What is a Conviction? - Definition & Meaning

Instructor: Erin Krcatovich

Erin teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration and has a PhD in Political Science.

In this lesson, we will define the concept of a conviction, as it relates to criminal trials, and provide examples of convictions in the United States' criminal court system.

What is a Conviction?

When a person is tried for a crime in the United States, the jury will make a decision about his or her innocence or guilt. If found guilty, the person is convicted of one or more of the crimes. A conviction is followed by a sentence which details the specific punishment (number of years of imprisonment or the dollar amount of a fine ) that must be paid for that conviction.

A crime must involve a violation of a criminal statute, such as murder, theft, arson, or robbery. Each state and the federal government determines its own criminal statutes and the appropriate penalties. Some states allow for capital punishment or the death penalty as a possible sentence to be issued for a conviction in some forms of murder cases. Some crimes are considered misdemeanors and are less severe; a guilty conviction carries less than $1000 in fines and or fewer than one year imprisonment. A more serious crime, like murder, is a felony. Felonies are punishable by more than one year imprisonment and or more than $1000 in fines.

Consequences of a Conviction

Often, a criminal conviction carries additional consequences for the convict beyond time in prison and fines. These vary among the states and the federal government. A person found guilty of a felony may lose the right to vote, temporarily or permanently, or the opportunity to serve on a jury. Some states suspend the right to purchase or own a firearm. Many states will take away a driver's license, sometimes permanently, for convictions related to motor vehicle crimes, like drunk driving. Drug-related convictions can remove the right to live in federal housing, or to apply for federal food stamp and education assistance. Employees of the federal government can be fired for a felony conviction, particularly if the conviction is related to their job (such as embezzlement). These are called collateral consequences.

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