What Does Conviction Mean?
Just because you have plead guilty to a criminal charge doesn’t mean you’ve been convicted. The word “conviction” is a legal term that has a very specific meaning, and it isn’t necessarily intuitive. It is important to know when a charge becomes a conviction, so you understand exactly what is on your record and how it will affect your life.
The Charging Stage
If you have been charged, it means the state has filed a case against you. You are not convicted of a crime until you are found guilty by a jury or enter a plea to a certain type of plea deal. In other words, you are not convicted of the crime until a judgment and sentence has been entered and certain criteria are met.
This criteria mainly focuses on the type of punishment you get for the case. Some punishments will result in a conviction, while others will end the case with a dismissal and you will not be convicted of the charge.
The Deferred Sentence
One type of punishment that does not leave you with a conviction is a deferred sentence. A deferred sentence is a type of probation that results in a partial expungement. When you plea to a deferred sentence, the judge will withhold a finding of guilt until the end of your probation. Once you have successfully completed your probation, the judge will dismiss the case and it will be removed from Oklahoma State Courts Network (OSCN). There is no conviction because your charges were dismissed.
It is important to note that a partial expungement is different from a full expungement. Even though you weren’t convicted and the charges were dismissed, you will still have an arrest record that can be found with a background search. The only way to remove this arrest record is to receive a full expungement.
The Suspended Sentence/Fine/Jail Time
If you plead on a case or are sentenced by a judge or jury and receive a suspended sentence, a fine, or jail time, you have been convicted of a crime.
There is often confusion around jail time and convictions. In many instances, you will spend a night in jail when you are first arrested. At this point, there is no conviction attached to your case. However, if you plead to jail time during the case process and are given credit for time served, this IS a conviction. It doesn’t matter that you served the time prior to plea—any amount of jail time as a punishment for your case is considered a conviction.
Similarly, any fine amount is also considered a conviction. There is a misconception that fines under $500 are not convictions. That is incorrect. If you receive a fine under $500, you are eligible for an expungement much faster than with a fine over $500, but you receive a conviction regardless of the amount.
Unlike with a deferred sentence, a suspended sentence is considered a conviction. With a suspended sentence, you will serve probation the same as with a deferred sentence. However, even if you are successful on probation, you will still have a conviction on your record.
Why does the word “conviction” matter?
There are a few reasons having this term on your record matters. The first reason is because being convicted of a felony results in a loss of some rights and liberties. For example, you would lose your gun and voting rights if you were convicted of a felony. However, if you receive a deferred sentence on a felony and your case is dismissed, you are not considered a convicted felon and your rights will remain intact.
Another reason convictions matter is for job applications and general employment. Some employers require that you notify them of any arrest, while others only require that you notify them of any convictions. If you receive a deferred sentence or a dismissal, you will not be convicted of a crime and do not have to notify your employer. The same can be said about job applications. Some applications will ask if you have ever been charged with a crime, while others will ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime. This distinction is important, and can affect how you need to answer.
Once I have been convicted, am I stuck with it on my record forever?
No! If you have been convicted of a crime, you can have your case expunged. If you have been convicted of a felony, you can get your case expunged, but it won’t return the rights you lost when you were convicted. However, there is an avenue to do that—a pardon will restore your rights and get you back on track.
The Bottom line
The type of probation you have matters, and it is important to know the distinction between a conviction and merely being charged. It can save you from checking the wrong box on job applications, and prevent you from losing rights that you may actually be entitled to keep.