Some Common Legal Terms
Assailant: The person accused of committing a crime.
Allegation: A statement explaining the crime that the defendant is being accused of.
Assistant District Attorney (ADA): (also called the prosecutor) The lawyer who handles the criminal case and represents the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against the defendant. The victim/survivor is usually the main witness for the state and works with the prosecutor.
Bench Warrant: An order from the court to bring in a witness who does not obey the subpoena.
Civil Proceeding: Any action or process in a court that does not involve a crime.
Competent: The characteristics of a witness which make him or her qualified to give evidence in court.
Complainant: The victim/survivor or witness of a crime who makes an official statement accusing the defendant of committing a crime.
Continuance: Postponement of a hearing or trial.
Criminal Proceedings: Any action in a court involving a crime.
Cross Examination: During a court proceeding when the defense attorney asks the victim/survivor (or other prosecution witnesses) questions. The questions may be asked in a leading manner and challenge the witness’s testimony.
Defendant: The person accused of committing a crime.
Defense Attorney: The lawyer who represents the defendant.
Juvenile/Minor: A person who is under the age of 18.
Preliminary Hearing: Where the facts of the case are brought before the court and the judge determines if there is enough evidence to have a trial. The defendant is not judged guilty or not guilty at this time. The DA’s Office has to demonstrate that more likely than not, a crime was committed and more likely than not, it was the defendant that committed the crime.
Prosecutor: See Assistant District Attorney (ADA), above.
Oath: A sworn statement by a witness that she or he will tell the truth when testifying.
Standard of Proof: The degree of proof used to prove a fact in court. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the strictest standard of proof and is used to convict an adult of any crime including rape and incest.
Subpoena: A written notice ordering a person to appear in court.
Testimony/Testify: Statements made by a witness under oath.
Witness: A person with information about the crime, or a person who is asked to testify in court.