The terms and definitions on this page are relevant to criminal cases in the State of Michigan, United States of America, unless noted otherwise. Criminal laws and procedures in other states and countries may be very different.

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This page provides general information that is intended, but not guaranteed, to be correct, complete and up-to-date. Do not rely, for legal advice, on information given on this page or any externally referenced Internet sites. If you need legal advice upon which you intend to rely in the course of your legal affairs, consult a competent attorney in your area.

If the word you're looking for does not appear on this list, check one of the following websites: Law.com or Nolo’s Law Dictionary.


The legal system can be filled with confusing phrases and terms. This list should help you to understand that system a little better.

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  • Used generally, this title means a judge. In Michigan, it is a quasi-judicial officer in a district court who has the authority to set bail, accept bonds, conduct informal hearings on civil infractions, accept guilty please and impose sentences for traffic violations, and perform marriage ceremonies.

Majority Opinion

  • A written decision of the majority of appellate judges considering the case announcing the court's ruling, and the legal basis for the decision.
  • See also Concurring Opinion and Dissenting Opinion.


  • Intent to commit a wrongful act without just cause or excuse. Evil intent, motive or purpose.


  • Can be a lesser-included offense to murder if the defendant acted out of passion or anger brought about by adequate cause and before the defendant had a reasonable time to calm down.
  • Voluntary Manslaughter: (felony - 15 years and/or $7,500 fine) - defendant caused a death + intended to kill or knowingly created a very high risk of death or great bodily harm knowing that death or such harm would be the likely result.
  • Involuntary Manslaughter: (felony - 15 years and/or $7,500 fine) - defendant caused a death + acted in a grossly negligent manner or intended to injure or commit an assault/battery. "Intent to kill" is not an element.

Marihuana / Marijuana

  • A Schedule 4 controlled substance.
  • Possession of Marijuana (Misdemeanor: 1 year and/or $2,000 fine, license sanctions)
  • Use of Marijuana (Misdemeanor: 90 days and/or $100 fine, license sanctions)

Mens Rea

  • The state of mind of the defendant that the prosecution must prove in order to establish criminal responsibility. Criminal intent. Some crimes require proof of a "specific intent" (i.e., in larcenies, the prosecutor must prove the defendant's specific intent to steal). Other "general intent" crimes require no proof of intent.

Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL)

  • Volumes of books containing the official version of Michigan statutes enacted by the state Legislature. MCLs are published by the Legislative Service Bureau.

Michigan Compiled Laws Annotated (MCLA)

  • Volumes of books containing the text of Michigan statutes, plus brief references to caselaw and legal commentary discussing the statutes. MCLs are published by the West Publishing Company.

Michigan Court Rules (MCR)

  • Rules adopted by the Michigan Supreme Court to govern procedures in all courts.

Michigan Rules of Evidence (MRE)

  • Rules adopted by the Michigan Supreme Court to govern admissibility of evidence in all courts.


  • A youth under a law's age of majority. Procedurally, a youth is considered a minor regarding criminal offenses until his 17th birthday, and are handled in Juvenile Court; offenses committed after his 17th birthday are handled in District Court and Circuit Court. Some crimes have substantive age limits: alcohol offenses have an age of majority of 21, tobacco offenses have an age of majority of 18, etc.

Miranda Warning

  • A warning given by police before custodial interrogation. It advises the person that he does not have to talk to police, and his silence will not be held against him, and his right to legal counsel before talking to police.
  • Refers to a US Supreme Court decision: Miranda v Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966).


  • A crime carrying maximum jail time of one year or less.
  • Exception: a "high court" misdemeanor (e.g., Resisting/Obstructing a Police Officer) can carry up to 2 years in prison, but is not labeled a "felony". High-court misdemeanors are handled procedurally like a felony.


  • A trial declared by a judge to be defective and void, generally due to prejudicial error in the proceedings or a "hung jury" (a jury that could not agree upon a verdict).

Motive  [CJI2d 4.9]

  • Whether the defendant had a reason to commit the alleged crime ... but a reason to commit the crime, by itself, is not enough to find a person guilty of a crime. Motive is not an element of a crime that a prosecutor must prove.


  • In Michigan, all murder is either in the first or second degree.
  • First degree murder: (felony - mandatory life; no parole) - "felony murder" (murder committed in the course of another felony), murdering a peace officer in the line of duty, or "premeditated murder". Murder cannot occur accidentally, the defendant must have intended to kill. Premeditation means that the defendant had time to consider the pros and cons of the killing beforehand.
  • Second degree murder: (felony - life or any term of years) - causing death + intending to kill or do great bodily harm or knowingly creating a very high risk of death or great bodily harm knowing that death or such harm would be the likely result of his/her actions.
  • Open Murder: Michigan law does not require a prosecutor to choose between First Degree or Second Degree Murder when issuing a complaint, or even at trial. A prosecutor may charge "Open Murder", which is a combination of First and Second Degree Murder, and the jury may determine the appropriate degree based on the proofs.