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The NYPD has assembled a list of commonly used law enforcement terms with definitions to help guide you. These definitions are for general use and not intended for legal purposes.

Acquittal: A decision by a judge or jury at trial that a defendant is not guilty of the crime with which the person has been charged.

Administration for Children’s Services (ACS): New York City government agency that protects and promotes safety and well-being of children and families by providing child welfare, juvenile justice, early care, and educational services. 

A.D.A. or ADA: Common abbreviations for Assistant District Attorney. See Assistant District Attorney.

Adoption: The process of requesting permanent legal responsibility of a child. A family court judge decides whether to approve an adoption request.

Appeal: Request to have a higher court reverse the decision of a lower court.

Arraignment: The initial step in a criminal prosecution where a defendant is brought before the court to hear the charges against him/her, and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

Arrest: Taking a person into custody.

Assistant District Attorney (A.D.A.): Prosecutors who work for the district attorney and represent the people in a criminal case. Each of the five boroughs has its own district attorney's office.

Bail: Cash or bond required by a court for the release of a defendant to ensure that he/she will return to court on a future date. 

Bench Warrant: An order to arrest a person who did not show up for his/her assigned court date.

Calendar Part: The section of the court where motions and pleas are heard.

Child Protective Services Proceeding: The process of deciding if a child, less than 18 years of age, has been or is in danger of being abused or neglected. A family court judge decides whether the accusations are true and what steps are necessary to protect the child.

Child Support: A parent’s legal obligation to financially support a child. Financial support is usually provided by the non-custodial parent of the child to the custodial parent. A family court judge decides whether a non-custodial parent must provide this financial support to the custodial parent.

Compensation: Reimbursement provided to victims of crime for certain expenses related to the crime not covered by insurance or other resources (e.g., workers' compensation).

Complaint Report: A document to record when a person reports an allegation of an unlawful or improper act to the New York City Police Department. A police officer will normally complete this document.

Conditional Discharge: A sentence that releases an offender from prison without supervision, but sets rules and guidelines that he/she has to follow.

Conviction: A decision by a jury or judge that a person is guilty of a crime.

Court: A government facility where legal issues are resolved by judges or juries.

Criminal Court: The court in which misdemeanor and violation cases are handled, as well as arraignments and preliminary hearings in felony cases.

Custody Hearing: The process of awarding responsibility of caring for a child to one or both of the child's parents or another party. A family court judge decides who obtains custody of a child.

Defendant: A person who is charged with committing a crime.

Defense Attorney: The lawyer who represents the defendant before the court.

Desk Appearance Ticket (D.A.T.): A form issued by a police officer instead of detention for misdemeanors, violations and selected Class "E" felonies. A person given a D.A.T. will be required to appear in court at a future date. Eligibility requirements include: having photograph identification with a verifiable New York State address, no warrants, not a family offense, the crime allows for a D.A.T., not a sex crime, not having a suspended driver's license, among others.

Docket Number: A number that identifies a court case in criminal court.

Dismissal: When a judge drops the charges against a defendant.

District Attorney: An attorney/prosecutor who is elected to represent the people of the state in bringing charges against a suspect in a court of law. New York City has five district attorneys, each representing a county (Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, Richmond).

Domestic Incident Report (DIR): An official New York State form used by police officers to document a domestic violence incident.

Evidence: Any proof legally presented at trial by witnesses, records, and/or exhibits to prove that a crime did or did not occur.

Family Offense: An incident involving a person who has been hurt, threatened, harassed or stalked by someone who is related to him/her by blood or marriage (or former marriage), have a child together, lived together (or formerly lived together), or are or have been in an intimate relationship regardless of whether such individuals have lived together at any time. Family offenses are handled in family and criminal court.

Felony: A crime that is punishable by a term of imprisonment for more than one year.

Fine: A sentence imposed as a penalty for an offense that requires the person who committed the violation of law to pay a specific amount of money.

Foster Care: A program placing children in the care and custody of the Administration for Children's Services (ACS), or a certified child-care agency. A family court judge decides whether to place a child in foster care.

Furlough: An approved temporary release of an inmate. Inmates must meet specific standards to be granted this privilege and be in the final year of their sentence.

Grand Jury: A group of 23 people who hear evidence presented by prosecutors, and determine if there is enough proof to file charges (indictments) in felony cases. 

Guardianship: Legal arrangement where a court gives a person the legal right to make decisions for another person who is unable to make decisions for him/herself due to age, incapacity or disability. Guardianship cases are handled by family court, supreme court or the surrogate's court. 

Hearing: A court proceeding where evidence, witnesses, and arguments are presented to a judge or jury in order to determine a decision on an issue in a case.

Homeless Intake Center: A facility where homeless individuals go to apply for shelter or housing assistance.

Indeterminate Sentence: A type of sentence of imprisonment that does not specify a definite length of time, but instead includes a range of time.

Indictment: A formal document presented to a court for prosecution and voted by the grand jury that contains charges against an individual who has committed a crime.

Individual Counseling: One-on-one meeting with a mental health professional to discuss an individual's emotional, social, or behavioral concerns.

Inmate: A person detained in a prison, hospital, or other facility.

Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) Court: Court that allows a single judge to hear multiple case types – criminal, family and matrimonial – that relate to one family where the underlying issue is domestic violence.

Jail: A place of detention for people who are serving short sentences after a conviction of a misdemeanor, or defendants who are awaiting trial or sentencing. Jails are usually run by city or local governments.

Judge: A public official appointed or elected to hear and decide legal matters in court.

Jurisdiction: The specific area, usually defined by subject matter and/or geography, over which a court, prosecutor or other law enforcement official has authority to interpret and apply the law.

Jury (jurors): A selected group of 6 or 12 people who are responsible for listening to the facts of a case, and determining whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty.

Juvenile Delinquent: A person between 7 and 15 years of age who has violated the law. A family court judge decides if the individual needs supervision, treatment, or detention in a facility away from home.

Member of Service (MOS): A civilian or uniformed employee of the New York City Police Department.

Misdemeanor: A crime punishable by probation, a fine, or up to one year in jail.

Motion: A written or oral request asking the court to make a specific ruling or order on a case.

Offender: An individual who has committed a crime.

Parole: The early release of a prisoner who was convicted of a felony before the entire sentence is served. Inmates who are granted parole are required to report to a parole officer and follow specific conditions set by the parole board.

Parole Board: Government body that decides whether prisoners may be released from jail before their sentence is complete. 

Paternity: A legal determination of fatherhood. This individual may have rights to custody or visitation, and may be responsible for paying child support.

Perpetrator: Person who commits a crime.

Person in Need of Supervision (PINS): A person less than 18 years of age who does not attend school, is disobedient and beyond the lawful control of a parent or other person legally responsible for such child’s care. Based upon evidence and testimony presented, a family court will decide whether the child is in need of supervision or treatment.

Plea: A formal response of "guilty," "not guilty," or "no contest" to a criminal charge.

Plea Agreement: A compromise between a defendant, judge and prosecutor, where the defendant admits he/she is guilty of a crime, in exchange for a specific sentence or reduction of the charges.

Precinct: A designated geographic area where police units are responsible for safety and law enforcement. New York City is divided into 77 patrol precincts. 

Preliminary Hearing: A criminal hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute an accused person.

Prison: A place of detention for persons who were convicted of a felony. Prisons are run by the state or federal government.

Probable cause: Sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected with a crime.

Probation: A court-imposed criminal sentence with specific restrictions and conditions that releases a convicted person into the community under supervision. 

Prosecutor: A lawyer who represents the government in a criminal case, also known as the district attorney or the assistant district attorney (A.D.A.).

Release on Own Recognizance (R.O.R.): A deposition where a court has decided that a defendant is likely to appear in court at a future date, and no bail is required for the defendant’s release prior to trial.

Residential Reentry Center: A transitional housing facility designed to provide assistance to inmates who are nearing release from prison. It offers various programs and services to help them adjust back into the community after their release.

Restitution: Sentence requiring a defendant to pay a victim reimbursement for his/her losses, which is ordered at the time of sentencing.

Safety Plan: A safety plan is a personalized, practical list of strategies that can help you reduce or eliminate dangerous situations, and know the best way to react when you are at risk.

Sentence: A punishment assigned to the defendant found guilty by court.

The Supreme Court of the State of New York: The court in which felonies are tried in the state of New York.

Supportive Counseling: Therapeutic approach designed to improve, reinforce, or sustain an individual’s psychological well-being.

Suspect: A person believed to have committed a crime.

Suspended Sentence: A type of sentence that is withheld or postponed either immediately after conviction or during the term; the court may reinstate the sentence if the defendant is arrested for another crime.

Term of Imprisonment: A period of time served in jail or prison by a person who has been convicted of a crime.

Trial: A court proceeding where a judge or jury decides whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty of a crime based on evidence and testimony presented.

Unconditional Discharge: The release of a defendant without any conditions or limitations.

Victim Advocate: An individual trained to support victims of crime, offering them information, emotional support, and help in finding resources and navigating paperwork and the court system.

Victim Impact Statement:  A written, audio-taped, video-taped, or for certain crimes, in-person account of how the crime affected the victim and/or his/her family and friends.

Victim Notification System (VNS): A computer controlled system by which victims of federal crimes are informed about the release of, or the escape of, the offender(s) who perpetrated that crime.

Violation: An offense punishable by a fine or up to 15 days in jail.

Visitation: A petition filed by a non-custodial parent to see and spend time with his/her child. A family court judge decides visitation cases. 

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

Witness: A person who sees an event, typically a crime or an accident, that takes place.