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5 Confusing Criminal Law Terms in Need of Clarification

By Nicole Johnson, JD on June 01, 2011 9:49 AM

Criminal law can get complicated. If you ever find yourself on shaky grounds with the law, can help you out. No, we can't come to your aid while a big drunk guy starts a fight with you at a bar, but we can point you in the right direction.

We're sure there are plenty of times when you've wanted to ask someone:

"When can I conduct a citizen's arrest?" or "Can I plead the 5th Amendment to the police?"

This stuff is confusing, we know. But fear not, as has an abundance of criminal law articles, blogs, and FAQs you can turn to. With that, here are 5 often-confusing criminal law terms and where to go for clarification:

1. Pleading the Fifth - People say it all the time, but what does it really mean to "plead the Fifth?" It generally has to do with your rights during police questioning. Check out FindLaw's Miranda and the Fifth Amendment section.

2. Legal Insanity - We've heard it time and time again, but when is insanity a defense and when is someone not competent? FindLaw's Blotter article Jared Loughner Incompetent to Stand Trial helps shed some light, as does our Insanity Defense section.

3. Citizens Arrest - Did you know individuals can arrest suspected criminals? Learn About the Law's new citizen's arrest article gives a detailed run-down of the law.

4. Freedom of Speech - First Amendment, free speech, right to privacy. FindLaw's Legalese 101 series explains the proper use and meaning of the phase freedom of speech.

5. Hung Jury - If you're ever on trial for your life, you might hope for a hung jury. That's because if 12 jurors can't agree on your guilt or innocence, the judge may render the case incomplete. The prosecution may or may not decided to retry you before a new jury.

Still have questions? Check out our blog series Legalese 101 to help you understand complicated legal phrases like mens rea, statute of limitations, and plea bargain.

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