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Criminal Defense Glossary

For your information, we have compiled a list of common legal terms as it relates to criminal defense.


A legal judgment that officially and formally clears a defendant of criminal charges.


A written statement confirmed by oath or affirmation, used as evidence in court.


A request made to a higher court to review a decision made by a lower court.


A court proceeding in which the defendant is formally charged with a crime and asked to respond by pleading guilty, not guilty, or no contest.


The temporary release of an accused person awaiting trial, sometimes on condition of a sum of money being lodged to guarantee their appearance in court.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The standard of proof required in a criminal trial to convict a defendant.


The process of recording an arrest in police records, which includes photographing and fingerprinting the suspect.


A formal accusation made by a governmental authority asserting that somebody has committed a crime.


A formal declaration by a court that someone is guilty of a criminal offense.


The detention of a person by the authorities.


An individual, company, or institution sued or accused in a court of law.

Double Jeopardy

The prosecution of a person twice for the same offense, which is prohibited by the Constitution.

Due Process

Fair treatment through the normal judicial system, especially as a citizen’s entitlement.


The process of delivering a person from one jurisdiction to another to face criminal charges.


A serious crime usually punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or by death.

Grand Jury

A group of citizens that decides whether there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime.

Habeas Corpus

A legal action through which a person can seek relief from unlawful detention.


A formal charge or accusation of a serious crime.


A less serious crime usually punishable by a fine or a short jail term.

Plea Bargain

An agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence or the dropping of other charges.

Preliminary Hearing

A hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require a trial.


A period of supervised release as part of a sentence given to a convicted individual instead of incarceration.


A legal representative of the prosecution in a court case.

Public Defender

An attorney employed by the government to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases.

Courtroom and Trial Terms


Evidence or testimony that is allowed to be presented in court.


A defense that asserts the defendant was somewhere else at the time the crime was committed.


The questioning of a witness called by the opposing party.

Direct Examination

The initial questioning of a witness by the party who called the witness.


Anything useful to a judge or jury in deciding the facts of a case.


Testimony from a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else.


A formal protest raised in court during a trial to disallow a witness’s testimony or other evidence.


A judge’s decision to ignore or reject an attorney’s objection.


A judge’s agreement with an attorney’s objection, which disallows the witness’s testimony or evidence.


A formal written or spoken statement given in a court of law.


The decision of a jury or judge on the matters submitted to it in trial.

Sentencing and Post-Trial Terms


A request for a higher court to review the decision of a lower court.


Imprisonment; confinement in a jail or prison.


The punishment assigned to a defendant who has been convicted of a crime.

Criminal Defense Case Types


An intentional act that causes another person to fear imminent harm.


The actual physical impact on another person, often paired with assault.


The act of one human killing another, which can include murder and manslaughter.


The unlawful killing of another person with malice aforethought.


The unlawful killing of another person without premeditation.

Domestic Violence

Violent or aggressive behavior within the home, typically involving the abuse of a spouse or partner.


Taking property from a person through the use of force or intimidation.


Unlawful entry into a building with the intent to commit a crime, typically theft.


The unlawful taking of someone else’s property with the intent to permanently deprive them of it.


The act of stealing; can encompass various forms of taking someone else’s property.


The willful and malicious burning of property.


The intentional destruction or defacement of property.


Having control over a controlled substance.


The act of delivering a controlled substance, whether for sale or free.


The production or creation of illegal drugs.


The illegal distribution, transportation, or importation of controlled substances.


The theft or misappropriation of funds placed in one’s trust or belonging to one’s employer.


Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.

Identity Theft

The fraudulent acquisition and use of a person’s private identifying information, usually for financial gain.

Money Laundering

The process of concealing the origins of money obtained illegally by passing it through a complex sequence of banking transfers or commercial transactions.


Offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting something of value to influence an action.

Insider Trading

The illegal practice of trading on the stock exchange to one’s own advantage through having access to confidential information.

Sexual Assault

Any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.


Unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury.

Child Molestation

Any sexual activity between an adult and a minor.

Indecent Exposure

The deliberate exposure of one’s genitals in a public place.

Disorderly Conduct

Conduct that disrupts public peace or decorum, scandalizes the community, or shocks the public sense of morality.

Public Intoxication

Appearing in a public place while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


Remaining in a particular public place for a prolonged time without any apparent purpose.


Participation in a violent public disturbance.


Unauthorized access to data in a system or computer.


The attempt to obtain sensitive information by disguising as a trustworthy entity in electronic communications.


Using the internet to stalk or harass an individual, group, or organization.


Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Reckless Driving

Operating a vehicle in a manner that shows a willful disregard for the safety of persons or property.

Hit and Run

Leaving the scene of an accident without providing contact information.


An agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime at some time in the future.


Lying under oath during a judicial proceeding.