Previous convictions are entries on a person's criminal record indicating that the person has been convicted of crimes before. These entries note the details associated with each conviction to provide additional context and information. If someone is falsely convicted, documentation can be filed to have these entries removed from the criminal record. Otherwise, they will remain outstanding, and information about them is available to any person or agency who looks up an individual's criminal record.
Generally, if people have previous convictions before the age of majority, their records will be sealed to make information about those convictions unavailable. In some cases the record is actively expunged, removing all traces of the convictions as though they never happened. More commonly, access to the record is simply restricted to specific circumstances, limiting who can see the previous convictions.
Information about previous convictions will note the charges, the outcome of the case, and the sentence. The name of the court and the judge will be provided so people can look up trial records if they are interested, and the prior convictions will also have notes indicating whether they were first or subsequent convictions. The criminal record will also note the level of the justice system involved, differentiating between federal crimes and crimes tried in lesser jurisdictions.
Previous convictions can sometimes be brought up during a prosecution on unrelated charges. If an attorney can argue that the convictions are relevant to the case, they may be discussed in court. For example, if someone is in court on domestic violence charges, it might be relevant for the judge and jury to be made aware of prior domestic violence convictions. In other cases, information about previous convictions is explicitly barred from court due to concerns that it might be prejudicial.
A history of criminal convictions can become a significant obstacle. Certain types of jobs exclude people with criminal backgrounds out of concern that they may be a security risk or a poor fit for the work environment. Likewise, prior convictions can be weighed in the sentencing process. Someone with a repeat criminal history is more likely to be heavily penalized, and in some cases sentencing guidelines specifically outline harsher penalties for people with previous convictions.
When applying for jobs, people are usually asked to disclose any previous convictions. This provides an opportunity for people to clarify situations if they think that there is something about a conviction that an employer needs to know.