A "wrongful act" that, combined with other necessary elements of crime, constitutes criminal liability.
ex post facto law
A retroactive law that criminalizes actions that were legal at the time they were taken or increases punishment for a criminal act after it was committed.
mala in se
"Evil in itself."
"Guilty mind"; criminal intent.
nullen crimen, nulla poena, sine lege
"There is no crime, there is no punishment, without law." Refers to the doctrine that one cannot be found guilty of a crime unless there is a violation of an existing provision of law defining the applicable criminal conduct.
The doctrine of deciding cases based on precedent.
Judicial tribunals that review decisions from lower tribunals.
An appearance before a court of law for the purpose of pleading to a criminal charge.
bill of attainder
A legislative act imposing punishment without trial upon persons deemed guilty of treason or felonies (prohibited by the U.S. Constitution).
Bill of Rights
A written enumeration of basic rights, usually annexed to a written constitution—for example, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
A massive treatise on the English common law published in 1769 by Sir William Blackstone, a professor at Oxford University. In America, Blackstone's Commentaries became something of a legal bible.
breach of contract
The violation of a provision in a legally enforceable agreement that gives the damaged party the right to recourse in a court of law.
The doctrine that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and that all actions and policies of government must be consistent with it.
A trial in a court of law to determine the guilt or innocence of a person charged with a crime.
Capital punishment; a sentence to death for the commission of a crime.
Law declared by appellate courts in their written decisions and opinions.
due process of law
Procedural and substantive rights of citizens against government actions that threaten the denial of life, liberty, or property.
English common law
The body of decisional law based largely on custom as declared by English judges after the Norman Conquest of 1066. See also stare decisis.
The function of appellate courts in reviewing routine appeals and correcting the errors of trial courts.
A hearing in which both parties have a reasonable opportunity to be heard—to present evidence and make arguments. A fundamental element of due process of law.
The requirement, stemming from due process, that government provide adequate notice to a person before it deprives that person of life, liberty, or property.
The constitutional distribution of government power and responsibility between the national government and the states.
A serious crime for which a person may be imprisoned for more than one year.
A formal document handed down by a grand jury accusing one or more persons of the commission of a crime or crimes.
A document filed by a prosecutor under oath charging one or more persons with commission of a crime.
The power of courts of law to review governmental acts and declare them null and void if they are found to be unconstitutional.
One of the principal functions of an appellate court, often referred to as the law development function.
A minor offense usually punishable by fine or imprisonment for less than one year.
Model Penal Code (MPC)
consists of general provisions concerning criminal liability, sentences, defenses, and definitions of specific crimes. It is designed to serve as a model code of criminal law for all states.
Sums of money that offenders are required to pay as punishment for the commission of crimes.
An enactment of a local governing body such as a city council or commission.
An agreement between a defendant and a prosecutor whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for some concession (such as a reduction in the number of charges brought).
The power of government to legislate to protect public health, safety, welfare, and morality.
presumption of innocence
In a criminal trial, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
pretrial diversion program
A program in which a firsttime offender is afforded the opportunity to avoid criminal prosecution by participating in some specified treatment, counseling, or community service.
Conditional release of a convicted criminal in lieu of incarceration.
procedural criminal law
The branch of the criminal law that deals with the processes by which crimes are investigated, prosecuted, and punished.
reasonable doubt standard
Standard used by a judge or jury to determine whether criminal charges against a defendant have been proven. The Supreme Court's decision, In re: Winship (1970) adopted this historic standard by ruling that the Fourteenth Amendment requires the prosecution to establish the elements of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
The act of compensating someone for losses suffered.
rule of law
The idea that law, not the discretion of officials, should govern public affairs.
rules of evidence
Legal rules governing the admissibility of evidence at trial.
rules of procedure
Rules promulgated by courts of law under constitutional or statutory authority governing procedures for trials and other judicial proceedings.
separation of powers
Constitutional assignment of legislative, executive, and judicial powers to different branches of government.
A generally applicable law enacted by a legislature.
strict liability offenses
Offenses that do not require proof of the defendant's intent.
substantive criminal law
That branch of the criminal law that defines criminal offenses and defenses and specifies criminal punishments.
A wrong or injury other than a breach of contract for which the remedy is a civil suit for damages.
The crime of making war against one's own government or giving aid and comfort to its enemies.
Programs designed to rehabilitate an offender.
Judicial tribunals usually presided over by one judge who conducts proceedings and trials in civil and criminal cases with or without a jury.
A person who is the object of a crime or tort.