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La Defensa, a project of Tides Advocacy, is leading a movement to decarcerate the largest jail population in the United States–the LA County jail system–by reducing the power and scope of the judiciary, law enforcement and the legal injustice system. Rate My Judge is a campaign of La Defensa.

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Here you will find frequently asked questions, key terms, and definitions to ensure the information on this platform is accessible and digestible to all.

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Key Terms

The official that makes legal decisions in the courtroom. This includes setting bail conditions and the amount of money bail, as well as granting or denying requests from the prosecutors and defense attorneys – such as requests to dismiss charges or to waive or impose fees or fines.

Court employees that assist the judge, oversee the flow of cases and records.

The person being prosecuted; the person facing criminal charges.

The attorney that brings charges against the defendant on behalf of the government. Sometimes referred to as “the People.”

A prosecutor employed by the city.

A prosecutor employed by the county.

The attorney representing the defendant.

An attorney employed by the county to represent people who cannot afford to hire their own attorneys.

An attorney employed by the county to represent people who cannot afford to hire their own attorneys in cases where there is a conflict that prevents the public defender from representing the person.

An attorney who is appointed by and paid by the court to represent someone who cannot afford to hire their own attorney in an individual case.

A person representing themselves without an attorney.

Uniformed Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies serving as court security.


Money a person is required to give to be released from custody.

A list adopted by the court that recommends the amount of bail a person should pay for different charges.

An order given by the court to arrest a person who didn’t do what the court ordered. For example, a bench warrant might be issued if a person didn’t appear in court or didn’t pay a fine when they were required to do so.

The official list of cases before the court, which may note the status or action required for each case. We will refer to the early list of cases available on the LA Superior Court website as the “calendar.” We will refer to the updated list of cases only available on the day of court as the “docket.”

The specific law the person is accused of violating.

Work that the court orders a person to perform as punishment, often for a nonprofit organization as an alternative to paying fines.

Work that the court orders a person to perform as punishment. Often involves outdoor physical labor, such as roadside cleanup for Caltrans.

When a person is held in jail during their criminal case.

Referral of a defendant to services or a mandatory program instead of jail. Diversion can be “informal” – meaning a person can have their case dismissed if they meet the terms of their diversion without pleading guilty. In other cases, diversion is “formal” and requires the person to first enter a plea that can later be withdrawn.

Money a convicted person must pay as punishment.

Money a person must pay to cover administrative costs relating to criminal proceedings or to raise funds for local government.

Condition of release from jail requiring someone to wear an ankle monitor. Often, the person has to pay a fee for the monitoring. The monitor tells the probation department where the person is and notifies probation if the person violates other conditions of release.

A minor violation of law that cannot be punished by time in prison.

A crime that can be punished up to 1 year in jail. Less serious than a felony, more serious than an infraction.

Release without any financial conditions based on a promise to return to court.

Money a convicted person must pay to raise funds for different state programs.

A report that the Probation department puts together to make recommendations to the judge about whether and on what conditions someone should be released from jail before trial.

A defendant’s answer to the criminal charges against them. A person can plead “not guilty” to continue fighting the charges, or they can plead “guilty” or “no contest.” Plea bargaining is the process of negotiation between the prosecution and defense to settle the case. For example, the defendant may agree to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser charge.

Formal probation is an alternative to imprisonment in which the judge releases a convicted defendant under supervision of a probation officer that makes sure the defendant follows certain rules (for example, gets a job, completes a drug counseling program). People also sometimes use the word “probation” as shorthand for the Probation Department, which is in charge of supervising defendants who are serving probation terms. Some defendants receive “summary probation” which means they are not supervised by the Probation Department but have to check in and provide progress reports to the court.

Allegation by Probation Department, prosecutor, or court that a person who is on probation violated a term of their probation. The judge decides whether there is enough evidence to decide whether someone violated their term of probation at a separate hearing.

An update from the defendant on the completion of their diversion or other commitment to the court. Often, the lawyer appears on behalf of the defendant for a progress report.

When a person is sent back to jail instead of being released.

Money a convicted person is ordered to pay into a state fund that is supposed to help victims of crime.

A fine that does not have to be paid at that time.

A fee or fine that does not have to be paid at all.