Ten Most Common Legal Terms Defined

Appeal: A formal request to a higher court, to reconsider the ruling of a lower court. The person who applies for an appeal is called the “appellant.”

Bail: A conditional release before trial where the person who has been accused of a crime is released pending certain conditions, which ensure that person, will come to court when required. The term can also be used to describe the amount of bond money required as a condition of release.

Conviction: When a court decides a criminal defendant is guilty.

Defendant: The entity against which a lawsuit is filed. The defendant can be an individual, business, or group.

Evidence: Documents, objects, and other information used to persuade a judge or jury in a criminal case to decide the case in favor of one party or the other.

Felony: A classification for more serious offenses, which usually carry a penalty of up to at least one year in prison. Additional restrictions can accompany a felony record.

Misdemeanor: Non-felony offenses, usually punishable by up to a year behind bars, or less.

Motion: A formal request by one party or that party’s legal counsel to a judge asking for a decision on a particular issue within a case.

Plea: The defendant’s statement of “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest” preceding a criminal trial. If a defendant pleads guilty, the case may proceed straight to sentencing.

Sentence: The penalties decided upon by the court for a defendant who has been convicted.

Testimony: Oral evidence given by witnesses during a trial or before a grand jury.

Verdict: The decision determining guilt or innocence made by a trial jury or judge in a criminal case.

Witness: An individual called upon in a criminal case, by either side, to give testimony before the court.

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