Legal Jargon Defined
Keeping You Informed
The following words and actions are legal terminologies that are used in the United States legal system. Understanding them and their definitions may help you better understand your rights and the legal process as a whole.
- Arraignment: Once a defendant has been formally charged (by indictment or accusation) with the crime, the defendant answers to the charges in Superior Court. This hearing is referred to as an "arraignment," at which time the defendant may enter a plea of "guilty" or "not guilty," in open court. You may attend, although it is not necessary for you to be present.
- Grand Jury (Felony Cases Only): The 23 citizens on the grand jury hear testimony and review evidence relating to the crime. They determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring an indictment to trial. If an indictment or "true bill" is returned, the case goes to the Superior Court for trial. If the grand jury decides not to return an indictment, the case is "no billed." This hearing is done in private. Neither the defendant nor his/her attorney is present.
- Jury Trial: A jury of 12 citizens listens to testimony and determines whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. All 12 must agree beyond a reasonable doubt for there to be a conviction. Witnesses are subpoenaed to a jury trial. The judge may sentence immediately after conviction or may order a PSI (pre-sentencing investigation).
- Plea: A defendant may plead guilty to the charge any time after arrest. If he/she chooses to plead guilty, a plea hearing is held. The judge may sentence him/her then or at a later date.
- Preliminary Hearing: After an arrest, a preliminary hearing may be held. Witnesses and/or police officers are usually subpoenaed to appear at this hearing. At that time the magistrate court judge listens to the testimony to determine whether there is probable cause for the case to go to a higher court (i.e., state or Superior Court).
- Warrant: A warrant is a document issued by the judge giving police the authority to arrest the accused. Victims may be required to obtain a copy of the police report and go to the county courthouse for a warrant. If bond can be set and the accused is able to pay, the accused will be released from jail.
For additional information about your rights or the legal process, please contact the Victim Assistance Program at (706) 272-2273 (CARE).