Definition of Criminal Legal Terms

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Accomplices:  Any individual assisting a principal, the other person, in the commission of a crime is deemed an accomplice.  While differing from the term accessory, an accomplice is generally actively present at the scene during the commission of the crime in question. 

Alibi:  A defendant or person under questioning for a crime may offer an alibi, or alternative explanation of their whereabouts and activities, which if upheld, will certify their inability participate during the commission of any crime or incident in question. 

Burglary:  In essence, the crime of burglary is composed of two elements.  The first element is establishing the fact that a defendant is guilty of breaking and entering, with or without force, onto a property.  The second, most crucial element is that the illegal entry onto a property or building was with the intention to commit any felony.

Entrapment:  The standard legal definition of entrapment involves the acts of government officials influencing an individual to commit a crime they were not predisposed to commit previously.  Over time, this definition has undergone significant and still ambiguous legal precedent.  Not all states allow entrapment defense, as the right is not constitutionally protected. However, in most instances, a person can only successfully use an entrapment defense if they show no prior disposition, intent, or past behavior that is similar to the crime in question.

Hate Crimes:  Hate crimes occur under the legal definition of a bias crime.  A bias crime, or hate crime, is a criminal offense perpetrated by a defendant against a victim or victims that is motivated, whether partially or wholly, via bias against one or a combined demographics, including religion, race, disability, sex orientation, national origin, ethnicity or gender status.  According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, more than fifty percent of hate crime convictions result from bias stemming from race, with ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation motivating the remainder of the convictions.

Insanity:  Criminal insanity entails the inability of a defendant to understand the illegal or wrong nature in their acts, or the overall inability to determine right from wrong.  Under common law, criminally insane defendants cannot be criminally convicted of a crime, because criminal activity entails actively electing to do wrong, which a criminally insane individually cannot do.  Insanity pleas in criminal cases are thoroughly vetted by professionals to ensure their accuracy, and proportionally, most insanity strategies are not upheld.

Intoxication:  In general, intoxication can be referred to the state where an individual, including their decision-making ability and actions, are detrimentally impaired by the affects of alcohol, drugs, or any other intoxicating foreign substance. Depending on the exact legal circumstance, intoxication may or may not be deemed impairment.  Additionally, some specific intent crimes, including first-degree homicide, may be successfully reduced to a lesser, non-intentional crime.

Jury Nullification:  Jury nullification entails situations where jurors conclude a defendant indeed commit an offense, but collectively refuse to convict a defendant on the basis that the laws in question are deemed wrong, immoral, or unjust.  This is an option in all American courtrooms, however, defense lawyers stifled from encouraging juries to do so.  In modern criminal cases, jury nullification has occurred in instances where a defendant faces a mandatory life sentence under Three-Strike laws for a relatively minor offense.

Mens Rea:  The Latin term “mens rea” is a criminal legal term that helps determine a defendant’s overall mental intent for criminal liability.  For many crimes, a defendant must perpetrate a criminal act under a certain frame of mind, or the mens rea, to be found guilty.

Murder vs. Manslaughter: Under criminal law, murder cases can be charged if there is any form of premeditation leading up to the death of another individual.  In other instances, criminal negligence may infer premeditation to possibly cause serious injury or kill, therefore, can be construed as murder.  For manslaughter cases, a defendant may be liable for a death, but did not intend nor premeditate the death of the victim. 

Rape:  Rape is defined as non-consensual intercourse occurring under threat, duress, physical force, or potentially, under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Definitive definitions of rape versus sexual assault vary state by state; however, any non-consensual sexual activity involving penetration may constitute rape.

Robbery:  By definition, robbery consists of a crime of theft, which occurs through intimidation, force, or threat of force.  In essence, robbery crimes require a defendant taking property, regardless of the value, from the direct possession or presence of the victim. Secondly, the taking of property must occur under intimidation, duress, threat of bodily injury, or actual bodily injury toward victims.  Additionally, the law prescribes harsher penalties in many instances for robbery that involves active bodily injury or the use of a lethal weapon to coerce victims, which is known as aggravated robbery.  In addition, federal jurisdiction covers robbery crimes disturbing interstate commerce and banking institutions.

Theft:  The term theft is a catchall legal phrase encompassing all crimes involving the intentional taking of personal property without consent. Many state jurisdictions differentiate between “petty theft” and “grand theft” through the value of the items taken, usually with items less than $500 being deemed petty theft.  Additionally, some jurisdictions may utilize the term theft to charge individuals accused of larceny, and closely related, but differentiated and more harshly punished crimes include embezzlement, robbery, and burglary.   

White Collar Crimes:  White-collar crime is a term coined in the 1930’s in connection to crimes perpetrated by affluent or connected members of society involving financial instruments, generally strictly for financial gain.  Today, the term has come to encompass almost any crime associated with the corporate environment, including insider trading, securities fraud, fraud, forgery, embezzlement, bribery, and a litany of other violations of federal trade laws.  Defendants in white-collar crime cases will be charged exclusively under the legal terms applicable to their crime, and in essence, the term “white collar crime” is a media popularized catchall for crimes involving individuals with affluence, power, or corporate backing.


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