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Definitions of Legal Terms used in the Criminal Justice System

ACQUITTAL:  A disposition of a case after trial when a defendant is found not guilty.

ADA or AUSA:  Abbreviation for an Assistant District Attorney or Assistant United States Attorney. See also Assistant District Attorney.

ADJOURN:  To continue a proceeding to a later time.

ADJOURNMENT IN CONTEMPLATION OF DISMISSAL (ACD):  A State conditional dismissal of a case pending law-abiding behavior of the defendant. An ACD case may be restored to the court¹s calendar if the defendant commits any new crimes.

AFFIDAVIT:  A written statement of facts submitted in the course of a legal proceeding.

AFFIANT:  One who makes an affidavit.

ARRAIGNMENT:  The initial stage of a criminal proceeding, occurring after an arrest. A defendant is brought before a judge and informed of the criminal charges pending. If applicable, bail is set.

ARRAIGNMENT COURT PART:  The location in which defendants are arraigned.

ARREST:  The commencement of the criminal justice process when an individual is charged and taken into custody. In some cases, an investigation precedes the arrest.

ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY (ADA):  Assistant District Attorneys are lawyers hired by the District Attorney to prosecute State cases as representatives of the People of the State of New York.

ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY (AUSA):  Assistant United States Attorneys are lawyers hired by the United States Attorney to prosecute federal cases as representatives of the United States government.

BAIL:  Cash or bond posted by a defendant as collateral to ensure that he or she returns to court on a future date.

BENCH WARRANT:  A warrant issued by a judge when an individual fails to appear in court at a specified date and time.

CALENDAR PART:  Court Part to which a case is sent after arraignment, but before trial. Motions and pleas are heard in this Part.

COMPLAINT:  The legal instrument filed by the State or federal government which initiates a criminal action. The complaint states the alleged crime of the defendant in legal language. In Criminal Court (misdemeanor cases), the complaint serves as the formal accusatory instrument. In Supreme of federal courts (felony cases), the complaint serves as a preliminary accusatory instrument until a Grand Jury indictment is obtained.

COMPLAINANT:  A person who makes a complaint or files a formal charge in a court of law.

CONDITIONAL DISCHARGE:  A sentence imposed by a judge when a court believes that neither jail nor probation is appropriate for the defendant. The court can require the defendant to lead a law-abiding life, to participate in a specific program, or to avoid contact with certain persons.

CONTRABAND:  Goods barred by law. Contraband generally includes specific weapons or drugs prohibited by law.

CONVICTION:  A disposition of a case in which the defendant is found guilty by trial or plea.

CORROBORATING AFFIDAVIT:  An affidavit provided by a witness that confirms the witness assertions as stated in the criminal complaint (the legal instrument which initiates a criminal action). A corroborating affidavit converts a complaint into an information, which is then ready to proceed through the criminal justice process.

COURT CLERK:  The Court Clerk assists the judge in record-keeping and other clerical duties; generally in charge of the personnel assigned to the courtroom.

COURT OFFICERS:  Court officers are distinguished by their uniforms, badges, and shoulder patches and they are responsible for security in the court room. They are usually armed. They often assist the clerk of the court with clerical duties.

COURT PART:  The physical location in which court proceedings occur. See also Arraignment Part, Jury Part, and All Purpose Part.

CRIMINAL COURT:  The Criminal Court in the County of NYS in which various proceedings occur between arraignment and trial, if a misdemeanor.

CROSS-EXAMINATION:  The questioning of a witness presented by the opposing party at trial.

DECLINE TO PROSECUTE or DEFERRED PROSECUTION (DP):  In some cases, the prosecutor may decide not to proceed against a defendant, in which case the prosecutor declines to prosecute the case. A prosecutor may decline to prosecute for a number of reasons, for example, if there is insufficient evidence or if further investigation is needed.

DEFENDANT:  The person alleged to have committed the crime.

DEFENSE LAWYER:  The lawyer who represents the defendant in a criminal case.

DEPONENT:  A person who testifies under oath, usually in writing.

DESK APPEARANCE TICKET (DAT):  A DAT is issued for less serious crimes. It releases a defendant from custody before arraignment and requires the defendant to appear in Criminal Court on a specified day for arraignment. If a defendant fails to appear on a DAT, a bench warrant may be issued. The warrant authorizes the arrest of the defendant and the arresting officer is directed to bring the defendant before the court.

DISMISSAL:  The disposition of a case in which the charges against a defendant are removed. Only a judge can dismiss a case.

DISMISSAL:  The disposition of a case in which the charges against a defendant are removed. Only a judge can dismiss a case.

DISPOSITION:  Once a case has concluded, it is said to be disposed. Possible dispositions include: conviction by trial or plea, dismissal, and acquittal.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  The District Attorney is a lawyer, elected by the residents of the County, to represent the State in criminal proceedings against those accused of crimes.

DISTRICT COURT (federal):  Where federal cases are prosecuted.

DOCKET NUMBER:  Cases are numbered, and tracked by the Court with a docket number.

FELONY:  A State and federal offense which is the most serious crime category. State felonies are divided into five classes: “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, and “E” An “A” felony is the most serious, and an “E” felony is the least serious. The class determines the permissible sentence and prison terms in excess of one year that may, and sometimes must, be imposed. Examples of felonies are robbery, burglary, grand larceny, sale of narcotics, and murder.

GRAND JURY:  Under New York State and federal law, Grand Juries are empowered to hear evidence presented by prosecutors and to file charges, known as indictments, in felony cases. The Grand Jury can also conduct independent investigations. Each Grand Jury is comprised of 23 people.

HEARSAY:  Evidence based upon the reports of others, rather than on the first-hand experience of a witness.

HUNG JURY:  A jury that cannot reach a unanimous verdict is called a hung jury. When there is a hung jury, the case may be retried.

INDICTMENT:  A written statement charging a party with the commission of a crime or other offense, drawn up by a prosecuting attorney, and voted and filed by a Grand Jury.

INFORMATION:  A complaint which has the necessary corroborating affidavit.

INTERPRETER:  Provides translation for non-English speaking witnesses and defendants.

JUDGE:  Presides over trials and hearings, decides motions, and conducts arraignments.

JURISDICTION:  The territorial range over which the authority to interpret and apply the law extends. Each of the 62 counties in New York State has a District Attorney who is an elected official. Each DA has jurisdiction to prosecute crimes and offenses that are committed in the county of election only. In NYS there are four United States Attorneys for the Southern, Eastern Districts (NYC and the surrounding suburban counties) and the Northern and Western Districts in upstate New York.

JURY PART:  Court Part in which trials occur.

MISDEMEANOR:  Misdemeanors are offenses for which a term of 15 days to one year may be imposed. Misdemeanors are divided into two classes: “A” and “B.” The maximum term of imprisonment for an “A” misdemeanor is one year and the maximum term for a “B” misdemeanor is three months. Examples of misdemeanors are shoplifting, trespassing in a building, and jumping a turnstile.

OFFENSE:  In New York there are three major classes of offenses for which a person may be prosecuted: violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. Violations are the least serious offenses. Offenses are defined in the Penal Law of New York State. Others can be found in statutes such as the Vehicle and Traffic Law or in local ordinances.

PART:  The courtroom in which a judge presides over cases.

PLEAS:  Guilty pleas are dispositions in which the prosecutor and the defendant agree on a guilty charge. Often, pleas will have a sentencing recommendation. A judge must approve the plea. A defendant pleads not guilty when he does not admit to the charges brought against him. If a defendant pleads not guilty, his case will continue until trial, dismissal, or such time that the defendant decides to plead guilty.

PRECINCT:  New York City are divided into police precincts in each of the five boroughs.

PROBATION DEPARTMENT:  The department responsible for the supervision of persons placed on probation in lieu of imprisonment. This department also conducts pre-sentence investigations used by judges when determining sentences.

RELEASED ON OWN RECOGNIZANCE (ROR):  When the court determines that a defendant is likely to appear in court as required by law, bail may be deemed unnecessary and the defendant is released without posting bail.

REMAND:  In serious cases when the court determines that a defendant is likely to flee the jurisdiction of the court, the court may determine that bail should not be offered. Remanded defendants remain in custody.

STENOGRAPHER OR COURT REPORTER:  Takes verbatim record of court proceedings using a stenotype machine which records stenographic symbols on paper.

SUPREME COURT:  In New York State, the court in which felonies are tried. Though the name is misleading, the Supreme Court of New York is not the highest court in the state–the Court of Appeals is the highest court in New York State.

SUPREME COURT CALENDAR PART:  The Supreme Court Calendar Part is the part in which various proceedings occur between Supreme Court arraignment and trial. Motions and pleas are handled in the Part.

TRIAL:  A criminal trial is a formal examination of evidence before a court of law or a jury to determine whether a defendant is guilty of the charges brought against him beyond a reasonable doubt.

TRIAL COURT PART:  The court part in which trials occur, which could be in a Criminal, Supreme or federal District Court.

UNCONDITIONAL DISCHARGE:  A sentence of an unconditional discharge is imposed when the judge does not believe that it would be helpful to impose any conditions on the defendant.

VIOLATION:  An offense carrying the lowest sanctions. Although they are penal in nature, violations are not defined as crimes. The maximum term of imprisonment is fifteen days.

WARRANT:  A judicial writ authorizing an officer to execute a search, seizure, or arrest.

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