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Criminal Law Glossary Terms

NJ Criminal Law Glossary Definitions

Accessory – a person who helps another in the commission of a crime, but does not participate in the criminal act itself

Accessory After the Fact – a person who helps another who has already committed a crime, for example, by concealing or harboring the culprit, or aiding in his escape from arrest or punishment

Accomplice – the person who helps another commit a criminal act

Acquittal – a judgment that a person is not guilty of the offense charged

Affidavit – a written statement sworn by oath or affirmation
Aggravated Assault – the attempt to cause serious bodily injury to another, or bodily injury with a deadly weapon; the reckless cause of bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon; to point a firearm at or in the direction of another under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life; the simple assault against certain persons listed under N.J.S. 2C:12-1(b).

Aggravating Circumstances – conditions that increase the seriousness of a crime and its penalty

Alibi – a legal defense to a criminal offense which claims that the defendant could not have committed the charged crime because he was not present at the scene when the crime was committed

Arraignment – the court appearance where a defendant is called on to plead guilty or not guilty to the criminal charge(s) entered against him or her

Arrest – the act of seizing someone to take into custody

Arrest Warrant – a judge's order to law enforcement to arrest a person suspected of committing a criminal offense

Arson – to start a fire or cause an explosion (see N.J.S. 2C:17-1)

Assault – the attempted or actual cause of bodily injury to another, further broken down as simple assault and aggravated assault (see N.J. Assault Laws)

Attempt – the act of intending to commit a crime and taking significant steps toward committing that crime

Bail – money or other type of security accepted by the court in exchange for the release of a defendant who must appear in court at a future time (a.k.a. bond)

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt – the burden of proof that the prosecution must carry in a criminal trial in order to obtain a guilty verdict

Bond – an obligation or a promise to pay money to the court if the defendant does not appear in court when he is scheduled to do so (a.k.a. bail)

Booking – the administrative process that occurs at a police station after a person has been arrested

Breach of the Peace – an act which disturbs the public

Burden of Proof – the duty of proving the offense charged

Burglary – the entrance onto private property with purpose to commit an offense therein (see N.J.S. 2C:18-2)

Charge – a formal accusation by the State asserting that somebody has committed a criminal offense

Codefendant – one of two or more defendants charged with the same offense

Coercion – the use of force or the threat of force to get someone to do something that he or she would not otherwise do

Complaint – the pleading that initiates an action in court

Computer Crime – an offense directed at computer equipment or a computer network (see N.J. Computer Crime Laws)

Concealed Weapon – anything designed or used to cause serious bodily injury or death that a person tries to prevent from being recognized

Concurrent Sentence – when a defendant serves two or more terms of imprisonment simultaneously, generally the length of the longer of the two sentences

Conditional Discharge – a diversionary program that allows a first time drug offender to avoid a drug conviction on his or her criminal record

Confession – a voluntary statement by an accused in which he admits guilt of a criminal offense

Consecutive Sentence – when a defendant serves two or more sentences of imprisonment for different charges one after the other

Conspiracy – an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime

Constructive Possession – when someone does not have physical custody or possession, but is in a position to exercise control over something

Contempt of Court – the deliberate failure to comply with the orders of a court of law

Contraband – goods that are unlawful to possess, sell or otherwise distribute or transport

Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS) – a drug or substance controlled by state or federal controlled substance statutes which, when ingested, becomes a dangerous substance in the human body

Conviction – the declaration that someone is guilty of a criminal offense, made by a jury's verdict or the decision of a judge

Count – each allegation or charge in a criminal information, indictment or complaint

Criminal Complaint – a letter from the State that informs you of the charges alleged against you

Criminal Mischief – to purposely or knowingly tamper with or damages tangible property of another (see N.J.S. 2C:17-3)

Criminal Record – a history of a person's previous criminal convictions

Custodial Interrogation – law enforcement's questioning of an individual who has been arrested or restrained; prior to questioning, it is required that the individual be read his Miranda Rights

Custody – when a suspect is deprived of his freedom in any significant way or is reasonably led to believe that he has been so deprived

Date Rape – forcible or nonconsensual sexual intercourse between persons who know each other and who have been in a dating relationship

Deadly Force – a violent action known to create a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death

Deadly Weapon – a firearm or any other object or device that can be used to cause serious bodily injury or death

Decision – the judge's final determination in a case

Defendant – an individual, company or institution sued or accused in a court of law

Defense Attorney – the lawyer who is representing the defendant in a criminal action

Degree of Crime – classification of an offense into several grades of guilt determined by the circumstances surrounding the crime's commission

Delivery – the actual, constructive or attempted transfer from one person to another of a controlled dangerous substance

Discovery – procedures used by parties to a lawsuit to obtain information before the trial
Disorderly Persons Offense – often referred to as a misdemeanor in other jurisdictions, in New Jersey it is an offense prosecuted in Municipal Court, usually punishable by less than six months in jail and/or a fine

Dispense – to deliver a controlled dangerous substance to a user by a practitioner

Distribution – a delivery of a controlled dangerous substance other than by administering or dispensing

Docket – the record in which the judge or court clerk notes all of the proceedings and filings in a court case

Domestic Violence – an act inflicted upon a person who is protected by the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (see N.J. Domestic Violence Laws)
Double Jeopardy – a fundamental doctrine derived from the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects a defendant from being tried and punished more than once for the same criminal offense

Drug-Free Zone – a particular area in which the penalties are increased if someone is found committing a drug offense

Drug Trafficking – the act of transporting, importing and selling or distributing illegal drugs (see N.J.S. 2C:35-3)

Duress – the use or threatened use of force against another to compel him or her to commit an unlawful act

Embezzlement – the fraudulent taking of another's property by someone who has been entrusted with that property (see N.J.S. 2C:20-3)

Entrapment – a law enforcement officer's fraudulent inducement of a person to commit a crime for the purpose of later charging the person with that crime

Evidence – testimony, writings, material objects, or other things offered to prove the existence or non existence of a fact

Exclusionary Rule – the principle that evidence obtained by the government in violation of a defendant's constitutional rights may not be used against a defendant

Exculpatory Evidence – the opposite of inculpatory evidence, evidence that points to a criminal defendant's innocence

Exonerate – to free from guilt or blame

Expungement – the removal of a detention, arrest, trial or disposition from a person's criminal record

Eyewitness Identification – a type of evidence offered by someone who has personally observed an event and is testifying as to the people involved from his memory of the event

False Imprisonment – unlawful restraint that substantially interferes with the freedom of movement of another

Felony – referred to as an indictable criminal offense in New Jersey, in other jurisdictions it is a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year

Flight Risk – a term used by a court to describe a person who is likely to flee the area to avoid criminal prosecution

Forgery – to make, alter, transfer, authenticate or utter any writing with the purpose to defraud or injure another (see N.J.S. 2C:21-1)

Frisk – a pat-down search of a person's body to determine if the person is carrying a concealed weapon

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine – a rule in criminal law that makes evidence that was derived from an illegal search, arrest or interrogation inadmissible

Fundamental Right – a right that originates and is guaranteed in the federal Constitution

Grand Jury – a group of people selected to examine the validity of an accusation before trial

Harassment – engaging in any alarming conduct or repeated acts with the purpose to alarm or seriously annoy another (see N.J.S. 2C:33-4)

Hearing – a court session in which testimony or arguments are offered by attorneys or parties for the purpose of resolving a legal dispute

Homicide – the act of purposely, knowingly or recklessly causing the death of another human being; criminal homicide is murder, manslaughter or death by auto

Inculpatory Evidence – the opposite of exculpatory evidence, evidence that tends to prove a criminal defendant's guilt
Indictable Criminal Offense (“Crime”) – often referred to as a felony in other jurisdictions, in New Jersey it is an offense prosecuted in Superior Court, usually punishable by imprisonment for more than six months

Indictment – a formal charge or accusation of a crime

Informant – a person who poses as a criminal, but works for the government to provide information to law enforcement during a criminal investigation

Interrogation – the detailed questioning of a suspect by law enforcement

Interrogatories – formal or written questions that must be answered by a party under the direction of the court, as part of the discovery process

Judgment – a formal decision or determination on a matter by the court

Jury – a group of citizens called to hear a criminal or civil trial and determine the parties' guilt or innocence and damages, if any
Justification – a defense available to a criminal defendant who has engaged in conduct which the criminal law does not seek to prevent, such as: self-defense, defense of others, defense of property or choice of evils (necessity)
Juvenile Delinquent – a person less than 18 years old who is found to have committed an act that would have otherwise been charged as a crime if committed by an adult
Juvenile Detention Center – a facility that temporarily houses juvenile delinquents over the age of 10 after they have been accused of committing a delinquent act while waiting for the final outcome in court

Kidnapping – unlawfully removing another from the vicinity where he or she is found, or the confinement of another for a substantial period

Lewdness – the commission of a flagrantly lewd or offensive act which is reasonably expected to be observed by others who would be offended or alarmed (see N.J.S. 2C:14-4)

Loitering – wandering, remaining or prowling in a public place with the purpose of unlawfully obtaining or distributing a controlled dangerous substance (see N.J.S. 33-2.1)

Manslaughter – the act of killing another person without malice aforethought (criminal intent)

Manufacture – the production, propagation, compounding, conversion, packaging, labeling or processing of a controlled dangerous substance

Miranda Rights – as set by the case Miranda v. Alabama, to prevent self-incrimination in violation of the 5th Amendment, law enforcement is required to tell the accused that they have the right to remain silent, the right to legal counsel and the right to be told that anything he or she says can be used in court against him or her

Misdemeanor – referred to as a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey, in other jurisdictions it is a crime punishable by jail time for up to one year

Motion – a written or verbal appeal to the court for temporary relief

Municipal Court – New Jersey court of limited jurisdiction to hear cases concerning motor vehicle and parking tickets, minor criminal offenses, municipal ordinance violations and other offenses

Murder – the act of purposely or knowingly causing death or serious bodily injury resulting in death of another human being

No Contact Order – also known as a “criminal protective order” or “stay away order”, an order issued by a judge in a criminal court against the defendant accused usually of domestic violence

Nolo Contendere – a plea by which a defendant accepts conviction as though a guilty plea had been entered but does not admit guilt

Offense – an act punishable by law

Order – a court's decision on a legal issue

Paraphernalia – any equipment used to produce, conceal or consume illegal drugs (see N.J. Drug Paraphernalia Laws)

Parole – the release of a prisoner under supervised conditions until his or her sentence is completed

Petty Disorderly Offense – a petty offense which carries a maximum of thirty days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine

Plaintiff – a person who initiates a case against another in a court of law

Plea – a defendant's response to a criminal charge (guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere)

Plea Bargain – an agreement made before trial between a criminal defendant and the prosecution to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for more serious charges to be dropped

Possession (Actual) – when contraband is found on one's person

Possession (Constructive) – when contraband is found within access of a person, but not necessarily on the person

Prescription Legend Drug – any drug which, under federal or State law, requires dispensing by prescription or order of a licensed physician, and is not a controlled dangerous substance

Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) – a program that provides defendants, generally first-time offenders, with an alternative to traditional prosecution, with a focus on early rehabilitative services

Probable Cause – as set forth in the 4th Amendment, the standard that requires sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected with a crime in order for law enforcement to make an arrest, to conduct a personal or property search or to obtain an arrest warrant

Probation – a sentence a criminal defendant may serve upon being found guilty of a crime, instead of serving time in a jail or prison

Prosecution/Prosecutor – the government attorney charging and trying the case against a defendant in a criminal court

Prostitution – sexual activity with another person in exchange for something of economic value, or the offer or acceptance of an offer to engage in sexual activity in exchange for something of economic value (see N.J.S. 2C:34-1)

Public Defender – a criminal lawyer employed by the State to represent a defendant who is unable to afford legal assistance (a.k.a. defense attorney)

Receiving Stolen Property – the crime of acquiring or possessing property known to have been stolen by another person (see N.J.S. 2C:20-7)

Request for Production – part of the discovery process in which one attorney asks the other side to produce documents they deem necessary to the case

Resisting Arrest – the crime of resisting, obstructing or delaying a police officer who is engaged in the performance of his or her duties (see N.J.S. 2C:29-2)

Retainer – the fee paid to an attorney for his or her professional services, sometimes representing advance payment for anticipated future services

Robbery – when a person, in the course of committing a theft, inflicts bodily injury or uses force upon another or threatens to cause bodily injury or commit any 1st or 2nd degree crime

Search Warrant – a written order by a judge which permits law enforcement to search a specific place and identifies the person or any articles to be retrieved

Self-Defense – the act of protecting one's person or property against injury attempted by another

Serious Bodily Injury – a bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ

Sentence – penalty ordered by the court as a result of a guilty plea or finding of guilt at trial

Service – the act of serving the respondent with legal papers, presented either by mail or in person by a County Sheriff's Deputy or a Process Server

Sexual Assault – the commission of a sexual act or penetration with another person under one of the circumstances outlined in N.J.S. 2C:14-2

Shoplifting – to purposely carry away merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail merchant with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise, without paying for the merchandise (see N.J.S. 2C:20-11)

Simple Assault – to attempt to cause or purposely, knowingly or recklessly cause bodily injury to another; the negligent cause of bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon; or the attempt by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury (see N.J.S. 2C:12-1(a))

Stalking – engaging in conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of a third person or suffer other emotional distress (see N.J.S. 2C:12-10.1)

Status Offense – a non-delinquent, non-criminal offense that is illegal for underage persons, but not for adults

Statute of Limitations – the time frame for prosecuting a criminal offense, based on when the offense occurred or was discovered

Subpoena – a legal summons requiring that one appear in court as a defendant or as a witness to give testimony

Summons – written notice to appear in court either as a defendant or a witness

Suspect – a person suspected of committing a crime

Superior Court – New Jersey trial court responsible for hearing matters involving criminal, civil and family law

Terroristic Threats – to threaten to commit any violent crime with the purpose of terrorizing another or cause serious public inconvenience (see N.J.S. 2C:12-3)

Theft – the unlawful taking or unlawful control of property of another with the purpose to deprive him thereof (see N.J.S. 2C:20-3)

Trespassing – the entrance or remainder on private property while knowing that there is no license or privilege to do so, including the peering into windows or other openings of dwelling places (see N.J.S. 2C:18-3)

Trial – a formal examination of evidence by a judge or jury in order to decide guilt in a case of criminal or civil proceedings

Vandalism – an act involving deliberate destruction of or damage to property (see N.J.S. 2C:17-3)

Violation – an act that is punishable by law or disregards an agreement or a right

Warrant – a document issued by a judicial officer authorizing law enforcement to make an arrest, seizure or search; see also search warrant and arrest warrant

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