Criminal Law Dictionary

          Don’t be afraid to stop and ask your attorney what something means if you don’t understand it.   Criminal lawyers and judges use some words so often that they don’t realize that not everyone speaks lawyer.

1244– When a person refers to a “1244” they are referring to a section of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure which allows for misdemeanor punishment for certain felony offenses.  Typically, these offers need to be negotiated for with the D.A.  “My cellmate told me to file a ‘1244’ motion”.

2 for 1, 3 for 1, etc…– This typically refers to a particular type of plea deal where certain cases are dismissed in exchange for a Guilty or No Contest plea on  a case or cases.  Typically, the first number refers to the number of cases pleaded guilty to and the second number is the cases being dismissed.“The Prosecutor is offering us a 3 for 2, but we can’t choose which two.”

Appeal– The formal process of getting a case overturned after conviction.  “It is better to avoid an appeal than to win one.”

Burden– The legal obligation to prove a case.  “In a criminal case the state has the burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.  The defense does not have to prove anything.”

Community Supervision– The generic term for both Probation and Deferred Adjudication.  “After pleading Guilty, he had to go to the Community Supervision office.”

Crawford Issue– A “Crawford Issue” refers to the Supreme Court case of Crawford v. Washington, which greatly limited the types of evidence that could come in against a criminal defendant.  It typically comes up in the context of a hearsay statement, but must be objected to separately to preserve the issue for appeal.  “Harry’s case would have been overturned on appeal, but his lawyer did not make a ‘Crawford’ objection.”

Deferred Adjudication– Deferred Adjudication is a special type of probation or community supervision.  While on Deferred Adjudication a person will be treated exactly the same as if they were on probation.  The major difference is that after completing the term of Deferred Adjudication, the charges are dismissed.  Another difference is that if Deferred Adjudication is revoked, the judge has available the full range of incarceration available.  “Tom was given deferred adjudication, but he messed up and the judge sentenced him to the full 20 years in prison.”

Dismissal– Formal removal of a charge pending against someone.  “Jimmy was happy.  He had all of his charges dismissed.”

Felony– Serious crime punishable by over a year incarceration.  “Wendy had faced misdemeanor charges before, but this was her first felony.”

Hearsay– The general rule that a person can not testify to what another person said.  There are many exceptions and usually hearsay can come in.  An important exception applies to a criminal defendant based on the Supreme Court case, “Crawford v. Washington”.  Even though Crawford is technically not a “hearsay” objection, they typically come up together.

Jail– Holding cells for less serious offenders and those awaiting trial.  “Even though jail is not prison, it still isn’t fun.”

Misdemeanor– A crime where the maximum punishment is no greater than one year in jail.  Misdemeanor cases are heard in County Courts.  “Doug was on probation for a misdemeanor charge when he ‘picked up’ his felony.”

Motion– Method in which a defense attorney (or prosecutor) asks for something from the judge.  “Janice’s lawyer filed a Motion to Suppress in order to keep out certain evidence.”

No Contest (Nolo Contendere)– A plea that states that even though you are not saying you actually did it, you are agreeing to be found Guilty by a judge.  “When Pat pled No Contest, it had the same effect as a guilty plea.”

Objection– An objection is the formal means to put disagreement with what is occurring/has occurred on the record.  If a defense attorney doesn not object at the right moment, the defendant often gives up his right to complain later.  “The testimony against Brutus shouldn’t have come into evidence, but the defense attorney did not object.”

Plea– The declaration of a defendant (Usually Guilty, Not Guilty or No Contest) as to their guilt, or lack thereof.  “Bob pled Not Guilty and has always said he didn’t do it.”

Plea Agreement or “Bargain”– Typically, an agreement between the prosecutor and defense as to the punishment a defendant will receive if he pleads Guilty or No Contest.  “Shirley was going to go to trial, but when the Prosecutor offered her Deferred Adjudication, she changed her mind.”

Picked Up–  Slang for having charges filed against a person.  “Ernest was on parole when he picked up the Assault charge.”

Preserving Error– When a defense attorney makes a proper objection in a proper form it is said to be “Preserving Error”.  “After winning his appeal, Oscar was happy his attorney preserved error at his trial.”

Prison– In Texas, where serious criminals go for years.  “Robert was not surprised when the judge gave him 20 years in prison.”

Probation– A person on probation is watched very closely by the government as an alternative to incarceration.  Conditions must be followed and if the judge believes a condition of probation is violated the judge can send the probationer to jail or prison.  “Maxine has happy to get probation.  She thought she was going to prison.”

Reduction– Type of plea deal where the defendant pleads Guilty or No Contest to a less serious charge.  “Neil was not going to plea Guilty, but when the prosecutor offered a reduction from Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon to Simple Assault, he agreed to a plea bargain.”

State Jail– An intermediate correctional facility between jail and prison.  “If you get sentenced to State Jail, you don’t get good time credit.”

State Jail Felony– In Texas, a felony punishable by 6 months to 2 years in a specifically designated “State Jail Facility”.  Prisoners sent to State Jail Facilities receive no good time credit.  “Even though Nancy was sentenced to less time than Julie, Nancy was behind bars longer, because she committed a State Jail Felony.”

Suppress– To keep evidence out of a trial.  “The judge suppressed the evidence found in the trunk, because the stop was illegal.”

Verdict– Decision in a case.  “It took the jury 20 hours to return with a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict.”

Voir Dire–  The process of jury selection.  “After Voir Dire, a jury was seated.”