The Difference Between a Charge and a Conviction

Many people (understandably) confuse charges and convictions. A charge is a formal accusation against you by the state or the federal government. When an officer writes you a citation or arrests you, he or she is (usually) charging you. When a grand jury issues an indictment against you, that is a charge. You have not been convicted of anything, however, until you plead guilty in front of a judge or are found guilty by a judge or jury after a trial. If you were found not guilty by a judge or jury, you were never convicted of anything (only charged).

Additionally, if your case was dismissed, you were never convicted of anything (only charged). Sometimes, a judge or prosecutor might dismiss your case after you do well on probation and/or take a class or do community service. Such arrangements are typically called deferred prosecutions or conditional discharges. A prosecutor might also decide the state does not have enough evidence against you and dismiss your case. Or, at trial, a judge might decide that the state did not present enough evidence against you and dismiss your case.

Many people also mistakenly believe that a dismissed charge does not show up on your record. It does. Your record will show that you were charged, but that it was dismissed. If you were convicted, your record will show that you were charged and convicted.

The only time your charge will not show up on your record is if you get it expunged. Learn more about expungements here.

Former and current clients often ask us what they should say on job or school applications. The exact wording of the question matters. Some questions, for example, might ask only about convictions. Others might ask only about charges. Some ask only about arrests.

Before answering any questions on a job or school application about prior criminal charges and/or convictions, you should consult with a criminal defense lawyer.

Call us for a free consultation.