Nulla poena sine lege: This Latin phrase simply means that there can be no punishment for an act where there is no law against it.
Corpus delicti rule: The Latin phrase means “body of evidence,” as in the evidence or proof that a murder has actually occurred. Usually a body is handy, but in some cases there is no body, so the burden to prove that there was a murder rests with the prosecution. The rule also restricts the admissibility of confessions obtained outside a court room. A person can’t be convicted of a crime to which he confessed without corroborating evidence.
Felony: A felony is any crime punishable by death or that requires incarceration in a state facility. All other crimes are considered misdemeanors. In California, crimes that could be considered either are called wobbler crimes. In such cases prosecutors can choose whether to charge an individual with a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the person’s history and the severity of the crime. Weirdly enough, anyone convicted of a wobbler felony may later petition the court to have it reduced to a misdemeanor. If this is successful, the individual may regain certain rights denied convicted felons, such as the right to own or possess firearms.
Felony murder: A murder that occurs during the commission of a felony.
Depraved-heart murder: A murder that results from an act so reckless and indifferent to the safety of others that it demonstrates a complete disregard for human life.
Infamous crimes: A crime that renders the person convicted so untrustworthy that it disqualifies them as a witness. This categorization was introduced mostly to prevent the presentation of evidence the does not merit belief. Prosecutors run into it when using testimony of convicted killers in court.
Barratry: The filing of frivolous law suits.
Criminal contempt: Acting disrespectfully towards the court in an effort to bring disrepute to the court or to obstruct the administration of justice.
Cruel and unusual punishment: Punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, such as burning at the stake, crucifixion, or breaking on the wheel and any punishment whose method is cruel or degrading and whose amount is disproportionate to the crime. This includes excessive fines. The general guideline is that the punishment should not shock the conscience.
Mayhem: In criminal law mayhem refers to an act that willfully and violently disables a person in such as way as to render them unable to fight or defend themselves. This includes hacking off, maiming or disfiguring a person’s extremities, tongue, eye, nose, ear or lip.
Malicious mischief: Intentional damage to another’s property, like vandalism.
Expungement: The lawful act of physically destroying arrest records, legal records and court proceedings so that no one may ever access them, read them, or use them again. In some cases a defendant may ask a court to order that a crime be expunged from their record.