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LEGAL TERMS

FEDERAL COURT

A branch of the United States government with power derived directly from the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts decide cases involving the U.S. Constitution, fe... (more...)
A branch of the United States government with power derived directly from the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts decide cases involving the U.S. Constitution, federal law--for example, patents, federal taxes, labor law and federal crimes, such as robbing a federally chartered bank--and cases where the parties are from different states and are involved in a dispute for $75,000 or more.

SELF-INCRIMINATION

The making of statements that might expose you to criminal prosecution, either now or in the future. The 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the go... (more...)
The making of statements that might expose you to criminal prosecution, either now or in the future. The 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from forcing you to provide evidence (as in answering questions) that would or might lead to your prosecution for a crime.

LEGISLATIVE IMMUNITY

A legal doctrine that prevents legislators from being sued for actions performed and decisions made in the course of serving in government. This doctrine does n... (more...)
A legal doctrine that prevents legislators from being sued for actions performed and decisions made in the course of serving in government. This doctrine does not protect legislators from criminal prosecution, nor does it relieve them from responsibility for actions outside the scope of their office, such as the nefarious activities of former Senator Bob Packwood.

JURY NULLIFICATION

A decision by the jury to acquit a defendant who has violated a law that the jury believes is unjust or wrong. Jury nullification has always been an option for ... (more...)
A decision by the jury to acquit a defendant who has violated a law that the jury believes is unjust or wrong. Jury nullification has always been an option for juries in England and the United States, although judges will prevent a defense lawyer from urging the jury to acquit on this basis. Nullification was evident during the Vietnam war (when selective service protesters were acquitted by juries opposed to the war) and currently appears in criminal cases when the jury disagrees with the punishment--for example, in 'three strikes' cases when the jury realizes that conviction of a relatively minor offense will result in lifetime imprisonment.

EXCLUSIONARY RULE

A rule of evidence that disallows the use of illegally obtained evidence in criminal trials. For example, the exclusionary rule would prevent a prosecutor from ... (more...)
A rule of evidence that disallows the use of illegally obtained evidence in criminal trials. For example, the exclusionary rule would prevent a prosecutor from introducing at trial evidence seized during an illegal search.

HABEAS CORPUS

Latin for 'You have the body.' A prisoner files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in order to challenge the authority of the prison or jail warden to continu... (more...)
Latin for 'You have the body.' A prisoner files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in order to challenge the authority of the prison or jail warden to continue to hold him. If the judge orders a hearing after reading the writ, the prisoner gets to argue that his confinement is illegal. These writs are frequently filed by convicted prisoners who challenge their conviction on the grounds that the trial attorney failed to prepare the defense and was incompetent. Prisoners sentenced to death also file habeas petitions challenging the constitutionality of the state death penalty law. Habeas writs are different from and do not replace appeals, which are arguments for reversal of a conviction based on claims that the judge conducted the trial improperly. Often, convicted prisoners file both.

EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE

The privilege that allows the president and other high officials of the executive branch to keep certain communications private if disclosing those communicatio... (more...)
The privilege that allows the president and other high officials of the executive branch to keep certain communications private if disclosing those communications would disrupt the functions or decisionmaking processes of the executive branch. As demonstrated by the Watergate hearings, this privilege does not extend to information germane to a criminal investigation.

MOTION IN LIMINE

A request submitted to the court before trial in an attempt to exclude evidence from the proceedings. A motion in limine is usually made by a party when simply ... (more...)
A request submitted to the court before trial in an attempt to exclude evidence from the proceedings. A motion in limine is usually made by a party when simply the mention of the evidence would prejudice the jury against that party, even if the judge later instructed the jury to disregard the evidence. For example, if a defendant in a criminal trial were questioned and confessed to the crime without having been read his Miranda rights, his lawyer would file a motion in limine to keep evidence of the confession out of the trial.

ARRAIGNMENT

A court appearance in which the defendant is formally charged with a crime and asked to respond by pleading guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere. Other matters... (more...)
A court appearance in which the defendant is formally charged with a crime and asked to respond by pleading guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere. Other matters often handled at the arraignment are arranging for the appointment of a lawyer to represent the defendant and the setting of bail.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

Commonwealth v. Becker

... of "sex offender" in the sex offender registration statute, [1] he is not required to register, and more specifically, that (1) the trial judge erred in denying the defendant's motion for a required finding of not guilty because (a) his conviction in New York was a misdemeanor and is not ...

Commonwealth v. Hernandez

... CORDY, J. This case involves the off-campus execution of a misdemeanor arrest warrant by two Boston University campus 529 police officers (campus police) acting as special State police officers pursuant to their appointment under GL c. 22C, § 63. ...

Commonwealth v. Edwards

... [2] 717 On appeal, the defendant's primary claim is that the police lacked the authority to stop him, as he had, at most, committed only a completed misdemeanor and, therefore, the police needed to secure a warrant for his arrest prior to stopping his motor vehicle. [3] We affirm. ...