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Criminal Law Glossary

Arraignment — This is the first hearing in your case. At the time of arraignment the Court informs the person of the charges against them, asks the person to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, and sets the bail and any conditions of release. Future court dates will also be set at your Arraignment.

Bail — An amount of money that the accused must post so that he or she can get out of jail. This can be posted in cash, or by using a bail bonds company to post the bond on your behalf. If the accused posts a cash bail and shows up for future court dates, the bail money is returned. If, however, the accused doesn’t show up or flees, the court will keep the money and issue an arrest warrant, or the bail bonds company will be liable for the amount of the bail.

Consent — Consent means that at the time of the sexual contact between two people there is freely given agreement that is clear by the person’s words or action.

Felony — Generally, a crime that has a maximum term of imprisonment of more than one year. In Washington there are Class C, B and A felonies. The maximum sentence for a Class C offense if 5 years. The maximum sentence for a Class B offense is 10 years. The maximum sentence for a Class A offense is life in prison.

Forcible Compulsion — The use of physical force which overcomes the resistance of another person to sexual contact, or a threat that places a person in fear that they or someone else will be physically injured, killed or kidnapped.

Misdemeanor — Generally, a crime for which the maximum possible punishment is incarceration for one year or less. In Washington gross misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum of 364 days in jail, while a misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail.

Parole — Parole is a term for community supervision for juvenile offenders in Washington, and is also a term synonymous with probation. This is the period of supervision in the community for an offender after they are sentenced and released from custody.

Plea Bargain — In many cases we negotiate a resolution of our client’s cases with the Prosecutor, which is knows as plea-bargaining. In exchange for the defendant pleading guilty the prosecutor may agree to reduce the severity of the charges, dismiss certain allegations, recommend a more lenient sentence, etc.

Probable Cause — This is the legal standard used to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for charges to be brought against a person. Probable cause means that a crime was “probably” committed and is not the same as proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The police must have probable cause before the can arrest or search someone, and probable cause is required to obtain a search warrant.

Probation — Also known as community supervision or community custody, probation is a period of time after a sentence is imposed when a person is required to report to a corrections officer and follow a detailed list of rules and requirements. The length of probation is determined by the nature of the offense committed, and can be anywhere from one year to life.

Prosecutor — The attorney who represents the state or local government in a case against a criminal defendant. Also known in other jurisdictions as the district attorney, county attorney, city attorney, or state attorney. In Washington we call them Prosecutors. The Prosecutor also is the one who reviews the police investigation and determines what charges will be brought.

Sentence — This is the Court’s order imposing punishment for the crime committed as well as setting fines and the conditions of the sentence. The sentence will include the amount of jail or prison time imposed, as well as any fines or court costs, a term of probation, treatment programs including chemical dependency and sex offender treatment, as well as limitations on contact with certain persons or classes of persons and certain places.

Sexual Contact — Means the touching of the sexual or intimate parts of a person when done for the purposes of sexual gratification of either person.

Warrant — An order from a Judge directing or allowing some action to be taken. Generally, a warrant is a document that allows the police to arrest a suspect, search a particular place or to seize certain property.


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