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Legal Terms

acquittal: A decision by a jury or judge that a person is not guilty of an offense.

adjournment: A postponement of a criminal case.

Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD): As defined in New York State Criminal Procedure Law 170.55, adjournment of the action without date ordered with a view to ultimate dismissal of the accusatory instrument in furtherance of justice. Essentially, it is a pre-adjudication disposition where the defendant promises to avoid additional arrests and/or observe certain specified conditions of conduct by the Court (typically six months to one year) and if successful, the Court agrees to dismiss the case. 

admissible: acceptable or valid as evidence in a court of law.

Adolescent Offender (AO): Under the Raise the Age law, a juvenile who is 16-year-old or 17-year-old and charged with a violent felony offense appears before a judge in the Youth Part of the Supreme or County Court. Cases involving adolescent offenders charged with non-violent felonies are heard in Family Court unless the District Attorney files a motion within 30 days asking the court to keep the case in the Youth Part due to extraordinary circumstances (displaying a firearm or deadly weapon, causing significant physical injury and/or engaging in unlawful sexual conduct). 

affirmance: A decision by an appeals court that upholds the decision of a lower court.

alternate jurors: Additional jurors chosen in the event that one of the twelve (or six) jurors becomes unavailable to serve during a trial.

appeal: A request for review by a higher court of proceedings in a lower court.

appellate judges (Appeals Court): Judges that decide an appeal.

appellate argument: A court proceeding where an appeal is orally argued by attorneys before an appellate judge.

appearance ticket (desk appearance ticket): A written order issued by law enforcement that requires a person to appear in criminal court on specific date and time for arraignment. 

arraignment: The initial court proceeding where a defendant is informed of the charges following an arrest or issuance of an appearance ticket.

arrest: The act of being taken into custody by the police.

bail: An amount of money ordered by a judge to be paid to the court to ensure the defendant returns for further proceedings in exchange for the defendant to be released from pre-trial custody while a criminal case is pending.

bench trial (non-jury trial): A trial where the defendant waives his or her right to a jury and the judge decides the facts of the case and renders the verdict.

bench warrant: An order issued by judge for a defendant to be arrested when he or she fails to appear in court on a scheduled date.

beyond a reasonable doubt: The burden of proof that the prosecutor must meet at trial in order to prove that a defendant is guilty of an offense.

brief: A written legal argument.

calendar part: A courtroom where a case is scheduled for proceedings.

calendared: Scheduling a date for court action to occur in a case.

central booking: A police department office where the defendant’s fingerprints and photographs are taken after an arrest.

challenge for cause: A motion to excuse a juror from serving on a jury because he or she could not be fair or for some other reason allowed by law.

charge: Accusation of an offense.

complaint: Verified written accusation by a person.

concurrent sentences: Two or more sentences that are served at the same time.

conditional discharge: A sentence allowing the defendant to be released on his or her own recognizance, but requires compliance with certain conditions set by the court.

consecutive sentences: Two or more sentences that must be served one after another.

conviction: A finding of guilt of an offense following a guilty plea or trial verdict.

Court of Appeals: The highest court in New York State, located in Albany, New York.

criminal court: A lower court where criminal proceedings begin and misdemeanor cases remain for prosecution.

criminal history (fingerprint report or rap sheet): A summary of a defendant's prior and/or currently pending arrests and convictions.

cross-examination: Questioning of a witness by the lawyer who has not called the witness.

defendant: A person who has been charged with an offense.

defense: Evidence or arguments presented on behalf of a person accused of an offense.

deliberations: A secret meeting where a jury considers the evidence presented at trial to decide if a person is guilty of an offense.

direct examination: Questioning of a witness by the lawyer who called that witness.

discovery: A process lawyers use to find out information about a case.

evidence: Testimony and exhibits introduced at a hearing or trial.

exhibits: Physical evidence introduced at a hearing or trial.

felony: An offense punishable by a sentence of imprisonment that exceeds one year.

felony complaint: The first document filed with the court that outlines the initial charges in a felony case.

felony hearing (preliminary hearing): The next court proceeding following an arraignment in a lower court (city, town or village court) on a felony complaint. A defendant has the right to a hearing where the prosecutor must establish reasonable cause that a crime occurred and present testimony that the defendant committed the crime.

After hearing the testimony, the judge will make one of the following decisions:

  • Reasonable cause exists and the case can be presented to the Grand Jury
  • Reasonable cause exists, but the elements of a felony charge do not, then the charge(s) may be reduced 
  • Further proceedings will take place in the local criminal court
  • Reasonable cause does not exist and charge(s) will be dismissed

For various legal reasons, the felony hearing may be waived by the defendant or adjourned and the criminal case will be remain pending action of the Grand Jury. 

fine: A sentence that requires the payment of money.

fingerprints: Reproductions of unique finger marks used to identify people.

gag order: An order by a judge that a case may not be discussed in public.

grand jury: A secret proceeding involving empaneled citizens who decide if the prosecutor has enough evidence to pursue a felony charge (or charges) against a person.

hearing: A court proceeding where testimony is given, exhibits are reviewed and/or legal arguments are made to help a judge decide an issue in a case.

homicide: An offense involving the killing of one person by another.

hung jury: A term used to describe a jury that cannot reach a unanimous verdict.

inadmissible: not accepted as valid as evidence in a court of law.

indictment: A document that contains the felony (and misdemeanor) charges voted by the grand jury.

jurors (jury): A group of citizens who decide at trial if a defendant is guilty or not guilty of charges.

jury box: Area of the courtroom where the jury is seated.

jury charge or jury instructions: An explanation of the law read by the judge to the jury.

jury panel: A large group of citizens from whom the jury is selected.

Juvenile delinquent (JD): A juvenile who is less than 18-years-old and charged with a misdemeanor. Cases involving juvenile delinquents are handled in Family Court by the County Attorney’s Office.

Juvenile offender (JO): A juvenile who is 13-years-old, 14-years-old or 15-years-old and charged with a certain serious felony offense listed in under New York State Criminal Procedure Law 10.00 (18). Similar to adolescent offenders, cases involving juvenile offenders are heard in the Youth Part of Supreme or County Court. Juvenile offender cases can be transferred to Family Court if the Court determines that the transfer would be in the interests of justice. 

Legal Aid Society: A private non-profit organization that provides legal representation to people who do not have enough money to pay for a lawyer.

life without the possibility of parole: Sentence of imprisonment without the possibility of release.

misdemeanor: An offense punishable by up to 364 days in jail. 

misdemeanor complaint: A document filed with the court that sets out the initial charges in a misdemeanor case.

mistrial: A decision by a judge to end a trial before a verdict is reached.

motion: A request for a judicial order.

objection: A request to a judge for an order prohibiting or excluding certain evidence.

opening statement: Arguments by prosecutors and defense counsel to the jury or judge at the beginning of a trial.

no-bill: Shorthand term for “no true bill of indictment,” which means that a grand jury has heard the evidence and voted to dismiss the case. 

order of protection: A court order that prohibits contact between a defendant and the victim and/or witness. Temporary orders of protection can be issued in domestic violence, sex crime and other cases while a criminal case is pending. Final orders of protection can be issued by the court as a part of a sentence following a plea or conviction. 

People's appeal: An appeal brought by the prosecutor.

peremptory challenge: A motion to excuse a juror from serving on a jury without any reason given.

plea agreement (plea bargain): An arrangement between the defendant/defense counsel, prosecutor and judge where the defendant pleads guilty to an offense ahead of trial. The agreement may include a plea to a lesser charge, a sentence commitment, a waiver of a right to appeal and/or other conditions. 

plead guilty (guilty plea): A defendant admits to having committed a charged offense ahead of trial. 

post bail: A defendant pays a cash or bond amount set by the judge to the court in order to be released from pre-trial custody while the criminal case is pending. 

pre-sentence memoranda: Documents prepared by the prosecutor and defense counsel to help the judge determine a sentence.

pre-sentence investigation: A report prepared by the Department of Probation following a guilty plea or trial conviction that contains information about the defendant’s background to help the judge determine a sentence.

preliminary hearing: A hearing upon a felony complaint.

probation: A sentence that does not involve prison, but requires the defendant to comply with certain conditions for a specified period of time under the supervision of the Department of Probation.

prosecutor: A lawyer who represents the government in criminal cases. Also, commonly referred to as the assistant district attorney (ADA), the People or the prosecution. 

public defender: Under the 6th Amendment of the United State Constitution, it is the right of a criminal defendant to have an attorney assist in his or her defense even if he or she cannot afford to pay for an attorney. A judge will appoint a criminal defense attorney at no cost to the defendant who cannot reasonably afford to hire a lawyer. 

rebuttal: Evidence or argument made in response to an argument.

remand: To be held in pre-trial custody without bail.

remit: An order by an appeals court sending a case back to a lower court for further proceedings.

restitution: A sentence that requires the defendant to pay a sum of money to the victim.

reversal: A decision by an appeals court that rejects the decision of a lower court.

released on recognizance (ROR): A defendant is not held in pre-trial custody or under supervision by the Department of Probation while the criminal case is pending.

release under supervision (RUS): An order by a judge where the defendant is not held in pre-trial custody, but the defendant must remain in contact with the Department of Probation and abide by certain conditions.

sealed records: If a defendant is acquitted of the offense or the criminal case is dismissed, the information is not a public record. 

sentence: A punishment imposed by a judge following a conviction.

sentencing: A court proceeding at which a sentence is imposed.

split sentence: A jail sentence followed by a period of probation.

subpoena: A written order for a person to attend a court proceeding.

summation: Closing argument made at trial.

Superior court information (SCI): A written accusation issued by the prosecutor and filed in State Supreme or County Court with the consent of the defendant, which has the same force and effect as an indictment. 

superior court information plea: A plea agreement where the defendant waives their right to be prosecuted by an indictment issued by a grand jury and pleads guilty to the offense. 

suppression order: A court order that prohibits the admission of specific evidence at trial.

Supreme Court: The court where cases involving felonies are heard.

surcharge: A payment of money to the court that is required upon conviction.

surrebuttal: The stage of the trial when a party may offer evidence in response to rebuttal evidence.

sworn oath: A promise to tell the truth.

testify (testimony): To speak under oath.

transcripts: An official written record of everything said by the prosecution, defense counsel, defendant and judge during a court proceeding.

trial: A court proceeding where a judge or jury decides whether a person is guilty or not guilty of the charged offenses.

unconditional discharge: A sentence that does not require imprisonment or other conditions.

vacate: To cancel a court order.

verdict: A decision by a judge or jury on whether a person is guilty or not guilty of charged offenses.

violation: A non-criminal offense punishable by up to fifteen days in jail and/or a fine.

waive: To give up a legal right.

well: An area of the courtroom where two tables where the defendant, defense counsel and prosecutors sit and face towards the judge. 

youthful offender (YO) adjudication: A status that can be granted at sentencing by a judge that seals the criminal conviction of an eligible adolescent offender or juvenile offender. 

Youth Part: A court within State Supreme or County Court that handles criminal cases against juveniles who are 17-years-old or younger who have been charged with a serious felony offense.