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Glossary of criminal law terms


                               Glossary of Criminal Law Terms


1.abandonment of

a child



When a parent fails to provide any financial assistance to and/or communicate with his or her child over a certain period of time, a court may declare the child legally abandoned. Legal abandonment also occurs when a child is physically abandoned by his or her parent(s).
2.accompliceSomeone who voluntarily helps another person commit a crime.
3.acquaintance rapeThe act of being raped by someone known to the victim, such as a date, neighbor or “friend.”
4.acquittal          A final judgment by a judge or jury that the prosecution has not proven a criminal defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a “not guilty” verdict.
5.actus reus(Latin, “guilty act”) The wrongful deed that comprises the physical components of a crime and that generally must be coupled with mens rea.
6.adjudication The act of giving a judicial ruling such as a judgment or decree. The term is used particularly in bankruptcy proceedings.
7.adjudicatory hearingThe procedure used to determine the facts in a juvenile case; similar to an adult trial, but generally closed to the public.
8.admissionA statement made by a party to a lawsuit or a criminal defendant, usually prior to trial, that certain facts are true. An admission is not to be confused with a confession of blame or guilt, but admits only some facts. In civil cases, each party is permitted to submit a written list of alleged facts and request the other party to admit or deny whether each is true or correct. Failure to respond in writing is an admission of the alleged facts and may be used in trial.
9.ADWAssault with a deadly weapon.
10.age of majorityThe age (18) at which a person becomes an adult, as specified by state law, and acquires most of the rights and the responsibilities of adulthood.
11.aggravated assaultThe crime of physically attacking another person which results in serious bodily harm. Aggravated assault is usually a felony punishable by a term in state prison.
12.aggravating factors           Factors that might increase the seriousness of an offense. The presence of these factors may be considered by the judge at sentencing.
13.aid and abetTo actively, knowingly, intentionally or purposefully assist someone in committing a crime.
14.appealTo resort to a higher court for the purpose of obtaining a review of a lower court’s order. The person who seeks such a review is called an appellant and the person against whom the appeal is filed is called the appellee.
15.appearance bondSee Bail.
16.appellantThe party who appeals a trial court decision he/she/it has lost.
17.apprehensionIn criminal law, the taking of a suspect into custody by police.
18.arbitration      A method of dispute resolution involving one or more neutral third parties who are usually agreed to by the disputing parties and whose decisions if binding.
19.arraignmentA court session at which a defendant is charged and enters a plea. This is also the defendant’s initial appearance, when the judge informs him or her of the charges and sets the bail.
20.arrestTo take a person suspected of a crime into custody.
21.arrest warrant A judge’s order to law enforcement officers to arrest and bring to jail a person charged with a crime, also called a warrant of arrest. The warrant is issued upon a sworn declaration by the district attorney, a police officer or an alleged victim that the accused person committed a crime.
22.arsonThe crime of intentionally burning a house or other building of property.
23.assault To attempt to hurt someone physically in a way that makes the victim feel immediately threatened.   There is no need for physical contact.
24.attemptAn effort to commit a crime that goes beyond mere preparation but does not result in the commission of the crime.
25.attorneyA person who has a law degree (in most instances) and is licensed by the state to advise and represent others in legal matters.
26.bail Money or property usually put up by the accused or his or her family to allow his or her release from jail before trial. The purpose of bail is to assure the court that the defendant will return for trial. One may be admitted to bail pending appeal as well.
27.bailiffA court official, usually a deputy sheriff, who keeps order in the courtroom and handles various errands for the judge and clerk.
28.bail bond         A bond given to a court by a criminal defendant’s surety, guaranteeing that the defendant will duly appear in court in the future.
29.bail scheduleA list of crimes and the amount of money a defendant must deposit with the court to be released from jail. The schedule is reviewed and set each year by the judges of the Superior Court.
30.bates stamp Numbering stamp used in offices to number documents in sequential order; the tool automatically advances to the next number.
31.battered childA child who has been the victim of physical abuse.
32.Battered Child


The term used to describe the syndrome whereby adults who were abused as children grow up to abuse their own children.
33.batteryAny intentional, unlawful physical contact inflicted on one person by another without consent.
34.bench trialA trial by the judge only – no jury. interests of

the child

The standard that courts use when deciding issues involving custody and visitation rights, or whether to   approve adoptions and guardianships.   It requires the courts to consider many factors, such as the health of the parent or guardian; the child’s preference; and the ability of the parent or guardian to provide the child with food, shelter, clothing and medical care, before deciding what is in an individual child’s best interest.
36.beyond a reasonable doubtThe level of proof required to convict a person of a crime. It does not require that one be “convinced 100 percent.” It does mean, however, that there

should not be any reasonable doubt as to a person’s guilt.

37.bind-over hearingAnother name for the Preliminary hearing, where probable cause is established and the case is bound over for potential jury trial.
38.bondAn obligation; a promise.
39.bookingThe formal process of making a police record of an arrest.
40.burden of proofThe obligation of a party to prove his or her allegations during a trial.
41.burglaryBreaking and entering a building with the intention to commit a felony or a theft.
42.calendarThe list of cases set in the same court on the same date.
43.California Division of

Juvenile Justice

Previously, California Youth Authority. A Div of CDCR which provides education and treatment to young criminal offenders up to age 25 with the most serious criminal backgrounds and most intense treatment needs. offense An offense that may be punishable by death or imprisonment for life. punishment The death penalty. law The collection of reported cases that form the body of law within a given jurisdiction. numberThe number assigned to a case upon its filing in court.
48.challenge for causeThe attempt by the prosecutor or defense counsel to remove a prospective juror during voir dire, (jury selection) by explaining why the juror in question is unfit to serve or would not be impartial.
49.change of venue The holding of a trail in a different jurisdiction (county) than the one in which the crime was committed, in order to guarantee that the defendant will receive a fair trial.
50.chargeThe formal accusation of a crime.
51.child abuseThe neglect or mistreatment of children.
52.child in need of


A child who is habitually truant, always violating local curfew laws, running away from home, or for some other reason beyond the control of his or her parent(s) or guardian.
53.child snatchingThe act of a divorced or separated parent who takes his or her child away from the other parent who has custody of the child.
54.citationA written notice ordering the suspect to appear in court, usually used for specified petty offenses.
55.citeTo summon before a court of law.
56.cite and releaseThe release of an arrested criminal suspect by the arresting officer on his promise to appear in court on a specific date.
57.civil action A lawsuit brought by one or more individuals against another person or business, or the government, for the purpose of redressing private wrongs.
58.civil commitment A confinement order for a person who is ill, incompetent, drug-addicted, or the like, as contrasted with a criminal sentence.
59.compensatory damagesDamages levied by a civil court or jury against the

defendant for actual financial losses incurred by the

plaintiff because of the defendant’s actions.

60.complaintThe first paper filed in a criminal prosecution which states the crime allegedly violated by the defendant.
61.compulsory educationThe basic right and legal obligation on the part of children to attend school. All states have compulsory education laws and, at a minimum, they usually require that persons between the ages of 6 and 16 attend school.
62.concurrent sentenceA prison sentence in which the separately imposed prison terms for each count are not added together but instead “run” at the same time. Thus, the sentence is the longest prison term imposed for the most serious count.
63.conservatorA court-appointed custodian of someone’s property.
64.consecutive sentence Adding together the prison terms imposed for conviction on each of several separate crimes or criminal counts, to arrive at the total length of imprisonment.
65.conspiracyAn agreement between two or more individuals to commit a crime, along with an act done to begin the crime.

Objection Rule          


The doctrine that a proper objection to the admission of evidence must be made at a trial for the issue of admissibility to be considered on appeal
67.contempt of courtTo defy a court’s authority.   If one is found or held in contempt of court, he or she may be fined, placed in jail, or both.
68.continuanceA delay of court proceedings to a future date.
69.contributing to the

delinquency of a


The act of aiding or encouraging improper conduct of a minor.
70.convict(1) a person who has been found guilty of a crime and is now in prison; (2) to find a person guilty of a crime of wrongdoing.
71.convictionA decision by a judge or a jury that the defendant is guilty of the criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt; also a plea of guilty or no contest entered at any stage of the proceedings.
72.County Jail A place where persons awaiting trial, those felons sentenced pursuant to PC 1170 (h), and persons convicted of misdemeanors are confined. San Luis Obispo County Jail is located on Hwy 1 at Kansas Avenue – outside the City of San Luis Obispo.
73.courtAny official tribunal (court) presided over by a judge or judges in which legal issues and claims are heard and determined.
74.crimeAn act or failure to act that violates a law for which a penalty (usually a fine, jail or probation or state prison) is set by the state.
75.criminal actionA criminal prosecution of a defendant.
76.criminal calendarThe list of criminal cases set to appear in court on a specific date.
77.criminal caseAn action brought by the federal, state or county authorities against an individual, charging the person with committing a crime.
78.criminal justice


The system by which government enforces criminal law. It includes everything from the arrest of an individual to the individual’s release from control by the state.
79.criminal lawThe branch of law dealing with crimes and the punishment for them.
80.criminal negligence See Negligence.
81.DA District Attorney
82.damagesMoney awarded by the court to be paid by a person who has wronged another in a civil law action.
83.death penaltyA sentence of death for the commission of the most heinous kinds of murder.
84.defendantThe person against whom a claim is made. In a civil suit, the defendant is the person being sued. In a criminal case, the defendant is the person charged with committing a crime.
85.defenseA denial, answer or plea disputing the correctness of the charges against a defendant.
86.defense attorneyA private attorney who is hired to defend a criminal suspect, or a public defender who is appointed to defend a criminal suspect.
87.delinquent offenderA minor who has committed an offense ordinarily punishable by criminal processes. Such offenses are usually processed through the juvenile justice system.
88.dependent child(1) a child under the age of majority (age 18) who is found by a court to have been neglected or abused by his or her parent(s) or guardian(s), and then placed under the protection of the court or appropriate social welfare agency; (2) a child who still depends on his or her parents for financial support, a child who can be claimed as a dependent on an income tax return, or a child who is eligible to receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).
89.detentionTemporary custody of a suspect, either in the field or at the police station.
90.diminished actuality(Previously diminished capacity) An impaired mental condition short of insanity, that is caused by intoxication, trauma, or disease and that prevents the person from having the mental state necessary to be held responsible for a crime.
91.discoveryThe pretrial procedure in which the defense receives evidence of the defendant’s involvement in the crime from the District Attorney, including witness statements, police reports,   scientific examination, etc. The defense attorney has a limited obligation of reciprocal discovery to the District Attorney.
92.dismissalJudicial termination of prosecution.
93.dispositionThe settlement of a criminal case, or the word used in the Juvenile Justice System when referring to the outcome of a Juvenile Court proceeding; similar to “sentencing” in adult court.
94. Deputy district attorneyThe attorney who prosecutes the criminal case for the People of the State of California. Generally, he tries to show that an accused person is guilty. In juvenile court, this attorney decides whether or not to bring the juvenile to court and recommends a disposition as well.
95.Diversion ProgramA special program for handling minors or adults who are usually first offenders; it is meant to be used by police, probation officers and juvenile courts to keep certain defendants out of further involvement with the criminal justice system.
96.domestic violence Violence between members of a household, usually spouses.
97.drunk driving


(Driving while intoxicated) the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated (under the influence of alcohol to the point of impaired control over one’s conscious faculties).   In California, an impaired person’s blood-alcohol concentration is 0.08 percent or above (0.01 percent for a minor).
98.due process Minors and their parents are guaranteed due process by the U.S. Constitution. This means that you will be given advance notice of all hearings and that you have a right to present your side; legal procedures must follow a set of rules and principles that are mean to guarantee justice and fair play.
99.EAAOPElder Abuse Advocacy and Outreach Project
100.elder abuse Physical or psychological abuse of an elderly person by a caretaker. Examples include deprivation of food or medication, beatings, oral assault and isolation.
101.elements of a crime Parts of a crime usually consisting of

the actus reus and mens rea that the prosecution must prove to sustain a conviction.

102.emancipationThe legal term used to describe the point at which parents are no longer responsible for their children, and children are no longer answerable to their parents. This usually occurs when the child turns 18.   However, emancipation may sometimes take place earlier if the parent and child have agreed to live independently, the child has joined the military or married, or a court has granted a petition to declare the child emancipated.
103.embezzlementThe taking of money or property by a person who has been entrusted with it (a bank teller or company accountant, for example).
104.enjoinA court’s order to stop some particular wrongful act or conduct.


A law-enforcement officer’s or government agent’s inducement of a person to commit a crime, by means of fraud or undue persuasion, in an attempt to later bring a criminal prosecution against that person.
106.EPO Emergency Protective Order: A court order restraining a person from certain activities. Usually served in the field by an investigating police officer after a telephone conference with a judge. See for example PC 646.91.
107.evidenceTestimony, documents, material objects or anything presented to human senses, which are offered to prove or disprove any fact relevant to a cause.
108.Evidence CodeThe legal statutes which allow or restrict the entry of evidence at a trial.


109.exculpatory evidence Evidence tending to establish a criminal defendant’s


110.ex parte On or from one party only, usually without notice to or argument from the adverse party.
111.ex parte motionsA motion made to the court without notice to the adverse party. witness A person who has training, education, or experience beyond that of an average citizen on a particular subject and who is formally found to be qualified as an expert by a judge. The expert witness may then give opinions in court on matters to which his expertise is relevant. Non-expert witnesses normally cannot give opinions in response to questions in court.
113.extentA seizure of property in execution of a writ.
114.extortionTaking property illegally by force or threats of harm.
115.extraditionThe official surrender of an alleged criminal by one state or nation to another having jurisdiction over the crime charged.
116.fact patternA set of facts in a criminal prosecution to which the law is applied to determine if the law was violated.
117.felonyA serious crime offense punishable by death, by imprisonment in the state prison, or by imprisonment in a county jail under the provisions of PC 1170(h).
118.felony trialTrial generally occurring 45 or more days after the preliminary hearing. California law requires a defendant charged with a felony be brought to trial within 60 days of indictment unless waived by the accused.
119.finePunishment or civil penalty payable to the public treasury.
120.forfeitureLoss of cash bail deposited with the court – a penalty for failing to appear at trial.
121.forgeryThe act of making a fake document or altering a real one with the intent to commit fraud.
122.foster homeThe residence or home (other than that of a child’s own parents) in which a child is placed temporarily by a court or welfare department.
123.foster parentsThose who take in and care for a child who is without parents or who has been removed from the custody of his or her parents.
124.FTAFailure to appear.
125.gag order A court order that prohibits the publication of incriminating evidence against the defendant. Because gag orders infringe on the First Amendment freedom of the press, they can only be used when all others means to control the effect of negative pretrial publicity has been exhausted and has failed.
126.graffitiAny unauthorized inscription, word, figure, mark or design that is written, marked, etched, scratched, drawn on real or personal property.
127.Grand Jury (criminal)A panel of citizens who determine if there is probable cause to believe that a defendant committed a crime. A process used in lieu of a Preliminary Hearing.
128.granted reviewThe action of an appellate court agreeing to hear the appeal. homeA state-licensed home to which minors who have gotten into trouble with the law; and who do not require a more restrictive environment, are sent.
130.guardianAn adult who has been given the right to make decisions on behalf of a child or disabled adult.   Guardians are also often given custody of the child or children for whom they are responsible. ad litemA person appointed by the court specifically to protect the interests of a minor in a lawsuit or other legal proceeding.
132.habeas corpus A writ employed to bring a person before a court, most frequently to ensure that the party’s imprisonment or detention is not illegal.
133.hate crimeAny crime committed against a person (or his or her property) because of his or her perceived race, ethnicity, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender or sexual orientation.
134.headnoteA case summary that appears before the printed judicial opinion in a law report, addresses a point of law, and usually includes the relevant facts   bearing on that point of view.
135.hearingA constitutionally required formal proceeding in which the accused is given notice of charges brought against him or her and then has an opportunity to present a defense.
136.hearsayTraditionally, testimony that is given by a witness who relates not what she or he knows personally, but what others have said, and that is therefore dependant on the credibility of someone other than the witness.
137.held to answerSee Holding Order below.
138.holding order A decision ordering one or more persons to stand trial, made by a justice or municipal court judge after a preliminary hearing based on findings that one or more crimes have been committed and that there is sufficient cause to believe one or more persons committed the crime.
139.homicideThe killing of another person.   Homicide can be criminal, non-criminal or negligent.
140.hung jury The situation in which a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision.
141.incestThe crime of sexual intercourse or cohabitation between a man and woman who are closely related.
142.incestuousSexual relations between close relatives. Relations between parent (including grandparents) and child, siblings, or aunt or uncle with niece or nephew are considered incest.
143.inculpatory evidence Evidence tending or showing one’s involvement in a crime.
144.IndictmentThe charging document returned by a criminal Grand Jury.
145.infractionA violation, usually of a rule or local ordinance and not punishable by incarceration.
146.initial hearingA preliminary examination of the validity of a youth’s arrest, during which the state must prove that an offense was committed and there is reasonable cause to believe the youth committed it.
147.injunctionA writ (order) issued by a court ordering someone to do something or prohibiting some act after a court hearing. propria persona Latin, “in one’s own person”.
149.inquestAn investigation and/or a hearing held by the coroner (a county official) when there is a violent death either by accident or homicide, the cause of death is not immediately clear, there are mysterious circumstances surrounding the death, or the deceased was a prisoner.
150.interrogationThe questioning of a witness or suspected criminal.
151.issuanceThe physical act by the district attorney’s office of charging a defendant with a crime.
152.jailA place of confinement for persons convicted of misdemeanors, or awaiting trial, or felons sentenced pursuant to Penal Code Section 1170 (h).
153.juryA body of men and women selected to examine certain facts and determine truth in a legal proceeding.
154.jury deliberationWhen a jury reviews the evidence of the trial and arrives at a verdict.
155.jury instructions Directions given by a judge to jury informing them of the law to be applied in the case.
156.jury trial A legal proceeding in which the decision regarding the defendant’s guilt is made by a group of citizens and expressed in a verdict.
157.juvenileA person not yet considered an adult for the purposes of determining either criminal or civil liability; a minor.
158.juvenile courtCourts established by a state to hear matters involving youngsters under the age of 18 who have either been abused or neglected by their parents or found to be outside the control of their parents, or who have committed a crime.
159.juvenile hallA locked facility where minors are placed prior to a court hearing.
160.kidnapingTaking a person against his or her will.
161.larcenyThe crime of taking the goods of another person without permission (usually secretly), with the intent of keeping them. It is one form of theft. Some states differentiate between grand larceny and petty larceny based on the value of the stolen goods. Grand larceny is a felony with a prison sentence as a punishment and petty larceny is usually limited to county jail time. defenseA legally recognized excuse for a defendant’s actions, such as implied consent, privilege and self-defense, which may remove liability for certain offenses.
163.legislationLaws or statutes that have been enacted by a legislative body.
164.liabilityLegal responsibility for one’s acts or omissions.
165.lock-upA secured or locked place where the inmates are not free to leave.
166.loiteringLingering in a public place with the intent to commit an illegal act.
167.magistrate A judicial officer with strictly limited jurisdiction and authority often on the local level and often restricted to criminal cases.
168.malice Ill will; intent to harm.
169.malicious mischiefSee vandalism.
170.malum in se(Latin, “evil in itself”), a crime or an act that is inherently immoral, such as murder, arson, rape and other crimes against a person.
171.malum prohibitum (Latin, “prohibited evil”), an act that is a crime merely because it is prohibited by statute, although the act itself is not necessarily immoral. For example, misdemeanors such as jaywalking and running a stoplight are malum prohibitum, as are many regulatory violations.
172.mandatory sentencing Laws that require courts to sentence convicted criminals to certain prison terms.
173.manslaughterThe killing of a person without malice or premeditation, but during the commission of an unlawful act, or a lawful act done in an unlawful manner.
174.mediationA form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties choose a neutral third party who helps the parties reach their own decisions to resolve the dispute.
175.medical malpracticeA medical professional’s improper or immoral conduct in performance of his or her duties.
176.mens rea Latin for a “guilty mind,” or criminal intent in committing the act.
177.minorA person under the age of majority (under the age of 18 in California).
178.Miranda Warning Rights that a person must be told prior to questioning when arrested or taken into custody by police or other officials. These include the right to remain silent, to contact a lawyer, and to have a free lawyer if the person arrested cannot afford one.
179.misdemeanorA criminal offense, less serious than a felony, punishable by a jail sentence of one year or less.


A criminal defendant’s first appearance in court when he is advised of the charges against him, given discovery of the evidence and provided an attorney.
181.misdemeanor trial The trial in a misdemeanor case.
182.mistake of fact A mistake about a fact that is material to a transaction. Also termed error in fact.
183.mistake of law A mistake about the legal effect of a known fact or situation. Also termed error in law.
184.mistrialOccurs when a trial must be stopped for any reason at some time after starting or, as by a hung jury, when jurors cannot unanimously agree on a verdict. The case may then be retried at the discretion of the prosecutor.
185.mitigating factorsFactors that may lessen the seriousness of an offense. The presence of these factors may be considered by the judge at sentencing.
186.Modus Operandi The way or pattern in which a criminal commits his/her crime (M.O.)
187.moral turpitudeDishonesty or vileness of a high degree.
188.motionThe formal request, by either prosecution or defense, or a judge to hear and decide a disputed issue.
189.motions to suppress Motions made to the court by the defense counsel to suppress the introduction at trial of incriminating evidence because of the   allegedly illegal manner in which it was acquired. Pretrial motions are often made to suppress evidence obtained by police conduct in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
190.motiveThe reason a person commits a crime.
191.murderThe unlawful killing of a person with malice aforethought.
192.neglected childA child is neglected when his or her parent or custodian fails to provide necessary physical, emotional, medical or institutional care..
193.negligenceFailure to exercise the care that a reasonable person would exercise in the same circumstances.
194.noloAlso “nolo contendre:” An alternate plea with nearly the same legal consequences of a guilty plea.
195.nolo contendere A plea of “no contest” whereby the defendant indirectly admits guilt but is protected from having the admission of guilt used in a civil court in the event the defendant is sued by the victim. contest Same as nolo contendre above.   A criminal defendant’s plea that, while not admitting guilt, the defendant will not dispute the charge.
197.OCJPOffice of Criminal Justice Planning (granting and funding agency for Victim/Witness programs state wide).
198.on point Discussing the precise issue now at hand. “As in this opinion is not on point as authority in our case”.
199.OROwn recognizance.
200.O.R. motionsA request by a criminal defendant to be released without bail on his promise to appear in court on a specific date.
201.overruledA judge’s ruling that an attorney’s objection will not be granted.
202.own recognizance The release, without bail, of a criminal defendant who

promises a judge to appear at future court proceedings. This is possible in all cases in which a defendant is entitled to post bail. The judge in such cases also has statutory discretion to release a defendant on his own “recognizance” or “responsibility” without posting bail, for subsequent court appearances. Failure by a defendant to later appear in such a case is, itself, a crime.


responsibility laws

Statutes in which parents are held responsible for the acts committed by their children.
204.parental rightsRights to exercise parental control and custody over a child.
205.paroleRelease from prison before the full sentence has been served, granted at the discretion of a parole board.
206.paroleeA convict who has been released from prison before the full sentence has been served. He will be subject to the direction of a parole board.
207.partial emancipationThe legal doctrine that allows minors to keep and spend their own earnings.
208.partiesThe people concerned with or taking part in a pending legal action or lawsuit.
209.paternityThe state or condition of a father, the relationship of a father or fatherhood.
210.paternity actionA legal action to determine parentage and often the legal obligation of support.
211.PC 148 Resisting, delaying or obstructing a police officer.
212.PC 415 Disturbing the peace.
213.PC 502 Old DUI charge. Now VC23152 a & b.
214.Penal CodeA list of criminal offenses and recommended sentences.
215.perjuryThe crime of intentionally lying after being duly sworn to tell the truth by a notary public, court clerk or other official.
216.petitionA formal written request for something to be done.
217.plaintiffThe party who files a complaint; in the case of criminal law, the government.
218.pleaThe defendant’s formal reply to the criminal charges (guilty, not guilty, or NOLO contendre). To be considered valid, a guilty plea must be voluntary, intelligent, and informed, and the court determines this by questioning the defendants and pointing out the possible sentences. Defendants who refuse to plead to the charges (who must stand mute) have a not guilty plea entered for them by the court.
219.plea bargain (also, plea agreement)Usually involves a criminal defendant pleading guilty or NOLO contendre to agreed-upon charges in return for an agreed upon disposition.
220.points and authoritiesLegal authorities, usually cases and statutes, cited by a party to support his position in a court action.
221.poisonous tree


Legal theory whereby an illegality by an officer may jeopardize the admission into court of evidence items or observations by police.
222.P.O.S.T. Peace Officer’s Standard of Training.
223.predicate fact A fact from which a presumption or inference arises.
224.preliminary hearing A hearing before a court, often held in felony cases, to protect the defendant against unwarranted prosecution and detention by requiring the state to establish probable cause that the defendant committed a crime.
225.preponderance of

the evidence

The standard of proof generally used in civil suits. To prevail, the party must present sufficient evidence in court to show that his or her claims are more likely to be true than not.
226.pretrial conferenceA meeting in court between the judge, the District Attorney, and defense attorney to attempt to settle a criminal charge.
227.pretrial hearingsA hearing before a trial to facilitate settlement of a case; also called a pretrial settlement conference.
228.pretrial writAn appeal to a higher court prior to trial.


Holding a person against his or her will because of the likelihood that the individual will commit a crime.
230.prima facie Sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted.
231.principal(1) The person who actually commits a crime; (2) the amount of money borrowed or loaned which does not include interest.
232.prisonA place of confinement for criminals who were convicted of felonies and are serving long-term sentences. There are two types of prison – state prison ; where sex offenders, those who have committed serious or violent crimes and some “3-Strikers” are held, and “county jail prison”, for those felons sentenced per Penal Code 1170 (h).
233.probable cause Reasonable grounds to believe that a felony was committed and that the person arrested is the felon. Also the legal basis on which warrants are issued by the court and defendants are bound over from the preliminary hearing or the grand jury.
234.probation (formal)A period of time when a person is under the supervision of a probation officer to make sure court orders against the minor are followed.
235.probation officer (PO)County employees of the Probation Department who work with defendants convicted of crimes; duties vary but generally supervision of defendants on probation.
236.proof beyond a

reasonable doubt

The standard of proof required to obtain a conviction at a criminal trial before a jury or judge sitting alone. The state’s burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in court applies to each separate criminal offense with which the defendant is charged. return In some criminal cases, personal property is held by law enforcement or by the court as evidence.
238.prosecutionThe process of suing someone in a civil case or bringing someone to trial on criminal charges.
239.prosecutorThe government’s attorney in a criminal case.
240.prostitutionPerforming sexual acts for money.
241.proveTo show with evidence that something exists, is true, or is untrue.
242.proximate causeA cause that is legally sufficient to result in liability.
243.public defender An attorney who is paid by the county to defend those without money who are accused of committing crimes.
244.rapeUnlawful sexual intercourse.
245.readiness conferenceA meeting between the judge, district attorney and defense counsel just before trial to determine if all parties are ready for trial.
246.reasonable cause See Probable Cause..
247.reasonable person


The idealized standard of how a community expects its members to act. It is based on the degree of care that persons of ordinary prudence would exercise in particular situations.


A minor judicial official appointed by the superior court judges. When sitting in court has generally the same power as the judge.
249.rehabilitationThe process through which a convicted person is reformed, so as not to commit another criminal act.
250.release on own

recognizance (or)

The non-monetary release on bail of “low risk” defendants who are recommended for unconditional release, based on their social ties to the community.
251.restitutionMoney paid to victims by the offender to make up for harm or damage done.
252.revocation      In criminal law, the taking away a present “liberty interest,” resulting in the offender returning to custody. The most important forms of revocation are probation revocation, parole revocation and the revocation of good time credit.
253.robberyThe unlawful taking of property from a person’s immediate possession by force or threat of force.
254.SBOCState Board of Control (in Sacramento): Assists prosecutors in obtaining restitution (among other things) in a criminal case, similar to an EPO (above). warrant A written order by a judge which permits a law enforcement officer to search a specific place, person, or vehicle and identifies the persons (if known) and any articles intended to be seized (often specified by type, such as “weapons,” “drugs and drug paraphernalia,” “evidence of bodily harm”).
256.self-defenseThe right to defend oneself with whatever force is reasonably necessary against an actual or reasonably perceived threat of personal harm.
257.self-incriminationGiving evidence and answering questions that would tend to subject one to criminal prosecution.
258.sentenceThe penalty imposed by a judge upon a convicted criminal.
259.sentencing briefA motion by the district attorney to encourage the judge to sentence a defendant in a particular way.
260.shopliftingA form of theft in which items are taken from a store without payment or the intention to pay.
261.slanderOral defamation, in which someone tells one or more persons an untruth about another, which untruth will harm the reputation of the person defamed.
262.specific intentThe intent to accomplish the precise criminal act that one is later charged with.
263.state prison A state facility of confinement for convicted sex offenders, or serious/violent offenders.
264.status offendersYouth who are charged with being beyond the control of their legal guardians, habitually disobedient, or truant from school, or with committing other acts that would not be crimes if committed by an adult.
265.status offensesActs that are illegal if committed by a juvenile (truancy or running away from home, for example).
266.statutesWritten codes which describe laws and set rules and deadlines for lawsuits.
267.Statute of LimitationsLaws that set deadlines for when a lawsuit must be filed.
268.statutory rapeAn act of sexual intercourse with a minor (under age 18) who is not the perpetrators spouse. It is a crime whether or not the minor consents to the act.
269.stop and friskTo “pat down” or search someone whom the police believe is acting suspiciously and who may be carrying a weapon.
270.strict liability Liability or responsibility for harm whether or not the person causing the harm displayed any fault or moral impropriety.
271.sua sponte (Latin, “of one’s own accord; voluntarily”) As in “without prompting or suggestion, on its own motion, the court took notice sua sponte that it lacked jurisdiction over the case”.
272.subpoena A mandatory legal notice to appear in court.
273.summary judgment motion A pre trial motion, usually in a civil case, to decide important issues in the lawsuit.
274.summonsA written notice ordering the suspect to appear in court, usually used in petty offenses.
275.sustainedA judge’s ruling that an attorney’s objection is proper.
276.taggersThose who deface property (see Graffiti)
277.telephonic warrantA search warrant obtained by police, over the phone, from a judge. The call is tape recorded and followed by written documents.
278.temporary restraining order (TRO)An order issued by a court to prevent a change in the status quo. In interpersonal settings, a TRO is sometimes issued by a court to prevent one person from hitting another person or from snatching a child in a custody dispute. A TRO is temporary and may be issued without calling together both parties to the dispute. Often, a court will later hold a hearing to see whether the TRO should be made into a permanent injunction.
279.termination of

parental rights

The taking away, by the state, of the rights that parents possess in relation to their children.   Parental rights are terminated when a child is put up for adoption. Parental rights may also be suspended or terminated if a court finds a parent unfit and/or decides to place a child in foster care.
280.testimonyEvidence that a competent witness under oath or affirmation gives at trial or in an affidavit or deposition.
281.transcriptThe written record of a court proceeding.
282.transferred intent Intent that has been transferred from the originally intended criminal act to the criminal act actually committed.
283.trialIn criminal law, the adversary method of whereby opposing attorneys prove in court, according to the rules of evidence, that the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
284.trial courtsCourts that listen to testimony, consider evidence and decide the facts in a disputed situation.
285.trial setting conference The meeting between the judge, district attorney and defense attorney setting a case for trial.
286.trial setting The time and date established by a court for a trial or hearing.
287.truantA pupil who has stayed away from school without permission for a certain period of time.
288.unfit parentA parent who has been shown to be unable to care for his or her children, usually because of criminal convictions, or is otherwise of questionable moral character.
289.unlawful detainer The unjustifiable retention of the possession of real property by one whose original entry was lawful, as when a tenant holds over after lease termination despite the landlords demand for possession.
290.vandalismMaliciously defacing, damaging or destroying someone’s property.
291.VCGCBThe Victim Compensation and Government

Claims Board. VC 23152 (a)

292.VC 23152(a) and (b)VC 23152(a) = driving under the influence. Also known as “drunk driving”. VC 23152 (b) = Driving with a blood alcohol level of .08% or more.
293.VC 23158Code section enhancing a DUI sentence for defendant’s refusal to provide a sample of blood, breath or urine or for having more than .20 blood alcohol.
294.verdictThe decision by a jury, at the conclusion of a trial that the defendant is guilty or not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
295.vicarious liability Sometimes called “imputed liability,” attachment of

responsibility to a person for harm or damages

caused by another person in either a negligence

lawsuit or criminal prosecution.

296.victimSomeone who has suffered as the result of another person’s actions.
297.victim compensation State payments to the eligible victims of crime for out of pocket expenses such as un-reimbursed medical bills and income lost as a result of injuries that occurred. The crime must have resulted in injury or threat of injury to the victim.
298VOCVictims of Crime
299.voir dire(French, “to speak the truth”) A preliminary examination of a prospective juror by a judge or lawyer to decide whether the prospect is qualified and suitable to serve on a jury.
300.waiverA defendant’s or a convicted offender’s decision to relinquish a legal right. Defendants often waive their right to a jury trial, to take their chances in a bench trial before a judge sitting alone.
301.wardA person incapable of managing his or her own affairs and for whom the court steps in to make decisions.
302.warrantAn order from the court that directs the police to arrest the person identified in the warrant or authorizes them to search the place and area described “with particularity” in the warrant.
303.Welfare and

Institutions Code

A collection of laws dealing with minors and institutions.
304.W&I 5150



Welfare and Institutions code section 5150 allowing for a forced 72 hour observation period in a county mental health facility, of a person suffering from mental problems.
305.white collar crimes Crimes involving commercial fraud, cheating consumers, swindlers, insider trading on the stock market, embezzlement and other forms of dishonest business schemes.
306.witnessA person who has knowledge of facts having to do with a case being tried and who gives testimony. programA program where the court orders an adult or minor to work on public grounds and facilities on weekends and after school as part of a criminal sentence releaseThe type of sentence in which a defendant is allowed to work in the community but is required to return to custody at night or on weekends as part of a criminal offense.
309.writ A court’s written order, in the name of a state or other competent legal authority, commanding the addressee to do or refrain from doing some specific act.



-San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, credit to Kirk Wilson