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American Government
Characteristics of a Trial -
Courtroom Definitions


Admissible - Evidence that is relevant to the charge(s) for which the defendant stands accused, and is proper under the rules of evidence.

Arraignment - In a criminal case, the court appearance during which the judge informs the defendant of the charges of which s/he stands accused.

Bailiff - A Deputy Marshal, Deputy Sheriff or Correctional Officer, whose duties include maintaining order and security in the courtroom.

Bench - The large structure, usually raised, where the judge sits and which is located at the front of the courtroom.

Burden of Proof - The obligation the prosecutor (in a criminal case) or plaintiffs attorney (in a civil case) must meet in order to prove an accused person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Case -An action or controversy contested in a court of law.

Charges -The alleged violations of law which an accused person must answer to in a criminal case.

Complaint -A criminal charge filed in the Municipal Court which accuses a named defendant of committing a specified offense. Also, any civil case seeking damages or a court decision can be initiated in either a Municipal Court or Superior Court.

Contempt of Court - An act which is designed to embarrass, hinder or obstruct the Court, or which is designed to reduce the Court's authority or dignity.

Conviction - A judgment in a criminal case, following either a trial or a plea of either guilty or nolo contendere that the defendant is guilty as charged.

Counsel Table - The long table in front of the judge's bench where the parties and lawyers sit during the hearing or trial. The prosecution, or plaintiffs attorney in a civil case, is always seated closest to the jury box.

Cross-Examination - Questioning of the other side's witnesses while s/he is under oath, to test the truth of the evidence, to develop it or for other purpose. Cross-examination always follows the opposing counsel's direct examination.

Defendant - A person defending or denying an accusation. Also, in a civil case, the person against whom a complaint is filed.

Denial of Motion - The judge's refusal to grant a party's motion or request.

Detention -The action of a peace officer which by design temporarily interferes with a person's freedom to leave. Does this sound familiar???

Discovery -The right of the accused to learn of, and review evidence (documents, statements or material objects) that the prosecutor or opposing counsel may use against him/her in court.

Dismissal -A court order dismissing a case, action, suit motion, etc., without a trial of the issue(s) involved. In civil cases, a dismissal occurs when the plaintiff has not proved his/her case by a preponderance of the evidence.

Evidence -Oral testimony, writings, records, material objects or other things that are presented in court and offered to prove the existence or non-existence of a fact.

Failure to Appear - A person's act of not showing up in court on the date, at the time and in the location as stated on the traffic citation or as otherwise ordered by the Court.

Felony - Generally, any offense punishable by death or a term exceeding one (1) year.

Fifth Amendment - No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Fourth Amendment - The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Granting of Motion - Then a judge rules in a party's favor, giving him/her an order that grants the relief s/he has requested.

Guilty Plea - A confession or admission of guilt in open court.

Hearsay -An out-of-court statement which is offered to prove the truth of some matter being asserted in court.

Hung Jury - After a reasonable period of deliberation(s), if the jury is unable to agree upon a verdict (unanimous in criminal cases and three-fourths of the jurors in a civil case), the judge may declare a mistrial. The prosecution must then make the election to try the case again or to make a motion for the dismissal of the charges against the defendant. The Court on its own motion may dismiss the case in the interest of justice.

In Propria Persona - The act of representing oneself in court without the assistance of an attorney.

Judgment - The official decision of the Court on the respective rights and claims of the parties (litigants) involved.

Jury - A number of men and women, usually twelve (12), selected by the trial attorneys to evaluate evidence and decide questions of fact. Upon deliberation at the conclusion of the trial, the jury will render a verdict. Misdemeanor -Generally, offenses punishable by fine, penalty, forfeiture or impris-onment otherwise than in state prison.

Motion - An application for an order or a ruling by the judge.

Nolo Contendere - A plea of no contest which makes the defendant guilty of the criminal charge(s) but may not be used as an admission of wrongdoing in later civil matters, unless permitted by statute.

Not Guilty Plea - The denial plea entered in any criminal case by the defendant. It is also a verdict where the jury acquits the defendant.

Notice to Appear - A court document informing a defendant of the charges alleged and the date, time and location of the next court appearance.

Objection - The act of objecting to or opposing the presentation of evidence, in order to obtain a ruling by the judge, preventing that evidence from being considered by the jury.

Order - A ruling by the Court in response to an attorney's motion, or request.

Overruling an Objection - A judges refusal to sustain, or recognize as sufficient, an objection by counsel during the course of the trial as to the introduction of some evidence.

Plaintiff - The person who complains, brings an action or suit, in a civil case.

Plea - A defendant's formal response to the criminal charges filed. This can be either guilty, not guilty, nolo contendere (no contest) or not guilty by reason of insanity.

Pre-Trial - Any proceedings that are held prior to the trial of a defendant's case.

Probable Cause - Specific articulated facts that would lead a reasonable and prudent person of ordinary caution to believe that a crime has been commit-ted and that the defendant may be the responsible party. The finding of probable cause may be based in whole or in part upon the sworn testimony of a law enforcement officer relating the statements of declarants made out of court offered for the truth of the matter asserted.

Prosecutor - The government attorney who reviews cases for filing and thereafter presents evidence to establish the defendant's guilt beyond a reason-able doubt. (State Courts: District Attorney or Attorney General; Federal Courts: US Attorney.)

Relevant Evidence - Any evidence having any tendency in reason to prove or disprove a fact that is of consequence to the determination of a given case.

Respondent - The person who answers a complaint or defends an action in a civil case.

Sentence - The judgment formally pronounced by the Court upon a defendant, following his/her conviction in a criminal prosecution, which generally- imposes a fine or incarceration in a county jail or state prison.

Service of Process - The act of serving or delivering to a person with any court process, including subpoenas, by a person over the age of eighteen (18) that is not a party to the action.

Sixth Amendment - In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his/her favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his/her defense.

State of Mind - Pertaining to offered proof which shows what a person's state of mind was at the time that person made an out-of-court statement or actions, in order to show bias or other factors which can be used to impeach that person's testimony.

Stipulation - An agreement between attorneys for adverse parties, relating to a matter involved in a court proceeding. Properly submitted, a stipulation is absolute proof of the matter agreed upon.

Subpoena - A command to appear at a specific time and place to give testimony upon a particular matter. A subpoena duces tecum requires production- of certain books, papers and other items.

Sustaining - An act of a court which upholds a party's objection to evidence, that has been offered, by ruling in that party's favor.

Testimony - Oral or written statements given by any person while under oath and subject to cross-examination.

Trial - A contested hearing held in court which is presided over by a judge, referee or commissioner where evidence can be offered, including testimony, documents and demonstrations.

Trial De Novo - A new, or subsequent trial.

Verdict - The formal decision or finding made by the jury.

Victim - The person who is the object of a crime or civil wrong (tort).

Warrant - A Judicial order authorizing one's arrest, search or seizure of property-, depending on whether it is an arrest warrant or a search warrant.

Witness - Generally, a person who is called to testify in court to what s/he has seen, heard or otherwise observed.

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Trial and Judicial System Information
Officers of the Court / Characteristics of a Trial
Courtroom Demeanor / How to Dress for Court
Testifying in Court - The DOs and DON'Ts

Trial Tactics and Tricks Used by Attorneys
Common Trial Objections During Testimony
Courtroom Definitions

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Class Activity
The Trial of Goldilocks

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