BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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Home  | Terms & Definitions: Courts
Terms & Definitions: Courts

The act of a court in making an order, judgment, or decree.

Appellate Courts
Any court of law that is empowered to hear an appeal of a trial court or other lower tribunal.

Assigned counsel
The appointment from a list of private bar members who accept cases on a judge-by-judge, court-by-court, or case-by-case basis. This may include an administrative component and a set of rules and guidelines governing the appointment and processing of cases handled by the private bar members.

Bench trial (nonjury trial)
A trial held in the absence of a jury and decided by a judge culminating in a judgment for the plaintiff(s) or defendant(s).

Capital cases
Crimes that can result in a death penalty.

Contract attorneys
Nonsalaried private attorneys, bar associations, law firms, consortiums or groups of attorneys, or nonprofit corporations that contract with a funding source to provide court-appointed representation in a jurisdiction.

Contract cases (contracts)
Cases that include all allegations of breach of contract.

Court security
An integrated approach to the judicial process that ensures the integrity and safety of the court system and its participants. This is achieved by effectively evaluating, planning, and pro-actively managing threats and potential threats directed toward the court system.

Criminal History Record Information (CHRI) or Criminal History Record Information System
A record (or the system maintaining such records) that includes individual identifiers and describes an individual's arrests and subsequent dispositions. Criminal history records do not include intelligence or investigative data or sociological data, such as drug use history. CHRI systems usually include information on juveniles if they are tried as adults in criminal courts. Most, however, do not include data describing involvement of an individual in the juvenile justice system. All data in CHRI systems are usually backed by fingerprints of the record subjects to provide positive identification. State legislation varies concerning disclosure of criminal history records for noncriminal justice purposes.

Any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute.

Domestic violence
Refers to violence between spouses, or spousal abuse but can also include cohabitants and non-married intimate partners.

Domestic violence courts
Address criminal cases that involve offenses against persons who are related in some way, most often through intimate partnership or family relationship. They include integrated domestic violence courts, which handle both domestic violence and family issues (e.g., custody and visitation).

Driving while intoxicated (DWI) courts
Dedicated to changing the behavior of alcohol- or drug-dependent repeat offenders or high-blood alcohol content offenders arrested for DWI or driving under the influence (DUI). The goal of the court is to protect public safety while addressing the root cause of impaired driving. They include juvenile DWI courts.

Drug courts
Specialized courts designed to handle cases involving offenders who abuse addictive substances. Handle an underlying drug problem contributing to criminal behavior using nontraditional judicial proceedings and treatment with team-based services. These courts include adult, juvenile, and reentry drug courts.

Drug offenses
Drug trafficking—Includes trafficking, sales, distribution, possession with intent to distribute or sell, manufacturing, and smuggling of controlled substances. It does not include possession of controlled substances.

Other drug offenses—Includes possession of controlled substances, prescription violations, possession of drug paraphernalia, and other drug law violations.

Family court
A court, usually with a limited jurisdiction, that handles legal cases involving a family, especially controversies between parent and child or husband and wife.

Family problem-solving courts (or family courts)
Address juvenile or family court cases of child abuse or neglect, adjudication of parental rights, and custody and visitation in which parental substance abuse is a contributing factor.

Federal court
A court established by the federal government that has jurisdiction over questions of federal law.

Felony or serious misdemeanor
The category of offenses for which fingerprints and criminal history information are accepted by the FBI and entered in the Bureau's files, including the Interstate Identification Index (III) system. Serious misdemeanor is defined to exclude certain minor offenses, such as drunkenness or minor traffic offenses.

Hybrid driving while intoxicated (DWI)/drug courts
Address alcohol- or drug-dependent offenders also charged with driving offenses.

Indian country jails
Indian country adult and juvenile detention centers, jails, and other correctional facilities operated by tribal authorities or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Jail inmates
Offenders confined in short-term facilities that are usually administered by a local law enforcement agency and that are intended for adults but sometimes hold juveniles before or after adjudication. Jail inmates usually have a sentence of less than 1 year or are being held pending a trial, awaiting sentencing, or awaiting transfer to other facilities after a conviction.

Judicial selection
The selection system involves a nonpartisan commission that reviews the qualifications of applicants for judicial office.

Jury trial
A trial held before and decided by a group of laypersons selected according to the law presided over by a judge culminating in a verdict for the plaintiff(s) and/or defendant(s). Unless noted, the term jury trial includes trials with a directed verdict, judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), and jury trials for defaulted defendants.

Justice functions
Justice expenditure and employment variables that include three primary categories: police protection, judicial and legal services, and corrections.

Juvenile Justice Record
Official records of juvenile justice adjudications. Most adult criminal history record systems do not accept such records, which are frequently not supported by fingerprints and which are usually confidential under state law. Pursuant to an order dated July 15, 1992, the FBI now accepts and will disseminate juvenile records on the same basis as adult records. States, however, are not required to submit such records to the FBI.

Legal motion
A procedural device in law to bring a limited, contested issue before a court for decision.

Failure of a professional person, as a physician or lawyer, to render proper services through reprehensible ignorance or negligence or through criminal intent, especially when injury or loss follows.

Mental health court
Specialized court dockets that provide community treatment and supervision in lieu of incarceration for criminal offenders with mental illness.

Mental health courts
Divert defendants with mental illness, traumatic brain injury, or developmental disabilities into judicially supervised, community-based treatment. Mental health courts include adult and juvenile mental health and adult co-occurring disorder courts.

NCIC Protection Order File
Contains court orders that are issued to help law enforcement prevent acts of domestic violence against a person or to prevent a person from stalking, intimidating, or harassing another person. Orders are issued by both civil and criminal state courts.

Other problem-solving courts
Include adult community, homelessness, general problem-solving (courts that address multiple case types and serve a variety of defendants with underlying problems), reentry (except reentry drug courts), parole violation, gambling, gun, prostitution, elder abuse, and other specialty courts.

Other type of release
Emergency release—Defendants are released in response to a court order placing limits on a jail's population

Property offenses

Burglary—Includes only crimes where the offender committed or attempted a theft.

Trespassing—Includes crimes where the offender did not commit or attempt a theft. Does not include trespassing on land.

Larceny/theft—Includes grand theft, grand larceny, and any other felony theft, including burglary from an automobile, theft of rental property, and mail theft. It does not include motor vehicle theft, receiving or buying stolen property, fraud, forgery, or deceit.

Motor vehicle theft—Includes auto theft, conversion of an automobile, receiving and transferring an automobile, unauthorized use of a vehicle, possession of a stolen vehicle, and larceny or taking of an automobile.

Forgery—Includes forging of a driver's license, official seals, notes, money orders, credit or access cards or names of such cards or any other documents with fraudulent intent, uttering a forged instrument, counterfeiting, and forgery.

Fraud—Includes possession and passing of worthless checks or money orders, possession of false documents or identification, embezzlement, obtaining money by false pretenses, credit card fraud, welfare fraud, Medicare fraud, insurance claim fraud, fraud, swindling, stealing a thing of value by deceit, and larceny by check.

Other property offenses—Includes receiving or buying stolen property, arson, reckless burning, damage to property, criminal mischief, vandalism, criminal trespassing, possession of burglary tools, and unlawful entry for which the interest is unknown.

Prosecution and legal services
Includes the civil and criminal justice activities of the attorneys general, district attorneys, state's attorneys (and their variously named equivalents), and corporation counsels, solicitors, and legal departments with various names.

Public defender
A salaried staff of full-time or part-time attorneys that renders indigent criminal defense services through a public or private nonprofit organization, or as direct government paid employees.

Public defense
Legal counsel and representation in either criminal or civil proceedings as provided by public defenders and other government programs that pay the fees of court-appointed counsel.

Public-order offenses
Weapons offenses—Includes the unlawful sale, distribution, manufacture, alteration, transportation, possession, or use of a deadly weapon or accessory.

Driving-related offenses—Includes driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and any other felony in the motor vehicle code.

Other public-order offenses—Includes flight/escape, parole or probation violations, prison contraband, habitual offender, obstruction of justice, rioting, libel, slander, treason, perjury, prostitution, pandering, bribery, and tax law violations.

Real property cases
Cases concerning ownership or division of real property (excluding mortgage foreclosures, which are included under contracts).

Final act of a judge-ruled process, and also the symbolic principal act connected to his function. The sentence generally involves a decree of imprisonment, a fine, and/or other punishments against a defendant convicted of a crime.

Tort cases (torts)
Cases concerning ownership or division of real property (excluding mortgage foreclosures, which are included under contracts).

A wrongful act, not including a breach of contract or trust, that results in injury to another's person, property, reputation, or the like, and for which the injured party is entitled to compensation.

Trial court
The court in which a controversy is first adjudicated.

Tribal court
As defined in the Indian Tribal Justice Technical and Legal Assistance Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-559), the term "tribal court," "tribal court system," or "tribal justice system" means the entire judicial branch, and employees thereof, of an Indian tribe, including, but not limited to, traditional methods and fora for dispute resolution, trial courts, appellate courts, including inter-tribal appellate courts, alternative dispute resolution systems, and circuit rider systems, established by inherent tribunal authority whether or not they constitute a court of record.

Tribal wellness courts
Courts within the tribal justice system that incorporate the wellness concept to meet the specific substance abuse needs of each tribal community. They include tribal healing to wellness courts and tribal hybrid courts.

Types of financial release
Surety bond—Bail bond company signs a promissory note to the court for the full bail amount and charges the defendant a fee for the service (usually 10% of the full bail amount). If the defendant fails to appear, the bond company is liable to the court for the full bail amount. Frequently the bond company requires collateral from the defendant in addition to the fee.

Deposit bond—Defendant deposits a percentage (usually 10%) of the full bail amount with the court. The percentage of the bail is returned after the disposition of the case, but the court often retains a small portion for administrative costs. If the defendant fails to appear in court, he or she is liable to the court for the full bail amount.

Full cash bond—The defendant posts the full bail amount in cash with the court. If the defendant makes all court appearances, the cash is returned. If the defendant fails to appear in court, the bond is forfeited.

Property bond—Involves an agreement made by a defendant as a condition of pretrial release requiring that property valued at the full bail amount be posted as an assurance of his or her appearance in court. If the defendant fails to appear in court, the property is forfeited. Also known as "collateral bond."

Types of nonfinancial release
Release on recognizance (ROR)—The court releases the defendant on a signed agreement that he or she will appear in court as required. This includes citation releases in which arrestees are released pending their first court appearance on a written order issued by law enforcement or jail personnel.

Unsecured bond—The defendant pays no money to the court but is liable for the full amount of bail should he or she fail to appear in court.

Conditional release—Defendants are released under specified conditions. Monitoring or supervision, if required, is usually done by a pretrial services agency. In some cases, such as those involving a third-party custodian or drug monitoring and treatment, another agency may be involved in the supervision of the defendant. Conditional release sometimes includes an unsecured bond.

Veterans courts
Serve justice-involved veterans and sometimes active duty personnel. Courts link veterans facing mental illness, drug addiction or abuse, or reintegration issues to services, intensive treatment, and support while promoting sobriety, recovery, and stability. Services may include a coordinated response from traditional partners and the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare networks, Veterans Benefits Administration, State Departments of Veterans Affairs, volunteer veteran mentors, and organizations that support veterans' families. They include veterans drug treatment and mental health courts.

Violent offenses
Murder—Includes homicide, nonnegligent manslaughter, and voluntary homicide. It excludes attempted murder (classified as felony assault), negligent homicide, involuntary homicide, or vehicular manslaughter, which are classified as other violent offenses.

Rape—Includes forcible intercourse, sodomy, or penetration with a foreign object. It does not include statutory rape or nonforcible acts with a minor or someone unable to give legal consent, nonviolent sexual offenses, or commercialized sex offenses.

Robbery—Includes unlawful taking of anything of value by force or threat of force. It includes armed, unarmed, and aggravated robbery, carjacking, armed burglary, and armed mugging.

Assault—Includes aggravated assault, aggravated battery, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, felony assault or battery on a law enforcement officer, and other felony assaults. It does not include extortion, coercion, or intimidation.

Other violent offenses—Includes vehicular manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, negligent or reckless homicide, nonviolent or nonforcible sexual assault, kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, child or spouse abuse, cruelty to a child, reckless endangerment, hit-and-run with bodily injury, intimidation, and extortion.

Youth specialty courts
Serve juvenile offenders and address underlying issues that result in court involvement. They include youth/teen courts and truancy courts.

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