*This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice.

When you conduct criminal records checks at PeopleFinders, you may come across several words you don’t understand. One of these terms includes “conviction.” While pop culture has provided the general population with a vague understanding of what this term means, “conviction” takes on new meaning when used in court. If you’re going to accurately assess the information you find during a criminal records check, you’re going to need to understand what the term “conviction” means and how it impacts defendants when they’re in court.

What is a Conviction?

The term “conviction” describes the outcome of a trial that results in the criminal defendant being found guilty of the crime of which they were accused. Criminal defendants may only be convicted if the applicable judge or jury finds them guilty beyond reasonable doubt, based on the evidence presented by the prosecution. The size of the affiliated jury may fluctuate by state, but the end result needs to be the same for a conviction to stick.

What’s the Difference Between a Charge, Conviction, and Sentence?

That said, the term “conviction” is often conflated with several other legal terms, including “charge” and “sentence.”

  • “Charge” describes the moment when a criminal defendant is accused of a crime. Charges require formal allegations to be made against the defendant.
  • A “conviction,” as described above, describes the moment a criminal defendant is determined to be guilty of the crime with which they were charged.
  • A “sentence” describes the consequences of the crime for which the criminal defendant has been convicted. This often takes the form of time in prison as issued via formal judgment. Note that civil cases do not end in sentencing; only criminal cases invoke this kind of language.

These terms follow one another in a series of events. When you do a PeopleFinders criminal record check, you can follow the flow of time based on the terms you find. A charge will precede a conviction, and a conviction will precede a sentence.

Can A Person Be Wrongfully Convicted?

Yes, a person can be wrongfully convicted. There are several circumstances that might lead to a wrongful conviction, including:

  • Eyewitness Inconsistencies – In most cases, peoples’ memories don’t work like cameras. Specific legal framing, time or both can change the way witnesses remember an event. If a witness is manipulated or too much time has passed between the initial arrest and a court date, a witness’s inaccurate memory could land an innocent person with a conviction.
  • Inaccurate or Invalidated Scientific Practices – There are some forensic testing methods that have long since proven to be ineffective but that are still used to assess evidence found at a crime scene. Some prosecutors will enter into a court with evidence that has been filtered through these inaccurate processes and use it to argue that a defendant deserves a conviction. This blurs the line between the use of an inaccurate practice and active malpractice. Even so, both could result in an innocent person receiving a conviction.
  • Falsified Confessions – Sometimes, innocent defendants will confess to a crime they haven’t committed. They may do so for a number of reasons. Some believe that the court process will drag on and cause them harm. Others may be forced to confess due to pressure from an outside source. Either way, by falsifying a confession, an innocent person will likely find themselves convicted of a crime they did not commit.
  • Legal Misconduct – If a government official bears a grudge against a defendant, they may work to ensure that the defendant is convicted, even in the face of non-compelling evidence.
  • Malicious Informants – Not all witnesses are created equal. Sometimes, an innocent defendant may find themselves lambasted by a witness on the stand who solely intends to hurt them. These individuals present evidence to a court based on their personal biases instead of what they may have actually witnessed. Even so, if those intentions are not disclosed to a jury, they may result in a wrongful conviction.
  • Ineffective Professionals – A lawyer who has too many responsibilities on their plate may not be able to investigate a case with the full attention it deserves. Someone who is unable to accurately assess the status of a witness or properly prepare for a trial may land an innocent person with a conviction.

If you are wrongly convicted and can prove you were, some states will compensate you for the time you spent imprisoned. Do note, though, that nearly half of the states in the union – 24, to be precise – do not offer wrongly convicted individuals compensation for their lost time and/or emotional distress.

What Does a Conviction Mean in a Criminal Records Report?

When you’re performing a criminal records check through PeopleFinders, you’ll be able to tell whether or not your subject has been convicted of a crime. If you spot the term “guilty,” you can readily assume that it serves as a synonym for “convicted.” Even so, make sure you read your report carefully so that you understand everything that happened in the courtroom.