Five Criminal Law Terms

For those involved with the criminal justice system for the first time, many of the words and phrases can be confusing. Here is a brief rundown of some common terms frequently heard during a prosecution in an Arkansas state court:

  1. Arraignment: The arraignment is a legal proceeding in which the defendant is informed of the formal charges against him or her and the range of punishment faced for those charges. In addition, the defendant is informed of his or her rights and is asked to enter a plea of "guilty" or "not guilty." Typically in Arkansas Circuit Courts, the defendant pleads "not guilty" and a trial or a pre-trial court date is set by the court for sometime in the future.
  2. Voir Dire: Voir Dire is the process by which a jury is selected. Different courts have different procedures for this process, but typically the jury is questioned by the presiding judge and then by the attorneys for each side. The judge may excuse jurors for various reasons and then each side will be allowed to strike, or excuse, certain jurors. 
  3. Discovery: "Discovery" describes both the process of exchanging evidence and information before trial and the actual evidence and information itself. The rules for the discovery process for each side are set out in the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure. The prosecution is also bound by the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution to provide Brady evidence. This type of evidence, simply put, is information that would help the defendant prove his or her innocence, impeach or attack the credibility of a witness, or influence the jury or judge to give a defendant a lesser punishment. If certain conditions are met, the failure to the prosecution to turn over Brady evidence before a trial can result in a conviction being overturned. 
  4. Miranda Rights: Miranda Rights are the series of rights that must be read or otherwise given to someone who is in police custody and is being questioned by the police. A common misconception is that an officer must read these rights immediately upon arrest. That is only the case if there is any questioning or interrogation by the officer along with the arrest.  In addition, if you voluntarily go to the police department or if you allow the police in your home before being questioned, they may not be required to explain to you these rights. A good rule to follow if the police want to talk to you is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. If you are in a situation where you are being asked to sign a form stating that you have been read your Miranda Rights and wish to waive them, do not sign and immediately let the officers know that you would like to remain silent and that you want an attorney. If possible, carry the business card of an experienced criminal defense attorney with you at all times. 
  5.  Statute: A statute is a written law passed by a legislative body. In order to be convicted of a crime, the prosecution must prove to the judge or jury that the defendant violated the statute in question beyond a reasonable doubt. 

If you are facing criminal charges, want to appeal a conviction, or want to determine if your old convictions are eligible for sealing, contact Autumn Tolbert at (479) 283-4688 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your criminal law matter.