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The terms and definitions on this page are relevant to criminal cases in the State of Michigan, United States of America, unless noted otherwise. Criminal laws and procedures in other states and countries may be very different.

Do not take legal action solely in reliance on the information posted on this page!

This page provides general information that is intended, but not guaranteed, to be correct, complete and up-to-date. Do not rely, for legal advice, on information given on this page or any externally referenced Internet sites. If you need legal advice upon which you intend to rely in the course of your legal affairs, consult a competent attorney in your area.

If the word you're looking for does not appear on this list, check one of the following websites: American Bar Association, Law.com, or Nolo’s Law Dictionary.

Glossary

The legal system can be filled with confusing phrases and terms. This list should help you to understand that system a little better.

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Bail

  • Bond money paid to a court, by or on behalf of a criminal defendant, as security that, when released from jail, the defendant will appear at future hearings. If another person posts the bail money, then that third party vouches that the defendant will appear at future court dates. Bail can be forfeited if the defendant fails to appear or violates release conditions.

Bailiff

  • A court employee who assists the judge in maintaining order in the courthouse, and who is responsible for the custody of a jury.

Battery

  • An intentional, unwanted and forceful/violent touching of another person, or something closely connected with that person.

Bench Trial

  • A trial held before a judge and without a jury.

Bench Warrant

  •  A court order commanding the defendant's (or a missing witness') arrest and appearance in court after the person had previously failed to appear for a hearing. A bench warrant could also be issued against a defendant for violating a court order, such as conditions of release or probation.

Bind-Over

  • A finding at a preliminary examination that sufficient evidence exists to require a trial at the Circuit Court level on the charges made against the defendant.

Bond / Bail Bond

  • A promise or contract to do or perform a specified act, or pay a penalty for failure to perform. This is usually guaranteed by a 'surety', who promises to pay if the 'principal' defaults, or by paying a cash bond. In criminal cases, 'bond' means the same thing as 'bail': a financial obligation signed by the accused or a surety intended to guarantee the defendant's future appearances in court. The amount of the bond is set by a judge or magistrate. The bond can include conditions of release (i.e., no contact with the victim, no alcohol consumption, etc.) Factors influencing the amount of bond set include the seriousness of the charge, the defendant's criminal history, and the defendant's ties to the community.
  • There are four types of bonds:
    • Personal recognizance bonds (a.k.a. "PR" bonds, or "signature bonds") do not require the defendant or a third party to pay money to the court, unless the defendant later fails to appear.
    • Percent bonds require the defendant to post a percentage of the full bond (generally as low as 10%) to get out of jail, and the remaining percentage is due only if the defendant later fails to appear.
    • Cash bonds require the full amount of the bond to be paid in cash before the defendant can be released. If the defendant appears at all future court dates, most of the monies are returned to the person posting the bond.
    • Surety bonds are posted by a professional bondsman after being paid a non-refundable percentage of the full amount by the defendant.

Breaking

  • As in "breaking and entering"... using some force to enter a building (opening a door, raising a window, taking screen off, etc.); damage need not result.

Brief

  • A written statement submitted by the lawyer for each side in a case that explains to the judges why they should decide the case or a particular part of a case in favor of that lawyer's client.

Burden of Proof

  • The duty to establish by evidence a requisite degree of belief concerning a fact in the mind of a trier of fact. The duty to establish facts in an adversary proceeding. Different burdens of proof exist in the law:
  • Prima facie - evidence which is good and sufficient "on its face" to establish a given fact when unrebutted or not contradicted.
  • Probable cause - facts and circumstance sufficient to convince a person of reasonable caution that an offense has been committed.
  • Preponderance - the burden of proof in civil cases. Evidence which, as a whole, shows that the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not. Evidence which is more credible and convincing to the mind. It is generally visualized as that side of the dispute toward which the scales tip when the credible evidence is weighed by the trier of fact. Something more than 50% of the credible evidence.
  • Clear and convincing - the burden of proof in selected proceedings, such as termination of parental rights. A measure of proof which produces a firm belief as to the allegations. It is difficult to quantify, but is more than a "preponderance" and less than "beyond a reasonable doubt".
  • Beyond a reasonable doubt - the degree of belief a criminal juror (or the judge in a bench trial) must have regarding all factual elements of a charged crime. no doubt, based on reason and common sense, can exist as to any fact needed to be proved.