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Legal Terminology and Definitions A.R.S.• Arizona Revised Statutes. Acquittal• Finding a criminal defendant not guilty of the charge against him/her. Admissibility• The ability to legally and properly introduce relevant evidence. Affidavit• A voluntary statement or declaration of facts which has been written down or confirmed under oath. Affidavits can be administered by judges and notary publics; by anyone allowed under oath to do so. Allegation• An assertion, declaration, or statement made in a pleading by one of the parties to the action, detailing the matters which the party intends to prove. Answer• Written response in a civil case; in it the defendant admits or denies allegations made by the plaintiff. Arbitration• A process for deciding a legal dispute out of court. In Maricopa County, all civil cases which seek a judgment of $50,000 or less, must go to arbitration. Where arbitration produces a settlement, there is no need for litigants to incur the cost of trial. Arraignment• Criminal proceeding in which the defendant, in open court, must answer criminal charges by entering a plea of guilty or not guilty. Defendant either must be represented by a lawyer or waive his/her right to legal counsel. Attorney of Record• Attorney whose name appears on the permanent records and files of a particular case. Initially, the attorney must file a Notice of Appearance with the Court. Bail• Monetary sum assessed by a judge to ensure that a criminal defendant, who is being released prior to trial, will appear in court on the trial date. Securities posted are returned when court appearances are satisfied. Bailiff• A Courtroom assistant to the judge who handles certain courtroom functions including files, jurors, witnesses, and attorneys. Bench Conference• A conference between a judge and attorney regarding a courtroom proceeding, which is not necessarily part of the written court record. Bifurcated Trial• Where the issues in a case are divided into two or more hearings or trials. The second hearing/trial does not necessarily use the same jury as the first. In criminal cases, insanity issues may prompt a bifurcated trial. Criminal DUI trials, where the defendant is alleged to have a prior conviction, are often bifurcated trials. In civil cases, you may see medical malpractice trials bifurcated when the liability phase of the trial is separated from the damages phase. And in Domestic Relations, child custody issues may prompt a bifurcated trial. Brief• Written statement explaining facts of case and laws that apply. return to top Chambers• Private office suite of the judge and his/her staff. Proceedings held in chambers are rarely open to the press, and only by permission of the judge. Civil Complaint• The first pleading in a civil case filed by the plaintiff. It alleges the material facts and legal theories to support the plaintiff's claim against the defendant. Constable• Officer primarily responsible for processing services and performing minor legal duties in Justice of the Peace Courts. Conviction• Finding by a judge or jury that a person charged with a criminal offense is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing the crime charged. Court Commissioner• Authorized to perform limited judicial functions. Commissioners are frequently full time judicial officers appointed by the presiding judge. Court Clerk• A member of a judge's staff in charge of keeping the court records and exhibits. The clerk generates a Minute Entry after each proceeding. Court Reporter• A person who works with a judge's staff to transcribe by shorthand or record stenographically the testimony during court proceedings. Note: transcripts are not automatic; they are generated when requested. Criminal Complaint• A written criminal charge, usually filed before a magistrate, that the defendant has committed a specified criminal offense. return to top Damages• Monetary compensation claimed by a person who has suffered loss or injury to his/her person, property, or rights as a result of the negligence or unlawful conduct of another. Decree• An order of the Court given in civil cases. A final decree is one which fully disposes of the litigation; an interlocutory decree is a preliminary order that often disposes of only part of a lawsuit. Default• In civil cases, the failure of the defendant to file an answer or appear within a certain amount of time. This will usually result in a default judgment against the defendant. Direct Complaint• The County Attorney files a criminal complaint directly to the Superior Court instead of utilizing a Justice of the Peace Court or Grand Jury. A Superior Court judge then holds a probable cause hearing. Discovery• The pretrial process by which one party discovers the evidence that will be relied upon at trial by the opposing party. Due Process• The regular course of administration through the courts of justice, under the protection of the law and the U.S. Constitution, enabling every person to have a fair and impartial trial or hearing. Evidence• Proof presented in court through the testimony of a witness, exhibits, records, objects or written documents to persuade the judge or jury as to an alleged fact or position. For Cause• Based upon some good reason. return to top Grand Jury (County)• Group of 16 citizens drawn from Maricopa County to investigate in private criminal matters pertaining to Maricopa County when asked to do so by the County Attorney. There may be more than one County Grand Jury going at any time, each meeting twice a week. Evidence is presented by a prosecutor and witness(es). County Grand Juries typically hear cases involving drugs, murder, rape, burglaries, and assaults. County Grand Jury must decide by simple majority whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime. County Grand Jury has the power to charge a crime by indictment; also may have the power to issue a report or presentment without charging a crime. A Grand Jury proceeding negates the need for a Preliminary Hearing. Grand Jury (State)• Group of 16 citizens which can meet in the Superior Court of either Maricopa County (Phoenix) or Pima County (Tucson) to investigate in private criminal matters that pertain to the State when asked to do so by the State Attorney General. State Grand Jury typically hears white collar crimes, fraudulent schemes and artifices, and forgeries. Typically, one State Grand Jury meets once a month for four days. Nine members of the State Grand Jury must vote a true bill, which is to say they found probable cause that the defendant committed the crime. Impanel• The act of making up a list of jurors who have been selected for the trial of a particular case. In Camera• A Latin term meaning "in chambers." Traditionally, the term meant a proceeding closed to the public. Information• A formal written accusation filed by a public officer, such as a prosecuting attorney, charging that a person or business committed a specific crime. Initial Appearance (IA)• First appearance in court by defendant in a criminal case. Under federal case law, an arrested person must appear before a judicial officer to be advised of charges and rights, including the right to have an attorney. At this time, a public defender would be appointed if the defendant cannot afford to hire counsel. Bond may be set. Depending on the case, a person might have his/her first appearance in any municipal or justice of the peace court in Maricopa County. Judge pro tem• Arizona is one of the few states that allows an attorney to be appointed a judge with full powers for the length of a case or series of proceedings. In Maricopa County, pro tem judges are employed to keep backlogs down and cover for vacation schedules. Jurisdiction• The legal authority of the court to hear and decide cases; the exercise of judicial power within certain geographic boundaries. return to top Magistrate• Often used to refer to a Municipal Court judge, but A.R.S. 1-215 provides a broad definition which includes all those judicial officers having power to issue a warrant for arrest, i.e. a Supreme Court justice, Superior Court judges, justice of the peace courts, and municipal courts. Minute Entry• Usually a one or two page summary, always on pink paper. It briefly summarizes what went on during a court proceeding--everyone who appeared in court, names of witnesses who testified, what kind of proceeding took place, when the next court date is, and any orders of the court that were issued. Minute entries are public documents and are kept in the court files in the lower level CCB file room. In Maricopa County, the courtroom clerk generates the minute entry. Misdemeanor• A classification for offenses which are less serious than felonies; a misdemeanor is punishable by a sentence other than being placed in the custody of Dept. of Corrections. Motion• A written filing, usually from an attorney to the Court, asking for a rule or order. Motion in limine - A pretrial motion where a party requests a ruling from the court that prohibits the opposing party from raising a particular, highly prejudicial issue at trial. Negligence• Failure to exercise that degree of care which a reasonable person would exercise under the same circumstances. return to top Parole• A conditional release from prison, granted by the Board of Executive Clemency. Petit Jury• A jury, usually of 12, impaneled to hear a civil or criminal proceeding in court. Petition• Written application made to court asking for legal intervention. Plaintiff• In a civil action, the party who files the lawsuit. In a criminal case, the State is the plaintiff. Plea• Response of a defendant to criminal charges. Note: When writing copy, you would be in error to say, "John Doe pled innocent today." The plea is guilty or not guilty. Pleading• Written documents stating the allegations and claims of the opposing parties in a legal dispute. Preliminary Hearing• Court proceeding which determines if the criminal defendant should be held for trial. In Maricopa County, preliminary hearings usually take place in justice (JP) court in the precinct where the crime occurred. Probation• A conditional suspension of imposition of the court's sentence. If terms of probation are completed successfully, sentence is not imposed. If terms of probation are violated, probation may be revoked and the sentence imposed. Pro se (pro per)• a person who is not represented by an attorney. Quash• To vacate an order of the Court; for example, to cancel an arrest warrant. Remand• To send back. For example, the Court of Appeals may remand a case to Superior Court for retrial or other action. return to top Subpoena• Legal document issued by the courts to order a person to appear as specified and give testimony and/or bring evidence. Summons• Legal document issued by the court to notify defendant that a complaint has been filed and that he/she is required to appear and answer the complaint on or before the time and date specified. A summons is a notice to appear for a defendant who does not need to be arrested. Supervening Indictment• A direct complaint has been filed, requested by the County Attorney and by the Grand Jury. If granted, the defendant bypasses the Preliminary Hearing and goes to an arraignment. Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)• An order to do or not do something until a more complete hearing is held, usually within 10 days, with both parties present. At that time, a preliminary injunction may be granted until there is a hearing for a permanent injunction. Warrant• A warrant notifies law enforcement that a defendant should be arrested when found. With Prejudice• Most often means a case cannot be reopened or refiled. Without Prejudice most often means a case can be reopened or refiled. return to top
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