.
[See also direct evidence.]
Case between private litigants concerning personal wrongs, generally
where the losing party must compensate the prevailing party with money
or other property. Examples of civil cases include divorces, personal
injury, landlord-tenant, small claims and contract or property disputes.
A civil plaintiff may be also be asking the court to tell the defendant
to stop some behavior or to do a specific thing. Both the plaintiff and
the defendant may be represented by an attorney, unless the case is
filed as a small claims case.
A grouping of statutes, relating to a particular subject matter and
arranged in classified order. Usually created by enactment of a new
statute by the legislature embodying all the old statutes relating to
the subject and including changes necessitated by court decisions. In
some cases, the change would result in a new statutory concept.
Examples: the Juvenile Code, Mental Health Code, etc.
One who participates in the commission of a crime, along with another person.
Body of legal principles which derives its authority solely from
usages, customs or court decisions since ancient times, or from the
judgments and decrees of courts recognizing, affirming, and enforcing
such usages and customs, particularly the ancient unwritten law of
England. Common law is distinguished from "statutory law", which is
enacted by a legislative body such as Congress or a state legislature.
Common law is the basis for the legal systems in every state except
Upon conviction for multiple crimes, a criminal sentence served at
the same time as another criminal sentence, rather than one after the
other. The person is release at the expiration of the longest term
See also consecutive sentence.
A statement by person, either oral or written, admitting that he or she committed a certain offense.
Upon conviction for multiple crimes, criminal sentences that must be
served one after the other, rather than at the same time. Consecutive
sentences may only be imposed if there is specific statutory authority
to do so. In some circumstances, consecutive sentences may be imposed
within the judge's discretion (e.g., when a person is convicted of a new
offense committed while on parole status).
See also concurrent sentence.
Judge or jury's decision that the accused person is guilty of the
One who gives advice, especially legal advice.
Government entity authorized to resolve legal disputes. Judges
sometimes use "court" to refer to themselves in the third person, as in
"the court has read the briefs." Courts and judges are part of the
Judicial Branch of government.
Legal counsel assigned by the court to represent an indigent criminal
defendant. A court-appointed attorney is not necessarily a "free"
attorney; the court can order that some or all of the attorney's bill be
See also Guardian ad Litem.
COURT OF APPEALS
"Intermediate" appellate court between the Texas Supreme Court or the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Texas trial courts. Final
decisions from a County Court at Law or District Court hearing may be appealed to the Court of Appeals.
Court of Appeals judges are elected for 6-year terms.
Visit the Texas Court of Appeals web site here.
Person who makes a word-for-word record (either through
stenography/short-hand or audio/video recording) of what is said in a
court proceeding and can produce a transcript of the proceedings upon
request. Michigan court reporters or recorders must be trained and
An act in violation of criminal law: an offense against the State of
Charge filed by a prosecutor against a defendant concerning violation
of a criminal law. The act of violating a criminal law is an offense
against the community, not a private wrong. Examples of criminal cases
include theft, and murder.
Questioning of a witness by a party other than the one who called
that witness to the witness stand, to test the truthfulness of the
witness's testimony, to further develop it or to otherwise expand on it.
Person who has been formally charged with committing a crime.
The attorney representing the accused (defendant).
Discussions held by the jury, after all evidence has been presented,
to decide the outcome of a case.
Oral statement made before an officer authorized by law to administer
oaths. Such statements are used in civil cases to examine potential
witnesses, to obtain discovery, or to be used later in trial.
Depositions are generally not used in criminal cases.
Evidence that stands on its own to prove an alleged fact, such as
testimony by a teller that she saw the defendant pointing a gun at her
and heard him demand money during a bank robbery.
See also circumstantial evidence.
Questioning of a witness by the party who first called the witness to the stand.
DOCKET / CASE DOCKET
A written list of all important acts done in
court in the conduct of an individual case, from beginning to end. This
term is also commonly, but improperly, applied to the case calendar (a
list of cases set for a hearing by a court on a specific day).
Number assigned by the court's clerk to identify each case.
DUE PROCESS (of Law)
The fundamental procedural rules that guarantee "fair play" in the
conduct of legal proceedings (e.g., the right to notice and a hearing,
the right to an impartial judge and jury, the right to present evidence
on one's own behalf, the right to confront one's accuser, the right to
be represented by counsel, etc.).
Information presented in testimony, documents, physical objects or
other things that are used to prove or disprove facts relevant to a
See also direct evidence, circumstantial evidence, and corroborating
Latin term that means "by or for one party."
Refers to situations in which only one party (and not the adversary)
appears before a judge. Such meetings are often forbien.
Order entered without giving the party affected by the order an
opportunity to be heard in court before the order is issued. An
emergency order used when one party could be irreparably harmed by
waiting for a hearing date. The orders are generally short-term, and
hearings are scheduled soon to give the other party a chance to be heard.
EXTRADITE / EXTRADITION
The formal process of delivering a person found in one state (or
nation) to authorities in another state (or nation) where that person
has been accused or convicted of a crime.
Crime carrying more than one year possible incarceration, unless it
is specified as a misdemeanor. Felonies are tried in District Court.
Real or personal property to which a person loses his right of
possession due to the commission of a crime or by way of an assessed
penalty. A forfeiture may be either administrative or judicial.
Reduction in time served in county jails or in state prison as a
reward for good behavior.
Group of citizens convened in a criminal case to consider the
prosecutor's evidence and determine whether probable cause exists to
prosecute a suspect for a felony.
A person with the legal duty and power to care for the person of
another individual who is: a) under age 18; or, b) a legally
incapacitated person. A guardian may be appointed by a court or
designated in a will.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM
Person appointed by the court to protect the legal interests of an
infant or an incompetent adult, or a missing person who is involved in a
court case. The court will appoint a guardian ad litem in cases of
juvenile abuse or neglect. The "GAL" may be an attorney.
Writ (order) to bring a person before a court. In its most common
usage, the writ directs a warden or jailer to bring a prisoner or person
detained so that the court may determine whether such person is lawfully
confined. It may also be used to bring a person in custody before the
court to give testimony, or to be prosecuted.
Second-hand evidence not arising from personal knowledge of the
witness but generally from repetition of what the witness has heard
Statement made outside of court (i.e., not from the witness stand at
the present proceeding) that is offered as evidence to prove that the
statement was true, not merely that the statement was made. Second-hand
evidence not arising from personal knowledge of a witness, but generally
from repeating what the witness heard others say outside the courtroom.
Hearsay is generally inadmissible, but dozens of long-established
exceptions have been approved; the exceptions are based on circumstances
where the out-of-court statements carry a likelihood of trustworthiness
(e.g., deathbed statements, self-incriminating statements, statements
made to doctors about medical conditions, excited utterances, etc.).
A criminal jury that cannot reach a unanimous verdict.
A court-approved agreement by a prosecutor to not prosecute a person,
in return for providing criminal evidence against another person or
Process of calling something into question, as in "impeaching the
testimony of a witness." Impeachment generally challenges a witness'
credibility (believability) with evidence of bias, prior inconsistent
In chambers; in private. A hearing or inspection of documents that
takes place outside the presence of the jury and public, usually in a
Formal accusation of a felony, issued by a grand jury after
considering evidence presented by a prosecutor.
Document on which criminal misdemeanor charges are filed in County
Courts at Law or after a waiver of indictment in a felony case.
Order of the court prohibiting (or compelling) the performance of a
specific act to prevent irreparable damage or injury.
Government official with authority to decide lawsuits brought before
Legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case before it, which
depends on the type of case and how closely connected the parties are to
the county where the court is located.
The geographic area over which the authority to interpret and apply
the law extends (e.g., the court's authority to decide cases, the
prosecutor's authority to issue criminal charges, etc.). (See also
In delinquency and abuse/neglect cases, the court's authority to
enter orders affecting a youth and his/her parents or household.
Persons selected according to law and sworn to inquire into and
declare a verdict on matters of fact.
Misdemeanor cases use 6-person juries. Felony cases use 12-person
Youth under the age of 17.
An attorney. A person authorized to practice law in a state to
represent the legal interests of another person.
A question that instructs a witness how to answer, or suggests which
answer is desired. These questions are usually prohibited on direct
Used generally, this title means a judge. In Texas, it can also be a
quasi-judicial officer who has the authority to set bail.
A warning given by police before custodial interrogation. It advises
the person that he does not have to talk to police, and his silence will
not be held against him, and his right to legal counsel before talking
Refers to a US Supreme Court decision: Miranda v Arizona, 384 US 436
Crime carrying maximum jail time of one year or less.
An erroneous or invalid trial; a trial declared by a judge to be
defective and void, generally due to prejudicial error in the
proceedings or a "hung jury" (a jury that could not agree upon a
NO CONTEST PLEA
A plea in which the facts supporting the crime's elements come from a
source other than the defendant's own words in court (generally, from
police investigation reports, witnesses statements, photographs, etc.).
A "nolo" plea is used when the defendant cannot recall his criminal
actions (sometimes due to intoxication), or his verbal plea from a
traditional guilty plea would be used in a potential civil law suit.
Regardless, the plea is treated the same as a guilty plea, and the
defendant is treated by a sentencing judge the same as if he was
convicted via a guilty plea or trial verdict.
Latin term meaning "I will not contest it.". See No Contest Plea.
Taking exception to a statement or procedure in trial. Used to call
the court's attention to improper evidence or procedure.
Objection Overruled - a judge's rejection of an objection as invalid.
Objection Sustained - support or agree with an objection. Used by the
judge to indicate agreement with a motion or request.
Decision of a court made in writing.
A judge's decision to not allow an objection to prevail. Also, a
decision by a higher court that a lower court's decision was in error.
See also sustain.
Conditional release from prison of a convict before the expiration of
a felony sentence. The parolee (the released person) need not serve the
remainder of his incarceration, unless he violates terms of his release.
The parolee is under the supervision of a state parole officer during
the parole period.
Knowingly making a material false statement about a material fact
while under oath to tell the truth.
Defendant's response to a criminal charge (guilty, not guilty or nolo
PLEA AGREEMENT / BARGAIN
A negotiated agreement between the Prosecutor and the defense counsel
for the defendant to plead guilty or no-contest under certain terms and
conditions. The agreement could include the defendant pleading to all
pending charges with a sentence agreement, or pleading to less than all
of his pending charges, or pleading to a less serious charge, or
pleading guilty to one or more pending charges in exchange for dismissal
of other unrelated charges. All plea agreements must be approved by the
judge. Plea agreements are a means of arriving at a reasonable
disposition without the necessity of a trial.
POLLING THE JURY
Asking jurors individually, after their verdict has been announced,
whether they agreed (and still agree) with announced verdict. This
occurs in the courtroom before the judge discharges the jury.
Court decision in an earlier case with facts and law similar to a
dispute currently before a court. Precedent will ordinarily govern the
decision of a later similar case, unless a party can show that it was
wrongly decided or that it differed in some significant way.
Discretionary sentencing option for most misdemeanor and felony
convictions where the defendant avoids some/all incarceration, and is
released back into the community under the supervision of a probation
officer for a specific time period, with rules to follow. Some rules are
standard (i.e., to not violate any more laws), and others are specific
to the defendant or crime (i.e., alcohol counseling when convicted of
driving while intoxicated). If the defendant violates any term of
probation, the assigned probation officer (or the Prosecutor) can ask
the sentencing judge to impose aitional penalties after a probation
An official written directive from a court ordering that a criminal
defendant is sentenced to a term of probation. The document is signed by
the judge and the defendant. It includes all legal conditions (both
standard and special conditions) with which the defendant must comply
during probation, including payment of fines, costs, restitution, etc.
Legal services provided to a client free of charge.
PRO PER / PRO SE
Person who represents himself/herself in court without an attorney.
The term comes from the Latin phrase in propria persona.
Nullify, void or declare invalid. To overthrow or vacate.
Texas Courts no longer allow the State or a defendant to proffer a
definition of reasonable doubt to a jury.
In the past it had been defined as a doubt based on reason and
common sense after a careful and impartial consideration of all the
evidence in the case. It is the kind of doubt that would make a
reasonable person hesitate to act in the most important of his own
Evidence having any tendency to make the existence of a fact that is
of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable
than it would be without the evidence. Texas Rules of Evidence 401.
To send a case back to the court from which it came for further
proceedings. This typically happens when an appellate court sends a case
back to a lower court with instructions on further proceedings.
Payments ordered by the judge to repay victims for economic losses
incurred as the result of the crime (property loss or injuries). Does
not include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress or
other non-economic damages that can result in compensation through a
civil law suit.
Written order from a judge or magistrate that an officer may search a
specific location for specified items which, if found, can be seized by
the government for possible use in court as evidence. Search warrants
are issued upon a showing of probable cause that the items are in the
place to be searched, and are evidence of a crime.
Punishment ordered by a court for a defendant convicted of a crime.
SEQUESTER / SEQUESTRATION
To separate. A procedure to shelter a trial participant from outside
The term most frequently applies to witnesses, and prevents them from
watching court proceedings and testimony (or talking outside the
courtroom to other witnesses about the case) before they actually
testify. In very rare cases, a jury can be sequestered during part or
all of a trial.
Conference between the judge and lawyers held out of earshot of the
jury and spectators.
Party's right to make a legal claim, or to seek judicial enforcement
of a right or duty.
Doctrine that once a principle of law has been determined to be
applicable to certain facts, that principle will be followed in future
cases involving substantially identical facts.
STATE BAR OF TEXAS
An association for attorneys licensed to practice law in Texas. All
attorneys, including prosecutors, must be a member of the State Bar in
order to practice law in Texas.
Visit the State Bar of Texas web site here.
Law passed by a legislature.
Court order requiring a person to appear in court and give testimony
as a witness, and/or to produce documents. An employer cannot act upon
or threaten to discharge or discipline a witness for missing work to
testify in court when subpoenaed.
SUBPOENA DUCES TECUM
Court order to produce documents or records.
A judge's decision to allow an objection or motion to prevail.
See also overrule.
Evidence presented orally and under oath by witnesses during trials or other court proceedings.
Official record of the testimony taken in a trial or hearing. A written, word-for-word (verbatim) record of what was said.
To set aside. Example: a court may vacate an earlier order.
Geographic location (e.g., city or county) where an event occurred. A
"change of venue" happens when a case is moved to a court in another
county or to a court having other jurisdictional powers ... generally
because the case should have been filed there originally, or for the
convenience of the parties/witnesses, or because a fair trial cannot be
had in the original court's location.
Decision of a jury or a judge on the issues submitted to the court for determination.
Person or entity who suffers direct or threatened physical, financial, or emotional harm as a result of the commission of a crime.
Process of jury selection, generally involving the judge and
attorneys asking potential jurors about their experiences and beliefs.
The purpose is to determine if the jurors are appropriate for sitting on
the case at hand, particularly their willingness to decide the case only
on the evidence presented in court. This French term means "to speak the
Intentionally giving up a right. Example: a defendant waiving his right to remain silent to be interviewed by police.
Court order authorizing an arrest or search.
Person who comes to court (sometimes by subpoena) and swears under oath to give truthful evidence about information he/she has seen, heard or otherwise experienced.