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How Are Arrests, Charges, Convictions & Acquittals Different?


It’s important for those facing criminal charges to understand how arrests, charges, and convictions (or acquittals) are different.

In general, an arrest is when someone is taken into custody by law enforcement for criminal activity. A charge is an allegation that someone has done something illegal, and it’s typically done after someone has been arrested. Lastly, a conviction is a court’s finding of guilt (or not) after conducting a trial.

What Happens During an Arrest?

When someone is arrested, the police carry out a series of steps to ensure that the person is securely taken into custody. The process may be different depending on the jurisdiction.

Generally, the following occurs:

  • An officer reads Miranda rights (or similar) to inform the person being arrested that they have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
  • If necessary, police use handcuffs to restrain the person being arrested
  • Police conduct a search of the person to ensure there are no weapons or contraband on them.
  • Officers verify the person’s identification (e.g., driver’s license, passport, etc.).
  • The person is transported to the police station or detention center for processing.
  • Police may take fingerprints and a photograph at the station.
  • The person’s identity is checked using the appropriate databases (e.g., criminal records).
  • Bail may be set for the person, depending on their charge and other factors.
  • The person is kept in custody until a court hearing or further steps are taken to resolve the situation.

It’s important to remember that during an arrest, officers must act within legal limits and with respect for the person’s rights. If any of these steps are not followed correctly, the arrest may be considered invalid and charges could potentially be dropped. It’s important to consult an attorney if you have any questions or concerns regarding your arrest and legal rights.

What Are Criminal Charges?

Criminal charges are allegations made against a person by a prosecutor for an illegal act. Criminal charges may be misdemeanors, which usually refer to lesser offenses that are punishable by fines and/or jail time of up to one year in local or county confinement; or felonies, which generally refer to more serious offenses that are punishable by imprisonment of more than one year in a state prison.

In the United States, criminal charges are brought against individuals by state governments and by the federal government. The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed and that the accused is guilty of it. This means they must present compelling evidence and witnesses in court to meet their burden of proof. If the criminal charges are found to be true, then a sentence may be imposed according to the severity of the crime and applicable law.

How Is a Conviction Different from an Acquittal?

A conviction is the outcome of a criminal court case where a defendant is found guilty for the criminal charges against them. An acquittal, on the other hand, is when a person charged with a crime is found not guilty or the court dismisses the charges.

A conviction may result in a sentence of probation, fines, restitution to victims, community service or prison. It may also result in the imposition of collateral consequences, such as loss of voting rights and ineligibility for certain types of employment or licensure. An acquittal leaves the defendant free from conviction and any associated penalties, and is generally considered the best possible outcome.

In some cases, a court may enter a judgment of guilt but suspend the sentence to give the defendant a chance for rehabilitation over a probationary period. This is commonly referred to as "deferred adjudication." The court may also choose to enter an order of dismissal or acquittal if it finds there was insufficient evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

No matter the outcome, defendants in criminal cases have the right to appeal their conviction or acquittal. An appellate court may overturn a lower court's ruling if it finds that legal error caused the outcome of the case. It’s important for anyone facing criminal charges to understand what kind of outcome they can expect and what their rights are during each step in the process. Knowing these facts can help ensure defendants receive a fair trial and the most favorable outcome possible.

Do You Need Legal Assistance?

At the Law Office of Steven Fine, we understand how overwhelming and intimidating criminal charges can be. We are here to help you navigate the complexities of the legal system while also protecting your rights. Our team is committed to providing comprehensive legal representation for clients facing many kinds of criminal charges, including drug crimes, traffic offenses, property crimes, white collar crimes, and violent crimes.

Our attorney can help you develop a customized defense that can help you achieve the best possible outcome. In addition to providing aggressive representation during court proceedings, we also offer personalized guidance throughout the entire process. We are there every step of the way to make sure that your rights are protected.

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, we encourage you to contact the Law Office of Steven Fine as soon as possible.