If you were recently arrested and charged with a criminal offense, and this is your first encounter with the criminal justice system, you are undoubtedly feeling overwhelmed as well as worried about the outcome of your case. Trying to navigate a legal system with which you are unfamiliar, while also trying to defend yourself against accusations that may not be true, can be extremely stressful. Even the legal terminology can be intimidating if you don’t understand it. To help with that, the Tennessee criminal defense attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby have prepared the following list of criminal law terms every defendant needs to know.
- Accessory — someone who intentionally helps another person commit a crime. For example, if you give advice before the crime or help to conceal the evidence or the perpetrator after the crime you might be charged as an accessory. An accessory is usually not physically present during the crime.
- Accomplice — someone who helps another person (known as the principal) commit a crime. Unlike an accessory, an accomplice is usually present when the crime is committed. An accomplice is guilty of the same offense and usually receives the same sentence as the principal.
- Bench Trial – a trial without a jury in which a judge decides the facts, also known as a “court trial” or “trial by judge.”
- Burden of Proof – in a criminal trial the State has the burden of proof, meaning that the State must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction.
- Circumstantial Evidence — all evidence except eyewitness testimony. One example is physical evidence, such as fingerprints, from which an inference can be drawn.
- Discovery — the pre-trial devices that can be used by one party to obtain facts and information about the case from the other party in order to assist the party’s preparation for trial.
- Exclusionary rule — a doctrine that says evidence obtained in violation of a criminal defendant’s constitutional or statutory rights is not admissible at trial.
- Hearsay — evidence presented by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. With some exceptions, hearsay generally is not admissible as evidence at trial.
- Hung Jury — jury whose members cannot unanimously agree whether the accused is guilty or innocent.
- Jury Nullification — the acquitting of a defendant by a jury in disregard of the judge’s instruction and contrary to the jury’s findings of fact. Often occurs because the jury is sympathetic towards the defendant or law which the defendant is charged.
- Miranda Warning / Miranda Rights — Miranda v. Arizona ruling by the United States Supreme Court that requires anyone being questioned by authorities to receive a ‘Miranda Warning’ which must include the following: 1) You have the right to remain silent. 2) If you choose to speak, anything you say can be used against you in court. 3) If you decide to answer any questions, you may stop at any time and all questioning must cease. 4) You have a right to consult with your attorney before answering any questions. You have the right to have your attorney present if you decide to answer any questions, and if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you or appointed for you by the court without cost to you before any further questions may be asked.
- Parole – a period of community supervision following a period of incarceration in state or federal prison.
- Peremptory challenge — the right to exclude a certain number of prospective jurors without cause or giving a reason.
- Plea agreement – and admission of guilt on the part of the defendant in return for a negotiated sentence.
- Pre-trial diversion or intervention – programs that allow the defendant to attend classes or serve a period of time under the supervision of probation after which the charges against the defendant will be dismissed by the state if successfully completed.
- Probation – a sentencing alternative that allows the defendant to remain in the community under the supervision of the local probation office and the court.
- Search Warrant — an order signed by a judge for probable cause that directs owners of private property to allow the police to enter and search for items named in the warrant.
- Suppress — to forbid the use of evidence at a trial because it is improper or was improperly obtained.
- Voir Dire — jury selection process of questioning prospective jurors, to ascertain their qualifications and determine any basis for a challenge.
Contact a Tennessee Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns about criminal defense in general in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney immediately. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment