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Legal Information

Grand Jury

A grand jury's purpose is to investigate alleged crimes, examine evidence, and issue indictments if they believe that there is enough evidence for a trial to proceed. They are an impartial panel of citizens who must determine whether reasonable cause or probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed exists. The grand jury acts as a check on the prosecutorial power of the state.


A formal accusation of a felony, issued by a grand jury after considering evidence presented by a prosecutor. The formal charge issued by a grand jury stating that there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial; it is used primarily for felonies.



The initial appearance before a judge in a criminal case. At an arraignment, the charges against the defendant are read, a lawyer is appointed if the defendant cannot afford one, and the defendant's plea is entered.

Criminal Law Practice. Signifies the calling of the defendant to the bar of the court, to answer the accusation contained in the indictment. It consists of three parts.


I.  Calling the defendant to the bar by his name, and commanding him to hold up his hand; this is done for the purpose of completely identifying the prisoner, as the person named in the indictment; the holding up his hand is not, however, indispensable, for if the prisoner should refuse to do so, he may be identified by any admission that he is the person intended.


II.  The reading of the indictment to enable him fully to understand, the charge to be produced against him; The mode in which it is read is, after' saying, 'A B, hold up your hand,' to proceed, 'you stand indicted by the name of A B, late of, etc., for that you on, etc.' and then go through the whole of the indictment.


III.  After this is concluded, the clerk proceeds to the third part, by adding, 'How say you, A B, are you guilty or not guilty?' Upon this, if the prisoner, confesses the charge, the confession is recorded, and nothing further is done till judgment if, on the contrary, he answers 'not guilty', that plea is entered for him, and the clerk or attorney general, replies that he is guilty; when an issue is formed.

Jury Trial

A civil or criminal trial in which a jury decides any disputed issues of fact. The number of jurors is usually 12 in a criminal trial; the number varies from state to state in a civil trial.

In a jury trial, the jury is selected by the parties through a process called voir dire, where the judge or parties ask jurors questions in order to determine their biases and opinions. (Each side gets to reject a certain number of potential jurors.) After the jury is chosen and sworn in, the parties give opening arguments, present their evidence and give closing arguments. The jury then deliberates; when it reaches a decision, it returns to the courtroom and announces the verdict.

The role of the jury is to decide issues of fact. Parties are entitled to a jury trial by the federal constitution in those types of cases, such as breach of contract, which existed in 1789, the effective date of the constitution. Kinds of cases that have come into existence since then, however, such as divorce (which in 1789 still fell under the religious courts) and actions in juvenile courts, are not guaranteed jury trials. States are free to make jury trials available for such actions, but few have. In fact, only Texas and Georgia permit jury trials for divorces.



A Court is a body, often a governmental institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes and dispense civil, criminal, or administrative justice in accordance with rules of law.  In common law and civil law states, courts are the central means for dispute resolution, and in generally understood that all persons have an ability to bring thei claims before a court.  Persons accused of a crime have the right to present their defense before a court.


 A court has jurisdiction to try and punish offenders against criminal law.



An order directed to an individual commanding him to appear in court on a certain day to testify or produce documents in a pending lawsuit.

A process to cause a witness to appear and give testimony, commanding him to lay aside all pretences and excuses, and appear before a court or magistrate therein named, at a time therein mentioned, to testify for the party named, under a penalty therein mentioned. This is usually called a subpoena ad testificandum.

On proof of service of a subpoena upon the witness, and that he is material, an attachment way be issued against him for a contempt, if he neglect to attend as commanded.

chancery practice. A mandatory writ or process, directed to and requiring one or more persons to appear at a time to come, and answer the matters charged against him or them; the writ of subpoena was originally a process in the courts of common law, to enforce the attendance of a witness to give evidence; but this writ was used in the court of chancery for the game purpose as a citation in the courts of civil and canon law, to compel the appearance of a defendant, and to oblige him to answer upon oath the allegations of the plaintiff.



A legal document that notifies a party that a lawsuit has been initiated and states when and where the party must appear to answer the charges. A notice to the defendant requiring him to serve an answer to the complaint.

The act by which a defendant is notified by a competent officer, that an action has been instituted against him, and that he is required to answer to it at a time and place named. This is done either by giving the defendant a copy of the summons, or leaving it at his house; or by reading the summons to him.

A paper issued by a court informing a person that a complaint has been filed against her (that is, that she has been sued) is called a summons. The summons tells her that she is being sued, by whom, for what, and that she must file a response with the court within a certain time or will lose.

The name of a writ commanding the sheriff, or other authorized officer, to notify a party to appear in court to answer a complaint made against him and in the said writ specified, on a day therein mentioned.


Definitions above were taken from Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary and Wikipedia Encyclopedia Online. 

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