Arraignment: A court appearance at which the defendant is formally charged and asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. In felony cases, an arraignment follows a preliminary hearing.

Bench Warrant: An arrest warrant issued by a judge for a defendant's failure to appear at a scheduled court hearing after having already made at least on court appearance.


Complaint: A legal document prepared by the District Attorney and filed with the court to begin the criminal process.  The complaint lists the charges and some of the evidence against the defendant and is usually based on information from police reports.


Concurrent: Running together; occurring at the same time.  A concurrent sentence is one that is served at the same time another sentence is being served.

Condition of Probation: Something that must be completed by a defendant while on probation.  Some examples of conditions of probation include counseling, alcohol or anger management assessment, jail time, and community service. 


Consecutive: Successive, succeeding one another in regular course; following one after the other in order.  A consecutive sentence is one that will begin after another sentence has been served.

Court Appointed Attorney: An attorney appointed by the court when a defendant is found to have insufficient means to hire a private attorney but does not have limited enough resources to qualify for a public defender.  The court is reimbursed for the expense of the appointed attorney at a specified rate (often $100/month). 


DA Warrant: An arrest warrant issued by the District Attorney for a defendant's failure to appear at his or her first appearance before the court.


Defendant: The person accused of or charged with a criminal offense. This is the person alleged to have committed a particular crime.

Deferred Adjudication Agreement: An agreement to suspend prosecution for a specified amount of time in an exchange for a plea of guilty or not contest.  If the defendant fully complies with the conditions of the agreement, the defendant will never have a conviction on his or her record.  However, either party has the right to terminate the Deferred Adjudication Agreement during the time of the agreement, which could result in adjudication of guilt and sentencing.

Discovery: The disclosure of information held by the opposing party in an action.  The prosecution is required by law to provide any exculpatory (tending to clear of guilty) evidence to the defense.  Upon request, the defense may need to provide information to the prosecution, including witness lists, expert witness reports, and alibi defenses.

Dismissal: The charge or charges against the defendant are dismissed. There will be no conviction.  However, if the charge or charges are dismissed without prejudice, the District Attorney can re-file charges at a later time if new information is discovered.

Extended Supervision: Similar to what many people know as parole.  It is the portion of a prison sentence where the defendant is not confined in the prison but is still supervised by the Department of Corrections and must comply with conditions.  Failure to comply with the conditions of extended supervision may result in the defendant's return to confinement in prison.


Felony: A crime punishable by confinement in a state prison, for one year or more.




Imposed and Stayed Sentence: The judge determines a sentence, but the defendant is placed on probation.  The defendant will serve the sentence only if probation is revoked.


Information: A document that states the charges against the defendant in a criminal case.  This document is filed by the District Attorney with the  court after a preliminary hearing (or after waiver of a preliminary hearing) in a felony case.


Initial Appearance: A defendant’s first appearance in court. A judge may read the charges and set bail (either cash bond or signature bond and conditions of release of any).  In felony cases, a date is set for a preliminary hearing. In misdemeanors, the initial appearance is also the arraignment, where the defendant enters an initial plea.




Initial Confinement: The first part of a prison sentence where the defendant is actually confined in the prison.  It is followed by a term of extended supervision.


Misdemeanor: A crime punishable by confinement in a count jail, for one year or less.




Motion: An oral or written request for a judge to decide a legal question,  made by either the prosecutor or defendant before, during or after a trial.


No Contest: a defendant's plea in court that he/she will not contest the charge of a particular crime. While technically not an admission of guilt for commission of the crime, the judge will treat a plea of "no contest" as an admission and proceed to find the defendant guilty as charged.

Plea: The defendant admits or denies commission of a crime by pleading guilty, no contest, or not guilty.  A plea of guilty or no contest will almost always result in the judge adjudicating the defendant guilty.

Probable Cause: A judicial determination that there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial.




Probation: The suspension of all or part of a sentence and its replacement by freedom subject to specific conditions and the supervision of a probation officer.

Prosecutor: An attorney who works for the District Attorney's office and represents the State against the defendant in a criminal case.


Public Defender: An attorney that is provided to a defendant free to charge due to a defendan'ts inability to afford a private attorney.


Quash: To make void; annul.




Read-In: Any crime that is uncharged or that is dismissed as part of a plea agreement that the defendant agrees to be considered by the court at the time of sentencing.  Read-in charges also allow for restitution to be ordered.

Restitution: An amount of money set by the court to be paid to the victim of a crime for property losses or injuries, physical or emotional, caused by the crime with which the defendant is convicted or which is read-in.

Revocation: Termination of either a deferred adjudication agreement or probation based on the defendant's failure to comply with the terms of conditions.


Search Warrant: A warrant that allows for the search of an individual's property, often a residence or vehicle.


Sentencing: The hearing at which the court imposes a sentence. Sentencing follows a guilty plea or a finding of guilt by a jury or judge.



Subpoena: A written order requiring a person to appear in court to testify. The subpoena states the date, time, place and proceeding at which the witness must appear.

Trial: A hearing for presenting physical and testimonial evidence to a judge or jury for a determination of whether an accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or guilty of the crime(s) charged. A defendant may be found guilty of all, some, or none of the charges. If the defendant is found guilty, he/she can then be sentenced for that crime by the judge at the time or at a later hearing; if the defendant is found not guilty of a crime, the charge is dismissed.


Warrant: A writ issued by a judge authorizing an officer to perform a specified act required for the administration of justice.  (See bench warrant, DA warrant, and search warrant.)



Withheld Sentence: A judge does not impose a sentence and places the defendant on probation or allows for a deferred adjudication agreement to be entered.  If the defendant does not comply with the terms or conditions of probation or the agreement, the defendant may be revoked, and then the judge can sentence the defendant at that time.