Legal Glossary

Acquittal: A finding by a jury or judge that the defendant is not guilty or, in other words, that the prosecutor has failed to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Alibi: A defense that the defendant could not have committed the charged crime, ordinarily because the defendant was not physically present at the scene of the crime.

Appeal: A challenge to a judgment of conviction or other significant order of the court, made to a higher court. Ordinarily, a criminal appeal is filed by a defendant who has been convicted at trial. The typical basis of an appeal is that there were legal errors at trial or that the conviction is not supported by sufficient evidence.

Arraignment: The initial court appearance during which the charges are formally read to the defendant. During an arraignment, the defendant will usually enter an initial plea and the defendant’s attorney will announce his or her appearance.

Arrest: An action by law enforcement consisting of the taking or holding of a person in legal custody for the purpose of subjecting the person to criminal prosecution. An arrest is distinguished from a detention, which involves a shorter and less intrusive violation of a person’s liberty and is usually for the purpose of allowing law enforcement to conduct further investigation.

Arrest Warrant: A written court order that authorizes law enforcement to arrest an individual. An arrest warrant typically initiates criminal proceedings against that individual.

Arson: The intentional and malicious starting of a fire. (Penal Code section 451.)

Assault: An intentional act that by its nature would directly and probably result in the application of force to another person. To be guilty of assault, the person must be aware that the action would directly and probably result in an application of force, and must have the present ability to apply force. (Penal Code section 240.)

Bail: Money or a bond deposited with the court to secure the pre-trial release of a person charged with a crime and to assure the person’s appearance at future court proceedings. With few exceptions, individuals charged with crimes are entitled to release on reasonable bail. (Sixth Amendment, United States Constitution and Article I, Section 12 of the California Constitution.)

Bail Bondsman: A person or company in the business of assisting defendants (or their family and friends) in posting bail. Bail bondsmen typically charge an 8-10% annual premium on the bond and often require that the full value be secured or guaranteed. The premium paid to the bondsmen is not refundable.

Battery: The intentional and unjustified touching of another person in a rude, angry or insolent manner. (Penal Code section 242.)

Bench Warrant: A warrant for arrest issued by a court, almost always as a result of an individual’s failure to appear at a required court appearance.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC): A measurement of the concentration of alcohol in a person’s blood used to determine whether the person is driving under the influence of alcohol. For adult drivers of non-commercial vehicles, the legal limit in California is 0.08%. (Vehicle Code section 23152(b).)

Brief: A written argument on behalf of a party, especially for purpose of an appeal. 

Burglary: The entering of a home, business, or vehicle with the intent to commit a theft or other felony. (Penal Code section 459/460.)

Certificate of Rehabilitation: A form of post-conviction relief which acts as an application for a pardon by the governor, relieving convicted felons of some of the disabilities that result from a prior felony conviction. (Penal Code section 4852 et. seq.)

Citation: A document produced by a law enforcement officer at the time of an arrest, typically listing the offenses and securing a promise to appear in court at a future date.

Clerk: The person in charge of a court’s administrative matters. There are various types of clerks, including courtroom clerks, docketing clerks, and individuals who work in the clerk’s office of the court.

Co-defendant: One of two or more defendants charged in the same criminal case.

Commissioner: A judicial officer who presides over court proceedings but has neither been elected by the public nor appointed by the governor. Commissioners are hired by the court to perform judicial functions typically performed by judges.

Competency: A criminal defendant’s ability to stand trial, assessed by evaluating his or her capacity to understand the proceedings, to consult meaningfully with counsel, and to assist in his or her own defense.

Complaint: The document that states the charges in all misdemeanor cases and in felony cases prior to preliminary examination. A complaint is drafted by the District Attorney’s office and does not require an independent determination of whether the charge is supported by probable cause.

Continuance: An order postponing a court proceeding to a future date.

Conviction: A finding by a judge or jury that a defendant is guilty of a crime; in other words, that the prosecution has proved the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

Court Reporter: The person who transcribes, verbatim, the spoken portion of a court proceeding; a stenographer.

Court Trial: A hearing before a judge (without a jury) to determine whether the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty of a crime. In California, a person is entitled to trial by jury for all felony and misdemeanor charges. A person may waive the right to a trial by jury and, with the consent of the prosecution, have the trial heard by a judge without a jury.

Defendant: An individual who has been formally charged with the commission of a crime.

Defense Attorney: A lawyer who assists and represents a defendant in a criminal action.

Defense of Others: A defense in which a defendant asserts that the use of force was justified because it was necessary in order to protect the physical well-being of another person.

Defense of Property: A defense in which a defendant asserts that the use of force was justified because it was necessary in order to protect a property interest.

Deferred Entry of Judgment: A program that allows defendants charged with certain drug-related offenses to participate in drug treatment and have the charge removed from their record. When a deferred entry of judgment is granted, the defendant enters a plea of guilty and agrees to complete a short non-residential drug treatment program. After a period of 18-36 months, if the defendant has complied with the court orders, the case will be dismissed and the arrest is deemed never to have occurred. The Deferred Entry of Judgment program was previously known as drug diversion. (Penal Code section 1000.)

Detention: The seizure or restraint of an individual by law enforcement that is shorter and less intrusive than an actual arrest.

Discharge: An order relieving an individual of further obligations to the court. For instance, if a person is arrested and no criminal charges are filed, the court discharges him or her from further requirements to appear in court.

Discovery: Information that is disclosed from one party to another during the course of a legal proceeding. Disclosing discovery is typically required by statutory authority or a court order.

Dismissal: An order terminating a criminal case without a verdict on the merits of the charges.

District Attorney: The chief prosecutor in the county who leads the Office of the District Attorney. The District Attorney’s Office employs courtroom prosecutors who are called Deputy District Attorneys. In a California criminal proceeding, the District Attorney represents the state government, which is referred to as “The People of the State of California.”

District Court: In the federal court system, the trial court where federal criminal and civil cases are heard.

Domestic Violence: A category of crime that includes the use of force and other criminal conduct upon a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, mother or father of an individual’s child or person with whom the individual has a current or previous dating relationship. California law directs the police in all domestic violence situations to arrest the individual identified as the primary aggressor in the incident. (Penal Code section 13701(b).)

Drunk in Public: The misdemeanor offense of being intoxicated in a public place to the degree that the person cannot care for him or herself. (Penal Code section 647(f).)

DUI: The acronym for “driving under the influence” (also referred to as “DWI” an acronym for “driving while intoxicated”) and generally refers to Vehicle Code section 23152(a) (which criminalizes driving under the influence of alcohol), 23152(b) (which criminalizes driving with a blood alcohol concentration at or greater than .08%), 23152(c) (which criminalizes driving while addicted to drugs), 23152(d) (which criminalizes driving a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration at or greater than 0.04%), 23152(e) (which criminalizes driving under the influence of any drug), and 23152(f) (which criminalizes driving under the combined influence of alcohol or any drug). There are additional statutes related to driving under the influence, such as driving under the influence while causing injury or death.

Duress: The defense that a person committed a crime as a result of pressure or threat from another person.

Electronic Monitoring Program: An alternative to confinement in county jail which permits an individual to remain out of jail but monitored and confined to the person’s home. The individual is allowed to leave home only for work, school and other permitted activities. An electronic ankle bracelet is used to monitor a person’s compliance and, if the ankle bracelet is GPS enabled, to track their movements.

Embezzlement: A form of theft which consists of the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person, such as an employee, to whom it has been entrusted. (Penal Code section 503.)

Enhancement: An allegation that a person has committed a crime in such a manner that merits a harsher punishment for the offense. An enhancement may be based on the amount of money stolen, the amount of drugs possessed, the degree of injury inflicted, the existence of prior convictions, the use of weapons, or any other statutory factor that increases the degree of harm or risk associated with the offense.

Entrapment: A defense in which the defendant asserts that he or she was induced to commit the crime by law enforcement, that without that inducement by law enforcement, he or she would not have committed the crime, and that he or she was not otherwise pre-disposed to commit the crime.

Exclude: To prevent a party (the prosecution or defense) from using certain evidence in a legal proceeding.

Expungement: A court order setting aside a previously-entered conviction, usually after the successful completion of probation. In California, an expungement does not erase or seal the previous conviction, but, instead, in most circumstances, allows the defendant to truthfully state that he or she has no prior conviction. (Penal Code section 1203.4.)

Failure to Appear: Not appearing in court when ordered to do so. A failure to appear usually results in a bench warrant being issued by the judge. An intentional failure to appear in court can also be charged as a separate criminal offense.

Federal Court: Refers to the court system of the United States of America and prosecutions initiated by United States Attorneys in criminal cases, usually after investigation by a federal agency.

Felony: In California, a felony is any crime for which it is possible to be sentenced to state prison, or to the county jail for a term exceeding one year pursuant to Penal Code section 1170 subd. (d), upon conviction. A felony offense is more serious than a misdemeanor offense, which is punishable by incarceration in county jail but not state prison.

Fine: A monetary punishment imposed by a court after conviction of a crime.

Fraud: A type of criminal offense involving the use of deception or misrepresentation in order to obtain the money or property of another.

General Appearance: A general appearance is when a defense attorney informs the court, typically at an arraignment, that he or she has assumed the responsibility of representing a defendant through the proceedings of that case.

Grand Jury: A body of citizens, convened at the request of a prosecutor, whose duties consist of determining whether there is probable cause that a crime has been committed and, if so, whether an indictment should be returned for a crime. The Grand Jury is an accusatory body whose function does not include making a determination of guilt or innocence.

Grand Theft: Grand theft in California is defined as a theft of money or property with a value over $950.00. (Penal Code section 484/487.)

Guilty Plea: An admission by a defendant of all of the elements of a charged offense that results in a conviction of the offense or offenses to which the guilty plea is entered.

Health and Safety Code: The collection of laws in California regulating the health and safety of the population, including most of the drug laws criminalizing the possession and distribution of controlled substances.

Homicide: The killing of another person. Homicide includes crimes such as murder, manslaughter, and vehicular homicide.

House Arrest: An alternative to incarceration in county jail that can be imposed either as a condition of pretrial release or as a condition of probation. A person under house arrest is required to remain in his or her house and is generally subject to electronic monitoring. Permission is usually granted for the person to leave the house for work, school, medical appointments, church and other events with prior consent of the court, a pretrial release officer or probation officer.

Hung Jury: The conclusion of a jury trial without determination of guilt or innocence because the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict. A hung jury results in a mistrial, and the prosecution is not prohibited from subjecting the defendant to a new trial before a different jury.

Impeach: To attack the credibility of a witness testifying at a court hearing.

Indictment: A document that states the criminal charges in a felony prosecution in either federal or state court. An indictment results from a determination by a grand jury that there is probable cause to believe that the indicted person committed the charged offenses.

Information: In California courts, an “information” is a document filed by the District Attorney’s office charging felony offenses (and sometimes associated misdemeanor violations) after a preliminary examination in which a magistrate has determined that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the charged offenses. An information in federal court is a charge brought by the United States Attorney’s office without having first presented the case to a grand jury to secure an indictment.

Infraction: An offense, such as a minor traffic violation, that is punishable by only a fine. Individuals charged with infractions are not entitled to a jury trial or to representation by a public defender.

Jail: Jail refers to the local facility used to incarcerate individuals, either while criminal charges are pending if the person is not released on bail or after sentencing. A person can be sentenced to the county jail for 364 days on a misdemeanor or up to one year as a condition of felony probation. In some felony sentences, a person may be ordered to serve a sentence exceeding one year at the county jail pursuant to Penal Code section 1170 subd.(h). Jail is distinguished from state prison, where individuals convicted of felonies may be sent to serve sentences longer than one year.

Judge: The judicial officer with legal authority to hear a criminal case.

Jurisdiction: The power of the court to hear a certain case, or to exercise power over a particular individual. The term jurisdiction also refers to the location of a court or where a crime occurs.

Juror: A member of a jury.

Jury: A group of citizens summoned to court to decide on the guilt or innocence of the person accused.

Jury Trial: A court proceeding in which evidence is presented to a jury who must decide whether the prosecution has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In California and federal courts, juries in criminal cases are composed of twelve citizens who must reach a unanimous agreement in order to return a verdict of guilty or not guilty. A jury that fails to reach a unanimous verdict is referred to as a “hung jury,” and a mistrial is declared.

Juvenile: Any person under the age of 18. Generally, the juvenile court has jurisdiction over all prosecutions of persons under the age of 18 at the time of the offense.

Larceny: Theft, including petty theft, grand theft, embezzlement, and theft by false pretenses.

License Restriction: An order issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles allowing a person to drive only for a limited purpose or under specified conditions. Typical conditions of a license restriction permit a person to drive to, from, and in the course of work, and to and from alcohol education classes. Another common condition of a restricted license is installation of an ignition interlock device (breath machine) in the person’s vehicle.

License Suspension: An order issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles stating that a person is not permitted to drive for any purpose for a specified period of time.

License Revocation: An order issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles invalidating a person’s driver’s license and prohibiting him or her from driving for any purpose.

Magistrate: A judge or other official having some but not all of the powers of a judge. In Federal District Court, magistrates may conduct many of the preliminary or pretrial proceedings in both civil and criminal cases. In California courts, the judge who presides over a felony preliminary examination is sometimes referred to as a  magistrate.

Mandatory Minimum: The statutory requirement that, for a certain crime, the defendant must be sentenced to a minimum prison term and no less. For example, where a mandatory minimum is 10 years for an offense, the defendant may be sentenced to no less than 10 years in prison upon conviction for that offense, but may be sentenced to more.

Manslaughter: Manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It refers to a type of homicide in which the crime is deemed less severe than the offense of murder. Voluntary manslaughter, for example, is the intentional killing of another upon a sudden heat of passion or under an unreasonable belief in the need for self-defense. Involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another in the commission of an unlawful act or in the commission of a lawful act without due caution. Vehicular manslaughter is the unintentional killing of a person while driving a motor vehicle in an unlawful manner or without due caution.

Minor in Possession: California law prohibits people under 21 years of age from possessing alcohol. The offense of “minor in possession” is the offense for which a person under the age of 21 is cited when found in possession of alcohol. Under California law, a conviction for being a minor in possession of alcohol results in a suspension of that person’s driver’s license, even if the incident has nothing to do with a motor vehicle. (Business and Professions Code section 25662.)

Miranda Rights: Prior to any custodial interrogation by law enforcement, an individual has a constitutional right under the Fifth Amendment to be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he makes may be used against him, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for him prior to any interrogation. The remedy for a violation of the Miranda rule may be suppression of the statements given by the individual. (Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436.)

Misdemeanor: A criminal offense punishable by fine or incarceration in the county jail, but not by incarceration in state prison, for a period of not more than 364 days.

Mistrial: The termination of a trial without the finding of a verdict. The judge may declare a mistrial because of a prejudicial error that cannot be corrected at trial or because of a deadlocked (hung) jury. A case that ends in a mistrial can normally be retried.

Motion: A request made to a court or judge for the purpose of obtaining an order to benefit the requesting party.

Motion in Limine: A motion made at the beginning of a jury trial, prior to the calling of witnesses, most often to decide what evidence may be presented to the jury. Evidence is sometimes excluded because it was unlawfully obtained or because it is irrelevant, privileged, hearsay, prejudicial or otherwise fails to conform to the rules of evidence.

Murder: Murder is typically defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Criminal homicide constitutes murder when it is committed purposefully or recklessly under circumstances that show an extreme indifference to human life. Murder can also occur when a person is killed during the commission of a dangerous felony.

Necessity: Criminal charges, other than murder, can be defended on the grounds that it was necessary for the accused to commit the offense in order to avoid a greater evil.

No Contest (Nolo Contendre) Plea: The plea of no contest indicates that the defendant will no longer fight a charge. For purposes of the criminal case, it is treated like a guilty plea in every respect. A no contest plea to a misdemeanor is not admissible as an admission of liability in a civil proceeding.

Not Guilty Plea: A not guilty plea in a criminal case puts the burden of proving that the defendant committed the crime on the prosecution. A plea of not guilty does not necessarily mean that the defendant denies committing the offense; it simply means that the government will be required to prove the truth of the charge.

Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity Plea: A plea entered by the defendant to raise the issue of whether he or she was legally insane at the time of the offense. In order to prove that the defendant was legally insane, he must prove that it is more likely than not that when he committed the crime, he had a mental disease or defect, and because of that disease or defect, he did not know or understand the nature and quality of his act or did not know or understand that his act was morally or legally wrong. A criminal defendant found not guilty by reason of insanity is normally committed to a locked state mental hospital.

Notice to Appear: A citation or other written notice by law enforcement or the court requiring an individual to appear in court to answer a potential criminal charge against him or her.

Own Recognizance: An individual is released on his own recognizance when he is allowed to remain free pending criminal charges without being required to post bail. Sometimes an individual released without bail may be subject to various restrictions as conditions of his or her release, such as abstaining from alcohol or drugs, submitting to chemical testing, obtaining treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, limiting travel to a specified area or maintaining periodic contact with a pretrial release officer.

Pardon: An order from an executive officer exempting or excusing an individual who has been convicted of a crime from any consequences of that conviction.

Parole: The period after release from state prison during which a former prisoner is subject to certain restrictions and is monitored by state law enforcement officers.

Penal Code: The body of law defining most criminal offenses in California.

Penalty Assessment: An additional monetary penalty imposed separately from the statutory fine. In California, the penalty assessment is more than three times greater than the fine imposed by a court.

People of the State of California: The plaintiff in criminal proceedings in California. The People of the State of California are represented by the District Attorney’s Office in the county in which the crime is being charged.

Perjury: Intentionally testifying falsely to a material fact after swearing an oath to tell the truth. Under California law, the crime of perjury is a felony. (Penal Code section 118.)

Petty Theft: The theft of money, labor, or property of a value less than or equal to $950.00. (Penal Code section 484/488.)

Plaintiff: In a criminal case, the plaintiff is the prosecuting party. In state court, the plaintiff is the People of the State of California. In federal court, the plaintiff is the United States of America. In a civil case, the plaintiff is the person who brings an action.

Plea: A defendant’s formal response to the criminal charge against him or her -- typically: guilty, not guilty or no contest. At the defendant’s first appearance or arraignment, defendant usually enters a plea of not guilty. If the case subsequently resolves by way of plea, the defendant will typically change his plea from not guilty to guilty or no contest. (Penal Code section 1016.)

Possession for Sale: A narcotics charge in which the defendant is accused of possessing narcotics not for personal use, but for distribution. When this charge is alleged, the prosecution does not need to prove that an actual sale has occurred. (Health & Safety Code sections 11351, 11359 and 11378.)

Preliminary Hearing (Preliminary Examination): A proceeding to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to stand trial for a criminal charge. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor has the burden of proof to show that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime with which he or she is charged.

Pre-Trial Conference: Settlement discussions between a prosecutor, defense attorney and judge in state court proceedings.

Pre-Sentence Report (PSR): In federal court, a probation officer prepares a report to assist the court in determining an appropriate sentence. As part of the presentence report, the probation officer makes a federal sentencing guideline calculation, which is typically considered the starting point for evaluating the appropriate sentence.

Pretrial Services: Defendants who are held in custody are typically evaluated by the Office of Pretrial Services to provide the court with information to consider in the setting of bail or release without bail. Defendants who are released from custody while their case is being heard are sometimes required to report periodically to a Pretrial Services officer and/or to comply with additional release conditions. The Pretrial Services office monitors individuals who are out of custody and required to report or comply with additional release conditions.

Prior Conviction: A finding that a person convicted of a crime has previously been found guilty of some crime in the past. The finding of a prior conviction often leads to probation ineligibility, longer sentences and/or increased fines.

Prison: State or federal institutions for the confinement of individuals convicted of certain more serious felonies. In a state court proceeding, an individual is sent to prison if he or she is convicted of a felony and sentenced to a term of incarceration of one year or more unless the felony is designated pursuant to Penal Code section 1170 as a crime punishable by imprisonment in county jail for more than a year. In federal proceedings, an individual is sent to a prison if the court designates that as a condition of the sentence. State prisons are institutions maintained by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; Federal prisons are maintained by the Bureau of Prisons.

Private Defender Program: In San Mateo County, there is no institutional county public defender’s office. Instead, the Private Defender Program administers a panel of private attorneys contracted to represent indigent criminal defendants in San Mateo County courts.

Probable Cause: The standard of proof required by law in order to support an arrest, a search warrant, or an order holding a defendant to stand trial after a preliminary hearing or grand jury proceeding. Probable cause is generally defined as existing when known facts and circumstances are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable prudence in believing that an offense has been committed. The probable cause standard requires less convincing evidence than is necessary to prove a person’s guilt at trial, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Probation: A post-conviction term of supervision imposed by the court, either in misdemeanor cases or in felony cases in which the court determines that a state prison sentence is not warranted for the offense. As a condition of probation, the court may order incarceration in the county jail for up to one year. Other probationary terms may require that the defendant pay fines and fees; submit to search and seizure without a warrant; obtain drug, alcohol, anger management or other psychological treatment; and violate no local, state, or federal laws.

Probation Report: In California courts, a report is prepared by the probation department to assist the court in evaluating the factors relevant to a defendant’s sentence. In the preparation of a probation report, the defendant may meet with the probation officer and submit supporting documents -- letters, medical reports or other information -- to attempt to persuade the court to impose a more lenient sentence. 

Proposition 36 (2000):  A law passed in November 2000 requiring the courts to provide drug treatment instead of incarceration to most individuals convicted of non-violent drug offenses. Generally, a Proposition 36 sentence requires an individual to plead guilty and be placed on probation on the condition that he or she successfully complete a drug treatment program and submit to drug testing. No jail sentence is imposed. Upon successful completion of treatment, the conviction is set aside and the arrest and conviction are deemed never to have occurred. (Penal Code section 1210, et seq.) 

Proposition 36 (2012): The “Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012” modifies elements of California's "Three Strikes" Law, which was originally approved by the state's voters in 1994. This law permits many inmates serving life sentences to seek modification of the sentence and release from prison. Prop 36 revises the three strikes law to impose a life sentence only when the new felony conviction is “serious or violent.” It authorizes re-sentencing for offenders currently serving life sentences if their third strike conviction was not serious or violent and if the judge determines that the re-sentencing does not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety. Prop 36 continues to impose a life sentence penalty if the third strike conviction was for certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses or involved firearm possession. Prop 36 maintains the life sentence penalty for felons with non-serious, non-violent third strikes if prior convictions were for rape, murder or child molestation. 

Proposition 47: California Proposition 47, the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative, was approved by California voters on November 4, 2014. The initiative reduces the classification of most "nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes" from a felony to a misdemeanor. Under this law, many people with felony convictions for drug offenses may petition the court to have their prior convictions reduced to misdemeanors.

Proposition 215: Also known as the “Compassionate Use Act,” Proposition 215 permits qualified patients to possess a reasonable amount of marijuana and cultivate a reasonable number of marijuana plants in order to treat a malady for which a physician has recommended the use of marijuana. The Compassionate Use Act also protects caregivers of qualified patients from prosecution for possession of the same amount of marijuana. (Health & Safety Code section 11362.7 et seq.)

Prosecutor: The attorney who represents either the state or the federal government in bringing charges against a defendant in a criminal case. The prosecutor is always the plaintiff in a criminal proceeding in the trial court.

Public Defender: An attorney employed by the government to represent indigent criminal defendants.

Rape: The crime of engaging in sexual intercourse with an individual who does not consent to the sexual act. (Penal Code section 261.)

Record Clearance (“Expungement”): In California, individuals convicted of most misdemeanors or granted probation for most felonies are entitled to a record clearance after successful completion of the term of probation. A record clearance, also known as “expungement,” is an order setting aside the conviction, withdrawing the finding of guilt, entering a plea of not guilty, and dismissing the case. The record clearance does not seal a record; the court file continues to exist and shows that the conviction has been vacated pursuant to a record clearance. Under most circumstances, a person whose record has been cleared may truthfully state that he or she was not convicted of the offense. An expungement does not relieve a person of the obligation to disclose the conviction in an application for public office or licensure by any state or local agency. (Penal Code sections 1203.4 and 1203.4a.)

Recusal: The process of disqualifying a judge from hearing a matter or a District Attorney from prosecuting a matter because of a conflict of interest that affects a defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial.

Registration: The practice of having law enforcement agencies maintain records regarding individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes, such as sex offenses, arson, and narcotics offenses. For an individual who is required to register for a sex offense, identifying information is generally posted on the internet and made available to the general public. For sex offenders and arson offenders, the requirement to register is a lifelong obligation. For narcotics offenses, the registration requirement lasts five years. (Penal Code section 290, et seq.; Penal Code section 457.1; Health & Safety Code section 159.)

Resisting Arrest: Resisting arrest is the common term for the offense of resisting, obstructing, or delaying an officer in the lawful execution of his duties. The statute may apply to any situation where a person interferes with lawful police actions. Most often, the charge is often filed when police inflict injuries or otherwise use substantial force to accomplish an arrest. (Penal Code section 148.)

Restitution: An order following a criminal conviction that a defendant compensate the victim of a crime for any loss, damage, or injury.

Revocation of Probation: The termination of probation when it is admitted or established that a defendant willfully failed to comply with the terms of probation. Violation of probation may be punished by the reinstatement of probation, often with an additional term of incarceration, or by the imposition of a non-probationary jail or prison sentence.

Robbery: The taking of property of another person through force or fear. (Penal Code sections 211, et seq.)

Romero Motion: A request made by a defendant convicted under California’s Three Strikes Law that a judge exercise his or her discretion to dismiss the allegations of prior convictions for purposes of sentencing in the current case. (Penal Code section 1385; People v. Superior Court (Romero) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497.)

Sealing: An order making a record of an arrest or juvenile adjudication unavailable for future use. Typically, a person can truthfully not disclose the existence of records that have been sealed.

Search: An act by law enforcement to look for evidence or indicia of a crime. When an individual or anything under that individual’s control is searched, the search must be consented to or authorized by a warrant, or supported by probable cause and exigent circumstances. If it is not authorized or consented to, the individual may assert that his Fourth Amendment rights have been violated. If a court finds that a search was unlawful, it may order that any evidence discovered during the search be suppressed and not used against the defendant in the criminal proceeding.

Search Warrant: An order that authorizes law enforcement to conduct a search and specifies the scope of the search. In order to obtain a search warrant, the investigator seeking the warrant must state under oath sufficient facts to establish probable cause that evidence of a crime will be discovered by the search.

Seizure: The act by law enforcement of taking possession of a person or property.

Self-Defense: A defense in which a defendant asserts that the use of force was necessary in order to protect him or herself from bodily harm.

Sentence: The punishment that a court imposes on a defendant who has admitted to or been found guilty of a crime. A sentence may consist of fines, community service, and/or incarceration in county jail or prison.

Sentencing Guidelines: In federal court, there is a complex method for calculating a sentence that the court might impose. The guidelines consider the nature of the offense, the amount of loss, the defendant’s background, and the defendant’s criminal history, and indicate a sentencing range for a crime. The guidelines are advisory, meaning that the courts are not required to impose the sentence indicated by the guideline calculations. (United States v. Booker 543 U.S. 220 (2005).)

Sexual Battery: The non-consensual touching of an intimate part of another person for purposes of sexual gratification. (Penal Code section 243.4.)

Serna Motion: A motion to dismiss in state court based on the failure of the government to bring a defendant before the court in a timely manner after the charges are filed. In a misdemeanor matter, more than one year of unjustifiable delay creates a presumption that the defendant has been harmed by the delay and that the case should be dismissed. (People v. Serna (1985) 40 Cal.3d 239.)

Special Appearance: The appearance of a defense attorney on behalf of a defendant for the limited purpose of assisting the defendant for a specific hearing only. An attorney making a special appearance does not assume the responsibility of representing a defendant throughout the case.

Special Circumstance: An allegation that, if proved at trial, makes a murder charge punishable by the death penalty or the sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.

Speedy Trial: A defendant in a criminal case is entitled to a speedy public jury trial. The California Penal Code sets various time limits for a case to proceed in a speedy fashion. For instance, a defendant in a misdemeanor matter is entitled to a jury trial within 30 days from the date of arraignment if he is in custody and 45 days from the date of arraignment if he is not in custody. A defendant in a felony case is entitled to a jury trial 60 days from the date of arraignment on an indictment or information.

State Court: The courts of the California judicial system as opposed to federal court, which is composed of the courts of the United States judicial system.

Subpoena: A court order compelling the attendance of a witness at a hearing or trial.

Subpoena Duces Tecum: A court order requiring a person to appear at a hearing or trial and to produce evidence, such as documents.

Superior Court: The trial level court in the California state court system. Each county has its own Superior Court, which may be composed of various branches and numerous judges.

Supervised Release: The conditional release from custody of a defendant in a federal criminal case pending trial and sentencing. The court may impose various conditions of supervised release, which could include travel limitations, bail, and frequent contact with a Supervised Release officer.

Suppress: In criminal cases, to suppress evidence is to prohibit evidence from being introduced at a trial or other criminal proceeding. A criminal defendant may base a motion to suppress evidence on the grounds that the evidence has been gathered illegally or is otherwise inadmissible.

Testify: To provide live, sworn testimony in a criminal proceeding.

Threats: Under California law, a threat is a communicated intent to inflict physical or other harm on any person or property. In order to fall within the California statute prohibiting threats, a threat must be to kill or cause great bodily injury to an individual. The defendant must intend that the statement be understood as a threat. A threat must be clear, immediate, and unconditional. A threat must also be specific in that it communicates to the victim a serious intention to carry out the threat, that the threat must actually cause the victim to be in sustained fear of his or her own safety, and such fear must be reasonable. (Penal Code section 422.)

Three Strikes: The California sentencing law that authorizes a court to impose a 25- year to life indeterminate sentence on an individual convicted of a serious or violent felony, if the person has previously been convicted of at least two serious or violent felonies. The Three Strikes law also authorizes the court to double the length of the sentence of an individual convicted of a serious or violent felony if the individual has previously been convicted of at least one serious or violent felony.

Time Waiver: A defendant in a criminal case has statutory and constitutional rights to a speedy trial. A time waiver is when the defendant consents to his prosecution proceeding more slowly than is required by law.

United States: The name of the prosecuting party in a federal criminal case.

United States Code: The statutes setting forth federal law. Much of federal criminal law is located in Title 18 of the United States Code.

Unlawful Intercourse: An act of sexual intercourse with a person, other than a spouse, who is under the age of 18. (Penal Code section 261.5.)

Vehicle Code: The California statutes that contain the rules regarding vehicles and driving, including traffic citations and criminal offenses relating to vehicles.

Venue: The location where a trial takes place.

Violation of Probation: An allegation that a defendant failed to comply with the terms of his probation. A person accused of violating his probation is entitled to a hearing before a judge to determine whether a willful violation of probation actually occurred. A person found in violation of probation is ordinarily required to serve additional time in jail or prison.

Voir Dire (jury selection): An examination of prospective jurors or witnesses under oath to determine their competence or suitability to serve as jurors in a trial. This questioning is used to determine if any juror is biased and/or cannot consider the issues fairly, or if there is any other reason to not allow a juror to serve. For example, voir dire may reveal that a potential juror has previous, independent knowledge of the facts of a case, or is familiar with parties, witnesses or attorneys in a case, or has had previous experiences that suggest that he or she might unduly favor one side or the other. Some jurors may be dismissed for cause by the judge, and the attorneys may excuse others in "peremptory" challenges without stating any reason. Voir dire also permits the attorneys to get a feel for the personalities and possible views of the members of the jury panel.

Welfare & Institutions Code: The California statutes that authorize the prosecution of juvenile cases.

Work Program: A work program is an alternative to jail in which a defendant can satisfy his or her sentence by performing work during the day. The defendant does not have to spend the night in jail.