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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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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Dating Relationship

  • Frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional involvement. This term does not include a casual relationship or an ordinary fraternization between two individuals in a business or social context. If a "dating relationship" is present, a person can get a Personal Protection Order, and (as of April 1, 2002) an assault can be charged as Domestic Violence.


  • A person who has been formally charged with committing a crime.


  • Discussions held by the jury, after all evidence has been presented, to decide the outcome of a case.


  • A crime committed by a minor under the age of 17. Juvenile delinquency offenses are prosecuted in the Family Division of Circuit Court.

De Novo

  • "Anew" or "afresh" (Latin). A "trial de novo" is the retrial of a case. A "de novo" standard of review permits an appellate court to substitute its judgment for that of a trial judge, (e.g., interpretations of laws).


  • An oral statement made before an officer authorized by law to administer oaths. Such statements are used in civil cases to examine potential witnesses, to obtain discovery, or to be used later in trial. Depositions are not used in criminal cases.

Direct Evidence

  • Evidence that stands on its own to prove an alleged fact, such as testimony by a teller that she saw the defendant pointing a gun at her and heard him demand money during a bank robbery. [See also circumstantial evidence.]

Direct Examination

  • The questioning of a witness by the party who first called the witness to the stand.

Disorderly Conduct [MCL 750.167]

  • AKA "disorderly person"... a compilation of socially offending conduct, including:
    • Refusing or neglecting to support one's family
    • Common prostitution
    • Window peeping
    • Public intoxication that is endangering people, or causing a public disturbance
    • Indecent or obscene conduct in a public place
    • Vagrancy, public begging, loitering in a place of illegal business, including a house of ill fame or prostitution
    • Jostling or roughly crowding people unnecessarily in a public place
  • Penalty: Misdemeanor - up to 90 day and/or $100.


A Juvenile Court hearing that is the equivalent of a "sentencing" in adult courts.

Dissenting Opinion

  • An opinion written by an appellate judge explaining why he or shoe disagrees with the decision reached by the majority of judges considering the case.
  • See also Concurring Opinion and Majority Opinion.

District Court

  • All criminal cases, for persons 17 years or older, are started in the district court. It is the trial court for all misdemeanors for which punishment does not exceed one year, civil infractions, civil small claims actions (up to $1,750), civil law suits under $25,000, garnishments, evictions, foreclosures and other proceedings. This Court conducts initial arraignments, sets and accepts bond and conducts preliminary examinations in felony cases. District Court procedures are essentially like those used in Circuit Court with the exceptions that a city/township ordinance may be prosecuted by that city's/township's attorney... and pre-sentence investigations are not always prepared on misdemeanors.
  • There are approximately 100 district courts in Michigan. District court judges are elected for 6-year terms on a non-partisan ballot.


  • A process of removing some minor criminal, traffic, or juvenile cases from the full judicial process on the condition that the accused undergo rehabilitation or make restitution for damages. Diversion does not involve a formal conviction/adjudication, and may not require an admission of guilt. If the accused completes this informal probation successfully, then the entire matter may be closed, and is expunged (erased) from the person's record.
  • Some Prosecutors' offices administer in-house diversion programs for first-time or property crime offenders. In those cases, charges are withheld unless the program is not completed.

Docket / Case Docket

  • A written list of all important acts done in court in the conduct of an individual case, from beginning to end. This term is also commonly, but improperly, applied to the case calendar (a list of cases set for a hearing by a court on a specific day).

Docket Number

  • Number assigned by the court's clerk to identify each case.

Domestic Violence

  • Domestic violence is a learned pattern of physical, verbal, sexual and/or emotional behaviors in which one person in a relationship uses force and intimidation to dominate or control the other person. The partners may be married or not married; heterosexual, gay or lesbian; living together, separated or dating. Domestic violence occurs in all ages, races, genders and social classes.
  • The violence takes many forms and can happen all the time or once in a while. Examples of domestic violence are:
  • Physical assault or abuse - hitting, pushing, shoving, slapping, choking, punching, kicking, grabbing, beating, throwing her down, tripping, twisting arms, biting, using a weapon threatened physical harm
  • Sexual assault or abuse - unwanted, forced sexual activity, making her do sexual things against her will, physically attacking the sexual parts of her body, etc.
  • Stalking
  • Intimidation
  • Emotional abuse - mind games, name-calling, put-downs, making the victim feel bad about herself
  • Jealousy - a sign of possessiveness and lack of trust
  • Controlling behavior and forced isolation (from family or friends) - controlling what the victim does, who the victim sees or talks to, where the victim goes, relocating to a remote area, etc.
  • Economic abuse - preventing the victim from getting or holding a job, and controlling the purse-strings by withholding money, taking her earned money, giving her an allowance, making her ask for money, etc.
  • An important step to help yourself or someone you know prevent or stop violence is recognizing the warning signs listed on the Violence Wheel.

Double Jeopardy

  • Being tried twice for the same offense. Jeopardy 'attaches' (begins) in a jury trial when the selected jury is sworn, and attaches in a bench trial when the first witness is sworn.

Drunk Driving

  • See "OUIL"