Definitions of Criminal Law Terms

Below is a list of some of the most commonly used criminal law terms. If you have a question regarding your case or a specific term, please call a Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer at Taracks & Associates. We will be happy to answer your question and evaluate your case free of charge. Dial 813-281-2897 or visit

Acquit: to free a person from the charge of an offense by means of a decision. If you are acquitted, that essentially means the case has been discharged.

Adjudicate: to determine judicially. If you have been adjudicated guilty, you have been found guilty legally.

Affidavit: a sworn legal statement.

Affirmed: to uphold. If an appellate Court upheld the decision of the trial court, that means they agreed with the decision.

Appeal: having a case examined by a higher court to see if the lower court’s decision was made in accordance with law.

Appearance: participation in the proceedings by a party in an action. This is done either in person or through an attorney.

Appellant: the party who appeals a case to a higher court.

Appellee: the party against whom an appeal is taken.

Attorney of record: attorney whose name appears in the files of a case. This would be your attorney if you have retained one (private counsel) or have had one appointed to you (public defender.)

Bail: the monetary security given to ensure the future appearance of a defendant.

Brief: a document prepared by the attorneys on each side of a case that is submitted to the court in support of each side.

Certified copy: Copy of a document signed and certified as a true copy of an original by the Clerk of the Court. Typically available at the Clerk’s Office.

Citation: a legal summons to appear.

Contempt of court: an act that obstructs or interferes with the administration of justice.

Counsel: Lawyer or attorney.

Cross-examination: questioning by an attorney of an adverse party/a witness called by an adverse party.

Defendant: the party accused of committing the offense charged.

De novo: from the beginning; a new trial.

Deposition: sworn testimony of a witness. A deposition is typically held to get statements of a witness on the record.

Direct examination: the first questioning of a witness by the party on whose behalf the witness is called.

Discovery: a process where one party in a case is informed of facts known by other parties or witnesses.

Dismissal: termination of a proceeding.

Docket: the document that summarizes a case.

Evidence: a form of proof or probative matter legally presented at the trial of an issue by the acts of the parties and through witnesses, records, documents, concrete objects, etc. Florida follows the Florida Evidence Code. In federal court the Federal Rules of Evidence are used.

Exhibit: a document or other article exhibited in court during trial or at hearing that is marked for identification and admitted into evidence.

Eexpunge: the authorized act of erasing information related to a case. “Clearing your record” in other words.

Hearsay: testimony by a witness who relates not what he/she knows personally, but what others have told him/her, or what the witness has heard said by others. Hearsay testimony may be admissible in court depending upon rules of evidence. There are over 35 exceptions to the hearsay rule under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Injunction: a court order for a party to stop doing or to start doing a specific act.

Jurisdiction: the geographical, subject, or monetary limitations of a court.

Mistrial: a trial that has been declared void prior to the reaching of verdict due to misconduct.

Perjury: the act of lying or stating falsely under oath.

Precedent: previous decision on same or similar point. Often times used to support an argument by a party one.

Statute of limitations: a statute that declares actions of a certain kind may not be commenced after a specified period of time.

Sua sponte: upon its own motion, initiation or will; without a prior request.

Subpoena: Legal process which commands a person to appear.

Subpoena duces tecum: a subpoena requiring a person to produce specified documents.

Voir dire: jury selection.

Warrant: a written order directing the arrest or search of a person or place.

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