Glossary of Criminal Justice Terms and Acronyms ACQUITTAL A term for a finding by the jury (or judge if the case was tried to a judge alone) that the defendant is not guilty. An acquittal is final, and cannot be appealed by the state.
ALFORD PLEA A guilty plea made by the defendant where he or she does not admit to actually committing the crime, but agrees that there is sufficient evidence that he or she could be found guilty.
APPEAL A system whereby the Minnesota Court of Appeals or Minnesota Supreme Court review decisions made by the trial court. There are certain limitations on when either the state or the defendant may file an appeal.
ARRAIGNMENT The first appearance in court by the defendant after being charged with the crime. The purpose of the hearing is to assure that the defendant understands the charges against him or her, and to allow time to either hire an attorney or apply to have an attorney appointed. The conditions of release are set, and the date of the next hearing is set. In some counties it is called a Rule 5 hearing. ARREST Taking the suspect or defendant into the physical custody of law enforcement. Many offenders are not arrested, but simply show up to court when they have hearings. BAIL An amount of money which must be posted with the court for the defendant to be out of jail during the proceedings. If the defendant makes all court appearances, the money is returned at the end of proceedings. If the defendant fails to make court appearances, the bail may be forfeited by the court and would not be returned to the defendant. BENCH TRIAL A trial by the judge alone where no jury is involved. A defendant may waive the right to have a jury, and have the case heard by a judge in a bench (or court) trial. CRIME An act which is against the law and punishable by jail or prison. CONDITIONS OF RELEASE A set of rules the defendant must follow in order to remain out of jail while the criminal case is pending. The conditions might include no contact with the victim or his or her family, no use of alcohol or drugs, or other measures to ensure the safety of the victim. CONTINUANCE Postponing a hearing until a later date, usually because one of the parties requests it and it is approved by the judge. Continuances are a common part of the criminal process. COMPENSATION The process of reimbursing victims of crime for out-of-pocket expenses they received because of being victimized by crime. One agency that helps to reimburse victims is the Crime Victims Reparations Board of the Office of Justice Programs. COMPLAINANT The person who claims to be the victim of a crime, and reports the crime to the police. COMPLAINT A document which formally charges the defendant with one or more criminal offenses. The document is drafted and filed with the court by the prosecuting attorney, and gives a brief description of the criminal acts committed by the defendant. CONVICTION A finding that the defendant is guilty, either by guilty plea of the defendant, or by a judge or jury after trial. The record of the conviction is maintained by the state for future reference. COURT CALENDAR The schedule of all the cases before the court. The schedule is maintained by the court administrator’s office. DEFENDANT The person charged with a crime in the complaint. DEFENSE ATTORNEY The attorney representing the defendant as a client. DISCOVERY The process by which the state and the defendant exchange information with each other about the case. The state must provide copies of all police reports and records to the defendant before trial. EVIDENTIARY HEARING See Omnibus Hearing FELONY The highest of the four levels of crime: it is punishable by more than one year in prison, ranging from 12 months and a day to life without parole. FIRST APPEARANCE See Arraignment GRAND JURY A group of residents of the county where the criminal act took place, who are convened by the prosecuting attorney to decide if charges should be brought, and if so, which charges. They listen to live testimony from witnesses and review the physical evidence collected by police. Their proceedings are secret, and if they decide charges should be brought, they hand down a document called an indictment. At this stage, the defendant has only been charged with a crime, and has not been found guilty. GROSS MISDEMEANOR The second highest of the four levels of crime: it is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine. JURISDICTION The county or city which has the authority to prosecute the defendant for a criminal act – usually the place where the crime occurred. MISDEMEANOR The third highest of the four levels of crime: it is punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. OMNIBUS HEARING A hearing held usually at the request of the defendant to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to continue on to trial, and/or to determine whether the police followed all constitutional and statutory requirements in their investigation. The purpose of the hearing is to request that certain evidence be “suppressed” – or kept out of the trial – because the defendant argues that the police violated his or her rights. In some counties it is called a Rasmussen hearing. PERPETRATOR The person who commits a crime – often used to refer to one who commits a sex offense. PETTY MISDEMEANOR The fourth highest of the four levels of crime: it is punishable by a fine only and is technically not considered to be a crime. A speeding ticket is an example of a petty misdemeanor. PLEA NEGOTIATIONS The process of discussions between the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, and sometimes the judge about whether the defendant will plead guilty to one charge or another. These discussions include which charge the defendant might plead guilty to, and what the sentence might be. The victim of a crime has the right to be contacted and informed of plea negotiations, and to be heard about his or her opinion of them. PRE-SENTENCE INVESTIGATION (PSI) A background investigation by a probation officer to provide the judge with as much information as possible before sentencing a defendant. The victim of a crime should be contacted for input in the PSI as to the effect of the crime upon him or her. PRE-TRIAL HEARING A hearing where the prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, defendant, and judge meet to discuss plea negotiations and the legal issues that might come up if a trial is held. PROBATION A sentence where the defendant is under the supervision of a probation officer, and which might include county jail time, electric home monitoring, a fine, restitution (repayment) to the victim, counseling or treatment, a letter of apology, or other terms which might prevent the defendant from committing future crime. PROSECUTING ATTORNEY The attorney who works for either the county or city government, and seeks to prove that the defendant committed the crime, and hold him or her accountable for the criminal acts. The prosecuting attorney represents the people through the government, and does not personally represent the victim of a crime. PUBLIC DEFENDER An attorney employed by the government to represent defendants who cannot afford an attorney. REPARTIONS Public money that is used to assist a victim of crime with some financial needs that arise because of crime. Victims apply to a state office for reimbursement. RESTITUTION An amount of money that the defendant must pay to the victim for the victim’s out-of-pocket costs due to the defendant’s criminal acts. R.O.R. Release on own recognizance. This means that the defendant will not be required to post bail, but could still be ordered by the court to follow certain conditions of release. In some counties it is called personal recognizance. RULE 412 HEARING A hearing under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 412, which controls when and if the previous sexual history of a victim of sexual assault might be introduced as evidence in trial. It might be held at the same time as the omnibus hearing, or closer to trial. RULE 5 HEARING See Arraignment RULE 8 HEARING The hearing following the arraignment at which the attorney appears with the defendant, where the conditions of release might be reviewed, and where the defense attorney usually requests either an omnibus hearing or a trial date. Sometimes this hearing is called the “uncontested omnibus hearing,” and sometimes it is combined with the arraignment into one hearing date. SENTENCING Once a defendant has either plead guilty or has been found guilt at trial, the judge must determine an appropriate consequence, or sentence. The court will normally order a Pre-Sentence Investigation before the sentencing, and will consider the positions of the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, and the victim before deciding on an appropriate sentence. Sentencing in felony crimes involves following the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, a chart which gives a suggested sentence based on the severity of the crime committed and the criminal history of the defendant. SENTENCING GUIDELINES A chart developed to guide or suggest similar sentences around the state for similar crimes. The sentence suggested depends upon the severity of the crime of which the defendant was convicted, and the extent of criminal history of the defendant. The guidelines will suggest whether prison or probation are appropriate, and if prison is suggested, the length of the prison sentence. SUBPOENA A court order requiring a person to appear in court and testify truthfully. SUMMONS A document ordering the defendant to appear in court on a certain date for the arraignment to begin the criminal proceedings. TRIAL A process in court where either a jury or a judge alone will listen to witnesses, observe photographs or other items of evidence, and decide whether it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime(s) with which he or she was charged. The prosecuting attorney will present the witnesses and evidence first, after which the defense attorney may or may not call witnesses. Each attorney may ask questions of the witnesses called by the other attorney, and each may address the judge or jury to argue the case. Once all the information has been given to the jury or judge, the jury or judge will “deliberate” and make a decision as to whether the defendant’s guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury’s decision must be unanimous. Importantly, many times a jury may decide that they cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty, even though they think possibly he or she committed the crime. The law requires a high level of proof to find someone guilty of a crime, and the level is sometimes not reached even when the defendant actually committed the crime. VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT A statement submitted by the victim of the crime if the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty. The purpose of the statement is to tell the judge about how the crime has affected the victim personally, and the outcome that the victim would like to see. VICTIM/WITNESS ASSISTANT/ADVOCATE A person who “ushers” the victim through the criminal justice system, providing information, resources, and support to victims of crime. WARRANT If the court decides that the defendant should be arrested, either at the very beginning of the proceedings, or after he or she failed to show up at a court hearing, the court will issue a warrant authorizing law enforcement to place the defendant under arrest. COMMON ACRONYMS A&D – probation arrest and detention warrant ROR – release on own recognizance ADC – adult detention center SA – sexual assault BAC – blood alcohol content SANE – sexual assault nurse examiner BCA – Bureau of Criminal Apprehension SAFE – sexual assault forensic examiner CSC – criminal sexual conduct SO – sheriff’s office or sex offender HRO – harassment restraining order SVJI – Sexual Violence Justice Institute DNA – medical term for genetic code PO – probation officer DOC – Department of Corrections UA – urinalysis LE – law enforcement LEC – law enforcement center MNCASA – Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault OFP – order for protection OJP – Office of Justice Programs PD – public defender or police department PSI – pre-sentence investigation