Useful Criminology Terms
Like any academic discipline, criminal justice has developed its own terminology. Below are some of the more general terms you are likely to come across in a criminal justice program. These terms were selected from a larger list offered by The Partnership for Safety and Justice.
- Accused—A person or persons formally charged with a crime but not yet tried.
- Adjudication—The judicial decision that ends a criminal proceeding by a judgment of acquittal, conviction, or dismissal of a case. This term is also used in juvenile proceedings.
- Arraignment Hearing—A hearing in which an accused is brought before the court to plead either guilty or not guilty to the criminal charges, and is advised of his/her constitutional rights under law. Arraignment hearings are considered pre-trial hearings
- Bench Trial—A trial in which the judge hears the case without a jury, and decides whether the accused is guilty.
- Charge—A formal accusation filed by the prosecution that a specific person has committed a specific crime. Also referred to as “pressing charges.”
- Community Supervision—An order usually from a probation or parole officer that specifies the conditions an offender must obey. This can include conditions that reflect victims’ concerns and needs (such as safety and protection).
- Complaint—A preliminary charge that a person has committed a specified offense.
- Criminal Justice System—The entire network of government agencies charged with law enforcement, prosecution, defense, trial, incarceration, and supervision of people arrested and/or convicted of having violated state or federal criminal law.
- Felony—A serious crime that can be punished by incarceration.
- Jail—A local facility where people are held in custody. Defendants awaiting trial and people convicted of lesser crimes are held in jails. Prisons house persons already convicted of crimes and sentenced to longer terms.
- Parole—Release of a prisoner from jail or prison, but not from legal custody and supervision. People under parole supervision are subject to conditions of supervision that are designed to reduce recidivism and promote public safety. They are supervised by a parole officer.
- Plea Agreement—An agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor that will bring the case to an end if the court approves the agreement. It usually involves the defendant’s pleading guilty to a lesser offense, which could include a recommendation for a lesser sentence.
- Guilty Plea—An admission of guilt by the defendant in open court.
- Probation—Conditional freedom granted to a person by the court after conviction or a guilty plea, with requirements for the person’s behavior (“conditions of probation”). A violation of the conditions may potentially mean jail or prison time. A probation officer conducts supervision.
- Release Hearing—A hearing to determine whether to grant, and on what basis to grant, an incarcerated or accused defendant limited, temporary, or permanent release. Examples include work release, temporary release for a family emergency, medical treatment, vocational training, or to attend legal proceedings.
- Restitution—A court order that requires a convicted offender to repay the victim money or services to compensate for the monetary losses that resulted from the crime.
- Restraining Order—An order issued by a court that forbids a person from certain behaviors. One example is an order forbidding an alleged or convicted offender to have any contact with the victim, specific people connected to the victim, or witnesses. It is also called a protective or no contact order.
- Sentence—The legal consequence for a crime that is formally announced by a judge or jury formally pronounces after a criminal defendant has been found guilty.
- Sentence, Concurrent—Sentences served at the same time.
- Sentence, Consecutive—Sentences served one after the other.
- Victim Impact Statement—A written or verbal statement from a victim about the physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual impact the crime has had on him. The Victim Impact Statement is delivered to the court or the Parole Board to be considered before a sentence or release decision is made.
These terms are discussed in greater detail throughout our criminal justice programs, which may be highly beneficial to anyone striving for a career in criminal justice.
Source: Partnership for Safety & Justice (formerly the Western Prison Project)