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.

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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: Law.com or Nolo’s Law Dictionary.


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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Abstract of Conviction

  • A form sent by courts to the Michigan Department of State reporting a person's conviction or adjudication for a traffic violation, or other "reportable offense" (e.g., drug crimes).


  • A person who knowingly and intentionally contributes to or aids in committing a crime (before or after, but not necessarily during, the commission of the crime). If the crime was a felony, the person could be charged with being an "accessory-after-the-fact". The facts could also support a charge of Conspiracy.


  • A person who participates in the commission of a crime, other than the person actually doing to principal criminal act. This person may be charged with actual crime committed under an "aider or abettor" theory (gave aid or encouragement to the principal defendant(s)).


  • When a criminal defendant is found "not guilty" of the crime. An acquittal is not a declaration of the accused's "innocence"; it is a verdict that a Prosecutor failed to prove the accused's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


  • Postponing or rescheduling a case or court session until another date or time.


  • Generally, a final judicial determination of a case. In juvenile delinquency cases, it is the equivalent of a 'conviction' in adult criminal cases, when the court formally takes jurisdiction of the minor.


  • A person who is no longer deemed to be a minor. In Michigan, a person becomes an adult for criminal cases when they turn 17 [MCL 712A.2(a)]. In most other proceedings, an adult is someone age 18 or older.

Adversary Proceeding

  • Actions contested by opposing parties.


  • A person who makes out an affidavit.


  • A written statement of fact that is verified by oath or affirmation before a notary public.

Affirmative Defense

  • Without denying the charge, the defendant raises extenuating or mitigating circumstances such as insanity, self-defense, or entrapment to avoid civil or criminal responsibility. The defendant usually must prove any affirmative defense he/she raises. Court rules may require a defendant to notify the opponent before the trial that an affirmative defense will be raised.


  • Someone authorized to act for another person (known as the "principal"). Violation of a principal-agent relationship is the core of an embezzlement.


  • A "lack of presence" defense. Defendant need not prove that he was elsewhere when the crime happened; rather, a Prosecutor must disprove a claimed alibi (i.e., Prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was present).


  • A defendant's opportunity to make a statement to the judge at sentencing. A defendant may make a personal statement, but is not required to do so. His/her attorney may also make a statement.

Amicus Brief

  • A brief filed by an amicus ("friend of the court") in support of a party in a lawsuit or pending appeal. The court may have to give the amicus permission to file the brief, and may limit the issues.

Amicus Curiae

  • "Friend of the Court" (Latin). A party who volunteers information on some aspect of a case or law to assist the court in its deliberation.


  • A formal written statement by a defendant responding to a civil complaint and setting forth the grounds for defense.


  • Abbreviation for Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.


  • Request to a supervisory court, usually composed of a panel of judges, to change the legal ruling of a lower court. To make such a request is "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." One who appeals is called the Appellant; the opposing party is the Appellee.
  • Appeal by Application for Leave - An appeal where permission must be obtained from the higher court before the appeal may be filed. A party must seek permission to appeal when a final order has not been entered, when the appeal is not timely, or in criminal cases when a defendant has pled guilty and is appealing an issue other than his sentence. An Application for Leave to Appeal is filed, which explains the legal issues that the appellant wants reviewed, and the facts and law supporting them. The court has final discretion to accept or reject an application.
  • Appeal by Right - An appeal to a higher court where permission does not have to first be obtained. The appeal must be filed within a specified time frame after the lower court's final order has been entered.

Appeal Record

  • The record sent by the trial court to the appellate court of what happened at the trial court. This includes a copy of the docket, the case file (court documents), and transcripts of court hearings.


  • A document filed with the court, and provided to other parties, by an attorney advising that the attorney is representing a specific individual.


  • The party appealing a decision or judgment to a higher court.

Appellate Court

  • A court that reviews lower court decisions. Circuit Court serves as the appellate court for District Court cases. The Michigan Court of Appeals serves as the appellate court for Circuit Court and Probate Court cases. The Michigan Supreme Court serves as the appellate court for Court of Appeals decisions.


  • The party responding to an appeal filed in a higher court.


  • Criminal defendant's first appearance before a judge. The primary purpose is to inform the defendant of what charge he is facing. The judge may also determine an appropriate bail and decide on a request for court-appointed counsel.

Arrest Warrant

  • An order issued by a judge or magistrate to a peace officer requiring the arrest of a named person.

Assault [MCL 750.81]

  • A&B penalty: Misdemeanor - 93 days and/or $500.
  • Aggravated Assault penalty: Misdemeanor - 1 year and/or $1,000.
  • Domestic Violence penalty: Misdemeanor - 93 days and/or $500.
  • Aggravated Domestic Violence penalty: Misdemeanor - 1 year and/or $1,000.
  • An unlawful act that places another person in reasonable apprehension of receiving an immediate battery. The defendant must have intended to injure the victim or make the victim reasonably fear being struck. An assault is intentional, not an accident.
    • Note: The victim need not be actually injured for a "Simple Assault", but injuries can be circumstantial proof of higher levels of assaults. The type or severity of injury may also prove the defendant's "intent" (i.e., Assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, Assault with intent to maim, Assault with intent to murder, etc.).
    • Note: See self defense.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney

  • Lawyer hired by the elected Prosecuting Attorney to prosecute cases within that county as representatives of the People of the State of Michigan.


  •  A lawyer. A person authorized to practice law in a state to represent the legal interests of another person.