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actus reus
A guilty (prohibited) act. The commission of a prohibited act is one of the two essential elements required for criminal liability, the other element being the intent to commit a crime.
arson
The intentional burning of another's dwelling. Some statutes have expanded this to include any real property regardless of ownership and the destruction of property by other means-for example, by explosion.
beyond a reasonable doubt
The standard of proof used in criminal cases. If there is any reasonable doubt that a criminal defendant committed the crime with which she or he has been charged, then the verdict must be "not guilty."
burglary
The unlawful entry or breaking into a building with the intent to commit a felony. (Some state statutes expand this to include the intent to commit any crime.)
computer crime
Any act that is directed against computers and computer parts, that uses computers as instruments of crime, or that involves computers and constitutes abuse.
consent
Voluntary agreement to a proposition or an act of another a concurrence of wills.
crime
A wrong against society proclaimed in a statute and, if committed, punishable by society through fines and/or imprisonment-and, in some cases, death.
cyber crime
A crime that occurs online, in the virtual community of the Internet, as opposed to the physical world.
cyberterrorist
A hacker whose purpose is to exploit a target computer for a serious impact, such as corrupting a program to sabotage a business.
double jeopardy
A situation occurring when a person is tried twice for the same criminal offense prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.
duress
Unlawful pressure brought to bear on a person, causing the person to perform an act that she or he would not otherwise perform.
embezzlement
The fraudulent appropriation of funds or other property by a person to whom the funds or property has been entrusted.
entrapment
In criminal law, a defense in which the defendant claims that he or she was induced by a public official-usually an undercover agent or police officer-to commit a crime that he or she would otherwise not have committed.
exclusionary rule
In criminal procedure, a rule under which any evidence that is obtained in violation of the accused's constitutional rights guaranteed by the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, as well as any evidence derived from illegally obtained evidence, will not be admissible in court.
felony
A crime-such as arson, murder, rape, or robbery-that carries the most severe sanctions, ranging from one year in a state or federal prison to the death penalty.
forgery
The fraudulent making or altering of any writing in a way that changes the legal rights and liabilities of another.
grand jury
A group of citizens called to decide, after hearing the state's evidence, whether a reasonable basis (probable cause) exists for believing that a crime has been committed and that a trial ought to be held.
hacker
A person who uses one computer to break into another. Professional computer programmers refer to such persons as "crackers."
identity theft
The act of stealing another's identifying information-such as a name, date of birth, or Social Security number-and using that information to access the victim's financial resources.
indictment
A charge by a grand jury that a named person has committed a crime.
information
A formal accusation or complaint (without an indictment) issued in certain types of actions (usually criminal actions involving lesser crimes) by a government prosecutor.
insider trading
The purchase or sale of securities on the basis of inside information (information that has not been made available to the public).
larceny
The wrongful taking and carrying away of another person's personal property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Some states classify larceny as either grand or petit, depending on the property's value.
mens rea
Mental state, or intent. A wrongful mental state is as necessary as a wrongful act to establish criminal liability. What constitutes a mental state varies according to the wrongful action. Thus, for murder, the mens rea is the intent to take a life.
misdemeanor
A lesser crime than a felony, punishable by a fine or incarceration in jail for up to one year.
money laundering
Falsely reporting income that has been obtained through criminal activity as income obtained through a legitimate business enterprise-in effect, "laundering" the "dirty money."
petty offense
In criminal law, the least serious kind of criminal offense, such as a traffic or building-code violation.
plea bargaining
The process by which a criminal defendant and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case, subject to court approval usually involves the defendant's pleading guilty to a lesser offense in return for a lighter sentence.
probable cause
Reasonable grounds for believing that a person should be arrested or searched.
robbery
The act of forcefully and unlawfully taking personal property of any value from another. Force or intimidation is usually necessary for an act of theft to be considered robbery.
search warrant
An order granted by a public authority, such as a judge, that authorizes law enforcement personnel to search a particular premise or property.
self-defense
The legally recognized privilege to protect oneself or one's property against injury by another. The privilege of self-defense usually applies only to acts that are reasonably necessary to protect oneself, one's property, or another person.
self-incrimination
The giving of testimony that may subject the testifier to criminal prosecution. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution protects against self-incrimination by providing that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."
white-collar crime
Nonviolent crime committed by individuals or corporations to obtain a personal or business advantage.
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