Criminal/D.U.I./Traffic Defense Legal Terms

AArraignment
An initial court hearing in a criminal case where the defendant is brought before the court and read the criminal charges being brought against him or her. Typically, after the charges are read, the defendant then enters a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest) to the charges.
BBench Trial
A trial held before a judge only. The judge will listen to the facts of the case and make a determination of guilt or innocence as well as setting appropriate penalties. For most states, in a criminal trial, a bench trial may happen if the defendant has waived his or her rights to a jury trial. In a civil trial, both parties in the dispute must agree to waive their rights to a jury.
EExpungement
A person may be eligible for an expungement (destruction of the record) or a sealing (sealing of the record) if they have not been convicted (adjudicated guilty) of the offense seeking to expunge and/or seal and they have never been previously convicted of ANY criminal offense in the state of Florida or any other state. An expungement and/or sealing allows an individual to legally deny or fail to acknowledge that they have been arrested for an offense. There are exceptions that prohibit denying you have been arrested even if you have obtain an expungement or sealing in court. A criminal defense attorney should be consulted for the specific exceptions.
FFelony
One of a group of crimes found serious enough to warrant more than a year in prison (state or federal). Less serious offenses are known as misdemeanors. Offenses considered serious enough to be in the felony category will vary state by state and are sometimes further classified by the degree of the felony (class A or 1st degree, etc). Crimes commonly found in the felony category include murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, embezzlement, rape, treason, fraud, grand theft, arson, racketeering, drug possession, and the third or fourth DUI conviction, depending on the state. In addition to punishment for their crime(s), felons also lose rights in many states in the U.S., such as the right to vote, the right to run for public office, the right to obtain certain licenses, the right to own or purchase firearms and the right to sit on a jury. A felony conviction will also make it difficult to find meaningful employment.
GGrand Jury
Grand juries are made up of groups of jurors and a judge who listen to evidence and decide if someone should be charged with a crime. Grand jurors are usually chosen from the same pool of people that provide trial jurors: A judge selects and swears in a grand jury, just as they do in trial juries. Grand Juries may meet (sit) over a longer period of time but they don’t typically meet every day. Grand juries hear evidence from just one side (the prosecution) before they decide whether someone should be indicted (formally charged) with a crime.
IIndictment
The process of being formally charged with a crime, typically a serious criminal offense. Indictments are determined by grand juries.
JJury Trial
Jury trials tend to result from serious crimes and include a judge and a group of jurors, who have been chosen and approved from a pool of people. The jury listens to the evidence presented and finds the facts of the case while the judge interprets the law in the case. At the end of a trial, juries make a decision about the guilt or innocence of the accused. The actual penalty for the crime is set by the judge.
MMiranda Warnings
From the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miranda v.Arizona, Miranda Warnings refer to warnings that law enforcement officers must give suspects in custody if they would like to question the suspects and later be legally able to use the answers to those questions as evidence in court. Familiar to many from crime shows on television, Miranda Warnings are as follows: You have the right to remain silent; If you do say anything, what you say can be used against you in a court of law; You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have that lawyer present during any questioning; If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you if you so desire; If you choose to talk to the police officer, you have the right to stop the interview at any time.
Misdemeanor
One of a group of crimes found to be less serious, typically warranting less severe punishment. Offenses considered misdemeanors will vary by state but may include vandalism, underage drinking, disorderly conduct, trespass, prostitution, public intoxication, and simple assault. Those convicted of a misdemeanor are generally punished with a maximum of 12 months in a local or county jail but other possibilities may include probation, community service, and weekend imprisonment or some combination of all of those. Misdemeanors are still serious. Misdemeanor convictions for driving under the influence or domestic violence typically escalate in punishment and second or third convictions of the same offense will result in substantially harsher penalties.
PPlea Bargain
Also known as a plea agreement, plea bargains are the agreement in a criminal case in which a prosecutor and a defendant arrange to settle the case against the defendant. Plea bargains are often arranged in exchange for some agreement from the prosecutor as to the punishment and/or a reduction or dismissal of some of the charges against the defendant. In a plea bargain, the defendant may agree to plead guilty or no contest and sometimes to state specifically what the details of the crime were.
RRecidivist
An individual who has been arrested and convicted of multiple criminal offenses that are similar in nature; also known as repeat offender.
Restraining Order
An order issued by the court intended to help protect victims of domestic violence and children who have been abused, by requiring that the person who committed the violent act stay a certain distance from the residence. If a restraining order is in place, the person who committed the violent act will be at risk for immediate arrest should they return to the residence (even if they were invited).
SSearch and Seizure
Refers to the action of law enforcement to search for and take evidence. This search is legally allowed if law enforcement follows the rules of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution and/or if it is reasonable that a person would not consider the place being searched to be a private place. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Usually, a legal search of a private place will include a warrant signed by a judge but instances of unwarranted search may differ by state and circumstance. A criminal defense attorney can advise you with questions about the legality of search and seizure.
Sentence
The punishment given to a person convicted of a crime. A sentence is ordered by the judge, based on the trial jury’s verdict or the judge's decision if there was a bench trial (no jury). The judge creates the punishment from mandates in state law or federal law (in convictions for federal crimes). Sentence refers to jail or prison time but also to other punishment mandates of the judge for conviction of the crime including fines, community service, restitution, probation, and any other punishment-related details.
TTemporary Restraining Order
A court order banning certain actions. The order forbids one person from harassing, harming, or even contacting another person. The person being harmed must request the temporary restraining order from a judge. After the temporary order has been issued, the court holds a second hearing to hear the other person’s side of the story. The court will then decide if the order should be made permanent.
WWarrant
A formal written order approved or signed by a judge or magistrate, allowing law enforcement officials the right to conduct activities. Warrants can be related either to a request to search premises or to arrest someone. A search warrant allows police to enter and search a location for items named in the warrant. Search warrants require that the police have demonstrated to a judge in advance that they have probable cause to believe the items they seek, relating to the investigation of a crime, are in the location for which they requested the warrant. An arrest warrant authorizes police to arrest someone and requires that police have shown a judge or magistrate that a crime has been committed and the person named in the warrant is responsible for the crime.
White Collar Crimes
A class of crimes committed by professionals, business people and public officials that generally involves a deliberate attempt to mislead others. Most white collar crimes involve theft or fraudulent representation for the purpose of obtaining money under misleading circumstances. Crimes that could fall under the “white collar” descriptive class would include, but not be limited to, embezzlement, securities fraud, tax fraud, investment fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, and extortion. Criminal defense attorneys assist clients charged with white collar crimes.