LEGAL TERMS AND DEFINITIONS
Jun 18, 2023
Absentia: Absent; proceedings without the defendant present.
Acquit, Acquittal: A finding of not guilty by a judge or jury.
Adjudication: Judgment rendered by the court after a determination of the issues.
Adjudication Withheld: A manner of disposition in which the court does not pronounce a formal judgment of conviction.
Affidavit of insolvency: A detailed form signed by the defendant, under oath, attesting to his/her indigence.
Arraignment: After being arrested a person must be arraigned. This is to ensure that a person is aware of the charges and has the opportunity to defend him or herself. The accused can admit guilt at the arraignment, or enter a plea of not guilty.
Arrest: An arrest is typically seen as the act of taking someone to jail but technically it includes the issuance of a summons to appear in court on a criminal matter.
Bond: Cash or surety posted to procure the release of a defendant by insuring his/her future attendance in court, and compelling him/her to remain in the jurisdiction of the court.
Surety Bond: A certificate posted by a bonding company to the sheriff for release of the defendant
Cash Bond: is the total amount of the bond set in cash.
Bench Trial: Trial without a jury in which a judge decides the facts. This is also known as a non-jury trial.
Bench Warrant: An order issued by a judge for the arrest of a person. This is also known as a “capias.”
Capias: A writ to the sheriff or other authorized agent to arrest the named person (nationwide).
Certified copy: A court document that is authenticated, signed and sealed by the clerk or deputy clerk.
Civil Infraction: A non-criminal traffic violation that is not punishable by incarceration and for which there is no right to a trial by jury or a right to court-appointed counsel as defined under Rule 6.040, Florida Rules of Traffic Court.
Community control: A form of probation restricting the defendant’s movements to an extreme degree.
Complaint: Formal written charge that a person has committed a criminal offense.
Conviction: A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.
County Probation: This is similar to the Department of Corrections however it is at the county level. It is the agency that supervises misdemeanor probationers, conducts pretrial monitoring, and runs misdemeanor diversion programs (among other things).
D- 6: A court report to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles of a person’s failure to appear in court, leading to suspension of the driver’s license.
Demand for discovery: Demand by the defense attorney to the State Attorney to furnish material information on a case.
Department of Corrections(DOC): The Department of Corrections operates all the prisons (see below) in Florida and supervises all defendants placed on probation or community control. It also runs the felony diversion programs. This is a statewide agency.
Docket: A list of cases to be heard by a court or a log containing brief entries of court proceedings.
Felony: A crime that is punishable by incarceration that can extend over 365 days in length.
Third Degree Felony: Punishable by up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 fine. Not eligible for withhold of adjudication if two prior felony offenses.
Second Degree Felony: Punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $10,000 fine. Not eligible for withhold of adjudication except under special circumstances.
First Degree Felony: Punishable by up to 30 years in prison and $10,000 fine. Not eligible for withhold of adjudication.
Life Felony: Punishable by life in prison and $15,000 fine.
Capital Felony: Punishable by death.
First Appearance: When a person is arrested the Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.130 requires that the arrested person be brought before a judicial officer within 24 hours. The Judge will inform the Defendant of the charge and certain Rights. At this time the judge will also determine the conditions of pretrial release.
Hung jury: Jury unable to reach a verdict.
Incarceration: Also known as imprisonment. When you are sentenced you are ordered to spend a specific amount of time in jail or prison and you are thereby incarcerated.
Jail: Jail and prison are terms that are often used interchangeably, however there are differences. In Florida jails are county correctional institutions. They house inmates that have been arrested and have not, for whatever reason, bonded out before trial and house inmates that have already been sentenced to terms of incarceration that are less than a year in length.
Information: A formal charging document issued by the State Attorney, that the named person committed a specific offense.
Judgment / Sentence: The official document of a judge’s disposition (decision) of a case and sentence of a defendant.
Jury trial: A trial in which the jury judges the facts and the judge rules on the law.
Juvenile: A juvenile is any person under the age of 18 unless they have been given adult status by a court.
Misdemeanor: This is a crime that is punishable by up to a year incarceration depending on the degree. A misdemeanor offense has no impact on your civil rights unless it is charged as domestic violence.
First Degree Misdemeanor: Punishable by up to 365 days in jail and $1,000 fine.
Second Degree Misdemeanor: Punishable by up to 60 days in jail and $500 fine.
No information: Document which states no formal charge will be filed by the State Attorney
Nolle Prosequi: This is a Latin term that means the Office of the State Attorney, after charging you with an offense, has decided to terminate the prosecution.
Notice to Appear: As defined under Rule 3.125 (a), Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, a written order issued by a law enforcement officer in lieu of physical arrest requiring a person accused of violating the law to appear in a designated court or governmental office at a specified date and time.
Nunc pro tunc: An entry made now for an act done previously and to have the effect as if it were done on a prior date.
Order to Show Cause: Is a court order requiring a person to appear and show why some action should not be taken.
Plea: Defendant’s answer to the charge – guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere. In a criminal proceeding, it is the defendant’s declaration in open court that he or she is guilty or not guilty.
Guilty Plea: A plea by the defendant in a criminal or traffic prosecution admitting the commission of an offense with which he/she is charged or a lesser included offense.
Nolo contendere: A person neither admits nor denies the charges, letting them stand as is.
Pretrial Conference: This is a court date that is scheduled after the arraignment and before the trial. It is used by the courts as a method to keep track of cases.
Pre-sentence investigation: A background investigation of the defendant by the Department of Corrections, returnable to the sentencing judge on or before a certain date.
Pre-trial intervention: A program to aid certain qualifying defendants by diverting them from court proceedings upon successful completion of the program.
Pre-trial release (PTR): Form of (bail)release supervised through the Pre-Trial Release Office
Prison: A facility operated and maintained by the Department of Corrections that houses people found guilty of Felony offenses who have been sentenced for over 365 days of incarceration.
Probation: It is a supervision program. While on probation you must abide by a list of general conditions. The court may also require you to complete additional conditions called special conditions. If you violate any of the general conditions or special conditions or commit a new law offense your probation will be violated. See “Violation of Probation“ below.
Pro se: In one’s own behalf
Prosecutor: A trial lawyer representing the government in a criminal case and the interests of the state in civil matters. In criminal cases, the prosecutor has the responsibility of deciding who and when to prosecute.
Public Defender: A court appointed attorney for those defendants declared indigent (unable to hire private counsel).
Recall Capias/Warrant: Court order recalling a warrant or capias.
Recusal: A judge excusing himself/herself from a case.
Release on own recognizance (ROR): Release of a prisoner by a judge with no bond requirement.
Scoresheet: Uniform guidelines for sentencing using points system mandated by the Legislature.
Subpoena: Command to a person to appear and testify in a specific proceeding.
Subpoena Duces Tecum: A court order commanding a witness to bring certain documents or records to court.
Summons: A document signed by a deputy clerk ordering a person to appear before the court.
Sworn complaint affidavit: A sworn, witnessed complaint filed with the Clerk of the Court.
Time served: Actual number of days served in jail.
Traverse: A formal denial of allegations.
Vacate: To set aside. To vacate a judgment is to set aside that judgment.
Verdict: The findings of a judge or jury at the end of the trial.
Voir dire: Examination of a jury panel by an attorney for the defendant or plaintiff, the judge, and the prosecution.
Warrant: Most commonly, a court order authorizing law enforcement officers to make an arrest or conduct a search.
Withhold adjudication: The judge withholds a judgment of guilt.
Written plea of not guilty: Is a defendant’s plea in writing to the court.
Violation of Probation: A violation of probation occurs when the probationer violates a condition of probation.