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Peremptory Challenge

  • A peremptory challenge is made by an attorney who wishes to have a person excused from jury service without giving or having to justify a reason that they would be an unsuitable juror.

    There is a notable exception to this called a Batson challenge. The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Batson v. Kentucky (1986) that peremptory challenges cannot legally be used to remove jurors on the basis of their race alone. The court expanded the list of impermissible reasons for a peremptory challenge to include sex in J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B. (1994). Some states include other reasons as well. This is an area of ongoing litigation, not only to include additional impermissible reasons for peremptory challenges (such as on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, etc.), but also to effectively enforce the currently existing prohibitions.

    In most trials, the number of peremptory challenges each side may make is limited and varies according to the type of case and the seriousness of the offense. In general, more peremptory challenges are allowed in criminal trials than in civil trials and more are allowed in progressively more serious criminal cases, with the most being allowed in capital cases. The number (or a range, especially in the case of trials with multiple defendants) of peremptory challenges is often specified by law.

    Contrast this with a challenge for cause.

    Note: the term is pronounced PERemptory challenge, not PRE-emptory challenge.

Petit Jury, Petty Jury

  • A petit jury, sometimes called a petty jury, is what most people think of when they hear the word jury. This is a body of individuals who listen to an entire trial and then retire to another room to deliberate and decide the case.

    In a criminal trial, the petit jury decides whether the accused is guilty or not guilty of each charge. In all capital cases, and for some lesser criminal offenses in some states, the petit jury is also called upon to decide the sentence if the accused is convicted. In civil cases, the petit jury is responsible for finding for the plaintiff or the defendant, for awarding damages, and sometimes for deciding other matters depending on what is at issue in the case.

    Note: regardless of which spelling is used, the first word in this term is pronounced PETTY, not like PETITE.

Plea Bargain, Plea Deal, Plea Agreement

  • A plea bargain, also referred to as a plea deal or plea agreement, is a deal in which an accused person agrees to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for concessions by the prosecutor. The prosecutor may agree to drop one or more charges, reduce a charge to a less serious one, make certain sentencing recommendations to the judge that are more favorable to the accused, etc.

    Unfortunately, one of the side effects of plea bargaining is that prosecutors then have an incentive to stack charges against the accused. By artificially inflating the number of charges or the seriousness of the charges made, prosecutors leave themselves room to bargain with the excessive or unjustly harsh charges. This gives them unfair leverage with which to bully the accused into forfeiting their right to trial by jury.

Presumption of Innocence

  • One of the key foundations of the criminal legal system in the United States is the principle that the accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

    The prosecution bears the entire burden of proof to prove true beyond reasonable doubt each and every element of a crime a defendant is charged with. If the prosecution fails to do so for one or more charges, the accused is supposed to be considered by the legal system to be innocent of those charges.

    However, whether the legal system actually upholds this standard in practice is called into question by the practice of sentencing on acquitted conduct. This is an area of substantial legal dispute and active litigation.

    See standards of proof.



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