All terms here are taken from a variety of legal dictionaries (cited in the acknowledgements section) and reworded into laymen's terms. At least three dictionaries were consulted for each word in order to compile the most complete definition possible.
affidavit - a sworn, written statement
appeal- petitioning a higher court to review a case to reverse errors made at trial
arraignment- bringing a defendant before a judge to allow him or her to hear the charges that were filed and make a plea
arrest- the official detention of a person for a criminal trial
bail - money or property temporarily surrendered to the government by a defendent who will be released until trial to ensure that he or she will not flee the jurisdiction.It is returned to the defendent upon the trial's conclusion.
Bill of Rights - the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution; they secure several of the most important rights of American citizens.
book - to formal, clerical aspect of an arrest. During "booking", several forms are filled out containing the defendent's personal information and a description of the possessions he or she was carrying at the time of arrest. certiorari - petitioning the Supreme Court to hear an appeal
charge- an accusation of guilt; usually the first step in a criminal prosecution
Constitution- the document that defines the United States government. It also sets forth certain inalienable rights of American citizens. The Constitution delimits the specific powers of each branch of the federal government, and sets forth their duties.
cross examination - the period of questioning in a trial when the lawyers of one side interrogate a witness from the opposing side
defendant- party against which a case is brought in a criminal or civil trial.
defense attorney - counsel employed to represent a defendent
direct examination- period of questioning in a trial when the lawyers of one side question their own witnesses
due process - guarantees and procedures built into the legal system into safeguard the civil rights of individuals.
exclusionary rule - the provision that the Supreme Court has interpreted to exist in the Constitution that prohibits evidence obtained by means of an unlawful seizure from being admitted in a court of law
execution - termination of human life by the government as punishment for a crime
federalism- the sharing of powers and responsibilities between the country's government as a whole (the federal government) and individual state governments.
foreman - the jury members who speaks for the body as a whole
grand jury - a panel which receive complaints and accusations of crimes, hears preliminary evidence , and hands down indictments
habeas corpus - a judicial order, demanding someone to be present in court to determine if they are legitimately being detained
hung jury - a jury which cannot agree on a specific verdict
indictment - a formal accusation returned by a grand jury
information - a formal accusation that is filed when an indictment is unneccesary because a public official formally accuses the defendant (usually a corporation)
judge - the public official who presides over trials and rules on points of law that come into question during trial
jury - a group of unbiased persons who determine the facts of a given case
larceny - any type of stealing
litigation - a lawsuit
mistrial - when the judge declares a legal proceding to not be a trial because of a major defect or gross error
mitigating circumstances - facts that do not justify or excuse a crime, but lessen the amount of moral blame
murder - when a person of sound mind (of sufficient age to create a criminal design and legally sane) kills any human being in the peace of the nation (excluding military actions) without a warrant of justification, and with malice aforethought, express or implied
plaintiff - the side bringing civil charges against another party
prison - a public institution detaining criminals serving long-term incarcerations
prosecutor - public official who presents the government's case against a person accused of a crime
search and seizure - the act of law enforcement officers surveying a crime scene and taking into custody any contraband or evidence which has bearing on the immediate case
smuggling- secretly bringing illegal or taxable goods into a country
testify - to give evidence under oath
trauma - an injury to the body caused by an external blow
voir dire - the examination of possible jurors by the judge and attorneys to determine if the jurors will be acceptable for the trial (unbiased)
warrant - written permission given by a judge to a police officer to search a house, etc. Warrants can only be given based on probable cause, as evidenced by an affidavit completed by the law enforcenment official