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dual court system

The court system in the United States, consisting of one system of state and local courts and another system of federal courts.


The authority of a court to hear and decide cases.

origninal jurisdiction

The authority of a court to hear a case when it is first brought to court.

appellate jurisdiction

The power of a court to review a case for errors of law.

general jurisdiction

The power of a court to hear any type of case.

special jurisdiction

The power of a court to hear only certain kinds of cases.

subject matter jurisdiction

The power of court to hear a particular typed of case.

personal jurisdiction

A court's authority over the parties to a lawsuit.

writ of certiorari

A written order, from the U.S. Supreme Court to a lower court whose decision is being appealed, to send the records of the case forward for review.

writ of habeas corpus

An order from a court to an officer of the law to produce a prisoner in court to determine if the prisoner is being legally detained or imprisoned.

summary or bench trials

Trials without a jury.

trial de novo

A trial in which an entire case is reheard by a trial court of general jurisdiction because there is an appeal and there is no written transcript of the earlier proceeding.

due process of law

The procedures followed by courts to ensure that a defendant's constitutional rights are not violated.


The removal or restriction of the freedom of those found to have violated criminal laws.


The imposition of a penalty for criminal wrongdoing.


The attempt to "correct"the personality and behavior of convicted offenders through educational, vocational, or therapeutic treatment and to return them to society as law-abiding citizens.

general deterrence

The attempt to prevent people in general from engaging in crime by punishing specific individuals and making examples of them.

nolle proseque (nol.pros.)

The notation placed on the official record of a case when prosecutors elect not to prosecute.

plea bargaining or plea negotiating

The practice whereby the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the defendant, and in many jurisdictions the judge agree on a specific sentence to be imposed if the accused pleads guilty to an agreed upon charge or charges instead of going to trial.

rules of discovery

Rules that mandate that a prosecutor provide defense counsel with any exculpatory evidence (evidence favorable to the accused that has an effect on guilt or punishment)in the prosecutor's possession.


The process in which suspects' names, the charges for which they were arrested, and perhaps their fingerprints or photographs are entered on the police blotter.


A charging document specifying that an offense has been committed by a person or persons named or described; usually used for misdemeanors and ordinance violations.


A document that outlines the formal charge or charges, the law or laws that have been violated, and the evidence to support thae charge or charges.

grand jury indictment

A written accusation by a grand jury charging that one or more persons have committed a crime.

arrest warrant

A written order directing law enforcement officers to arrest a person. The charge or charges against a suspect are specified on the warrant.

bail bond/bail

Usually a monetary guarantee deposited with the court that is supposed to ensure that the suspect or defendant will appear at a later stage in the criminal justice process.

preventive detention

Holding suspects or defendants in jail without giving them an opportunity to post bail, because of the threat they pose to society.

bench warrant or capias

A document that authorizes a suspect's or defendant's arrest for not appearing in court as required.

release on own recognizance

A release secured by a suspect's written promise to appear in court.

conditional release

A form of release that requires that a suspect/defendant maintain contact with a pretrial release program or undergo regular drug monitoring or treatment.

unsecured bond

An arrangement in which bail is set but no money is paid to the court.

preliminary hearing

A pretrial stage used in about one-half of all states and only in felony cases. Its purpose is for a judge to determine whether there is probable cause to support the charge or charges imposed by the prosecutor.

grand jury

Generally a group of 12 to 23 citizens who meet in closed sessions to investigate charges coming from preliminary hearings or to engage in other responsibilities. A primary purpose of the grand jury is to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the accused committed the crime or crimes.


A document that outlines the charge or charges against a defendant.


A written order to testify issued by a court officer.


A pretrial stage; its primary purpose is to hear the formal information or indictment and to allow the defendant to enter a plea.

nolo conteddere

Latin for "no contest" When defendants plead nolo, they do not admit guilt but are willing to accept punishment.

bench trial

A trial before a judge without a jury.


The pool from which jurors are selected.

voir dire

The process in which potential jurors who might be biased or unable to render a fair verdict are screened out.

hung jury

The result twhen jurors cannot agree on a verdict. The judge declares a mistrial. The prosecutor must decide whether to retry the case.

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