Legal Definitions

The terms and definitions on this page are relevant to criminal cases in the State of Michigan, USA, unless noted otherwise. Criminal laws and procedures in other states and countries may be very different. Do not take legal action solely in reliance on the information posted on this page! This page provides general information that is intended, but not guaranteed, to be correct, complete and up-to-date. 

Do not rely, for legal advice, on information given on this page or any externally referenced Internet sites. If you need legal advice upon which you intend to rely on the course of your legal affairs, consult a competent attorney in your area. If the word you are looking for does not appear on this list, check one of the following websites: American Bar Association,, or Nolo's Law Dictionary.

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Abstract of Conviction

  • A form sent by courts to the Michigan Department of State (Secretary of State) reporting a person's conviction or adjudication for a traffic violation or other "reportable offense" (e.g, drug crime), or to the Michigan Department of State Police reporting a conviction or adjudication for a felony or 93-day or higher misdemeanor.


  • A person who knowingly and intentionally contributes to or aids in committing a crime (before or after, but not necessarily during, the commission of the crime).
  • Being an "accessory-after-the-fact" to a felony crime is a specific crime in and of itself. An "accessory after the fact" is a person who knows that a crime has occurred, and helps one or more of the people who committed it to avoid discovery, arrest, trial, or punishment after the crime ended. The assistance given by an accessory after the fact must tend to frustrate the course of justice. A person cannot be convicted both of the principal crime as an aider/abettor, and as being an accessory after the fact to the same felony crime.
  • An accessory can include a person charged with conspiracy to commit a felony or misdemeanor crime.
  • See also Aiding/Abetting.


  • A person who participates in the commission of a crime, other than the person actually doing the principal criminal act. This person may be charged with the actual crime committed under an "aider or abettor" theory (gave aid, assistance or encouragement to the principal defendant(s)).
  • See also Accessory and Aiding/Abetting.


  • Criminal defendant being found "not guilty" of the crime. An acquittal is not a declaration of the accused's "innocence"; it is a verdict that a Prosecutor failed to prove the accused's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Actus Reus

  • A criminal act (Latin).


  • Postponing or rescheduling a case or court session until another date or time.


  • Generally, a final judicial determination of a case. In juvenile delinquency cases, it is the equivalent of a 'conviction' in adult criminal cases, when the court formally takes jurisdiction of the minor due to a plea or a trial verdict.


  • A person who is no longer deemed to be a minor. In Michigan, a person becomes an adult for criminal cases when they turn 17 (MCL 712A.2(a)). In most other proceedings, an adult is someone age 18 or older.

Adversary Proceeding

  • Actions contested by opposing parties. The system of trial practice in the U.S. and some other countries in which each of the opposing or adversarial parties has full opportunity to present and establish its contentions before the court.


  • A person who swears to the facts in an affidavit.


  • Written statement of fact that is verified by oath or affirmation before a notary public or officer having authority to administer oaths. (Affidavits are generally not admissible in criminal trials or hearings in lieu of testimony because the opposing party has no opportunity to cross-examine the affiant.)

Affirmative Defense

  • Without denying the charge, the defendant raises extenuating or mitigating circumstances such as insanity, self-defense, or entrapment to avoid civil or criminal responsibility. The defendant usually must prove any affirmative defense he/she raises; but, in Michigan, a prosecuting attorney must disprove a claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Court rules may require a defendant to notify the opponent before the trial that an affirmative defense will be raised.


  • When an appellate court declares that a lower court's order is valid and will stand as rendered in the lower court.


  • Someone authorized to act for another person (known as the "principal"). Violation of a principal-agent relationship is the core of an embezzlement.


  • Intentionally assisting (procuring, counseling, encouraging, helping, etc.) another person in the commission of a crime.There is no distinction between a principal and an aider/abettor. Every person involved in the commission of an offense, whether he directly commits the act constituting the offense or whether he procures, counsels, aids, or abets in its commission can be prosecuted, tried, convicted and punished as if he had directly committed such offense (MCL 767.39). "Aiding/abetting" is not a specific crime, it is a legal theory that results in someone other than a principal actor in a crime being charged with / convicted of the actual crime.
    • Examples: A bank robbery "get-away car" driver or look-out.
  • Mere knowledge that another person is going to commit a crime, or mere presence at the scene of a crime, is not enough.
  • A person cannot be convicted both of the principal crime as an aider/abettor, and as being an accessory after the fact to the same felony crime.
  • See also Accessory and Accomplice.


  • "Lack of presence" defense. The defendant need not prove that he was elsewhere when the crime happened; he need only notify the Prosecuting Attorney of his intent to claim an alibi (along with his list of alibi witnesses). Ultimately, the Prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was present (i.e, a Prosecutor must disprove a claimed alibi).


  • A defendant's opportunity to make a statement to the judge at sentencing. A defendant may make a personal statement, but is not required to do so. His/her attorney may also make a statement.

Amicus Brief

  • A brief filed by an amicus ("friend of the court") in support of a party in a lawsuit or pending appeal. The court may have to give the amicus permission to file the brief and may limit the issues argued by the amicus.

Amicus Curiae

  • "Friend of the Court" (Latin). A party who volunteers information on some aspect of a case or law to assist the court in its deliberation.


  • A party's written response to a legal pleading, such as a motion or brief.


  • Abbreviation for Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.


  • Request to a supervisory court, usually composed of a panel of judges, to change the legal ruling of a lower court. To make such a request is "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." One who appeals is called the Appellant; the opposing party is the Appellee.
    • Appeal by Application for Leave - An appeal where a higher court must give permission to file it. A party must seek leave to appeal when a final order has not been entered when the appeal is late, or in criminal cases when a defendant has pled guilty and is appealing an issue other than his sentence. An Application for Leave to Appeal explains the legal issues that the appellant wants reviewed, and the facts and law supporting them. The court has final discretion to accept or reject an application.
    • Appeal by Right - An appeal to a higher court where permission does not have to first be obtained. The appeal must be filed within a specified time frame after the lower court's final order has been entered.

Appeal Record

  • The record sent by the trial court to the appellate court of what happened at the trial court. This includes a copy of the docket, the case file (court documents) and transcripts of court hearings.


  • A document filed with the court (and provided to other parties) by an attorney advising that the attorney is representing a specific party.

Appearance Ticket

  • A written notice to appear in court regarding a violation of a state law or local ordinance.

Apprehension Court

  • An order issued by the court to take a minor into custody. Also called a "pick-up order."


  • The party appealing a decision or judgment to a higher court.

Appellate Court

  • A court that reviews lower court decisions. Circuit Court is the appellate court for District Court cases. The Michigan Court of Appeals is the appellate court for Circuit Court and Probate Court cases. The Michigan Supreme Court is the appellate court for Court of Appeals decisions.


  • The party responding to an appeal filed in a higher court.


  • Criminal defendant's first appearance before a judge. The primary purpose is to inform the defendant of the charge(s) he is facing. The judge may also determine an appropriate bail and decide on a request for court-appointed counsel.


  • To take into custody by legal authority.

Arrest Warrant

  • An order issued by a judge or magistrate to a peace officer requiring the arrest of a named person.
  • See Warrantless Arrest.


(MCL 75081, et seq)
  • An unlawful act that places another person in reasonable apprehension of receiving an immediate battery. An attempt to commit a battery. The defendant must intend to injure the victim or make the victim reasonably fear being struck. An assault must be intentional, not an accident.
  • Michigan has many types and levels of assaults. Note: The victim need not be actually injured for a "Simple Assault", but injuries can be circumstantial proof of higher levels of assaults. For example, proof that a victim was physically injured and needed immediate medical attention can distinguish "Simple Assault" from "Aggravated Assault." The type or severity of injury may also prove the defendant's "intent" (i.e, Assault With Intent to Do Great Bodily Harm Less Than Murder, Assault with Intent to Maim, Assault With Intent to Murder, etc.).
  • Note: See self-defense.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney

  • Lawyer hired by the elected Prosecuting Attorney to prosecute cases within that county as representatives of the People of the State of Michigan.


  • A lawyer. A person authorized to practice law in a state to represent the legal interests of another person.

Automatic Waiver

  • See "Waiver of Jurisdiction."