Legal Terms and Meanings
Not Guilty Plea: A plea by the defendant claiming innocence.
Guilty Plea: A plea by the defendant admitting guilt.
Nolo Contendre: By issuing a plea of nolo contendre, or “no
contest”, the defendant accepts the punishment without
formally admitting that he/she was guilty. By doing this, he/she
avoids the consequences of a guilty plea with regard to
potential liability to other people for civil damages (money
Arraignment: An arraignment is the process by which the
defendant is read his rights and the list of charges against him
Felony: A felony crime is punishable by one (1) or more years
in state prison. Sample felony crimes include murder, rape, or
Misdemeanor: A misdemeanor crime is punishable by up to
one (1) year in county jail. Sample misdemeanor crimes include
drunk driving, disorderly conduct and shoplifting.
Preliminary Hearing: This only occurs when the defendant’s
plea is “not guilty” in a felony charge. A preliminary hearing is
shorter than a trial but operates similarly. It is conducted in
front of a judge without a jury present. The primary goal of a
preliminary hearing is to identify which charges are fit for trial
and which are not.
Municipal Court Trial: A trial in lower court for a misdemeanor.
Sentencing: Once the defendant has plead guilty or received
a guilty verdict by way of trial, he/she will be sentenced.
Appeals: After a defendant has been found guilty by way of
trial, the defense attorney may request a higher court to
reverse the lower court’s decision.
Pretrial Conference/Plea Bargaining: The pretrial
conference is a formal setting where plea-bargaining occurs.
The prosecution may offer alternative sentencing. The charge
may be changed to a lesser charge. The number of felony
counts may be dropped. A lesser punishment for the same
charge may be agreed upon.
Trial: The process by which a defendant is tried on charges
and considered guilty or not guilty. Defendants charged with
serous misdemeanors and felonies may be entitled to jury trials.
Minor misdemeanor charges may be entitled to trial by judge.
The rules differ state-by-state.
Voir Dire: The process of selecting a jury through questioning
by attorneys. This is the time when the attorneys may set the
tone of the trial. Many cases have been won or lost in voir dire.