10 Common Legal Terms You Need to Know - Carlos Gamino

By Carlos Gamino

If you’re like most people who have been accused of a crime, you’re not entirely sure what all the legal terms you keep hearing mean. This guide walks you through ten terms you need to know, including:

  1. Defendant
  2. Bond
  3. Misdemeanor
  4. Felony
  5. Prosecutor
  6. Conviction
  7. Incarceration
  8. Extended supervision
  9. Dismissal
  10. Appeal


The defendant in a case is the person who’s been accused of a crime. The other party – typically the state – is the plaintiff.

Related: 3 signs you need a criminal defense lawyer


In the state of Wisconsin, there are a handful of ways you can get out of jail before your trial. You may be able to sign a bond that says you’ll pay a certain fee if you don’t show up to your court hearing, you may have to pay a cash bond (which is also known as bail), or you may be able to ask another adult aged 21 or over to help you come up with a 10 percent surety bond that you’ll forfeit to the court if you don’t show up.


A misdemeanor is a crime that has a penalty of no more than 9 months in jail and fines of no more than $10,000. There are three classes of misdemeanors in Wisconsin: Class A, Class B and Class C, with Class A being the most severe.


Wisconsin law defines a felony as “A crime punishable by imprisonment in the Wisconsin state prisons.” Like misdemeanors, felonies are classified alphabetically and include:

  • Class A, B, C, D, F, G, H, I. To learn more, you can review information on Wisconsin sentencing laws here.

Some felonies are unclassified. Class A felonies are the most severe (and come with the harshest punishments).

Related: How much time will I serve if I’m convicted of a felony in Wisconsin?


The prosecutor is the state’s attorney. He or she represents the state (against you) in a criminal case.


When you’re found guilty of a crime, you have a conviction.


Incarceration means imprisonment. Many crimes in Wisconsin result in initial confinement – the time that you’re in jail or prison – plus extended supervision.

Extended Supervision

Extended supervision is probation. You’ll still be supervised by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and you’ll still be serving your sentence – but you won’t be confined to jail or prison, and you’ll be supervised within your community.


In some cases, the court dismisses a case. A dismissal is a judge’s decision to end your case.


When you ask a higher court to review a lower court’s decision or a sentence because the lower court made an error, you’re making an appeal. It’s a lot like going to the next-higher supervisor when you disagree with something your boss does or when you need to make a complaint against your boss.

Have You Been Accused of a Crime?

If you’ve been accused of committing a crime in Milwaukee or any of the surrounding communities, we may be able to help you. We’ll listen to your side of the story, answer your questions and explain everything that happens, step by step.

Call us right now at 414-383-6700 for a free case review with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Carlos Gamino