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Frequent Questions
Glossary of Legal Terms

Legal Terms

1.   Acquittal - The judgment of a court, based on the verdict of a jury or a judicial officer, that the defendant is not guilty of the offense(s) for which he or she has been tried.
This is a type of defendant disposition which, when the acquittal is on all charges in the case, terminates criminal justice jurisdiction over the defendant. In statistics describing judicial activity it is a final court disposition.
It should be noted that a not guilty verdict rendered by a jury is equivalent to a judgment of acquittal because a jury verdict of not guilty compels the court to acquit the defendant. This equivalence does not exist in the case of guilty verdicts. A judge can, when appropriate grounds exist, disregard a jury finding of guilty and pronounce a judgment of acquittal.
Since acquittals can be arrived at by routes significantly different with respect to impact on defendants and prosecutorial and court workload, statistical presentations generally distinguish between acquittals:

  • By Jury trial resulting in a not guilty verdict
  • By Court Nonjury trial or acquittal pronounced by court notwithstanding jury verdict.

2.   Adjudication Withheld - In criminal justice usage, a court decision at any point after filing of a criminal complaint, to continue court jurisdiction but stop short of pronouncing judgment.
The usual purpose in stopping criminal proceedings short of judgment is avoidance of the undesirable effects of conviction, which effects can include both unnecessary harm to the offender and unnecessary expense or harm to the public interest. "Withholding adjudication," as defined here, places the subject in a status where the court retains jurisdiction but will not re-open proceedings unless the person violates a condition of behavior.
&"Adjudication withheld" is an important category of defendant dispositions. Those cases which receive what is sometimes effectively a sentencing disposition but one occurring without conviction.

3.   Certified Disposition - The final disposition of your criminal case that is stamped with the clerk’s stamp and signed by the clerk. This disposition shows that your criminal case is completely final. (needed to file Application for Eligibility).
4.   CJIS - Known as the Criminal Justice Information System. This is the public database which anyone can go into to check on someone's criminal history. Some counties have online access and some do not. This is however a public database and anyone can go to the courthouse for access.
5.   Clemency - In criminal justice usage the name for the type of executive or legislative action where the severity of punishment of a single person or a group of person is reduced or the punishment stopped, or a person is exempted from prosecution for certain actions.
Grounds for clemency include mitigating circumstances, post-conviction evidence of innocence, dubious guilt, illness of prisoner, reformation, services to the state, turning state's evidence, reasons of state, the need to restore civil rights, and corrections of unduly severe sentences or injustices stemming from imperfections in penal law or the application of it.
The chief forms of clemency are pardons (full and conditional), amnesties, commutations, reduced sentences, reprieves and remissions of fines and forfeitures. In actual use the meanings of these terms overlap. For example, in some jurisdictions a particular kind of pardon may be called "executive clemency," or a given kind of commutation a "pardon." Informational definitions emphasizing the basic distinctions that are usually, but not always, made are as follows:
Full pardon - An executive act completely and unconditionally absolving a person from all consequences of a crime and conviction. This act is sometimes called an "absolute pardon," and can imply that guilt itself is "blotted out." It is an "act of forgiveness" and is accompanied, generally, by restoration of civil rights. American law tends to use this executive remedy, instead of judicial proceedings, when serious doubt of guilt or evidence of innocence arises after conviction.
Conditional Pardon - An executive act releasing a person from punishment, contingent upon his or her performance or non-performance of specified acts.
Amnesty - A kind of pardon granted by a sovereign authority, often before any indictment, trial or conviction, to a group of persons who have committed offenses against the government, which not only frees them from punishment, but has the effect of removing all legal recognition that the offenses occurred. A "pardon" is distinct from an amnesty in that the former applies to only one person, and does not necessarily include the abolition of all legal recognition that the offense occurred. An amnesty is sometimes called a "general pardon" because it applies to all offenders of a given class, or all offenses against a given statute or during a certain time period. The sovereign authority may be executive or legislative.
Commutation (of sentence) - An executive act changing a punishment from a greater to a lesser penalty; in correctional usage, a reduction of the term of confinement resulting in immediate release or reduction of remaining time to be served; also, the change from a sentence of death to a term of imprisonment. Commutation does not, generally, connote "forgiveness." It is often used to shorten an excessively and unusually long sentence. Commutation can occur with respect to groups of prisoners, though with a different impact on the term of confinement of each single prisoner.
Reduced sentence - A sentence to confinement of which the time duration has been shortened by judicial action; also, a reduced fine or other material penalty. Reduction of sentence can occur at many process points, beginning with the sentencing disposition after conviction.
Reprieve - An executive act temporarily suspending the execution of a sentence, usually a death sentence. A reprieve differs from other suspensions of sentence not only in that it almost always applies to temporary withdrawing of death sentence, but also in that it is usually an act of clemency intended to provide the prisoner with time to secure amelioration of the sentence.

6.   Conditional Release - The release by executive decision from a federal or state correctional facility, of a prisoner who had not served his or her full sentence and whose freedom is contingent upon obeying specified rules of behavior.
In this terminology the class "condition release" includes only those in states where return to a prison can occur at the discretion of an executive agency (usually, a paroling authority) if the subject violated the stated conditions of behavior. Releases by judicial authority, with return, if any, also decided by court action, are not members of this class. These latter are final exits from the state corrections perspective, since all corrections agency jurisdiction over the subject is terminated.
Conditional releases are defined here consist mainly of releases to parole and mandatory supervised releases. They are in contrast to the category provisional exits where return is expected. They are also in contrast to exits from prison to probation supervision by a state agency and releases to probation administered directly by a court. The latter is usually treated as a final prison/parole system exit in state data.

7.   Discharge - In criminal justice usage, to release from confinement or supervision, or to release from a legal status imposing an obligation upon the subject person.
This term is used with various meanings in criminal justice statistical publications, often without definition. Its use without qualifications is not recommended.
A "discharge" from prison or parole is most often, though not always, understood to mean a final separation from the jurisdiction of the correctional agency. "Discharge" from probation may mean a satisfactory termination or a revocation of the probation status. In court disposition data some kinds of sentencing dispositions are sometimes called "conditional discharges," meaning that the persons are released from punishment contingent upon fulfilling obligations stated by the court.

8.   Dismissal

  • In judicial proceedings generally, the disposal of an action, suit, motion or the like without trial of the issues; the termination of the adjudication of a case before the case reaches judgment.
  •  (recommended criminal justice statistical terminology) - The decision by a court to terminate adjudication of all outstanding charges in a criminal case, or all outstanding charges against a given defendant in a criminal case, thus terminating court action in the case and permanently or provisionally terminating court jurisdiction over the defendant in relation to those charges.

"Dismissal" or "dismissed" is a major descriptive category in statistics concerning dispositions of cases and defendants in court proceedings. Although dismissals can be subcategorized by nature in various ways, they are usually presented as a single category of case or defendant dispositions in statistical reports. Dismissals and instances where the prosecutor declines to pursue the case are often combined under the label "dismissed/nolle prosequi" (see
nolle prosequi).
In criminal proceedings, a dismissal of a given charge or entire case can be initiated by motion of the defense or prosecution, or on the court's own motion. The common reasons for dismissals include insufficient evidence to support arrest or prosecution, evidence illegally obtained, errors in the conduct of the proceedings or failure to proceed as quickly as required, and failure of the jury to agree on a verdict.
With respect to the possibility of reopening the case, dismissals with prejudice (no subsequent prosecution possible) are distinguished from dismissals without prejudice (reopening possible).

9.   Diversion -

  •  In the broadest usage, any procedure which (a) substitutes non-entry for official entry into the justice process, or (b) substitutes the suspension of criminal or juvenile proceedings for continuation, or (c) substitutes lesser supervision or referral to a non-justice agency or no supervision status for confinement.
  •  Standards and Goals definition: The official suspension of criminal or juvenile proceedings against an alleged offender at any point after a recorded justice system intake but before the entering of a judgment, and referral of that person to a treatment or care program administered by a non-justice or private agency, or no referral.

Definition (I) represents the actual span of usage of the term though some of the included actions, such as probation instead of confinement, are conventional alternatives to incarceration that were employed before the term "diversion" was used in the justice vocabulary.
Definition (II) is that recommended by the Task Force on Corrections of the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, (pages 73-4 of the volume Corrections, issued January 23, 1973). It strategically narrows the meaning of the term. The Commission's definition requires:

  •  That adequate grounds for alleging the commission of an offense exist.
  •  That an official system entry be recorded (arrest, referral to juvenile intake agency or appearance in court).
  •  That judicial proceedings be halted or at least suspended after entry and before judgment.
  •  That the alternative to continuation of proceedings be referral to non-justice supervision of treatment, or no referral.

10.  FDLE - FDLE is the acronym for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. FDLE provides the service through which criminal records can be expunged sealed or expunged. FDLE is the Florida agency that will review your application for Certificate of Eligibility.
11.  Misdemeanor - An offense punishable by incarceration, usually in a local confinement facility, for a period of which the upper limit is prescribed by statute in a given jurisdiction, typically limited to a year or less.
In most jurisdictions misdemeanors are one of the two major classes of crimes, the other being felonies.

12.  Nolle Prosequi -
I.    A formal entry upon the record of the court, indicating that the prosecutor declares that he or she will proceed no further in the action.
II.    The terminating of adjudication of a criminal charge by the prosecutor's decision not to pursue the case, in some jurisdictions requiring the approval of the court.
This action, also called "nolle" and "nol pross," is a type of defendant disposition occurring after filing of a case in court and before judgment. In felony cases it often occurs after the initial complaint is filed in a lower court, and before an information or indictment is filed in a higher court.
In data presentations, dispositions by nolle prosequi (viewed as prosecutor's dismissals) may be combined with dismissals by the court in a single category "dismissed/nolle prosequi." Where general comparisons between dispositions of defendants and related court caseload activity are needed, it is recommended that defendants whose cases are terminated by dismissals or nolle prosequi prior to trial be counted separately from those where the termination occurs after a trial has begun.
In some jurisdictions felony cases can be dismissed on the prosecutor's motion in a lower court but filed anew in a higher court. This can result in inflation of nolle prosequi counts in court activity summary data, and because of variation in practice can distort comparisons between courts or court systems. It is recommended that practices relating to nolle prosequi be explicitly noted in statistical data representations.

13.  Non-Judical Records -These are police records (arrest form, incident reports, and any other reports generated by the police, the department of corrections, and other non-court state agencies like the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles).
14.  Plea - In criminal proceedings, a defendant's formal answer in          court to the charge contained in a complaint, information, or indictment, that he or she is guilty or not guilty of the offense charged, or does not contest the charge.
In relation to a given charge or case, the defendant may enter different pleas at different stages of the proceedings. Court and prosecutorial management information systems often provide for recording of the nature of the plea at each stage.
With respect to sequence, the recommended terms are:
                                 A.        Initial plea (also first plea ) - - The first plea to a given charge entered in the court record by or for the defendant. The acceptance of an initial plea by the court unambiguously indicates that the arraignment process has been completed, and is therefore a better unit of count in reporting criminal case or defendant flow than "arraignment," which as a process is variously defined in different jurisdictions.
                                  B.        Final plea - - The last plea to a given charge entered in the court record by or for the defendant.
When distinguishing pleas by nature of response, the major types are:
                                 C.        Not guilty plea - - A defendant's formal answer in court to the charge(s) contained in a complaint, information, or indictment, claiming that he or she did not commit the offense(s) listed.
                                 D.        Not guilty by reason of insanity - - A defendant's formal answer in court to the charge(s) contained in a complaint, information, or indictment, claiming that he or she is not legally accountable for the offenses listed in the charging document because insane at the time they were committed.
                                  E.        Guilty plea - - A defendant's formal answer in court to the charge(s) contained in a complaint, information, or indictment, admitting that he or she did in fact commit the offense(s) listed.
                                  F.        Nolo contendere - - A defendant's formal answer in court to the charge(s) contained in a complaint, information, or indictment, stating that he or she will not contest the charge(s), but neither admits guilt nor claims innocence.
Guilty pleas and nolo contendere pleas are in fact usually combined into a single category in data systems and in statistical presentations, since they have the same legal effect in criminal proceedings. Both pleas can be followed by a judgement of conviction without a trial or verdict, and by a sentencing disposition. The pleas differ, however, with regard to their potential use as evidence in any related civil proceedings. A guilty plea in a criminal case can constitute evidence in a civil proceeding that relevant facts have been admitted; a nolo contendere plea cannot.

**trong>Disclaimer: The information on this page should be used as a reference only and is not intended to be legal advice. Florida criminal law is continually changing therefore some of the provisions contained here may be out of date. It is always best to consult an experienced Orlando criminal defense attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case.**

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