Talk about Crime and The Legal System

Crime is a hot topic. It sells newspapers, it is the source of endless political debate and it has inspired countless books, movies and documentaries. High-profile court cases grab the attention of the public the world over, and recent legal documentaries such as Making a Murderer caused a meltdown on social media! Unfortunately, for non-native English speakers, the vocabulary used to describe legal proceedings and trials can be complicated. This lesson looks at 20 vocabulary words that you can use to talk about crime and the legal system.

You can see the words used in context in the short story below and find the definitions at the bottom of the page! Pay special attention to the collocations and verb – preposition / verb -noun combinations. This vocabulary can be used in the IELTS or Cambridge exams or simply when discussing a recent court case with your friends or colleagues!

Short Story

Peter STOLE money from his boss. Once the company realized the money was missing, they CARRIED OUT AN INVESTIGATION. Peter was very soon UNDER SUSPICION. The police called to Peter’s house and ARRESTED him. He was taken to the police station and INTERROGATED. They decided to CHARGE Peter with THEFT.

On the day of his COURT CASE, Peter went to the COURTHOUSE with his DEFENSE LAWYER. He PLEADED not guilty. Unfortunately for Peter, the PROSECUTION had a lot of EVIDENCE. They also CALLED two WITNESSES who TESTIFIED AGAINST Peter. They claimed that they saw Peter steal the money. The JUDGE took little time to REACH A VERDICT. Peter was FOUND GUILTY and SENTENCED to 3 months in PRISON. He will have a CRIMINAL RECORD for the rest of his life.


To steal ( verb) – take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it

To carry out (phrasal verb) – to do or complete something, especially that you have said you would do or that you have been told to do

Investigation (noun )- the action of investigating something or someone

under suspicion (phrase) – thought to be guilty of a wrongdoing

to arrest ( verb ) – seize (someone) by legal authority and take them into custody.

To interrogate – ask questions of (someone) closely, aggressively, or formally.

To charge ( verb ) – formally accuse (someone) of something, especially an offence under law.

Theft ( noun ) – the action or crime of stealing.

Court case (noun ) – a dispute between two parties that is decided in a court of law.

Courthouse ( noun ) – a building in which a judicial court is held.

To plead (verb) – present and argue for (a position), especially in court or in another public context.

Prosecution (noun) – the party instituting or conducting legal proceedings against someone in a lawsuit.

Evidence (noun) – information drawn from personal testimony, a document, or a material object, used to establish facts in a legal investigation or admissible as testimony in a law court.

A witness – (noun ) a person who sees an event, typically a crime or accident, take place.

To testify (verb) – give evidence as a witness in a law court.

Judge ( noun ) – a public officer appointed to decide cases in a law court.

Verdict (noun) – a decision on an issue of fact in a civil or criminal case or an inquest.

Guilty (adjective) – culpable of or responsible for specified wrongdoing.

To sentence ( verb ) – declare the punishment decided for (an offender).

Criminal record ( noun ) – a history of being convicted for a crime.

PJC English

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