Some Common Legal Terms
Assailant: The person accused of committing a crime.
Allegation: The statement explaining the crime that the defendant is being accused of.
Assistant District Attorney (ADA): (also called the prosecutor) If a crime has been committed, this is the lawyer who handles the case and represents the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the interests of the victim/survivor.
Bench Warrant: An order from the court to bring in a witness who does not obey the subpoena.
Civil Proceedings: Any action in a court which does not involve a crime or criminal action.
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 takes part in the prosecution of the person(s) accused of committing the crime.
Continuance: Postponement of a hearing or trial.
Criminal Proceedings: Any action in a court involving a crime.
Criminal Examination: When the defense attorney asks the witness questions about the incident.
Defendant: The person accused of committing a crime.
Defense Attorney: The lawyer who represents the defendant in court.
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.
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 and 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 who is asked to testify in court.