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Legal Jargon: Criminal Law Terms You Should Know

Updated: Jun 20, 2023 @ 8:06 pm

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

For most people with criminal charges, it’s a confusing experience. For many people, it’s their first time dealing with the legal system. If it’s your first encounter with the criminal justice system, the legal terms and terminologies can feel like a foreign language.

If you find it hard to understand the complicated lingo of the legal world, you’re not alone. But here’s the thing, understanding these terms is vital to anyone involved in the criminal justice process.

Today, I’ll break down some key criminal law terms for my clients and other readers of this blog. If you or a loved one is ever in a legal situation, you’ll have an idea on what’s going on.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

This is a phrase you’ve probably heard a million times in crime dramas, but do you know what it really means? In a nutshell, it’s the highest standard of proof in our legal system.

If a jury or judge has any reasonable doubt about the guilt of the accused, they should acquit.  In other words, declare the defendant not guilty. It’s the prosecution’s job to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

As a criminal defense lawyer with a reputation for fighting criminal charges in Houston & Angleton, I’ve found that creating reasonable doubt is one of the most effective ways to get a case dismissed.

Felony & Misdemeanor Criminal Classifications

In Texas, crimes are categorized as either felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are the more serious offenses, like murder or robbery, and they carry stiffer penalties – including hefty fines and multi-year prison sentences.

Misdemeanors, on the other hand, are less serious offenses. Examples of misdemeanors include crimes such as petty theft, possession of small amounts of marijuana, or public intoxication. While still serious crimes, convictions for misdemeanors carry lighter penalties such as fines or short county jail sentences.

Grand Jury

A grand jury is a group of citizens called to examine the evidence in serious criminal cases to decide whether there’s enough to charge someone with a crime. But don’t confuse a Grand Jury with the jury at a trial – that’s a different thing altogether.

It’s important to remember that a grand jury doesn’t determine guilt or innocence; they only decide if there’s enough evidence to go to trial.

Plea Bargain

You’ve got options when you’re accused of a crime, and one of those might be a plea bargain. This is where the defense and prosecution agree to a reduced sentence or charges in return for a guilty plea. It’s a bit like a negotiation and it can offer a way out of a lengthy trial. But it’s crucial to have a lawyer who understands the implications and can guide you through the process.

Arraignment

After you’re arrested for a criminal offense, the first step in court is the arraignment. This is where you hear the charges against you. Sometimes, you’ll have an option to enter a plea – guilty, not guilty, or no contest. It’s a critical juncture in your case. If you’re just been charged with a crime, this is the time you’ll want a lawyer by your side to help you make the best decision.

Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus – the phrase is Latin and sounds intimidating, but it’s a fundamental concept in our legal system.

When someone says “habeas corpus,” they’re essentially saying, “you should have the body.” What they mean is that if you’re arrested and held in jail, the law enforcement folks can’t just lock you up and throw away the key. They have to bring you in front of a judge and explain why they’re holding you.

The principle ensures that a person can’t be held in custody without being given an opportunity to challenge the legality of the detention. It’s one of the ways we keep the power of law enforcement in check.

Probable Cause

This term refers to the standard by which police have the grounds to obtain a warrant, make an arrest, conduct a property search, or press a charge. The key here is that there must be some facts or evidence to suggest a crime has been committed. In other words, law enforcement can’t act solely on a hunch.

Restitution

Restitution is a payment made by the perpetrator of a crime to the victim or victims. It’s not a fine, which is paid to the court or the state. Instead, restitution aims to compensate the victim for the damage or harm caused by the crime. This could be medical expenses, repairs, or replacement of damaged property, or compensation for pain and suffering.

Statute of Limitations

Lastly, let’s talk about the statute of limitations. This is the time limit for starting a legal case. For some crimes, like murder, there’s no statute of limitations. But for others, if the prosecution doesn’t bring charges within a certain timeframe, they lose the chance to do so. It’s a way our legal system ensures fairness and accuracy by preventing cases from dragging on indefinitely.

Having Complications with The Legal System?

Contact the Law Office of Sandra J. Oballe Today.

My goal as a defense lawyer is not only to represent you but also to empower you with understanding. That’s because you’re more than just a client to our law firm – you’re a partner in your own defense.

If you stand charged with a crime in Angleton, Brazoria County, or anywhere in the Greater Houston area, we’re to step in and help. If you’re ready to speak with a criminal defense lawyer, contact my office today at 713-524-6656 or 979-265-6800.

The Law Office of Sandra J. Oballe operates law offices in Houston, TX and Angleton, TX. We provide legal representation for people with criminal charges in Brazoria County, Harris County, and throughout the Greater Houston area.

Law Office of Sandra J. Oballe

Law Office of Sandra J. Oballe

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