When a person is originally arrested, the law enforcement officer files official arrest charges on the individual. The original charges are generally considered preliminary arrest charges and may, or may not, remain pending. In some cases, additional charges are added at a later date, while, in other cases, the original charges are dismissed. By the same token, arrest charges may result in convictions, but they are not synonymous with convictions.
In most jurisdictions, a person may be arrested because the law enforcement officer actually catches the person in the act of committing a crime, or pursuant to an investigation which leads the police to arrest the individual. In either case, the police will generally place the individual under arrest for at least one crime at the time the person is taken into custody. The law enforcement officer must then prepare a report which is submitted to the prosecuting attorney for review. The prosecutor will then decide whether to proceed with the original arrest charges, dismiss the original charges, or add additional charges. Additional investigation by law enforcement may also lead to further crimes being charged to the individual at a later date.
A criminal case may terminate with a conviction, an acquittal, or a dismissal of the charge. If the defendant is ultimately convicted, either by pleading guilty or by being convicted at trial, then the original arrest charges will become convictions. If, however, the defendant is acquitted at trial, or the prosecutor decides to dismiss the charges, then the original charges will not show as a conviction against the defendant.
The distinction between arrest charges and convictions can be extremely important when a criminal background check is required. Although convictions will almost always show on a criminal background check, arrest charges may or may not appear, depending on the jurisdiction. Anyone reading a criminal background report must understand that just because someone was arrested for a crime does not mean that he or she was convicted of the crime.
In many jurisdictions, arrest charges may be expunged. Expungement means that the record of the arrest will be either destroyed entirely or removed from public access. Anyone who has been arrested, but not convicted, should research the expungement statutes in the jurisdiction where the arrest was made to see if the record of the arrest may be expunged. Once expunged, the record will not appear on a criminal background check.