Have you been arrested? Arrested but not charged? Charged but not convicted? Have you been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony offense, and now facing punishment like jail time, probation, or fines? If so, it is important to understand the difference between an arrest, charge, and conviction.
What Is an Arrest?
An arrest is when an individual has been detained by police for suspicion of committing a criminal act. Arrests are usually the first step in a criminal case, but an arrest is not required for the government to charge you with a crime. Most arrests are made during the day, but they can happen at any time.
Arrests are usually made by a police officer–both uniformed and undercover detectives. Arrests can happen while an individual is out in public, but police may also go to a suspect’s home.
An arrest is typically a detention of an individual by police officers with probable cause; it is not considered to be either (i) sufficient for charging the person with a crime nor (ii) indicative of guilt on behalf of the arrested party. Even if a person is arrested, justice requires that they receive their day in court.
After a person is arrested, the police will either issue them a citation and release them or take the person to jail. If a person goes to jail, they will remain in jail until they are released on their own recognizance, released to pretrial services, or released after paying bail.
Many people know about a Miranda warning (“You have the right to remain silent…”), but most people don’t know that police do not have to read this warning to you immediately after being arrested. Police are required to read you the Miranda warning if you are detained or arrested AND they are interrogating you or asking you questions.
What Is a Charge?
A charge (or indictment) is an accusation that someone committed a crime that must be proven in court. A charge is not indicative of guilt; you are innocent until proven guilty and the government must prove each and every element of the charge. Police do not file charges against you. Instead, a prosecutor reviews the evidence and determines what charges should be filed against you. Sometimes, a prosecutor will ask police to investigate more before filing charges. Other times, the evidence the police gathered is enough.
Once a charge is filed, the government will either ask to secure the accused’s appearance with a warrant or a summons. A warrant allows police to arrest the accused. A summons is a letter telling the accused to appear in court. If a person does not go to court, the judge will issue a warrant that orders police to arrest the accused.
If you have been charged, it’s important to contact us immediately so we can begin working on your case and creating your best defense.
What Is a Conviction?
A conviction means the person was found guilty in court. A person may be found guilty by a judge, a jury, or by pleading guilty. If a person is convicted by a judge, they had bench trial. This type of trial is usually reserved for infractions and small misdemeanors.
If a person is convicted by a jury, they had a jury trial. Misdemeanors and felonies are decided by juries. In Utah, a jury is made up of 4, 6, 8, or 12 people depending on the severity of the charge.
If a person is convicted by pleading guilty, they accepted responsibility for committing the crime. Their plea is usually the result of a plea bargain, which is a negotiation between the prosecutor and defense attorney. During this negotiation, there are many options including changing the charge, reducing the level of the charge, and discussing the recommended sentence.
A conviction will result in a sentence, such as probation, jail time, or prison. A sentence could include a mix of probation and jail time. While on a probation, a person could be ordered to:
- complete community service
- obtain evaluations for substance abuse, domestic violence, or mental health
- complete treatment/classes for substance abuse, domestic violence, anger management
- write a letter of apology
- pay restitution
- pay a monetary fine
A conviction remains on a person’s criminal record until the person completes the expungement process.
What to Do if You Have Been Arrested or Charged
If you have further questions about the difference between an arrest, charge, and conviction, or if you have been arrested or charged, call us. We will help ensure that you get the best defense. Even if your case ends with a guilty plea, we will ensure that any punishment fits the crime and won’t leave you with a criminal record for the rest of your life. No matter what, we will help tell your story so the judge is fair in their sentencing. Call us to get started on this important process now!