Glossary of Court Terms

Adjudicate: To make a final decision whether a youth (Family Division) is “delinquent” or an adult (Criminal Division) is “guilty”; to give a judgment or a decree.

Affidavit: A written statement of fact, signed and sworn to in front of a notary or a person who has the right to administer an oath; typically a law enforcement officer.

Arraignment: This is the first hearing in the Criminal Division when the defendant is informed of criminal charges and enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If a denial of guilt is entered, the next stage will be a Pre-trial Hearing or a Trial. If an admission of guilt is entered, the next hearing will be the sentencing hearing. This is a public hearing and anyone can be present. Defendants released from court prior to resolution of the case may be given “conditions of release” by the judge.

Charge: The alleged violation of law.

Citation: Document given by a police agency informing an individual of the date and time to appear before the Family Division for a preliminary hearing in a juvenile case (33 V.S.A. § 5221) or for arraignment in the Criminal Division.

Continuance: A request made by a party for postponement of a scheduled hearing.

Criminal Division: A trial court that has jurisdiction over all criminal proceedings.

Defendant: The person against whom a civil or criminal action is taken.

Delinquent Act: An act by a juvenile designated a crime under the laws of this state, or of another state if the act occurred there, or under federal law.

Delinquent Child: Any child (minor or juvenile) who has been adjudged to have committed a delinquent act and is still subject to the jurisdiction of the Family Division.

Department for Children and Families (DCF): Division of the Agency of Human Services that provides assistance, care and services to families and provides care of children when the family is unable to provide the necessary care and protection.
Disposition Hearing: If a youth admits to the allegations or the judge finds a youth delinquent, the Department for Children & Families (DCF) prepares a Disposition Case Plan. This proposed plan of services includes what the youth needs to do to address the issues that brought the youth to court.

District Court: See Criminal Division

Family Division: A trial court that has jurisdiction over all family cases, including divorce, child support, parentage, domestic abuse and juvenile cases.

Guardian (Legal): Person who, at the time of the beginning of the Family Division proceeding, has legally established rights to a child pursuant to an order of a Vermont probate court or a similar court in another jurisdiction.

Guardian Ad Litem: The court appointed volunteer who looks out for the best interest of a child.

Juvenile: A person under eighteen years of age; see “Minor” below.

Law Enforcement: There are many law enforcement agencies in Vermont that can issue citations. Law enforcement includes city or town police officers, County Sheriff’s deputies, Vermont State Police troopers, as well as other state agencies such as the Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Merits Hearing: A merits hearing is a Court hearing at which evidence and testimony by witnesses are presented to either support or refute the allegations of the petition.

Minor: Any person under the age of 18 years old. See Juvenile above.

Motion: Written request to a court for an order granting any kind of relief.

Notice of Appearance: A paper filed in court notifying the court and the other parties that a party (or their lawyer) is participating in the case.

Petition: A document filed by the state in the Family Division that sets forth the allegations that a juvenile is either delinquent or in need of care or supervision.

Pre-trial Hearing: This is a hearing to keep the judge informed of all issues to be resolved. The judge may proceed directly to the Merits stage. The youth may admit to the allegations at this stage. If an admission is entered, the next hearing will be a disposition hearing.

Pre-trial Meeting/Hearing: A Court hearing during which plea negotiations are usually made.

Preliminary Hearing: This is the first hearing in the Family Division. During the hearing the youth will be asked to admit or deny the allegations stated in the petition and affidavit. If a denial is entered, the next hearing will be a Pre-trial Hearing or a Merits Hearing. If an admission is entered, the next hearing will be a disposition hearing.

Probable Cause: The determination by a judge that there is reason to believe that a crime or a delinquent act has occurred.

Probation: (1) An Order issued once a juvenile is adjudicated a delinquent child which may include standard and/or special conditions necessary for the juvenile’s rehabilitation, supervised by the Department for Children and Families (DCF). (2) A suspended prison sentence imposed in a criminal case, in which the defendant is placed under the supervision of the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Public Defender: A lawyer paid by the State who represents people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer.

Released on Conditions: A list of conditions that someone must abide by while waiting for adjudication and disposition of the case.

Restitution: A condition of probation requiring the defendant to repay the victim his/her loss.

Sealing of Records: A procedure for safeguarding release of information about a court proceeding such that the proceeding is considered never to have occurred and no files or records of a proceeding are acknowledged to exist.

Sentencing: If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty after the trial, the judge will schedule a sentencing hearing.

State’s Attorney: The lawyer who represents the State. (County prosecutor)

Statutes: Laws enacted by the Legislature. Statutes of the State of Vermont are contained in volumes of the Vermont Statutes Annotated (V.S.A.). Laws governing juvenile procedures are found in Title 33, Chapters 51-53 and are available online (

Subpoena: An order to compel someone to come to a court on a certain date and time; there are penalties if that person doesn’t come to court. It can also order a person to produce certain papers or records.

Trial: If the case goes to trial, a judge or jury will decide whether there is enough evidence to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Victim: A person who has suffered direct physical, emotional, or financial harm as a result of crime or delinquency
Witness: A person who has information or evidence concerning a crime, and provides information regarding his or her knowledge to a law enforcement agency.

Youtful Offender Status: If a youth between 10 and 18 years old at the time of the offense is charged in the Criminal Division, any party may file a motion requesting the defendant be treated as a juvenile youthful offender. A youthful offender receives a Family Division disposition rather than a Criminal Division disposition. Upon successful completion of disposition, Youth Offender cases are dismissed in the Family Division and dismissed and expunged in the Criminal Division. Supervision may continue to age 22.

Adapted from glossaries on the Vermont Judiciary website: