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Glossary of legal terms

Specific terms are often used in the legal process that are not commonly used outside of the criminal justice system.



When a defendant is found "not guilty" by judge or jury. 



An individual over the age of 18. 



Abbreviation for "Also Known As." This usually refers to other names the defendant has used. 



An appeal is a challenge to a previous legal decision. For example, if a defendant is convicted by a jury or court, they may choose to legally challenge, or appeal, the conviction. 



An arraignment hearing takes place after charges are filed against a defendant. At this hearing, the defendant will be present and represented by an attorney. They will be informed of the charges that have been filed against them. Once the charges are read, the defendant will plead either guilty or not guilty. The court may also set bail or schedule a bail/bond hearing. The court has the option to keep bail the same, reduce bail, or release the defendant on various conditions.  A victim of a case has a right to be present at any time bail is addressed. It is possible that a no-contact order or a sexual assault protection order may be issued.



Bail is a part of our legal system that allows a defendant to be temporarily released from custody back into the community while they prepare for their day in court. In criminal cases, bail is a sum of money, real property, or bail bond that must be posted by, or on behalf of, a defendant to guarantee their appearance in court. The right to reasonable bail is guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.



The bailiff is the assistant to the judge. They handle various duties including scheduling of judge's hearings, assisting and monitoring juries, and various tasks as requested by the judge.


Beyond a reasonable doubt

This is the threshold that must be met for a conviction by the State of Washington. 



A bond is the same as bail. It can also be used to refer to "surety bond," or a paper insurance bond posted by a bonding company. 


Bond hearing

This is a scheduled hearing when the defense motions to address, lower bond, or remove bond to release the defendant from custody. Both the defense and the prosecution will present information to the court supporting or denying release. A victim has a right to give comment to the court whenever release is a consideration. The judge will make the final determination. 



This is when a defendant is processed into jail. This includes being booked following arrest due to an investigation of a crime, or a warrant. It includes photographing and fingerprinting. 



The court calendar lists the cases that will be heard during a scheduled session of court. It is the calendar which keeps track of the cases and hearings a court will hold on a specific day, week, or month. 


Case setting

The case setting is a hearing to schedule dates for motions and trial. It is also called an “omnibus hearing.”

During the case setting phase, your attorney and prosecutor will consult with one another to determine whether or how the case might resolve: with a plea agreement, or go to trial. It is common for there to be multiple case setting hearings.


Cause number

This is the unique number that is assigned to every Superior Court case. 


Certified copy

A certified copy (or copies) is a duplicate of an original document. It has been authenticated as a true copy by the official record keeper, or court clerk. 



An individual age 17 or younger. 


Clerk (DJA)

Official record keeper of court proceedings. Maintains records of proceedings in court and court documents.

King County Superior Court Clerk's Office located on the 6th floor of both the King County Courthouse in Seattle and the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. 


Closed case

A case that has been dismissed, or a case where a defendant has been sentenced. 



When two or more defendants commit a crime together, and are charged together in a case. 

Co-defendants have separate cause numbers (i.e., 10-C-00456-7). The "C" in the cause number represents a case with co-defendants. 


Coercive control

A pattern of behavior that is used to cause another person physical, emotional, or psychological harm. Coercively controlling behavior interferes with a person's free will and personal liberty. 


Community custody

Monitoring process that is court ordered. Previously called "parole."


Community corrections officer (CCO)

A state employee of the Department of Corrections that supervises defendants who have been sentenced. CCO's ensure the defendant complies with conditions of the sentence. 

Previously called "probation officers." 



The official charging document in district court cases.



Terminology for postponement of a court date. 


Court file

Official file of all documents filed with the court on a particular case. 

King County Superior Court files are housed and maintained in the King County Superior Court Clerk's Office. Located on the 6th floor of the King County Courthouse in Seattle, and the 2nd floor of the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. 

Most court files are now electronic. Electronic Court Records, or ECR, are stored on the King County Script system. Physical files and electronic files are generally public information. Anyone can review court files. To request court documents, contact the King County Clerk. 


Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention

The proper name for the King County Jail Administration.


Department of Corrections (DOC)

The Washington state prison system. The DOC typically houses offenders who have sentences longer than 12 months. 



Terminology used by a prosecutor who does not file charges, or "declines" to follow charges against a suspect.

If the prosecutor has reviewed the information submitted by law enforcement and determines there is not enough evidence to file charges, or declines, the case may be referred to a municipality (city).



An individual or suspect that is accused or formally charged with a crime. 


Defense attorney

Attorney who represents the defendant.


Defense interview

This is when the defense attorney interviews the victims and witnesses of a case. 

The prosecutor, who represents the victim, conducts an investigation into the case. The defense attorney has the right to conduct their own investigation of the facts asserted by the prosecutor. This defense interview usually takes place before the "fact finding" hearing. 

While the defense attorney has the right to talk to the victim, the victim has the right to choose where, when, for how long, and with whom this will occur. The victim advocate and the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney can be present at the defense interview. 



Jurors meet in a private room to discuss, or deliberate, the case after the trial concludes its closing arguments. The jury are given instructions from the court on how to discuss and decide the outcome of the case (i.e., return a verdict). 

Deliberations can take multiple days.



This term generally refers to the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. It can also refer to a law enforcement deputy "officer" depending on the context. 



The "discovery" is the exchange of information and evidence between the prosecutor and defense attorney on a case. This may include copies of police reports, photographs, videos, etc. 



When the court decides to dismiss the case against a defendant. The court exercises its discretion to dismiss a case before the trial takes place, or before a verdict is reached during the trial. 


District attorney

Terminology for prosecuting authorities. Many states refer to their "prosecutors" as district attorneys. Some states also call them "county attorneys" or "state attorneys."

In the state of Washington, district attorneys are called "prosecuting attorneys." 


District Court

The District Court or Municipal Courts handle gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor cases, while the Superior Court handles felonies. 

There are nine District Court locations: 

  • Auburn
  • Bellevue
  • Burien
  • Issaquah
  • MRJC/Kent
  • Redmond
  • Seattle
  • Shoreline
  • Vashon Island


Domestic violence

Domestic violence refers to violence inflicted by one intimate partner against another intimate partner, or one family or household member against another family or household member.

Domestic violence includes: 

  • Physical harm, bodily injury, or assault
  • The fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault
  • Nonconsensual sexual conduct or penetration
  • Coercive control
  • Unlawful harrassment
  • Stalking



Stands for "Deputy Prosecuting Attorney."


Expiration date

The date that is set whereby the state must bring a defendant to trial, or the defendant must plead guilty.

If the defendant does not waive their time for trial right, and the state does not bring the case to trial by this date, the case can be dismissed. 

The expiration date is set pursuant to the Time for Trial Rule.



The legal process to return a fleeing defendant back to the state or country they are from. 



A classification of crime where the punishment can be imprisonment. Jail time is 12 months or more.

Filing decision

The prosecuting attorney's decision to file criminal charges or decline to file criminal charges against an individual or individuals


First appearance hearing

Also referred to as “Felony Investigation Calendar,” “Investigations Calendar” “Preliminary Appearance Calendar."

This is the suspect's first court appearance after arrest and booking. It occurs before any charges are filed.  It is the first hearing to occur following a reported incident where an individual is arrested. It generally occurs within 24-48 hours of arrest.

First appearances are open to the public.  At the hearing, the judge will determine if probable cause is present.  The judge makes the decision whether to release a defendant with “promise to return” on “personal recognizance” also known as “PR,” to set a bail amount, or to set a no-contact order.

Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney present arguments for the judge to consider. 



"Fail to appear." This term is commonly used when a defendant fails to appear for a court proceeding.



A defendant becomes a fugitive if they commit a crime and flee to a different state. Defendants who are arrested in the current state on a warrant issued from another state are charged as a "Fugitive" until extradition proceedings are complete. 



Gross misdemeanor


Guilty plea


Guilty verdict



Harmed party

Hung jury



Investigation calendar (First appearance)



Judgement and sentence (J&S)



King County Jail



Loss recovery



Material witness warrant



Motion hearing


No contact order

Not guilty verdict


Omnibus hearing

Open case

Opening statements



Personal recognizance (PR)



Police case number

Pre-trial hearing


Probably cause (PC)


Protection order

Public defender




Restorative justice

Restraining order


Right of allocution

Rush filing



Second appearance

Sentencing recommendation

Sexual assault

Senior deputy

Speedy trial




Superior Court





Trial attorney



Victim impact statement

Voir dire





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