Breaking News Stories
Covering Specific Victim Populations
Other Considerations
Special Challenges in Reporting
Special Challenges in Reporting
High Impact Stories
Working With Service Providers
Creating Ethics Policy
Victims Right to Privacy
Self Care for Journalists
Resources and Promising Practices
Glossary and Endnotes

Link to A News Media Guide for Victim Service Providers
Link to Crime Victim Outreach Tip Sheets


Page Index

Appendix B

Glossary of Criminal Justice and Victimization Terms

Adjudication: The judicial decision that ends a criminal proceeding by a judgment of acquittal, conviction, or dismissal of a case. This term is also used in juvenile proceedings.

Arraignment Hearing: A hearing in which a person charged with a crime is brought before the court to plead either guilty or not guilty to the criminal charges alleged in the indictment or information, and is advised of his or her constitutional rights under the law. By definition, arraignment hearings are considered pretrial hearings.

Arrest Warrant: An order made on behalf of the state, based on a complaint and signed by a judge, authorizing law enforcement to arrest a person who is thought to have committed a crime. A person who is arrested on a warrant stays in custody until bail or bond is posted, or until released by an order of the court.

Bail Hearing: A hearing to determine whether or not an incarcerated defendant or convicted offender will be released from custody and to determine what amount (if any) he or she must pay as a bond to ensure his or her presence at future proceedings (i.e., trial). This may also include specific conditions of bail (e.g., must have no contact with the victim or witness, must attend treatment programs, etc.). (Also referred to in some jurisdictions as a bond hearing.)

Change of Venue: The transfer of a pending case in one county or district to another county or district. A “change of venue” is often sought because of claimed prejudicial publicity in the original county or district.

Charge: A formal accusation filed by the prosecution that a specific person has committed a specific crime. Also referred to as “pressing charges.”  (See Complaint.)

Clemency: To show mercy or leniency by reducing the punishment for conviction of a crime.

Community Supervision: An order by a criminal court, usually as part of a sentence, requiring a released offender to submit to supervision by one or more criminal justice officials, most commonly a probation or parole officer. Such orders often include conditions that the offender must abide by, and can include conditions specific to victims’ concerns and needs (such as safety and protection) if they are identified through a presentence investigation (PSI) or victim impact statement.

Commutation: A chief executive of a government has the right to substitute a less severe punishment of the defendant than that imposed by the judicial branch.

Compensation: This term is used to refer only to the state-administered program that provides violent crime victims with recompense for their out-of-pocket financial losses directly resulting from the crime. It is not intended to encompass restitution or pursuit of civil claims or judgments.

Compensation Award: The sum of money ordered by the State Victim Compensation Board/Authority to be paid to a victim of crime as recompense for his or her out-of-pocket financial losses directly resulting from the crime.

Complaint: A preliminary charge made by the state that a person has committed a specified offense. (See Charge.)

Confidentiality: A requirement that certain facts about a proceeding or nature of a proceeding be withheld from public discussion or scrutiny, ostensibly to serve the interests of justice.

Criminal Justice System: The entire network of government agencies charged with law enforcement, prosecution, defense, trial, and the punishment and supervision of those arrested and/or convicted of having violated the criminal law in a state or jurisdiction.

Deposition: The sworn testimony of a witness taken outside of court in the presence of the attorneys for the prosecution and defense. A deposition can be used at trial to impeach or discredit a witness’ testimony, or can be read to a jury if the witness is unavailable. In a civil case, depositions are used to establish the facts of the case prior to trial or settlement.

Dismissal: A decision by a judge to end a case, with or without prejudice, for legal or other reasons.

Disposition: The final decision that ends a criminal proceeding by judgment of the acquittal of the accused, dismissal of charges, or that sets the sentence if the defendant has been previously convicted.

Docket: The formal record maintained in brief of the court proceedings. The “trial docket” sometimes refers to the list of cases to be tried on any given day, or in a specified period of time.

Due Process: All legal statements concerning procedural and substantive due process standards that must be applied in a disciplinary hearing or trial, including those raised primarily as defenses.

Evidence: Testimony and objects used to prove or corroborate the statements made by the victim, the accused, or other witnesses.

Felony: A serious crime punishable by state or federal prison time.

Final Disposition: A conclusive determination that settles the issues and rights of all the parties in interest—a judgment or decree that terminates in the court that enters it.

Grand Jury: A collection of citizens called to serve on a jury whose duty it is to examine the evidence supporting charges alleged by law enforcement and/or the prosecutor to determine if they are sufficient to warrant a subsequent criminal trial.

Grand Jury Hearing: A hearing during which the Grand Jury examines the evidence supporting charges alleged by law enforcement and/or the prosecutor to determine if they are sufficient to warrant a subsequent criminal trial.

Habeas Corpus: A federal process and proceeding in which a prisoner challenges the lawfulness of his or her imprisonment. An action by way of “writ of habeas corpus” does not determine the prisoner’s guilt or innocence.

Hearing: A legal proceeding in which arguments, witnesses, and/or evidence are heard by a judge or administrative body.

Hearsay: Testimony of an individual that is not from his or her personal knowledge, but from what the witness has heard another person say.

Indictment: Formal charging document presented by the prosecution to a grand jury. The grand jury may then issue the indictment if it believes that the accusation, if proved, would lead to a conviction.

Information: Formal charging document issued by a prosecuting attorney (with no grand jury involvement).

Jail: The local facility where persons in lawful custody are held. Defendants awaiting trial and defendants convicted of lesser crimes are held in jail, as opposed to prison.

Judicial Officer or Judge: An officer of the court who determines causes between parties or renders decisions in a judicial capacity. The judge generally decides questions of law, except in cases in which a jury trial is waived; then the court would also function as a fact-finder.

Misdemeanor: A crime that is less serious than a felony, and for which the punishment is usually imprisonment for 1 year or less—usually in a jail or other local facility—and/or a fine.

Mistrial: A trial that is invalid because of some fundamental error in procedure or other wrongdoing.

Motion: A verbal or written request made by the prosecutor or defense attorney before, during, or after a trial that the court responds to by issuing a rule or an order.

Nolo Contendre: A defendant’s formal answer in court to the charges in which the defendant states that he or she does not contest the charges. The nolo contendre plea is not an admission of guilt but carries the same legal consequences as a guilty plea.

Nonsystem-Based Victim Service Providers: Victim service providers whose base of operation and services occur within the context of a private nongovernmental organization (e.g., a nonprofit domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center, a nonprofit court accompaniment program, or a psychologist specializing in child abuse). (See System-based Victim Service Provider.)

Notice: An official means of providing information, in oral or written form, to an identified party regarding his or her rights or interests (e.g., a letter stating the date, time, and location of a parole hearing; a telephone call informing a victim about the outcome of a sentencing hearing; or an automated telephone call informing the victim of the escape of their accused offender).

Objection: A protest or argument made concerning the activity of the other party, (i.e., prosecution or defense counsel) in court. The judge can “overrule” or “sustain” an objection.

Pardon: An official release from responsibility and consequences for a crime, usually only granted by the chief executive of a government.

Parole: The release of a prisoner from imprisonment but not from legal custody. Persons under parole supervision (“parolees”) are subject to conditions of supervision that are designed to reduce recidivism and promote victim and public safety and are supervised by a parole officer or parole agent.

Parole Revocation: When probable cause is found that an offender under parole supervision violated his or her conditions of supervision (such as possessing a weapon, using alcohol or other drugs, or committing a new offense), parole is revoked and the offender is returned to custody (jail or prison).

Plea Agreement: An agreement whereby the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval. It usually involves the defendant’s plea of guilty to a lesser offense in return for a lighter sentence. In many jurisdictions, victims have the right to “confer” with the prosecutor about any possible plea agreement.

Plea Agreement Hearing: A hearing in which the prosecutor and defense counsel submit a plea agreement to the court for its approval.

Plea of Guilty: An admission of guilt by the defendant in open court.

Postconviction Hearing or Proceedings: Following a conviction and direct appellate review, many states provide for procedures for postconviction review. Typically, the grounds for relief under these proceedings are both limited and different from those on appeal of a conviction.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: The essential feature of posttraumatic stress disorder is the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate (Criterion A1). The person’s response to the event must involve intense fear, helplessness, or horror (or in children, the response must involve disorganized or agitated behavior) (Criterion A2). The characteristic symptoms resulting from the exposure to the extreme trauma include persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event (Criterion B), persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (Criterion C), and persistent symptoms of increased arousal (Criterion D). The full symptom picture must be present for more than 1 month (Criterion E), and the disturbance must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (Criterion F). (From the DSM IV – 309.81)

Preliminary Hearing: A legal proceeding before a judge in which arguments, witnesses, and/or evidence are presented to determine if there is sufficient cause to hold the accused for trial. It is sometimes called a probable cause hearing or a pretrial hearing.

Presentence Investigation (PSI): The PSI is usually conducted by a probation officer after a plea or verdict of guilty. It is done before sentencing to enable the judge to learn more about the defendant, as well as about the impact of the crime on the victim, so that he or she is better able to impose a proper sentence. The PSI includes information about the defendant’s criminal history and personal background, and how the victim(s) were affected—physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Upon completion, a presentence investigation report is provided to the court.

Pretrial Release Hearing: Any hearing to determine whether the defendant will be released from custody prior to the trial (i.e., bail or bond hearing).

Prison: State facilities where persons convicted of the commission of a felony (or multiple felonies) are held. The state Department of Corrections (or similar title) oversees the management of prisons, and most departments have victim services programs.

Pro se: When the defendant is not represented by counsel (a defense attorney), as when he or she has waived the right to counsel in a criminal proceeding.

Probable Cause: The degree of proof needed to arrest and begin prosecution against a person suspected of committing a crime. The evidence must be such that a reasonable person would believe that this specific crime was committed, and that it is probable that the person being accused committed it.

Probation: Conditional freedom granted to an offender by the court after the conviction or a guilty plea, with requirements for the offender’s behavior (“conditions of probation”), and which any violation of such requirements or conditions may result in revocation of the probation. Supervision is usually conducted by a probation officer.

Proceeding: An occurrence in form and manner of conducting business before a court or judicial officer (i.e., hearings, trials, conferences, etc.).

Prosecutor: A lawyer employed by the government to represent the general public’s interests in court proceedings against people accused of committing crimes. Many prosecutors’ offices have victim/witness programs that are designed to inform victims of their rights, help them understand the criminal justice process, and provide them with information about and referrals to services that can help them.

Rape: A form of assault; the nonconsensual use of the sexual organs of another person’s body. Perpetrator can be of either sex, as can their victim. (Wikipedia—See Sexual Assault.)

Recusal: An action taken by a judge to disqualify or withdraw him/herself from a case in which his or her impartiality might be questioned.

Release Hearing: Hearing to determine whether to grant and on what basis to grant an incarcerated or accused defendant limited, temporary, or permanent release (e.g., work release or temporary release for family emergency, medical treatment, vocational training, to attend legal proceedings, etc).

Restitution: A court order requiring a convicted offender—as a condition of a sentence—to repay the victim money or services to compensate for the monetary losses that resulted from the commission of the crime.

Restraining Order: An order issued by a court of appropriate jurisdiction forbidding a party from engaging in some proscribed activity. In the context of victim protection, often an order forbidding the alleged or convicted offender to have any contact with the victim or to act in a way contrary to the victim’s interests. (Often also referred to in other jurisdictions as stay away order, no contact orders, or protective orders.)  (Also see stay away orders as defined below.)

Sentence: The amount of time a convicted offender is ordered to serve.

Sentence, Concurrent: Running together—concurrent sentences run, or are served, at the same time.

Sentence, Consecutive: Sentences that run or are served one after the other.

Sexual Assault: Any physical contact of a sexual nature without voluntary consent. Sexual assault can take place by anyone and anywhere. While associated with rape, sexual assault is much broader and the specifics may vary according to social, political, or legal definition. (Wikipedia—See Rape.)

Speedy Trial, Victim’s Right to a: Though usually defined in the context of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, a “speedy trial for victims” is generally defined as a trial conducted as soon as the prosecution, exercising reasonable diligence, can sufficiently prepare its case. It is a trial conducted without unreasonable or oppressive delay without violating the defendant’s constitutional right to adequately prepare his or her defense. (Also referred to as victim’s right to prompt disposition.)

Statute: Any law passed by a local, state, or federal legislative body.

Stay Away Orders: An order from a court of appropriate jurisdiction forbidding a party in a legal action (criminal or civil) from having direct or indirect contact with another party. Violations are usually enforced as contempt of court. (Often also referred to in other jurisdictions as restraining orders, no contact orders, or protective orders.)

Subpoena: A court order requiring a person to appear in court on a specified day and time to give testimony. It may also include an order to produce documents or records. Failure to appear constitutes contempt of court.

Summons: A court order used to bring a person accused of a minor crime to court.

System-based Victim Service Providers: Victim service providers whose base of operation and services occurs within the context of a criminal or juvenile justice agency (e.g., law enforcement-based crisis responders, prosecutor-based victim services, a victim assistance specialist working within a community or institutional corrections agency). (See Nonsystem-based Service Providers as defined above.)

Testimony: Evidence given by a competent witness under oath, as distinguished from evidence derived from writings and other sources.

Transcript: The official record of proceedings of a trial or hearing.

Trauma: Trauma has both a medical and a psychiatric definition. Medically, “trauma” refers to a serious or critical bodily injury, wound, or shock. This definition is often associated with trauma medicine practiced in emergency rooms and represents a popular view of the term. Psychiatrically, trauma has assumed a different meaning and refers to an experience that is emotionally painful, distressful, or shocking, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects. Psychiatric trauma, or emotional harm, is essentially a normal response to an extreme event. It involves the creation of emotional memories about the distressful event that are stored in structures deep within the brain. ( Network)

Trial: A judicial examination in accordance with the law of the land, of a “cause,” either civil or criminal, of issues between the parties, whether of law or fact, before a court that has proper jurisdiction.

Victim Impact Statement: A written or verbal statement of a victim’s views concerning the physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual impact the crime has had on the person, the person’s life, and the lives of the person’s family that is offered to the court or other decisionmaking body, usually during sentencing or release consideration hearings. Victim impact statements may include the victim’s opinion as to the risk the accused or convicted defendant may pose to him or her if released and/or the victim’s recommendation of an appropriate sentence.

Victim Right: The legal definition of a right is “a capacity residing in one person of control, with the support and assistance of the government, the actions of others.” A “victim’s right” is a “power granted by law that entitles a victim to require another person, usually a criminal justice official (i.e., police, prosecutor, judge, probation or parole officer, or corrections official), to perform a specific act or refrain from performing a specific act.”

Voir Dire: A procedure in which the prosecutor and defense attorney question prospective jurors to pick a jury.

Waiver: The voluntary surrender of a right, claim, or privilege.

Warrant: A court order directing a law enforcement officer to make an arrest, a search, or a seizure.

Many of the definitions included in this Glossary of Terms were taken or adapted from resources developed by the Missouri Victim Assistance Network and the State of Arizona Crime Victims Web Site.


1 Ken Blake, “Understanding the news values,” Middle Tennessee State University,, accessed March 30, 2007.
2 ASNE (American Society of Newspaper Editors), “Diversity in Newspaper Newsrooms,”, accessed March 30, 2007 and The Radio and Television News Directors Association, “Newsroom Diversity Project,”, accessed March 30, 2007.
3Speech by Jennifer Carroll (Gannett) at Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences, March 16, 2007.
4Speech by Chet Rhodes (Washington Post) at Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences, March 23, 2007.
5 Bob Steele, “Guiding Principles for the Journalist,” The Poynter Institute,, accessed March 30, 2007.
6 The Society for Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics,, accessed March 30, 2007.
7 Don R. Pember, 2002, Mass Media Law, 2003/2004 Edition, New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.
8 Photographers’ Guide to Privacy, “A primer on invasion of privacy,” The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press,, accessed March 30, 2007 and “9 Keys to Avoiding Invasion of Privacy Suits,”, accessed March 30, 2007.
9 Pember, pp. 259, 290
10 Pember, p. 302
11 Pember, pp. 205, 270–271–, 280.
12 Pember, pp. 205, 291.
13 Roger C. Roy, and Amy C. Rippel, “Earnhardts win right to keep autopsy photos sealed,” Orlando-Sentinel,,0,4354798.story, accessed March 30, 2007 and “Fla. college paper appeals Earnhardt autopsy photo case to the Supreme Court,” Student Press Law Center,, accessed March 30, 2007.
14 Pember, p. 179, 268.
15 Personal communication with Bonnie Bucqueroux, 1999.

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