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.

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