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Common Criminal Justice Terms

Criminal justice is the system of laws and law enforcement that deals with crime and criminals. It includes everything from policing and investigating crimes to prosecuting and punishing offenders.

Why Should You Know About Common Criminal Justice Terms?

No one is immune to crime, and it’s important to know about the criminal justice system just in case you find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Even if you never need to know these terms, it can be helpful to understand what’s going on when you hear them mentioned in the news or see them discussed on TV shows.

Here are some of the most common criminal justice terms:


Abuse can refer to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.


An accused is a person who is blamed for a crime.


The process of deciding whether or not a person is guilty of a crime


Arraignment is a hearing where the defendant appears in court and is formally charged with a crime. The defendant may also enter a plea of guilty or not guilty at the arraignment.


It is a crime of intentionally or recklessly causing someone to fear immediate physical harm. Assault can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the attack.


The battery is a crime of intentionally causing physical harm to another person. It can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the attack.


It is the money or property deposited with the court to ensure that the defendant appears for trial. The bail is forfeited if the defendant does not show up for a trial. If an accused can’t pay for bail, bail bond companies can pay for them for a percentage.

Bench trial

It is where the judge hears the case instead of a jury.


A conviction is a judgment of guilty entered by a court.

Criminal law

Criminal law is the body of law that deals with crimes and their punishment. These laws are different from civil law, which is the body of law that deals with disputes between individuals or organizations.

Criminal record

It is a record of a person’s criminal convictions. According to records, 70 million Americans have criminal records. A person with criminal records can find it hard to find a job, get housing, or obtain other types of government assistance.


The defendant is the person who is charged with a crime.

Due process

Due process is the principle that government officials must follow fair procedures before taking away a person’s life, liberty, or property.


A felony is a serious crime punishable by imprisonment for more than a year. There are types of felonies, but all felonies are more serious than misdemeanors. These include:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping

Grand jury

It is a group of citizens who hear evidence against a person accused of a felony and decide if there is enough evidence to bring the case to trial.

Guilty plea

When a defendant pleads guilty, they admit that they are guilty of the crime charged.

Habeas Corpus

Habeas corpus is Latin for “you have the body.” It’s a writ (a formal legal order) that directs law enforcement officials to produce the person in custody and show why they are being held.


It is the term used to describe the act of being put in prison or jail.


A misdemeanor is a less serious crime punishable by imprisonment for less than a year. These include:

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Vandalism
  • Theft
  • Possession of drugs
  • Prostitution


Parole is the release of a prisoner before his or her sentence is up, usually after serving part of the sentence. Parole is granted if the parole board decides that the inmate has been rehabilitated and is no longer a danger to society.


A pardon is a decision by the president to forgive a person for a crime and restore their civil rights.


Probation is a sentence of imprisonment that is suspended and replaced by a probation period. The defendant must meet certain conditions during probation, such as reporting to a probation officer and not committing any more crimes. If the defendant violates the terms of probation, they may be sent to prison.

Plea bargain 

A plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Preliminary hearing

A preliminary hearing is when the prosecutor presents evidence to a judge to show that there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.


Punishment aims to punish criminals and deter others from committing crimes. The most common punishments are imprisonment, probation, probation, and fines.


After a person is convicted of a crime, the court will impose a sentence. The sentence may include imprisonment, probation, or fines.


A trial is a legal proceeding where the defendant challenges the charges against them. A lawyer should represent a defendant, cross-examine witnesses, and present their own witnesses and evidence.


Restitution is a sentence that requires the defendant to pay money to the victim to compensate them for their losses. This money can come from the defendant’s assets, from money obtained through restitution ordered by the court, or from funds provided by the state.


It is a person who has been harmed by a crime. The victim may have the right to restitution, attend the trial, and be informed of the status of the case.


A witness is a person who testifies in court about what they saw or heard. The prosecutor or the defense may call the witness.

Warrant of arrest

A warrant of arrest is a document signed by a judge that authorizes the police to arrest someone. It can be for a specific crime or a general warrant that allows the police to arrest someone they suspect of committing a crime.

You should know your rights if you are arrested for an offense. Remember that you have the right to remain silent, be represented by a lawyer, and have a fair trial. Visit his page to find more detailed info on what to do after an arrest.

Keep In Mind

These are just a few of the many common criminal justice terms. There are many others, and each case is unique. If you have been arrested or are facing criminal charges, it is important to speak with an attorney who can explain your rights and help you build a defense.

Also, be informed and know your rights and what to do during the arrest.

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