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6 Criminal Defense Terms YOU Should Know

October 20, 2022

If you are like most people, some of the standard terms used in a criminal defense case are likely unfamiliar to you. The legal system has its own complicated terminology, and not everyone understands what it all means. 

Some of the complicated factors in the process of a criminal defense case can be left to your experienced legal defense team. However, having a basic understanding of the terms being used and what they mean will allow you to better communicate with your attorney, prepare yourself for the case, and understand how the proceedings of that case will affect you. Continue reading to understand 6 criminal defense terms and their definitions. 

Understanding Criminal Defense Cases:

Before diving into terms, it’s essential to understand a criminal case and how it differs from other kinds of court cases. A criminal case is brought forth by the State or a governmental entity against a person who allegedly committed a crime. They are most often filed by the district prosecuting attorney, representing the state, against 1 or more defendants. Unlike a civil case, which is a dispute between private parties, a criminal case involves a crime against the state. Only the state, not another person or company, can bring criminal charges against you. 

  1. Defendant 

In any criminal case, the defendant is the individual, party, or entity against which a lawsuit is filed. Essentially, the defendant is the party being accused by the State of committing a crime. 

Criminal defendants are most commonly taken into custody by police before the trial and brought before the court under an arrest warrant. Criminal defendants are usually required to post bail before being released from custody. For serious cases, such as murder, bail may be denied, in which case the defendant will remain in custody until a verdict is reached. 

  1. Bail/Bond 

Bail is a conditional release from custody before trial where the defendant is released, requiring proof of certain conditions that ensure the defendant will return to court appropriately. These conditions typically include the defendant turning property over to the courts as a security. The term “bail” or “bond” can also refer to the money or property itself that is turned over to the courts by the defendant. If the defendant does return at the agreed-upon court date, the bail or bond is returned, and if not, the bail is forfeited. 

  1. Charge

In a criminal case, a charge, or pressing charges, refers to a formal accusation or indictment filed by the State prosecutor’s office alleging that a party (the defendant) has committed a specific crime. Essentially, a charge is a formal accusation of criminal activity. The prosecuting attorney decides on charges after reviewing all evidence of the criminal wrongdoing. This includes police reports, witness statements, or other evidence that could prove a crime was committed. 

The charges are typically laid out on paper in a “charging document” and given to the defendant to let them know what they are being accused of. Before a person is found guilty of a crime, a criminal charge must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

  1. Pleading

In a criminal case, the plea refers to the defendant’s statement on whether they agree with or admit guilt to the charges against them. The defendant will have the opportunity to plead “guilty” if they admit guilt to the charges, “not guilty” if they don’t, or “no contest” if they wish to agree to the conviction or possible ramifications of the charges without admitting guilt. A defendant may be found guilty regardless of whether or not they plead “guilty.” 

  1. Sentence 

In a criminal case, the sentence refers to the penalties decided upon by the court for a defendant who has been convicted or found guilty of their charges. After the defendant is convicted or pleads guilty, a judge will decide on the appropriate punishment during the sentencing phase of a criminal case.

The judge orders a sentence based on the jury’s verdict (or the judge’s decision, if there is no jury) within the possible punishments set by state or federal law. 

  1. Appeal

An appeal is a formal request to a higher court to reconsider a lower court’s ruling. If the defendant disagrees with or is unhappy with the sentencing or charges brought on them, they can appeal to a higher court to have their case reconsidered. Winning an appeal in a criminal case is very difficult. Appeals are not granted just because the defendant is unhappy with the lower court’s decision. In order to have the sentencing or conviction reversed in a court of appeals, the defendant must prove that a legal or logistical error was made in the initial court process of the lower court. 

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges in Arizona, or if you want a consultation from an experienced criminal defense attorney before moving forward, contact Jeff GOULD Law, The Attorney in YOUR Corner. 

DISCLAIMER: The information on this blog/site is NOT, nor is it intended to be, legal advice.  It is for general informational use only.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your Individual situation. Further, this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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