What are some common legal terms?

Arraignment–a defendant’s appearance in court where they enter their plea to the charges they face. Most people who are arrested will be “arraigned” soon after their arrest.  This arraignment takes place in “criminal court.”  If you are charged with a misdemeanor only, you may be given the opportunity to take a plea at that time.  If you are charged with a felony and are unable to resolve the case before the prosecution secures an “indictment,” then you may face a second arraignment, at which time you are presented with the indicted charges.  The prosecutor may ask that bail or additional bail be set at that time.

Grand Jury–a group of citizens brought to court to listen to the prosecutor and determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the charge(s) to bring an individual to trial. For most cases, this body of citizens listen to cases brought by the local prosecutor every day for a month.  In addition, the standard of proof to be met in order for the grand jury to return an indictment is much lower than the standard of proof required at a criminal trial.  For these reasons, grand juries are likely to return an indictment.  As a criminal defendant, in most instances you will have the right to testify before the grand jury, but this is often not advisable for a number of reasons.

Indictment–the formal written accusation made by a grand jury that charges a specific person with a specific crime.

Plea–the defendant’s response in court to whether they are guilty or not guilty to the charges determined in the indictment.  A plea is taken under oath, and difficult to withdraw once it is entered.  Make sure to consult with an attorney before entering a plea.

Plea Bargain/Plea Deal–a negotiation between the prosecution and defense for a fair resolution of a case which must be approved by the court.  As soon as you hire an attorney, you should be working with him or her to determine what type of plea bargain, if any, you would be willing to accept.  Establishing the goals you have for your matter up front is an important step in reaching the best outcome.

Acquittal– the legal judgment, by either a judge or a jury, that the defendant is not guilty or responsible for the crimes they were accused of and charged with.

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