Not every child will grow up to be a lawyer (thank goodness), but every child should grow up understanding the meaning of some common legal terms, especially those related to criminal law. Words like acquit, arraign, indict, depose, and felony are found everywhere in books, on tv, and even in everyday conversations. Obviously a well-rounded education would include an introduction to these legal terms.
I preface this list by saying that I am not a lawyer — nor do I play one on tv — so I can assure you that I am not defining these terms exhaustively. I also can't guarantee I'm correct down to the last detail; in fact, some terms can only be defined in a general sense. However, I think that these explanations will give you a good place to start in teaching your children about these terms.
Common Legal Terms
acquittal : When either a jury finds a defendant not guilty, or a judge rules that there's not enough evidence to convict.
affidavit : A written statement made under oath.
appeal : After being convicted, the defendant takes his case to a higher court for review. During an appeal, often a review is done to determine whether the proper procedures were undertaken throughout the trial.
arraignment : The proceeding when a defendant is formally brought before a judge. The judge informs the prisoner of the charges against him, reads him his rights, and asks him to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. The judge may also set the bail amount or appoint an attorney.
arrest : The initial stage of a criminal prosecution, it is the detention of an individual who is suspected of criminal activity.
bail : The amount of money paid to the court so that the accused defendant can be released from jail prior to trial. The money is generally returned to the accused if he shows up at his trial; however, the bail money is lost if he does not show up.
bond : If a defendant cannot pay the entire amount of bail money, he may pay a percentage of the bail to a bondsman. The bondsman will then pay the full amount of the bail to the court to secure pretrial release of the accused. If the accused shows up at the trial as scheduled, the bail bondsmen gets the entire amount of bail back, but gets to keep the original percentage as his fee. Because the bail bondsman risks losing the balance of the bail amount if the defendant does not show up to court, he often requires collateral from the accused.
booking : The administrative process that documents a prisoner's entrance into jail. It includes collecting information such as name, reason for the arrest, photograph, fingerprints, and inventory of personal property.
capital offense : A crime punishable by the death penalty.
defendant : In a criminal case, the person who is charged with a crime.
deposition : An oral statement or testimony given outside the court. Often used to interview potential witnesses or to obtain evidence that will be used later in the trial.
felony : In general, a crime punishable by at least one year in prison.
grand jury : A type of jury, normally consisting of 16-23 people, that examines the evidence of a case to determine whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial. If the grand jury decides there is enough evidence, it will issue an indictment against the defendant. Grand juries are generally only held for felony cases, but not in every felony case. Sometimes a preliminary hearing (see below) is held instead to determine whether a trial will be held.
indictment : Pronounced in-DIGHT-ment, this is the formal accusation of charges against a person.
juvenile detention center : A secure residential facility for juveniles (i.e. persons under the age of 18).
misdemeanor : In general, a crime punishable by one year or less in prison.
parole : The supervised release of a convicted prisoner after he has served part of his sentence. He essentially serves the rest of his sentence outside of prison. After release, the parolee is put under the authority of a parole officer and must abide by certain conditions.
preliminary hearing : A formal proceeding during which a judge hears evidence and determines whether the defendant should be held for trial.
probation : In lieu of imprisonment, a person can be sentenced to a period of probation, during which he is under the supervision of a probation officer and must abide by certain conditions.
sentence : The court-ordered punishment for a person convicted of a crime.
subpoena : Pronounced suh-PEE-nuh, this is a court-ordered command to a person that he should appear in court to appear and give testimony or to provide specific evidence.
trial : The proceeding during which evidence is offered and a judge or jury determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
verdict : The final decision of a judge or jury that determines the guilt or innocence of a defendant.
warrant : The authorization, issued by a court, for law enforcement officers to conduct a search or make an arrest.
Do you have any common legal terms you think should be added to the list?