Acquittal – A decision by a judge or a jury that the person accused is not guilty of the crime for which they were tried.
Affidavit – A sworn statement primarily used to justify the issuance of an arrest warrant or a search warrant.
Aggravating Circumstance – One of 15 factors listed in the statute that can justify imposing the death penalty.
Allegation – In a legal setting, a claim or assertion that has yet to be proven or established as a fact.
Appeal – A request that another, higher court review the decision of a lower court. A defendant has a right to appeal his/her conviction, but the prosecution cannot appeal an acquittal.
Arraignment – In Criminal Court, an initial appearance where the defendant is represented by an attorney; enters a plea of not guilty; and is advised of the charges against him/her.
Arrest – When a law enforcement officer takes someone suspected of a crime into physical custody, and they are no longer free to leave. This may be done with or without an arrest warrant.
Arrest Warrant – A written order from a judge or magistrate directing a law enforcement officer to take a person suspected of a crime into physical custody.
Assistant District Attorney – An attorney for the State in criminal cases; a prosecutor.
Bail – An amount of money that is given to the court system as security for the release of a defendant from jail; often used interchangeably with “bond”.
Bench – The place in the courtroom where the judge sits; can also refer to the judge personally or to the court.
Bench Trial – A trial conducted before a judge without a jury with the judge deciding whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty.
Bench Warrant – Similar to an arrest warrant; an order issued by a judge to bring a person before his/her court.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt – The degree of proof needed for a jury or a judge to convict a person accused of a crime; that point where a person’s mind can rest easily with the certainty of the defendant’s guilt.
Bind over – Refers to when a criminal charge is sent to the grand jury for further action.
Bond – An agreement to pay the court system an amount of money if the defendant who has been released on bail fails to come to court; see also “Bail”.
Bond Forfeiture – An action by the court to collect money owed when a defendant failed to appear.
Bondsman – Also Bailbondsman; a person who works for a bail bond company.
Booking – A police procedure immediately after arrest designed to identify the person in custody.
Burden of Proof – Usually referring to the obligation of the prosecution to prove the defendant guilty of the crime for which he/she is accused.
Capital Case – Refers to a first degree murder case in which the death penalty is an option; has been sought; or has been received.
Charge – An official accusation in the form of an arrest warrant, indictment, information or presentment.
Citation – A criminal charge where the defendant is not first arrested and taken into custody, but instead, is ordered to appear in court; used for minor charges.
Clerk – A person employed to assist the court system by keeping its records; entering its judgments; etc.
Concurrent Sentence – Running together; when two or more sentences are served at the same time.
Consecutive Sentence – Successive; one sentence after another; when one sentence begins at the completion of another.
Community Corrections – An alternative sentence; a sentence that allows a defendant to serve a sentence in the community by complying with certain conditions instead of being sent to prison.
Complainant – In the criminal system, a term that refers to any person who seeks assistance from the police or the legal system; someone who accuses another of a possible crime.
Continuance – A delay or postponement of a court hearing.
Conviction – A judgment of guilt in a criminal case.
Court – A place where legal proceedings are conducted before a judge; may also refer to the judge personally.
Court Officer – Someone employed to provide security and keep order in the courtroom and to do other tasks as directed by the judge.
Criminal Court – One of 6 courts in Davidson County that handles both felony and misdemeanor cases to conclusion.
Criminal Law – Generally referring to a statute enacted by the Tennessee General Assembly that makes certain activities illegal and sets a punishment for the same.
Custody – In criminal law, actual physical control, including confinement, exercised by law enforcement or judicial authorities.
Defendant – A person who has been formally charged by an arrest warrant, indictment, information or presentment with committing a crime; a person accused of a crime.
Defense Attorney – A lawyer who represents a defendant during the legal process.
Delinquent Act – A violation of the law by a juvenile; would be considered a crime if done by an adult.
Direct Presentment – A criminal accusation by a grand jury without the approval of the District Attorney; may also refer to a criminal charge that is taken directly to the grand jury with the approval of the District Attorney and without first arresting the defendant.
Discovery – A process by which both the prosecution and the defense share certain information regarding an indicted case.
Dismissal – A decision by a prosecutor or by a judge to end a case without a conviction of the defendant.
Disposition – The end of a criminal case with a conviction, an acquittal or a dismissal.
District Attorney General – In Tennessee, the chief prosecutor; popularly elected official who serves an 8 year term and is responsible for prosecuting all criminal charges in a judicial district. Often also referred to as “District Attorney” or “D.A.”.
District – A geographic area of the state for which a district attorney is responsible.
Diversion – A process where, under limited circumstances, someone accused of a crime has an opportunity to have their criminal record cleared if they follow certain rules and conditions.
Double Jeopardy – A legal principle that prohibits a criminal defendant from being tried more than once for the same crime. If a criminal defendant is acquitted, he/she may not be retried at a later date.
Electronic Monitoring – A form of supervision where a defendant is tracked electronically while not in custody.
Enhancement Factor – A fact that can be considered by a court to justify a greater sentence.
Exhibit – A document or item presented by a witness and used in court as evidence.
Expungement – Under certain circumstances, a process that permits a person to have an arrest removed from their public record.
Extradition – The legal process used to return to Tennessee a defendant who has committed a crime here and fled to another state.
Evidence – Testimony of witnesses and exhibits that are offered as proof of a fact.
Failure to Appear – A criminal charge that is issued for a defendant who does not come to court as required.
Failure to be Booked – A criminal charge that is issued for a defendant who does not appear as scheduled to be booked on a citation.
Felony – Any crime for which the punishment is set by statute to be more than one year in prison.
Forfeiture – See “Bond Forfeiture”.
Fugitive – Someone who flees or escapes from authorities.
General Sessions – The court of limited jurisdiction; can dispose of misdemeanor cases without a jury; can conduct only preliminary hearings in felony cases.
Grand Jury – A body of 13 citizens that reviews criminal charges to determine whether there is probable cause to issue an indictment. A grand jury hearing is closed to the public and the press. Neither the defendant nor his/her attorney is present during deliberation.
Guilty Plea – an admission in court by a defendant that he/she committed a crime or crimes.
Hung Jury – A jury whose members cannot agree to either convict or acquit the defendant; the defendant may be tried again on the same charge.
Indictment – A criminal charge issued by a grand jury.
Indigent – Someone who cannot afford to hire an attorney. They are eligible to have one provided at taxpayer expense.
Information – A criminal charge that bypasses the grand jury upon the agreement of both the prosecutor and the defense attorney.
Intensive Probation – A form of probation that requires a defendant to be more closely supervised and to meet additional conditions not expected of those on regular probation.
Jail – a secure detention facility for defendants unable to post bail while awaiting trial
Judgment – a decision by a court or judge
Jurisdiction – The legal authority of a court to make decisions and exercise judicial power over certain types of cases and within certain geographical boundaries.
Jury – In a criminal case, a group of twelve citizens who must all agree to convict or acquit a defendant at trial
Jury Selection – Before a trial begins, a process in court where the judge and the lawyers question potential jurors and select at least twelve to decide the case on trial
Juvenile – Someone under the age of 18; not considered an adult by the court system.
Magistrate – A judicial officer responsible for issuing arrest warrants.
Misdemeanor – A class of crimes where the punishment cannot exceed eleven months and twenty-nine days.
Mitigating Factor – A fact that can be considered by a court to justify a lesser sentence.
Motion – A request for a decision or an action made to a judge by either side in a case.
Mistrial – When a jury trial ends at anytime without a verdict by order of a judge.
No Contact – A court order requiring someone not to have any communication or interaction with another person.
No True Bill – A decision by a grand jury that there is not probable cause to issue an indictment. If fewer than twelve grand jurors vote in favor of an indictment, the result is a No True Bill.
Nolle prosequi – A decision by a prosecutor not to pursue a criminal charge; a dismissal.
Nolo Contendere – A plea by a defendant that is the equivalent of a guilty plea but does not require the defendant to admit his guilt.
Not Guilty – A unanimous decision by a jury or a decision by a judge without a jury that there was not enough evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Not Guilty Plea – Entered by a defendant at arraignment; also entered at trial, if one occurs.
Offender – A defendant; someone accused of a crime.
Order of Protection – A court order requiring a person to stay away from and not bother or threaten another.
Parole – A period of supervision for someone released from prison before the expiration of their sentence.
Peremptory Challenge – The right of lawyers for the prosecution and the defense to remove a prospective juror without providing a specific reason.
Perjury – A false statement under oath.
Petition – A request of the court to take some action or make some decision; similar to a motion.
Plea – A defendant’s answer or statement in response to a criminal charge.
Plea Agreement – An agreed upon disposition or settlement of a criminal case often where a defendant pleads guilty in return for a specific sentence.
Preliminary Hearing – A court hearing before a General Sessions judge for the purpose of determining if there is probably cause to support the criminal charge and send the case to the grand jury for consideration.
Presentment – See Direct Presentment
Pretrial Conference – A meeting with victims, witnesses, and the prosecutors to discuss the case and prepare for trial.
Prison – A secure detention facility for defendants to serve a felony sentence after conviction.
Probable Cause – A lesser degree of proof necessary to support the issuance of an arrest warrant or search warrant or to bind a charge over to the grand jury; not a finding of guilt but an indication the defendant probably committed the crime.
Probation – A type of punishment where the defendant does not go to prison but remains free so long as he/she obeys conditions ordered by the judge.
Probation Violation – An allegation that a defendant has not followed the conditions established by the judge; can lead to the defendant’s arrest and punishment by being sent to jail.
Prosecutor – See “Assistant District Attorney”.
Public Defender – A criminal defense attorney who is employed by the Metropolitan Public Defender’s office and who represents a defendant who is indigent and cannot hire his/her own lawyer.
Reasonable Doubt – See Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.
Restitution – Amount of money to be paid by the defendant to the victim in order to reimburse the victim for property stolen or damaged or injuries caused at the time of the crime
Retirement – A type of dismissal of a criminal charge; can be reactivated under certain circumstances.
Rights of the Defendant – Various protections given to an accused by statute or constitution such as the right against self incrimination.
Search Warrant – A court order permitting law enforcement officers to enter a person’s home, business, automobile or other private space in order to look for evidence of criminal activity.
Sentencing – The decision of a judge after a conviction ordering a defendant to serve a period of time in prison, on probation or on an alternative sentence.
State – In the criminal justice system, a reference to the prosecutor who is representing the interests of the State of Tennessee
Statute – See “Criminal Law”.
Subpoena – A court order that directs a witness to appear before a judge, grand jury or other official proceeding. Failure to obey the order could lead to arrest and jail.
Summons – A court order requiring a person to appear at or respond to a criminal charge or civil complaint that has been filed against him/her.
Suppression – A decision by a judge that forbids the use of certain evidence during a trial.
Supreme Court – The highest court in the state judicial system; also the highest court in the United States.
Testimony – In a criminal case, an oral statement of a witness under oath and in open court about their knowledge of an incident.
Transcript – A written, word for word copy of the testimony of witnesses and the statements of lawyers during a trial or hearing.
Trial – In a criminal case, a proceeding in court with or without a jury to determine whether a person accused of a crime is guilty or not guilty as charged. It consists of the testimony of witnesses and the use of other evidence along with the arguments of lawyers for the prosecution and the defense.
True Bill – A decision by a grand jury that there is probable cause to issue an indictment charging a defendant with a crime. Twelve of the thirteen grand jurors must vote in favor of returning an indictment for it to be a true bill.
United States Attorney – A prosecutor in the federal court system.
Venue – The physical location where all or a part of a crime occurred.
Verdict – In a criminal case, a decision by a judge or jury to find a defendant guilty or not guilty.
Victims’ Compensation – In a criminal case, a procedure under State law that allows a victim of a violent crime to be reimbursed by the State for certain injuries and expenses related to the crime. For more information, please see our Victim’s Compensation section in this website.
Victim Impact Statement – An opportunity for a victim to address the judge about the financial, emotional and physical effects that the crime has had on him/her.
Victim Witness Coordinator – A person employed by the District Attorney’s office to help victims and witnesses in violent crimes to understand their rights and answer their questions about the criminal justice system.
Voir Dire – Literally means “to speak the truth.” Usually refers to the preliminary examination of prospective jurors regarding their qualifications that is conducted by the judge and the attorneys.
Waiver – A statement, usually in writing, by a defendant that he/she is giving up or not relying upon certain legal rights or protections.
Warrant – A type of court order; see “Arrest Warrant”, “Search Warrant”.
Witness – A person who appears at a trial to give testimony and provide evidence about the defendant and the crime charged.