Sunday, April 11, 2021

Tips for Understanding Criminal Charges

You could ask a person directly about their criminal background. However, most people who have one probably won’t be all that forthcoming about it. An online search into a person’s public records and other public information can be a good way to try to get a picture of someone’s criminal history.

These searches may wind up producing a lot of information. If you just go into it without any idea of what you’re looking at, you could have a tough time understanding the information that comes up, especially when it comes to specialized legal information, like “criminal charges.”

As a particular kind of criminal record, criminal charges occur when a governmental authority formally accuses someone of a crime. To better interpret what criminal charges might mean in someone’s background, be sure to ask the following questions:

Does the Individual Have Any Criminal Charges?

The biggest question you may want to answer is whether or not an individual has any criminal charges, period. Criminal records are one of the most common things to show up on a background check, and they can range from parking offenses to violent felonies.

Don’t automatically worry if a background check does turn up criminal charges. Instead, look at the exact name of the offense, and get more information about what it means. There are many different criminal charges. Many of them have very similar names, and not all of them imply that someone is dangerous or violent.

When Were These Criminal Charges?

The next thing to look at is the date of any criminal charges that do show up. On top of the severity of a crime, the date of a crime is another important factor that may impact your decisions regarding the person who committed that crime. Especially when it comes to less serious crimes, the length of time that’s elapsed may provide significant insight.

Remember, you’re a very different person now than you were many years ago. The same thing applies to other people. Say someone has a single DUI charge on their record from 20 years ago. You should think about how that the person may have made a very bad mistake, or may have made significant life changes since then.

What Was the Verdict of a Criminal Charge?

Many background checks may show any criminal charges, not just criminal verdicts. If you see a criminal charge, that doesn’t inherently mean the person actually committed the crime. It’s just that a court had enough evidence to charge the person with the crime. After the charge, you should look into the conclusion, or verdict, that came from the subsequent court trial.

If you see the court ultimately labeled the charge as “Not Guilty,” that means there wasn’t enough evidence to confirm the guilt of the individual in question. It doesn’t technically mean the person is innocent, just that the permissible evidence doesn’t support the person’s guilt.

If you see multiple charges for the same kind of crime on someone’s record, even if those crimes never developed into a “Guilty” verdict, that may be something to look into further as well.

What Punishments Did the Court Present?

Typically, the court has a spectrum of potential punishments for any given verdict. This spectrum varies widely; for example, the maximum punishment for murder is much more serious than the maximum punishment for petty theft. The court chooses, based on a variety of factors, what type of punishment to impose on an individual.

Looking at the person’s punishment for a certain verdict can give you a better understanding of how the court saw the case. Someone offered a very lenient punishment may have cooperated fully with authorities, expressed sincere regret, and was considered at low risk of re-offending. A very severe punishment may suggest the opposite.

Getting a Complete Look

If you want to understand more about someone’s criminal charges and other criminal background, you need to make sure you’re getting the right information in the first place. With limited or untruthful information, you can’t get the full picture. That’s where PeopleFinders can come in handy.

When you perform a background check with PeopleFinders, the presence of criminal charges against the person is just part of the equation. By using this list of tips and tricks, you can try to better understand the circumstances surrounding those charges.


Apart from criminal charges, a background check may help you understand even more about someone, making it easier for you to trust that person in the future. You may want to use it to look into neighbors, first dates or even people you’ve known for years, just to try and make sure you’re in safe hands.

Additionally, when you read the PeopleFinders blog, you’ll be even more prepared with information that can help you better understand how to use the search tools at your disposal.

Image attribution: Kzenon

PeopleFinders was launched in 1999 to give people easy access to public records data. The PeopleFinders mission is to find, organize and make information accessible - empowering people with meaningful answers.

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