Definitions – Criminal Law
Accusation – document filed by a prosecutor officially charging a person with a crime
Arraignment – a formal court proceeding during which a defendant is notified of the charges against her and asked to enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty,” or, in some circumstances, “nolo contendere” or “not guilty by reason of insanity”
Bench trial – a trial before the judge
Charge – the specific statement of what crime the defendant is accused (charged with) contained in the Indictment, Accusation, or Uniform Traffic Citation
Conviction – “a final judgment of conviction entered upon a verdict or finding of guilty of a crime or upon a plea of guilty” – O.C.G.A. Section 16-1-3; “No person shall be convicted of a crime unless each element of such crime is proved beyond a reasonable doubt” – O.C.G.A. Section 16-1-5
Defendant – person accused of a crime in a criminal prosecution
Dismiss – the ruling by a judge that all or a portion of the government’s case is terminated (thrown out) at that point without further evidence or testimony.
District Attorney – prosecuting lawyer who represents the State of Georgia in felony criminal cases
Felony – “a crime punishable by death, by imprisonment for life, or by imprisonment for more than 12 months” O.C.G.A. Section 16-1-3(5)
Grand Jury – a secret court proceeding involving a group of 16 to 23 citizens from the county summoned by the District Attorney to hear evidence and decide if probable cause exists to believe that the defendant has committed a crime; neither the defendant nor her attorney is allowed to be present during the Grand Jury proceeding.
Guilty – having been convicted of a crime or having admitted the commission of a crime by pleading “guilty” (saying you “did it”)
Hearing – a proceeding before a court or other decision-making body or officer, such as a government agency, usually shorter and often less formal than a trial
Indictment – a charge of a felony voted by a Grand Jury based upon a proposed charge, witnesses’ testimony, and other evidence presented by the District Attorney
Jury trial – a trial before (usually 6 or 12) members of the community
Merger – if a defendant commits a single act that simultaneously fulfills the definition of two separate offenses, merger will occur. This means that the lesser of the two offences will drop out, and the defendant will only be charged with the greater offense.
Misdemeanor and misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature – “any crime other than a felony” – O.C.G.A. Section 16-1-5(9); a crime punishable by up to 12 months in jail or $1,000.00 fine or both
Motion – a formal request asking a judge to issue a ruling or order on a legal matter
Nolle Prosequi (or “nol pros”) – Latin for “we shall no longer prosecute,” which is a declaration made to the judge by a prosecutor in a criminal case either before or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped.
Nolo contendere – Latin for “I will not contest” the charges, which is a plea made by a defendant to a criminal charge, allowing the judge to then find him/her guilty, often called a “plea of no contest” but is a conviction for most purposes
Not guilty – (1) plea of a person who claims not to have committed the crime of which he/she is accused, made in court when arraigned, or (2) result after trial stating that the prosecution has failed to prove each and every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt or that the accused person was insane at the time the crime was committed; the U.S. and Georgia legal systems are based upon the presumption of innocence. “Every person is presumed innocent until proved guilty.” O.C.G.A. Section 16-1-5; The only finding a jury or judge can reach in a criminal case is PROOF OF GUILT (“guilty”) or ABSENCE OF PROOF OF GUILT (“not guilty”). No judge or jury can ever return a finding that a defendant is “innocent” because the law does not recognize such a finding
Plea – the defendant’s answer to a formal criminal charge
Probation – a chance to remain free given by a judge to a person convicted of a crime instead of being sent to jail or prison, provided the person can be “good”
Probation Detention Center (PDC) – a facility for housing inmates whose crimes were not serious enough to justify prison time but were too serious to allow the inmate to serve her sentence on probation; PDC sentences consist of a range of days, such as 120-150 days, with 180 being the maximum time one can be sentenced to serve in a PDC. The defendant must serve the minimum number of days and may be kept up to the maximum if problems arise.
RSAT – acronym for “Residential Substance Abuse Treatment,” a prison-based drug treatment program that falls within the purview of the Department of Corrections
Sentence – the punishment given to a person convicted of a crime
Solicitor-General – the prosecuting lawyer who represents the State of Georgia in misdemeanor criminal cases