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clerk of court - An officer appointed by the court to work with the chief judge in overseeing the court's administration, especially to assist in managing the flow of cases through the court and to maintain court records.
common law - The legal system that originated in England and is now in use in the United States. It is based on court decisions rather than statutes passed by the legislature.
circumstantial evidence - All evidence that is not direct evidence (such as eyewitness testimony).
complaint - A written statement by the plaintiff stating the wrongs allegedly committed by the defendant.
chief judge - The judge who has primary responsibility for the administration of a court. The chief judge also decides cases, and the choice of chief judges is determined by seniority.
case law - The use of court decisions to determine how other law (such as statutes) should apply in a given situation. For example, a trial court may use a prior decision from the Supreme Court that has similar issues.
chambers - A judge's office.
capital offense - A crime punishable by death. In the federal system, it applies to crimes such as first degree murder, genocide, and treason.
charge - The law that the police believe the defendant has broken.
charge to the jury - The judge's instructions to the jury concerning the law that applies to the facts of the case on trial.
beyond a reasonable doubt - Standard required to convict a criminal defendant of a crime. The prosecution must prove the guilt so that there is no reasonable doubt to the jury that the defendant is guilty.
binding precedent - A prior decision by a court that must be followed without a compelling reason or significantly different facts or issues. Courts are often bound by the decisions of appellate courts with authority to review their decisions. For example, district courts are bound by the decisions of the court of appeals that can review their cases, and all courts – both state and federal – are bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.
bench trial - Trial without a jury in which a judge decides the facts. In a jury trial, the jury decides the facts. Defendants will occasionally waive the right to a jury trial and choose to have a bench trial.
brief - A written statement submitted by the lawyer for each side in a case that explains to the judge(s) why they should decide the case (or a particular part of a case) in favor of that lawyer's client.
bankruptcy - Refers to statutes and judicial proceedings involving persons or businesses that cannot pay their debts and seek the assistance of the court in getting a fresh start. Under the protection of the bankruptcy court, debtors may discharge their debts, perhaps by paying a portion of each debt. Bankruptcy judges preside over these proceedings.
arrest warrant - A written order directing the arrest of a party. Arrest warrants are issued by a judge after a showing of probable cause.
bail - Security given for the release of a criminal defendant or witness from legal custody (usually in the form of money) to secure his/her appearance on the day and time appointed.
arraignment - A proceeding in which an individual who is accused of committing a crime is brought into court, told of the charges, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.
appellate - About appeals; an appellate court has the power to review the judgment of another lower court or tribunal.
answer - The formal written statement by a defendant responding to a civil complaint and setting forth the grounds for defense.
allegation - Something that someone says happened.
Alford plea - A defendant’s plea that allows him to assert his innocence but allows the court to sentence the defendant without conducting a trial. Essentially, the defendant is admitting that the evidence is sufficient to show guilt. Such a plea is often made for purposes of negotiating a deal with the prosecutor for lesser charges or a sentence.
affirmed - Judgment by appellate courts where the decree or order is declared valid and will stand as decided in the lower court.
affidavit - A written statement of facts confirmed by the oath of the party making it. Affidavits must be notarized or administered by an officer of the court with such authority.
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acquittal - Judgment that a criminal defendant has not been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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