Common Criminal Law Terms

Arraignment


A hearing to inform a defendant of the charges against them, possible penalties, and whether the defendant wishes to plead or not guilty to the charges.


Bail


Sometimes used interchangeably with ‘bond’, this refers to the conditions that the court may impose on a defendant in order to be released from custody. This often involves posting money as security that the defendant will appear in court for further hearings, but may also involve other restrictions on the defendant’s liberties while the charges are pending against them.


Bond


Sometimes used interchangeably with ‘bail’, this refers to the conditions that the court may impose on a defendant in order to be released from custody. This often involves posting money as security that the defendant will appear in court for further hearings, but may also involve other restrictions on the defendant’s liberties while the charges are pending against them.


Classes of Offenses


- Felony

- Misdemeanor

Concurrent Sentences


If a defendant is found guilty of more than one crime, it may be possible for the sentences to be served at the same time. This would, for example, allow 1 day in jail to count as having been served for each of the sentences.


Continuance


A request to postpone a hearing. If a continuance is requested by the defendant, this may pause their right to a speedy trial.


Deposition


A series of questions is answered under sworn oath before a court reporter. Depositions are often lengthy and serve a number of purposes, including to help preserve testimony for use at trial.


Discovery


The exchange of information between the parties to a case. Most commonly, a defendant will request that the prosecutor turn over documents or other information that they have relating to the case. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-1912)


House Arrest

An alternative to detention that is offered under certain circumstances. This allows a defendant to be confined to their home instead of being held in police custody. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 47-401)


Indictment


A formal accusation against an individual alleging that they committed a crime.


Parole


An inmate can be released from prison before serving their full sentence if certain requirements are met, such as good behavior.


Preliminary Hearing


A hearing in felony cases where the prosecution must show that they have sufficient evidence that a crime was committed by the defendant. This is a constitutional safeguard to ensure that defendants are not held baselessly, but it does not require the prosecution to actually “prove” the charges as they do if the case goes to trial. If the judge is satisfied that the prosecution has enough evidence to proceed, the case continues and further hearings are scheduled.


Pre-Sentence Investigation (“PSI”)


A written report prepared by the probation department which helps inform the judge on how the defendant should be sentenced. Depending on the offense and the defendant, these reports can be quite comprehensive, including information on the defendant’s work and school history, family, drug use, criminal record, and statements from individuals who know the defendant, or individuals affected by the crime.


Right to Speedy Trial


Individuals accused of crime have a constitutional right to have their charges disposed of within 6 months of the time they are charged. Although there are reasons that a defendant may want to allow their case to progress more slowly, the right to a speedy trial ensures that defendants do not have to wait indefinitely before having their day in court.


Sentencing


After a defendant is found guilty, the court must decide what punishment to hand to the defendant. Sentencing may occur at a separate hearing specifically for this purpose, or may be done immediately after a guilty verdict is entered, depending on the circumstances of the case.

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