Criminal Law Terminology

Akron Criminal Defense Attorney Rebecca M. Black knows that ignorance is not bliss for anyone facing criminal charges for the first time in their lives. Read on to learn more about the terminology for the process and procedures of the criminal justice system as it is carried out across Northeast Ohio.

Appeal: A request made by a party that has lost on one or more issues for a higher court to review the decision for correctness.

Appellant: The party who, believing the result at the trial court level was incorrect, appeals a court’s decision and seeks to have the decision overturned.

Appellee: The party who, believing the result at the trial court level was correct, opposes an appeal and seeks to have an earlier court decision affirmed.

Arraignment: An initial court appearance in which a defendant is told of the charges in an indictment or information, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

Bail/bond: a general term for the specific conditions a judge determines are necessary to ensure an arrested person, if released, will return to court for future appearances.  These conditions can be financial or related to supervision conditions. Bail can also refer to the amount of bond money posted as a financial condition of release while a resolution or trial is pending.

“Call Day”: This phrase is one of the names for the time period each judge assigns for hearing preliminary matters of a criminal case. All the clients show up at that judge’s appointed time and day of the week, and one after the other, the clients and criminal defense attorneys are “called” before the judge and prosecutor to have their cases heard. Every aspect of a case except motion hearings, trials, and a few other select issues are argued or even resolved during call day.

Community control (probation): The “new” name for probation; a sentencing option that involves the court releasing the defendant back to the community and ordering him or her to complete a period of supervision monitored by a probation officer and to abide by certain conditions. Also known as “papers.”

Concurrent sentence: Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served at the same time, rather than one after the other.

Consecutive sentence: Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served one after the other.

Court of Common Pleas: Common Pleas Courts in Ohio hear criminal cases involving any felony, misdemeanors accompanying a felony case, and capital cases (death-penalty cases), among other types of civil cases.

Defendant: In a criminal case, the defendant is the person accused of committing the crime charged.

“Discovery” or “Discovery Process”: Another set of legal terms for the evidence in the case against the defendant or the process of exchanging that information.

Felony: A serious crime, punishable by at least six months in prison. Felonies range from “first-degree felonies,” which are the highest-level felonies, to “fifth-degree felonies,” which are the lowest-level. Any level of felony charges are more serious than misdemeanors.

Grand jury: A body of nine people assembled to determine that the evidence presented by the prosecutor is enough to justify going forward with the felony-level charge(s) against a defendant.

“Holder:” the commonly-used term for the situation occurring when a judge, probation officer, or parole officer has ordered that a person may not be released from the jail (whether or not bond money is posted) until he or she is scheduled to appear in court and can then request the holder be lifted. This usually exists when a person is being supervised by a probation officer, a parole officer, or has an open case.

Indictment: A document filed with the court and delivered to the defendant that formally states the exact charges (usually felony-level offenses) against the defendant (as determined by the grand jury).

Information: a document filed with the Municipal Court stating the exact misdemeanor charges against the defendant.

Jail: a local facility managed by the county that holds people who have been arrested and have an ongoing case, OR, people who have been sentenced on a misdemeanor. Generally, a person with a felony level conviction would not be spending time in jail once he or she is sentenced.

Mayor’s Court: Magistrates in this level of court are able to hear cases involving city ordinances, parking tickets within the city, and some moving traffic tickets on any section of a state highway located within the city. Cuyahoga Falls Mayor’s Court is the only mayor’s court in Summit County, Ohio, and most offenses occurring in Cuyahoga Falls would be heard by a judge or magistrate in the Stow Municipal Court.

Misdemeanor: a charge punishable by up to 180 days in jail. Misdemeanors range from minor misdemeanors, which are punishable by only a fine, to first-degree misdemeanors, which are the highest-level misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies.

Municipal Court: A municipal court handles criminal misdemeanors and traffic violations (as well as civil lawsuits involving less than $15,000 in damages, including small claims court). In Summit County, the three municipal Courts are the Stow Municipal Court (serving  Boston Heights, Boston Township, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Macedonia, Munroe Falls, Northfield, Northfield Center Township, Peninsula, Reminderville, Sagamore Hills, Silver Lake, Stow, Tallmadge, Twinsburg and Twinsburg Township), Akron Municipal Court (serving  the cities of Akron and Fairlawn; the townships of Bath, Richfield and Springfield; the Villages of Lakemore and Richfield; and that part of Mogadore in Summit County, Ohio), and the Barberton Municipal Court (serving  Barberton, Green, Norton, Copley, New Franklin, Coventry and Clinton). Portage county has the Kent and Ravenna branches of its Portage Municipal Court, located in the Portage County Courthouse in Ravenna and at 303 East Main Street in Kent.

‘Petit’ jury: the body of 12 people assembled to determine whether the prosecution has proven its case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a different group of people who are selected by the prosecutor and the defense attorney at the voir dire stage of trial.

Post Release Control (Parole): The “new” name for parole, or the supervised release of a prison inmate by the adult parole authority after part of the inmate’s prison sentence has been completed.

Pretrial: court appearance(s) following the arraignment, in which prosecutors and defense attorneys discuss the case and exchange discovery materials. It also serves as an opportunity, at times, for the judge to ascertain whether the case may proceed to trial or resolve by plea agreement.

Prison: Ohio’s prisons house felony-level offenders or people with felony and misdemeanor level convictions. A person sentenced to prison can serve his or her time in any one of the 27 prisons located throughout Ohio, depending on a prison’s security level and available bed space.

“PSI report” or Pre-Sentence Investigation Report: The report is a tool that gives the sentencing judge more information about the client after a guilty finding. It involves an interview with a probation officer and the probation officer writing a report that will tell the judge more about the defendant, such as the person’s past criminal convictions, mental health diagnoses, education level, and more. Attorney Rebecca M. Black will help you decide whether a PSI or presentence investigation report is in your best interest.

Sentencing: a court appearance following a guilty plea in which the defendant, his or her attorney, and the prosecutor will have an opportunity to speak about the crime that occurred and the appropriate punishment for the offender, whereupon the judge will determine what that punishment will be (i.e., jail, prison, probation, probation with certain conditions, etc.).

Voir dire: A Latin phrase meaning “to speak the truth.” A term for the preliminary questioning which the court or counsel may pose to a person who was called for jury duty at the trial phase of a case.