While we’re not legally entitled to practise the law here at The Likely Suspects HQ, watching hours of The Good Wife means we’ve got better courtroom banter than Alicia Florrick, Suits’ Mike Ross and Rumpole of the Bailey combined.
From affidavits to Alford pleas, check out our guide to the courtroom terminology we’ve picked up from a life spent watching too many legal dramas.
A sworn written statement from a witness. It lays out the evidence that a witness wants to give, and is the standard weapon for any TV legal bod stating their case.
An acquittal is when a defendant is set free from a charge of offence after a not-guilty verdict. Cue sighs of relief all round.
Is it possible to be guilty and not-guilty at the same time? In the confusing world of courtroom dramas, of course it is! Submitting an Alford plea allows a defendant to concede guilt without actually admitting they're guilty, usually to avoid harsh sentencing. Confused? So are we!
Burden of proof
Even the most insidious of criminals must be considered innocent until receiving a guilty verdict. Prosecutors have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed by the accused. The burden of proof is the critical point at which enough evidence has been amassed to lead to a conviction.
A deposition is the testimony of a witness taken outside open court. They require an officer present to ensure everything is said under oath.
A writ of habeas corpus is used to bring a prisoner before the court to determine if their detention is lawful. If a case isn’t going their way, legal teams will often dredge up old convictions in order to bring shocking new evidence to the table. In this day and age? Surely not!
An example of dishonest, illegal or morally corrupt behaviour, especially by a person in authority. In this day and age? Surely not!
A fundamental principle of law is that a crime consists of both a mental and a physical element. You plan a crime, then you grab a baseball bat and make it happen. If a case can’t prove both criminal action and criminal intent, the defendant will be acquitted.
A recusal is the voluntary action by a judge or prosecutor to remove themselves from presiding in a case. Recusals are often based on things like bias, conflict of interest or prejudice. If a lawyer finds themself facing a tricky judge, they might go digging for dirt to ‘persuade’ said judge to recuse themselves.
Most characters on The Good Wife have had more subpoenas than hot dinners. It’s the process that directs a witness to give testimony or submit evidence in court, dramatically administered by handing over a pile of legal papers and shouting, ‘You’ve been served.’
Statute of limitations
Many crimes can only be brought to trial within a certain time frame. The statute of limitations refers to the time within which a lawsuit must be filed for criminal prosecution to begin.
So, there you have it: you’re now fluent in legalese, and it’s time to put your new knowledge to the test. We recommend reading Anatomy of a Scandal and Reputation by Sarah Vaughan for tense courtroom action with a UK flavour. Meanwhile, Kathy Reichs’ books are full of the intricate detail that can turn a case on its head with a shocking forensic revelation.