10 Common Legal Terms Explained

You’ve heard them before: accomplice, damages, jeopardy, bail. Legal terms make their way into our speech every day, even outside the courtroom. But do we always use them correctly?

Here at Wentz Law, we’ve pulled together ten common legal terms that everyone has probably heard, and defined them so that you know exactly what you’re saying when you drop them into casual conversation.

  1. Bail. No, this isn’t just a word for when someone cancels weekend plans. This actually refers to the amount of cash that a person held in custody by law enforcement needs in order to be released while his or her case is underway.
  2. Accomplice. This is a person who willingly and intentionally aides the perpetrator of a crime, whether as an accessory or a principal.
  3. Innocent Until Proven Guilty. At its very core, this phrase requires the guilt of a defendant be proven, relieving him or her of the burden that would be proving innocence. If the courts start with the presumption of innocence, then anyone is free of culpability until found otherwise by a court or jury.
  4. Jail. Not to be confused with prison, jail is usually a relatively smaller place of confinement where those awaiting trial or previously convicted of misdemeanors are held.
  5. Warrant. Warrants are court orders that allow law enforcement the means to conduct a search or make an arrest. These can only be obtained after probable cause has been given.
  6. Verdict. This is the opinion of a jury on the factual issues of the case at hand. In instances where there is no jury, the judge delivers the verdict.
  7. Speedy trial. Did you know that in criminal prosecutions, the defendant has the right to demand a reasonably short timeframe for trial proceedings? This is established by the 6th Amendment in the US Constitution.
  8. Damages. Damages are not the same as costs, given that they refer to the amount of money awarded as compensation or ordered as punishment for financial loss or injury to a person, an individual’s property, or his or her rights. Costs, by comparison, are simply expenses incurred during the process of sorting out the imposed lawsuit.  
  9. Jeopardy. A defendant is said to be in jeopardy once charged with a crime and therefore in danger of actually being convicted and then punished.
  10. Attorney-at-law. This term refers to an advocate or official agent that prepares and manages cases in court. All American lawyers can also be called “attorneys-at-law.”

If you or someone you know needs legal advice or representation, contact us at Wentz Law Firm today. We’re capable of handling everything from traffic violations to misdemeanors and felonies, and can assist you with your case in New Hanover and Pender counties.

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