20 Criminal Justice Vocabulary Words to Know

Remember back in elementary school when you would get the weekly vocabulary list to bring home and memorize the definitions and spellings? In our daily lives, we are constantly learning new words and phrases, and as a student studying or looking to study in the field of criminal justice, there are some need-to-know criminal justice vocabulary words. To assist you in learning more about the criminal justice system, we compiled a list of 20 criminal justice vocabulary words to know and understand before you graduate with a justice studies degree.

1. Actus Reus

Definition: Compare mens rea a criminal action regarded as a constituent element of a crime, as compared with the state of mind of the perpetrator.

[Latin, literally: guilty act]

2. Alibi

Definition: the defense by an accused person of having been elsewhere at the time an alleged offense was committed.

3. Arson

Definition: the malicious burning or exploding of the dwelling house of another, or the burning of a building within the cartilage, the immediate surrounding space, of the dwelling of another.

4. Barrister

Definition: a counsel admitted to plead at the bar and undertake the public trial of causes in an English superior court.

5. Crime Control Model

Definition: a model of the criminal justice system that assumes freedom is so important that every effort must be made to repress crime, it emphasize efficiency, speed, finality, and dispose of a high proportion of offenders.

6. Dark Figure of Crime

Definition: a metaphor referring to the dangerous dimension of crime that is never reported to police.

7. Due Diligence

Definition: as a defense to a strict liability offense. Due diligence involves demonstrating that one has undertaken to do everything possible to avoid committing an offense.

8. Evidentiary

Definition: serving as or based on evidence.

9. Miranda Rights

Definition: the requirement set by the U. S. Supreme Court in Miranda v. Alabama (1966) that prior to the time of arrest and any interrogation of a person suspected of a crime, he/she must be told that he/she has: "the right to remain silent, the right to legal counsel, and the right to be told that anything he/she says can be used in court against" him/her. Further, if the accused person confesses to the authorities, the prosecution must prove to the judge that the defendant was informed of them and knowingly waived those rights, before the confession can be introduced in the defendant's criminal trial. The warnings are known as "Miranda Rights" or just "rights."

10. Misdemeanors

Definition: a criminal offense defined as less serious than a felony.

11. Nolo Contendere

Definition: an answer of ‘no contest’ by a defendant who does not admit guilt, but that subjects him to conviction.

12. Parole

Definition: a conditional release from imprisonment that entitles the person to serve the remainder of the sentence outside the prison as long as the terms of release are complied with.

13. Plea Bargaining

Definition: a negotiation in which the defendant agrees to enter a plea of guilty to a lesser charge and the prosecutor agrees to drop a more serious charge.

14. Prosecution

Definition: the institution and carrying on of legal proceedings against a person.

15. Public Policy

Definition: the principle that injury to the public good order constitutes a basis for setting aside, or denying effect to acts or transactions.

16. Remand Home

Definition: a detention home for juvenile offenders aged 8-16 years.

17. Recidivism

Definition: the relapse into crime after the sentence of a convicted offender has been completed, and the subsequent return to the criminal justice system.

18. Summons

Definition: a document that may be served upon a person accused of a crime, requiring the accused individual to appear in court at a certain time and date to answer the charges.

19. Vigilante

Definition: any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.

20. Visible Crime

Definition: offenses against persons and property committed primarily by members of the lower class. These crimes are most upsetting to the public.

With this list of 20 criminal justice vocabulary words to know, which ones came up that you didn’t know or maybe haven’t heard of before? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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Kendall Bird

Kendall is a Social Media Strategist at Collegis Education who is focused on bringing awareness and engagement to Rasmussen College's social media properties. She is passionate about helping others, the power of education and building strategies that put the needs of students first. 


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