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: 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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Search Warrant

  • A court order that a specific location may be searched for items which, if found, can be seized by the government for possible use in court as evidence.

Self Defense

  • A legally-justified use of force to protect one's self, another person, or property against some injury attempted by another person... the right to repel force with force... the defendant (i) must have honestly and reasonably believed that he had to use force for protection, (ii) may use only the type and degree of force that seems necessary for protection at the time based on the circumstances known to him, (iii) must not have acted wrongfully and brought on the assault (i.e., provoked the attack)... In Michigan, a Prosecutor has the burden of disproving a defendant's self-defense claim beyond a reasonable doubt.


  • The punishment ordered by a court for a defendant convicted of a crime.

Sentencing Guidelines

  • Criteria adopted by the Legislature that determine an appropriate range a judge may impose for the minimum sentence on felonies and high court misdemeanors (i.e., the "60" in a "60 to 120 month" sentence). "Prior Record Variables" (PRVs) and "Offense Variables" (OVs) are calculated and applied to a Sentencing Range Grid. A judge may "depart" from the sentencing guideline range (on either the high- or low-side) only where there are "substantial and compelling" reasons to do so.
  • The Sentencing Guidelines can be viewed online.


  • A procedure to shelter a trial participant from outside influences. The term most frequently applies to witnesses, and prevents them from watching court proceedings and testimony (or talking outside the courtroom to other witnesses) before they actually testify. In very rare cases, a jury can be sequestered during part or all of a trial.

Sex Offender [MCL 28.721 - 28.732]

  • Person convicted as an adult or adjudicated as a juvenile of CSC, Indecent Exposure, Gross Indecency, or other similar enumerated crimes. The person must register with the Michigan State Police (and verify their home address quarterly) for a minimum of 25 years.
  • Michigan's searchable database of adult sex offender registrants is maintained by the Michigan State Police.
  • Links to other states' online sex offender registries (inspired by New Jersey's original "Megan's Law") may be found on our Victim Resources page.


  • See Retail Fraud.

Show Cause Hearing

  • A court hearing held so a person can explain why (s)he should not be considered in violation of a specific court order.


  • A conference between the judge and lawyers held out of earshot of the jury and spectators.

Small Claims Court

  • A division of the District Court in which civil lawsuits seeking a maximum $1,750 damages is heard. Like television's The People's Court, the parties represent themselves without attorneys. Jury trials are not allowed. The judge's or magistrate's decision cannot be appealed. If either party objects to these conditions, the case will be transferred to the Civil Division of the District Court.

Specific Intent

  • Acting with intent to cause a particular result
  • A special mental element that must be proven for some crimes. For example, larceny requires proof that the defendant specifically intended to steal the victim's property (i.e., to permanently deprive the owner of the property); if the defendant unknowingly possessed the victim's property or was truly borrowing it temporarily, no theft/larceny occurred.
  • Specific intent may be proved by what the defendant says, does, how he does it, etc.

Specified Juvenile Violation

  • Crime for which a youth, convicted in a designated case, could be sentenced to prison - murder or attempted murder; serious assaults (assault with intent to murder, commit great bodily harm, main, or rob); arson of a dwelling; home invasion 1st degree; car jacking; kidnapping; CSC 1st degree; armed robbery; bank or safe robbery; escape from a medium- or high-security juvenile facility; manufacture, sale, delivery or possession of 650 grams of a schedule 1 or 2 narcotic; or attempt, solicitation or conspiracy to commit these crimes.

Stalking [MCL 750.411h & MCL 750.411i]

  • Stalking is (a) two or more willful acts of (b) continuing harassment or un-consented contact (c) that would cause a reasonable individual to suffer emotional distress, (d) that actually cause the victim to suffer emotional distress, (e) that would also cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested, and (f) that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested. Note: ALL of these elements must be present for "stalking" to be proven.
  • Penalty: Misdemeanor - 1 year and/or $1,000 fine, up to 5 years probation
  • Aggravated Stalking is (i) violation of a restraining order of which the suspect has actual notice; or (ii) in violation of a condition of bond, probation or parole; or (iii) credible threats against the victim, a member of the victim's family or household; or (iv) by a person previously convicted of Stalking.
  • Penalty: Felony - 5 years and/or $10,000 fine; probation of at least five years.
  • Definitions of key terms:
    • Continuing harassment means repeated instances of un-consented conduct that would cause a reasonable person emotional distress, and that actually causes emotional distress.
    • Emotional distress means significant suffering or distress that may result in, but does not necessarily require, medical or other professional treatment or counseling.
    • Un-consented contact means contact that you do not want or contact that you expressed that you wanted to avoid. This includes, but is not limited to, someone following you, confronting you at your workplace, phoning you, sending you mail, or placing objects on your property.
    • Note: Stalking a minor is now a 5-year felony. Aggravated stalking of a minor is now a 10-year felony (eff. April 1, 1998).


  • A party's right to make a legal claim, or to seek judicial enforcement of a right or duty.

Stare Decisis

  • The doctrine that once a principle of law has been determined to be applicable to certain facts, that principle will be followed in future cases involving substantially identical facts. This body of "case law" - along with Common Law and statutes - becomes the Laws of the Land.

State Bar of Michigan

  • An association for attorneys licensed to practice law in Michigan. All attorneys, including prosecutors, must be a member of the State Bar in order to practice law in Michigan. Visit their website.

Status Offense

  • An act declared to be a delinquency offense which can only be committed by a juvenile - e.g., habitual truancy, running away from home, violating curfew.


  • A law passed by a legislature.

Statute of Limitations

  • Deadlines set by statute for filing criminal charges or civil lawsuits within a certain time after events occur that are the source of the charge or claim. The time limit on the right to seek relief in court.


  • An agreement between opposing parties on any matter relating to the case, including case facts. Courts must approve stipulations to take legal effect.


  • A court order requiring a person to appear in court and give testimony as a witness, and/or to produce documents. An employer cannot act upon or threaten to discharge or discipline a witness for missing work to testify in court when subpoenaed.

Subpoena Duces Tecum

  • A court order to produce documents. (Pronounced DOO-suhz TEE-kum.)


  • Legal bar to admitting evidence at a trial or other court proceeding.

Supreme Court

  • The highest appeals court in Michigan. An appellant files an application for "leave to appeal" in the Supreme Court, which the Court can grant (accept) or deny (reject) at its discretion. If an application is granted, the Supreme Court will hear the case; if denied, the decision made by the lower court remains unchanged. The Supreme Court usually selects cases involving important constitutional issues and questions of public policy. The Supreme Court also has administrative duties - general administrative supervision of all courts in the state, establishing rules for practice and procedure in all Michigan courts, etc.
  • The Supreme Court consists of seven justices: the chief justice and six associate justices. The justices are elected to serve 8-year terms. Every two years the justices vote to elect the chief justice.


  • A judge's decision to allow an objection or motion to prevail.
  • See also overrule.