What is a Conviction?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A conviction is a judge or jury decision in which someone is found guilty of committing a crime. The opposite of a conviction is an acquittal, in which the judge or jury determines that the defendant is not guilty of the crime. After a conviction, the criminal can be sentenced in accordance with sentencing guidelines.

A conviction is followed by a sentence, which might include prison.
A conviction is followed by a sentence, which might include prison.

In order for a conviction to be reached, the case has to be presented before the court, and certain standards must be met. These standards are quite high for criminal trials, and less so for civil wrongs. In a jury trial, the judge usually instructs the jury to make sure that they are familiar with the standards for conviction, so that these standards can be weighed in deliberations. When a trial takes place before a judge alone, the judge must consider the legal standard while deliberating and reaching a decision.

Life imprisonment is often given to someone convicted of murder.
Life imprisonment is often given to someone convicted of murder.

During the trial, positions from both sides are presented, and judge and jury have an opportunity to personally examine evidence. The trial must be conducted in a way which meets legal guidelines, as a conviction can be overturned if it can be proved that interference which might have blocked access to due process and fair justice occurred during the trial. Since all parties involved have an interest in not having to repeat the trial because of events which lead it to be declared a mistrial, they are usually careful to comply with all regulations which pertain to the conduct and practice of a trial.

During a trial, positions from both sides are presented to a judge.
During a trial, positions from both sides are presented to a judge.

Usually, there is a break between conviction and sentencing. The judge must deliberate on the facts of the case to arrive at a sentence. While awaiting sentencing, the criminal is held in custody, and may be given credit for time served, both during this period and during the trial if he or she was kept in custody during the trial. A sentence can include time in prison, fines, and other reparations, depending on the nature of the crime and the judicial standards which govern sentencing.

A criminal is held in custody while awaiting sentencing and may be given credit for time served.
A criminal is held in custody while awaiting sentencing and may be given credit for time served.

Most criminal justice systems have a number of measures in place which are designed to prevent miscarriages of justice, in which people who are innocent are convicted of crimes. However, it is recognized that such events can occur. As a result, most justice systems have an appeals system. People who are convicted have the right to appeal, and can usually take the appeal through a series of higher courts to fight the conviction.

Someone who has been convicted of arson has been found guilty of committing the crime.
Someone who has been convicted of arson has been found guilty of committing the crime.
A conviction can be overturned if new evidence proves the convicted person's innocence.
A conviction can be overturned if new evidence proves the convicted person's innocence.
Someone who drives under the influence may be convicted of a 3rd degree felony.
Someone who drives under the influence may be convicted of a 3rd degree felony.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon330031

What do I face with a felony evading charge?

anon275889

I'm trying to find out if I have a criminal record. I was in trouble with the law in 2007 for theft. I was released on the same day. I never went to court and the company I got in trouble with didn't press charges so I just need clarification, please.

anon68874

when a judge declares in advance that this trial is unlike tv and there will be no drama in an attempt to arrive at the truth. this case becomes a matter of decorum and not justice. Is the defendant truly served in accordance with the rights guaranteed by the constitution?

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