Legal Definitions

Arraignment. Arraignment is a formal reading of a criminal complaint or charge in the presence of the defendant or accused to inform him or her of the charges. In response to arraignment, the accused is expected to enter a plea. Acceptable pleas vary among jurisdictions, but they generally include "guilty" and “not guilty".

Arrest. An arrest is the act of depriving a person of his or her liberty usually in relation to the investigation or prevention of a crime.

Bail. Bail is some form of property deposited or pledged to a court in order to persuade it to release a suspect from jail, on the understanding that the suspect will return for trial and other court dates or forfeit the bail. A person may receive a cash, surety, property or signature bond. A signature bond is when an accused is released on his promise to appear for court. A surety bond is when an accused hires a bonding company to post their bond. A surety will charge a fee to post a bond and the defendant will not receive the fee money back, even if found not guilty. A cash bond is when the accused gives the court the money to hold while the case is pending. In most cases a cash bond will be returned to the defendant at the end of the trial, if all court appearances are made.

Felony. A felony is a serious crime. The government usually defines a felony as a crime which involves a potential punishment of one year or longer in prison.

Misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is a "lesser" criminal act. Misdemeanors are generally punished less severely than felonies, but theoretically more so than infractions or city charges. Many misdemeanors are punished with monetary fines.

Plea. A plea is simply an answer to a claim made by someone in a civil or criminal case. A plea has come to mean the assertion by a criminal defendant, at arraignment or otherwise in response to a criminal charge, whether he or she is Guilty or Not Guilty.

Plea Bargain/Agreement. An agreement entered into between the accused and the government as to the outcome of a case upon the completion of certain conditions. The most common type of plea bargaining is a plea of guilty in exchange for probation or a lesser penalty.

Pretrial Hearing. A hearing after the arraignment and before the trial to resolve legal issues between the parties. The lawyers discuss motions that they will be bringing and often negotiate plea bargains at this time.

Trial. A trial is an event in which parties come together to present information (in the form of evidence) in a formal setting, usually a court, before a judge, jury, or other designated finder of fact, in order to achieve a resolution to their dispute.