Glossary of Legal Terms

Adjudication: Giving or pronouncing a judgment or decree, or the rendering of a decision on a matter before a court. 

Arraignment: The first hearing after a petition has been filed. The juvenile will be asked whether the charges brought against him or her are true or false and to enter a plea accordingly.

Arraignment Waiver: A form which will allow the juvenile to bypass the arraignment and proceed to the pretrial.

Citation: An abbreviated referral issued by law enforcement requiring the juvenile to appear on a particular day to answer to a specific charge.

Contempt of court: Any act involving disrespect to the court or failure to obey its rules or orders. Contempt of court carries a maximum of 30 days in jail or detention.

Delinquency: The commission of an illegal act by a juvenile.

Dispositional Report: A written report relating to the child's mental, physical, and social history, submitted by the juvenile probation department or other designated agency to assist the judge in determining a proper disposition.

Expungement: A court order allowing the destruction or sealing of records after the passage of a specified period of time or when the person reaches a specified age and has not committed another offense.

Felony: A felony is a major crime for which the maximum imprisonment is more than one year in a state correctional institution. The court may also impose a fine. Felonies are classified into four categories: capital, 1st degree, 2nd degree, and 3rd degree.

Guardian Ad Litem: A lawyer appointed by a court to represent the "best interests of the child" or incompetent person during court proceedings.

Hearing: A formal proceeding with definite issues of law or of fact to be heard.

Intake officer: A probation officer employed by the court. The officer will evaluate whether a child should appear before a juvenile judge or be sentenced nonjudicially.

Misdemeanor: A minor offense, lower than a felony, which is punishable by a county jail term of up to one year and/or a fine, but not prison. Misdemeanors are classified into three categories: Class A, B, and C.

Non-judicial Agreement: A written agreement between your child, the child's parent, and the intake officer. It will stipulate that no petition be filed with the court if your child admits to the charges and complies with the terms of the agreement.

Order to Show Cause: Court order requiring a party to appear and show cause why the court should not take a particular course of action. If a party fails to obey a court order (like going to counseling or submitting to a UA (urinalysis), the court may ask the party to explain why the court order was not obeyed, and to impose punishment. If the party fails to appear or to give sufficient reasons why the court should take no action, the court will take the action.

Petition: A civil pleading filed to initiate a matter in Juvenile Court, setting forth the alleged grounds for the court to take jurisdiction of the case and asking the court to do so and intervene.

Plea: The defendant's formal response to a criminal charge.

Plea in Abeyance: If you plead in abeyance, your admission is put on hold while you complete the requirements ordered by the Judge. Upon completion of these terms, the guilty plea is withdrawn and the charges are dismissed.

Plea Bargain: A situation whereby the prosecutor and defense attorney negotiate a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case. The court and the defendant must approve of any settlements. For example, a guilty plea may be exchanged for a lesser charge or a sentencing recommendation.

Preliminary Inquiry: An investigation and study conducted by the probation department upon receiving a referral to determine whether further action should be taken.

Probation: A sentence releasing a juvenile into the community or a treatment facility under the supervision of a probation officer, requiring compliance with certain conditions.

Referral: A written report submitted by a law enforcement officer or other person who has reason to believe a juvenile has committed a crime that would place the child within the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court.

Restitution: Court-ordered payment to restore goods or money to the victim of a crime by the offender.

Status Offense: Misbehavior which would not be criminal if committed by an adult (e.g., truancy, runaway, etc.), but is defined as an offense when committed by a minor because of the minor's status.