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Topic-based vocabulary: THE LAW

Degrees of crime

  • Misdemeanour – A minor crime, punishable by a fine or a light jail term
  • Felony [US English] – a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year.
  • Infraction – generally used to describe minor crimes when the law has been broken (e.g. riding a bicycle at night without lights – it’s breaking the law, but you’re not going to prison for it!)


  • Capital punishment (the death penalty) – being put to death by the state for crimes committed
  • Incarcerated – a formal word meaning ‘to be put in prison’
  • Suspended sentence – a person can be found guilty but their time in prison is delayed for a period of time. Often if a person has not broken the law within a given period, the prison time is dismissed.
  • Maximum security – a prison where there prisoners are watched very closely and chances of escape are very low (compare this to minimum security prisons, which are generally more relaxed and reserved for lesser crimes)
  • Damages – this is where the person or company accused of the crime is found guilty and required to pay money to the person / people they have wronged.

Types of crime

NOTE: There are hundreds of different types of crime – the list below covers only the words we think will be most useful in your IELTS test!

  • White collar crime – this refers to non-violent crimes done for money, generally by business and government professionals.
  • Homicide – a more formal (legal) term for murder
  • Larceny – a more formal (legal) term for theft
  • Arson – setting fire to buildings or other property
  • Embezzlement – taking money which the person has been trusted to look after (commonly when people steal money from the company they work for)
  • Forgery – making illegal copies of official documents
  • Fraud – to deceive (trick) someone for illegal gain
  • Hate crime – a crime against a person because of a social group they are considered to belong to (could be race, colour, religion etc)

The people involved

  • Judge – the person responsible for deciding the punishment for a guilty person
  • Defendant – the person in a trial who has been accused of a crime
  • Prosecution – the people who are trying to prove that the defendant is guilty
  • Jury – 12 people who attend a trial and then decide whether the accused person is innocent or guilty.
  • Witness – people that are brought into a trial to give evidence (this can be for the defendant, against the defendant or simply to give factual evidence)
  • Attorney / barrister – these are law professionals that will often be present in court, either defending or prosecuting a case.

The legal process

  • To arrest someone – to take someone into custody
  • A trial – when the evidence against the accused person is considered by a judge and jury
  • Verdict – the decision as to whether the defendant is innocent or guilty
  • Appeal – when the final decision made by the judge is challenged
  • Confession – when the accused person admits they are guilty
  • Testimony – a written or spoken statement

Miscellaneous vocabulary for the law

  • Immunity – when a criminal is not prosecuted for their crime(s) in exchange for their testimony about another criminal


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Topic-based vocabulary: THE LAW

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Topic-based vocabulary: THE LAW