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.

Legal TermsBench 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.