Glossary of Tennessee Criminal Justice Terms 



To find the defendant not guilty in a criminal trial.


A judgment or decree.


A written or printed declaration or statement under oath.


The ruling of an appellate court that the judgment of a lower court is correct and should stand.


Review of a case by a higher court.


The party appealing a decision or judgment to a higher court.


The party against whom an appeal is filed.


A court hearing in a criminal case where a defendant is advised of the charges and asked to plead guilty or not guilty. Most arraignments in Tennessee are held in General Sessions Court.


Bail bond

An agreement by a third party to pay a certain sum of money if the defendant fails to appear in court.

Bench trial

Trial held before a judge sitting without a jury; jury waived trial.

Bench warrant

Process issued by the court or “from the bench” for the attachment or arrest of a person

Binding over

The act by which a court or magistrate requires a person to enter into a recognizance or furnish bail to appear for trial, to keep the peace, to attend as a wetness, etc. Also describes the act of a lower court in transferring a case to a higher court or to the grand jury after a finding of probable cause to believe the defendant committed a crime.


A legal document, prepared by an attorney, which presents the law and facts supporting his or her client.


Civil law

All law that is not criminal law.


Tennessee law has five classifications of felonies and three classifications of misdemeanors. With the exception of first degree murder, all felonies are classified. Each felony has an A, B, C, D, or E classification. “A” is the most serious and “E” is the least serious. Each misdemeanor has either an A, B, or C classification. “A” is the most serious and “C” is the least serious. The statute of limitations for a crime is determined by its class.


A collection of laws promulgated by legislative authority.

Common law

A system of jurisprudence based on precedent (i.e., cases that have already been decided) rather than statutory laws.


Change of punishment from a greater to a lesser degree or ending a sentence that has been partially served.


De novo

“Anew.” A new trial de novo is a completely new trial.


A person charged with a crime or a person against whom a civil action is brought.


Sworn testimony taken outside the courtroom according to the rules of the court.


A pretrial proceeding where a party to an action may be informed of the facts known by other parties or witnesses.

Double jeopardy

The prohibition against more than one prosecution for the same crime.

Due process

Constitutional guarantee that an accused person receives a fair and impartial trial.


Et al.

Abbreviation of the Latin “et alter,” meaning “and others.”

Ex parte

A proceeding brought for the benefit of one party only without notice to or challenge by the adverse party.



A serious criminal offense for which the minimum sentence is one year.


Grand jury

A panel of citizens sworn to inquire into crime and, if appropriate, bring accusations (indictments) against the suspect(s).



A written accusation of a grand jury charging a crime; a formal charging instrument.


Court orders prohibiting specific actions from being carried out.


Written questions which must be answered under oath.



A final determination by a court.

Judgment document

A document that explains the sentence an offender receives from a trial court.


The science of law.


Limited jurisdiction

Courts limited in the types of criminal and civil cases they may hear.


A person or group engaged in a lawsuit.



A criminal offense that is less than a felony and punishable by less than a year in jail.

Mitigating circumstance

A fact that may be considered as reasons for reducing the defendant’s degree of blame.


Oral or written request before, during, or after a trial on which a court issues a ruling or order.



The absence of ordinary care.

Nolo contendere

Latin phrase meaning, “I will not contest it”; a plea in a criminal case which has a similar legal effect as a guilty plea. A defendant may plead nolo contendere only with the consent of the court.



The conditional and revocable release of an inmate by the Board of Parole to parole supervision.

Probable cause

The reasonable belief that a crime has been committed. This is the basis for all lawful searches.


A sentence of confinement which is suspended upon a term of probation supervision. It may include community service or restitution or both. Probation must automatically be considered if the defendant is eligible.

Pro se

Legal representation of oneself.



To send back.


Sentence, concurrent

Two or more sentences which run at the same time.

Sentence, consecutive

Two or more sentences which run one after another.

Sentence, determinate

A sentence that states exactly the time to be served or money to be paid.


A law created by the Legislature.


To halt a judicial proceeding by order of the court.


A written legal notice requiring a person to appear in court and give testimony or produce documentary evidence.

Subpoena duces tecum

Latin phrase meaning “under penalty you shall take it with you.” A process by which the court commands a witness to produce specific documents or records in a trial.



An injury or wrong committed with or without force to the person or property of another giving rise to a claim for damages.



A written court order directing a person to perform or refrain from performing a certain act.

Writ of mandate

An order issued by a court of superior jurisdiction commanding performance of a specific act by an inferior court or public official.

Source: Tennessee State Courts 

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