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LEGAL TERMS

CRIMINAL INSANITY

A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to ditinguish right... (more...)
A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to ditinguish right from wrong. Defendants who are criminally insane cannot be convicted of a crime, since criminal conduct involves the conscious intent to do wrong -- a choice that the criminally insane cannot meaningfully make. See also irresistible impulse; McNaghten Rule.

BURGLARY

The crime of breaking into and entering a building with the intention to commit a felony. The breaking and entering need not be by force, and the felony need no... (more...)
The crime of breaking into and entering a building with the intention to commit a felony. The breaking and entering need not be by force, and the felony need not be theft. For instance, someone would be guilty of burglary if he entered a house through an unlocked door in order to commit a murder.

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.

BAILIFF

A court official usually classified as a peace officer (sometimes as a deputy sheriff, or marshal) and usually wearing a uniform. A bailiff's main job is to mai... (more...)
A court official usually classified as a peace officer (sometimes as a deputy sheriff, or marshal) and usually wearing a uniform. A bailiff's main job is to maintain order in the courtroom. In addition, bailiffs often help court proceedings go smoothly by shepherding witnesses in and out of the courtroom and handing evidence to witnesses as they testify. In criminal cases, the bailiff may have temporary charge of any defendant who is in custody during court proceedings.

SELF-DEFENSE

An affirmative defense to a crime. Self-defense is the use of reasonable force to protect oneself from an aggressor. Self-defense shields a person from criminal... (more...)
An affirmative defense to a crime. Self-defense is the use of reasonable force to protect oneself from an aggressor. Self-defense shields a person from criminal liability for the harm inflicted on the aggressor. For example, a robbery victim who takes the robber's weapon and uses it against the robber during a struggle won't be liable for assault and battery since he can show that his action was reasonably necessary to protect himself from imminent harm.

CIVIL

Noncriminal. See civil case.

ASSAULT

A crime that occurs when one person tries to physically harm another in a way that makes the person under attack feel immediately threatened. Actual physical co... (more...)
A crime that occurs when one person tries to physically harm another in a way that makes the person under attack feel immediately threatened. Actual physical contact is not necessary; threatening gestures that would alarm any reasonable person can constitute an assault. Compare battery.

DISCOVERY

A formal investigation -- governed by court rules -- that is conducted before trial. Discovery allows one party to question other parties, and sometimes witness... (more...)
A formal investigation -- governed by court rules -- that is conducted before trial. Discovery allows one party to question other parties, and sometimes witnesses. It also allows one party to force the others to produce requested documents or other physical evidence. The most common types of discovery are interrogatories, consisting of written questions the other party must answer under penalty of perjury, and depositions, which involve an in-person session at which one party to a lawsuit has the opportunity to ask oral questions of the other party or her witnesses under oath while a written transcript is made by a court reporter. Other types of pretrial discovery consist of written requests to produce documents and requests for admissions, by which one party asks the other to admit or deny key facts in the case. One major purpose of discovery is to assess the strength or weakness of an opponent's case, with the idea of opening settlement talks. Another is to gather information to use at trial. Discovery is also present in criminal cases, in which by law the prosecutor must turn over to the defense any witness statements and any evidence that might tend to exonerate the defendant. Depending on the rules of the court, the defendant may also be obliged to share evidence with the prosecutor.

CRIMINAL LAW

Laws written by Congress and state legislators that make certain behavior illegal and punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. By contrast, civil laws are not p... (more...)
Laws written by Congress and state legislators that make certain behavior illegal and punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. By contrast, civil laws are not punishable by imprisonment. In order to be found guilty of a criminal law, the prosecution must show that the defendant intended to act as he did; in civil law, you may sometimes be responsible for your actions even though you did not intend the consequences. For example, civil law makes you financially responsible for a car accident you caused but didn't intend.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

Commonwealth v. Gunter

... Paul Gunter was convicted of murder in the first degree on a theory of felony-murder, in violation of GL c. 265, § 1; armed assault in a dwelling with intent to commit a felony, in violation of GL c. 265, § 18A; and illegal possession of a firearm, in violation of GL c. 269, § 10 (a). This ...

Commonwealth v. Womack

... Catherine Langevin Semel, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth. SPINA, J. The defendant was convicted of felony-murder in the first degree. The underlying felony was an armed robbery while masked. The defendant appealed. ...

Commonwealth v. Young

... relief in both cases from a single justice of this court pursuant to GL c. 211, § 3, contending that possessory firearm offenses come within § 58A (1), which permits the Commonwealth to move for pretrial detention if a defendant has been charged with "any other felony that by its ...