Definitions of Technical Terms

Criminal procedure, like all other branches of the law, has technical terms which students need to understand.  The following are some of the terms used in these notes, with explanations of what they mean:

Admit in evidence:  This occurs when a court allows something to be produced in evidence:  the court is said to “admit the thing in evidence”.

Arraignment:  The stage of a criminal at which the accused person is called upon to plead to the charge.

Bail:  The release of a prisoner from custody upon his entering into a written undertaking (a recognizance) to appear in court at a later date and to comply with other conditions that a court may impose upon him.

Charge:  A statement of the crime (or one of the crimes, where the accused person is charged with committing several crimes) which the accused person is alleged to have committed.  It is set out in an indictment (in the case of the High Court) or a charge sheet or summons (in a magistrates court).

Charge sheet:  A document which, in a trial in a magistrates court, sets out the crime or crimes which the accused person is alleged to have committed.

Court:  In the context of criminal procedure, this means the Supreme Court, the High Court or a magistrates court.  More loosely, the word “court” is also used to mean the judge or magistrate who presides over the court.

Court of first instance:  The court that held the trial or first dealt with a particular matter.  Also called “the court a quo”.

Crime (or criminal offence):  An act or omission punishable by the State.  See the next section for more detail.

Defence case:  The case for the accused, i.e. the evidence given for the accused person.

Extra-curial statement:  A statement made by an accused person outside the court.

Indictment:  A document which, in a trial in the High Court, sets out the crime or crimes which the accused person is alleged to have committed.

Judgment:  A statement by a judge or magistrate of the reasons for his or her decision.

Judicial officer:  A judge or magistrate.  A prosecutor is not a judicial officer.

Jurisdiction:  The power of a court to deal with a criminal case.  The court’s jurisdiction may be limited in regard to area ‒ e.g. a magistrate’s jurisdiction may be limited to a particular province ‒ or it may be limited in other ways such as the crimes which a court can deal with (magistrates courts have no jurisdiction to try crimes of murder) or in regard to punishment (e.g. ordinary magistrates cannot impose more than four years’ imprisonment in most cases).

Leading question:  A question that suggests the answer which the questioner wants the witness to give.  For example the question:  “Did you see the accused stab the deceased?” suggests that the witness is supposed to say that the accused stabbed the deceased.  To get the witness to say what he saw without asking a leading question, the questioner should ask:  “What did you see?”

Legally represented:  An accused person is legally represented if he is represented in court by a legal practitioner.

Offence:  Another word for a crime.

Original jurisdiction:  The power of a court to hold a trial or decide a case otherwise than on appeal or review.

Plea:  This is the accused person’s response to the charge, i.e. his answer to the question:  “How do you plead, guilty or not guilty?”.

Produce:  A witness “produces” a document or other thing as evidence in a criminal trial by identifying the thing and, in the case of a document, reading it out, and handing it in to the court.

Quash:  To set aside or nullify.

Recognizance:  In the context of bail, it means a written undertaking whereby a person binds himself to appear in court on a particular date, and to comply with such other conditions as a court may impose.

Recuse:  When a judge or magistrate withdraws from a case, he or she is said to recuse himself or herself.

Re-examination:  Asking questions of one’s witness after the witness has been cross-examined.

Remand:  An accused person or suspect is remanded when a court orders him to appear in court at a later date.  A person may be remanded in custody (i.e. he is kept in prison until his next appearance in court) or out of custody (i.e. he is not kept in prison, though the court may impose restrictions on his movements).

Sentence:  The punishment imposed by a court on a person convicted of a crime.

State:  Strictly this means Zimbabwe.  Public prosecutions are brought in the name of “the State”, i.e. on behalf of society as a whole.  Very often, though, the word “State” is used more loosely to mean the prosecutor or the prosecution, as in “the State leads its evidence” or “the State case”.

Subpoena:  A document ordering a person to appear in court as a witness on a date and at a time specified in the document.

Summary trial:  In the context of magistrates courts, a trial before a magistrate where there has not been a previous hearing of the evidence before another magistrate.  The vast majority of trials in magistrates courts are summary trials.

Summons:  A document ordering a person to appear in a magistrates court to stand trial on a charge specified in the document.  Note that the plural of summons is “summonses”.

Trial de novo:  A new trial.

Trial in camera:  A trial is held in camera when the public is excluded from the courtroom.  The phrase “in camera” is Latin for “in the room”.

Verdict:  The decision, given by the judge or magistrate at the end of a trial, as to whether the accused person is guilty or not guilty.