Glossary of Terms & Definitions

List of Terms & Definitions


View definitions of terms used in the legal realm.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

A


  • Alford Plea - A guilty plea entered into by a defendant in which he or she admits that the Commonwealth has enough evidence for a conviction, but doesn't admit guilt
  • Arraignment - The process in which the court advises a defendant of the charges against him/her; sometimes referred to as "1st in" or "1st appearance"
  • ASAP (Alcohol Safety Action Program) - The agency which provides evaluation, treatment and monitoring in DUI cases. Also may perform drug testing for the court in "first offender" cases

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B


  • Bail / Bond - An amount of money set by the magistrate which must be posted by a defendant as a guarantee that he will appear in court in the future. There are two types - personal recognizance, which doesn't require cash up front, and surety, which can be posted in cash, property or by a professional bondsman
  • Bench Trial - Trial by the judge without a jury
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt - The standard required for a conviction. The jury instruction defines it as a doubt based on the sound judgment of the jury or judge after a full and impartial consideration of all the evidence in the case; does not mean proof beyond all possible doubt; however, suspicion or probability of guilt is not enough for conviction
  • Bond Hearing - A court´s review of the magistrate´s determination of bond; determines the defendant´s physical location before trial
  • Bond Forfeiture - Issued when a defendant, whose appearance in court has been guaranteed by the posting of a bond, fails to appear. It tells the guarantor (usually a professional bondsman) to appear in court to explain why the money of property should not be paid over to the court
  • Burden of Proof - The legal standard; in criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the Commonwealth to prove the defendant´s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt

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C


  • CCD (Community Corrections Division) - A division of the Department of Corrections, primarily responsible for supervising persons convicted of misdemeanors; also may be used to mean Community Service, as in "defendant must do 40 hours of CCD" - Community Corrections supervises the community service hours
  • Capias - Process issued by the court instructing law enforcement to take a defendant into custody after failing to appear in court - more serious than a failure to appear
  • Certified to the Grand Jury -The court has found probable cause, and the case is sent to the grand jury for its consideration
  • Chain of Custody - If a piece of evidence (such as blood, drugs or a weapon) is analyzed by the state lab, the Commonwealth present evidence of the movement and location of it from the time it is obtained until it is analyzed or until it is presented in court
  • Commitment - Sentencing of a juvenile to confinement at the Department of Juvenile Justice (equivalent to a jail or penitentiary sentence for an adult)
  • Competence to Stand Trial - Determined after a mental health examination by a forensic psychologist; measured by the capacity to understand the proceedings, consult with counsel and assist in the defense
  • Contempt - A charge issued by the court for conduct that defies the authority of the court, usually failing to pay a fine or court costs. It is punishable by fine or jail time
  • Continuance - Postponement

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D


  • Detention Hearing - Determines where a juvenile will be physically located before trial; could be at home, or in a juvenile detention center; similar to an adult bond hearing
  • Dismissed - As in, "the charge against the defendant is dismissed." The meaning depends on the type of charge. If the term is used after a trial, it means that the defendant is not guilty and the charge is over with. If the term is used after a preliminary hearing, the charge is over with, but the Commonwealth can take the matter to a Grand Jury and seek an indictment
  • Double Jeopardy - If a defendant is found not guilty after a trial, he or she cannot be tried again for the same offense - to do so would be double jeopardy
  • DUI or DWI - Driving under the Influence or Driving while intoxicated

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F


  • FTA (Failure to Appear) - process issued by the court when a defendant doesn't show up for court
  • Felony - A crime punishable by incarceration in the state penitentiary for one year or more
  • First Offender - If a defendant charged with any drug possession offense has no prior convictions for a drug offense, upon a finding that the evidence supports guilt, the court may place the defendant on "First Offender" status. The case is continued for a period of time, usually a year, and if the defendant complies with certain conditions, including drug testing, and has no further drug arrests, at the end of the period of time, the charge is dismissed and no longer counts as a conviction on the defendant´s record

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I


  • Insanity - A mental disorder which results in lack of criminal capacity to commit an offense; the Virginia standard is that the person must not have understood the nature and quality of the act or known whether the act was right or wrong because of mental illness
  • Indictment - The charging document issued after consideration of the case by a Grand Jury
  • Intake Officer - Determines whether a petition should be issued based on probable cause; makes initial decision as to where juvenile defendant will remain pending trial (similar to magistrate). The officer can also divert minor offenses to alternative programs rather than sending the charge to the court

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M


  • Magistrate - Determines whether arrest and search warrants should be issued based on probable cause; makes initial decision about a defendant´s bond status
  • Misdemeanor - A crime punishable by a maximum of 12 months in jail and/or $2,500 fine
  • Motion in Limine - A pretrial request that certain inadmissible (and usually prejudicial) evidence not be referred to or offered during trial
  • Motion to Suppress - A pretrial request that certain evidence (usually confessions or physical evidence of crime, like drugs, weapons, etc.) be ruled inadmissible because of the claim that it was obtained in violation of the law
  • Motion to Strike - A motion made at the end of the Commonwealth´s case by the defense, to ask the judge to dismiss the case as legally insufficient - even without any defense being presented

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N


  • Nolle Pross - A decision by the Commonwealth not to prosecute a charge; a charge which is nolle prossed is dropped, but may be brought back at a later time.
  • Nolo Contendere - A plea entered by a defendant in which the defendant neither admits guilt nor declares innocence. The defendant agrees that the court may consider him guilty for the purpose of finding him guilty and sentencing him.

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P


  • P. R. Bond - Personal recognizance bond (see Bail / Bond)
  • Petition - The document used to charge a juvenile issued by an intake officer (similar to a warrant)
  • Plea Agreement - An agreement between the Commonwealth and defense in which the defendant agrees to plead to the original charges or reduced or amended charges and/or the Commonwealth recommends a sentence
  • Preliminary Hearing - A hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the offender committed the offense
  • Pre-sentence Report (PSR) - A report prepared by Probation and Parole, usually after a felony conviction in Circuit Court
  • Pretrial Services - A division of Community Corrections, responsible for supervising certain offenders before trial
  • Probable Cause - The standard for arrest, issuance of an arrest or search warrant, certification to the grand jury and a true bill by the grand jury; the question is "is it more likely than not that an offense was committed and that this offender committed the offense?"

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R


  • Revocation hearing - A hearing to revoke a previously suspended sentence, because of a violation of some condition of probation; could be anything from new criminal behavior to failure to pay court costs, or some other technical violation of probation

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S


  • Show Cause - A notice to a defendant to "show cause" why a previously suspended sentence should not be revoked for the failure of the defendant to comply with a condition of probation
  • Speedy Trial - A statutory deadline within which defendants must be brought to trial or their charge will be dismissed. For defendants held in jail, the time period is five months; for defendants on bond, the limit is nine months. There are numerous circumstances which can result in a longer period, such as a continuance at the defendant´s request or illness of a witness
  • Stipulation - An agreement between the Commonwealth and defense, usually about facts. For example, in a stipulation to a witness´s testimony, both sides agree what the witness would say and it is not necessary for the witness to testify - the stipulation goes in instead

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T


  • Transfer Hearing - Held in Juvenile Court to determine whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult
  • True Bill (or No True Bill) - The finding of the grand jury; "true bill" means the grand jury found probable cause to send the case on for trial; "no true bill" means no probable cause

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V


  • Voir Dire - The questioning of potential jurors by a judge or lawyer to decide if the person is qualified and suitable to sit on a jury

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W


  • Warrant - The document used to charge adults, issued by a magistrate
  • Withhold Findings - Similar to First Offender status, the court finds that the evidence is sufficient to convict, and continues the matter for a period of time, and if the defendant has complied with all conditions, usually good behavior and payment of court costs, then the charge is dismissed at the end of the time period

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