Terms of Criminal Law


Burdens of Proof - In a criminal case, the State has the burden of proving "beyond a reasonable doubt" that a defendant committed a crime. A reasonable doubt is an honest and reasonable uncertainty about the guilt of the defendant.

In comparison, in a civil case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving "by a preponderance of the evidence" that a defendant is liable for some act. In other words, the plaintiff must prove only that a fact is more likely true than not true. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a heavier burden than proof by a preponderance of the evidence.

Grand Jury - The Prosecutor presents evidence to a jury of not more than twenty-three citizens and asks them to determine whether to compel a defendant to face criminal charges.

Indictment - When a grand jury determines that a defendant should face criminal charges, it returns an indictment.

Arraignment - The first appearance in court after a complaint or indictment is returned. A formal plea of "not guilty" is entered. If the accused is in police custody the issue of bond may be raised at arraignment or as part of a separate bond hearing.

Plea bargain - A plea bargain is an agreement between your criminal defense lawyer and a prosecutor. It usually includes a plea of guilty in exchange for a beneficial sentence.

Pre-trial intervention - Some defendants may be eligible for this program which diverts cases from the criminal courts. The pre-trial intervention program allows some first-time offenders to perform community service or other activities and have all charges dismissed. Crimes involving violence or drugs frequently involve the completion of related treatment programs as a requirement for the receipt of reduced or dismissed charges and. Pre-trial intervention is often available on a discretionary basis and is not offered in cases involving those with a prior record or in cases where the facts are particularly egregious.

Expungement - If you are found not guilty, or if all charges are dismissed, then you may be eligible for an expungement. An expungement erases all record of your arrest and of the charges that were filed against you.

Restraining order - When police suspect that someone may be a victim of domestic violence, a judge may grant that person a temporary restraining order. This order prohibits the person suspected of committing the violence from having any contact with the victim, under penalty of criminal charges. The court will schedule a hearing within ten days of issuing this temporary restraining order for the purpose of determining whether to grant a permanent restraining order.

Suppression motion - If the police stop your car, arrest you, search you or your home without a valid search warrant, then you may make a motion to suppress all evidence seized by the police.

Miranda rights - Before questioning a suspect, who is in custody, the police must inform him of his right to remain silent and to have counsel present during questioning. If a person requests an attorney, all questioning must stop. Answering police questions without having an attorney present usually harms a defendant more than it helps. A person should always remain silent until counsel arrives.