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Glossary of Criminal Defense Terms

ACQUITTAL: The opposite of a guilty verdict, an acquittal means the defendant has not been convicted. 

AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES: Refers to circumstances that increase the culpability of a crime.  Examples include a fiduciary relationship between the victim and defendant, excessive brutality, or if a drug crime was part of a major organized distribution activity. 

APPEAL: A request by a party after a trial asking the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court to review the conviction, the sentence, and all adverse judgments made by the district court. 

APPOINTED ATTORNEY: An attorney who is paid by the court to represent defendants who are deemed indigent because they cannot afford a private attorney in criminal cases. 

ARRAIGNMENT: The first phase of a criminal case.  The defendant is informed of the charges against him or her and is asked to plead guilty or not guilty. 

BAIL: Financial security used as collateral to guarantee the defendant's appearance in court as ordered by the judge. 

BENCH TRIAL: A trial where the judge, rather than a jury, decides the facts which determines whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. 

BENCH WARRANT: A warrant issued by a judge.  Bench warrants are usually issued when a defendant fails to appear or is accused of violating the terms of bond. 

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT: The standard necessary to convict a person of a crime. 

CASE LAW: The use of prior cases with similar circumstances to the case at hand to explain or interpret the law at issue.  Caselaw comes from appellate opinions. 

CHALLENGE FOR CAUSE: Used during voir dire to remove a potential juror if he or she is so overcome with bias that the potential juror cannot view the evidence fairly. 

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE: All evidence that is not direct evidence. 

CONCURRENT SENTENCE: Running the sentences for separate charges at the same time. 

CONSECUTIVE SENTENCE: Running the sentences for separate charges back to back. 

CONTINUANCE: A temporary, usually 30-day, postponement of the case. 

CONVICTION: A finding of guilt against the defendant. 

DIRECT EVIDENCE: Evidence that supports a fact with an inference. 

ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: The individual facts needed to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to support a guilty verdict. 

EVIDENCE: Information presented at trial by witnesses through testimony or items collected at the scene of the crime. 

EXCULPATORY EVIDENCE: Evidence that shows the defendant's innocence. 

EXHIBIT: Physical evidence presented at trial such as drugs, paraphernalia, weapons, or photos. 

FELONY: A crime carrying a sentence of one year or more. 

JURY: The deciders of fact and guilt in a criminal case.  In Kansas, misdemeanor cases have 6 jurors while felony cases have 12. 

JURY NULLIFICATION: A jury's refusal to find a defendant guilty in a case because application of the law is unjust. 

LSI-R: Level Service Inventory – Revised.  An interview used as a risk assessment to determine what level of supervision over a defendant will be necessary to reduce recidivism and increase public safety. 

MISDEMEANOR: A crime carrying a sentence of less than one year. 

MISTRIAL: A fundamental error in a case resulting in a new trial. 

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES: Refers to circumstances that decrease culpability of a crime.  Examples include the victim was an aggressor, the offender played a minor role, the degree of harm or loss was significantly less than typical.  

MUNICIPAL COURT: A city court. 

NO CONTEST PLEA:  Also known as nolo contendere, has the same effect of a guilty plea without admitting guilt. 

ORDINANCE: A city's law. 

PLEA BARGAIN: An agreement between the State and the defendant where the defendant pleads guilty in order to receive a recommendation for a lesser sentence or an agreement to drop charges. 

PEREMPTORY CHALLENGE: During voir dire, the peremptory challenge is used to dismiss a potential juror without cause. 

PRESENTENCE REPORT (PSI): In felony cases, the PSI is used by the court to review the defendant's criminal history score so the appropriate sentence may be imposed. 

PUBLIC DEFENDER:  A State-paid attorney who represents defendants charged with felonies who are deemed indigent because they cannot afford a private attorney in criminal cases. 

SENTENCE: The punishment ordered by the court following a finding of guilt. 

SUBPOENA: An order by the court for a witness to appear. 

VERDICT: The decision by a jury or by a judge in a bench trial. 

VOIR DIRE: The process of choosing a jury.

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