A legal glossary of Trump's court cases

Former President Donald Trump at a Pray Vote Stand Summit in Washington, D.C.
Former President Donald Trump at a Pray Vote Stand Summit in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

In a span of five months this year, former President Donald Trump was indicted on a total of 91 felony counts across four separate criminal cases: the Manhattan hush money case, the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case, the Jan. 6 election fraud case and the Georgia election conspiracy case.

With Trump and others facing the possibility of standing trial, the first half of 2024 is shaping up to be an extremely busy election year for the Republican Party’s presidential frontrunner.

In the most recent case, it has been over a month since Trump and 18 of his allies were indicted on criminal charges stemming from an investigation into their efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

Five of Trump’s co-defendants, including former chief of staff Mark Meadows, have since requested that their case be moved from a Georgia court to a federal court. Meadows’s bid was denied. This week, four others have evidentiary hearings to see if their cases will be moved to a federal court: former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, Coffee County GOP Chair Cathleen Latham, Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer and Georgia Republican state Sen. Shawn Still.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee set an expedited trial schedule for two of Trump’s co-defendants, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, in response to their request for a speedy trial. Jury selection will begin on Oct. 23 and McAfee hopes to have a jury seated by Nov. 3, according to a Sept. 14 order.

As for Trump and his remaining 16 co-defendants, McAfee hasn’t set a trial date for the Georgia election fraud case yet — and this is just one of four criminal cases. As hearings and trial dates in each of them come and go, below is an accompanying glossary of legal terms that might be helpful as we navigate through Trump’s legal woes.

Trump, flanked by attorneys, in the courtroom for an arraignment at criminal court in New York City.
Trump, flanked by attorneys, at his arraignment in criminal court in New York City on April 4. (Seth Wenig-Pool/Getty Images)

Affidavit: A written or printed statement that someone makes after promising to tell the truth under oath. This document can be used as evidence in court.

Arraignment: The first time a defendant goes to court in front of a judge in a case. The judge informs the defendant of the charges against them and what rights they have. The defendant answers the charges — this is called a plea — as either not guilty or guilty.

Continuance: A court order to delay a court appearance, hearing or trial until a later date for a legitimate reason. For a variety of reasons, a party may need more time before a proceeding, whether new evidence is discovered or a witness needs to be found. A continuance can be requested by either side in a dispute, or by the presiding judge.

Evidentiary hearing: A legal court proceeding where only evidence — which can include witness testimony under oath — is presented to the court before the presiding judge. In criminal cases, it’s used to determine whether certain evidence can be presented at trial.

Felony: A serious crime, usually punishable by at least one year in prison for a Class E felony — typically an offense like theft or assault — while a Class A felony, such as murder, can be punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.

Grand jury: A panel made up of members of the public chosen at random. A grand jury consists of between 16 and 23 people, who determine whether to bring criminal charges against a person. Grand juries are typically used in criminal cases, especially when felony charges are at stake. A trial jury is different and is tasked with deciding whether a person is guilty of a crime. All juries are expected to be fair and impartial.

Hearing: A formal proceeding before a court, which usually consists of a brief session to address any specific questions before a full trial occurs.

Indictment: A formal, documented accusation that a person committed a crime; it includes the basic information of the charges they face. Indictments are handed down by a grand jury, which requires a simple majority to issue one, and can be issued at the federal or state level.

Insurrection: The act of an organized and usually violent uprising against an established government. A person convicted of insurrection under federal law faces a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and is disqualified from holding federal office.

Misdemeanor: A type of criminal offense that’s typically punishable by less than a year in prison. It’s considered a lesser crime than a felony, which has harsher penalties.

Motion to suppress: In a criminal case, a request made by a defendant before a trial to exclude certain evidence the prosecutor would use against the defendant.

Perjury: A crime someone commits when they knowingly and intentionally make false statements under oath, or they sign a legal document that they know to be false or that has false statements. While penalties can vary under different state jurisdictions, perjury is considered a felony under federal law that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Pleading not guilty: A defendant who is accused of a crime denies the criminal charges against them and asserts their innocence.

Pleading the Fifth: The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects a person from being “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” among other rights related to legal proceedings. A person “pleads the Fifth” when they want to avoid answering questions to avoid incriminating themselves.

RICO: Short for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, this is a 1970 federal law designed to help fight organized crime. It essentially made it easier to charge mob bosses, who were several layers above the people actually carrying out the crimes. Georgia’s RICO statute is much broader than the federal version, and it’s what Trump and his 18 co-defendants are charged under for their alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state. A Georgia RICO conviction would mean Trump and his allies could face a minimum prison sentence of five years.

Sedition: A form of communication or an act used to encourage people to use violent action against the government, whether by force to overthrow the state or by preventing it from implementing its authority to enforce the law. Seditious conspiracy — a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison — occurs when two or more people plot to overthrow the U.S. government or “prevent, hinder, or delay the execution” of U.S. law by force.

Subpoena: A legal document that requires a person to appear before a court or in another legal proceeding (such as a congressional hearing) and testify as a witness or produce documents related to the case.

Treason: Narrowly defined in the U.S. Constitution, it reads: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” As a matter of federal law, a person found guilty of treason against the U.S. faces stiff penalties of at least five years in prison or death.

Voir dire: Pertaining to jury selection, this French phrase means “to speak the truth.” It’s the process through which lawyers, a judge or both ask potential jurors questions to determine whether they are fit to serve on the panel of jurors during a trial.

These legal glossary terms were compiled using the following sources: justice.gov, Merriam-Webster and Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.