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Criminal Record Terminology
What is a Criminal Record?

Criminal records are very useful if you want to obtain information about someoneís background that includes all of the individualís prior offenses and wrongdoings. A criminal record can be obtained in either a hard copy or a soft copy. A criminal record has various parts. One includes a physical description of the person being looked at and includes their height, weight, eye color, etc. Another part of the record details the criminal past of the individual, which shows previous arrests, violations and offenses. There are some things, however, that should be listed on a criminal that arenít, such as drug using information. Each state has itís own set of regulations on who can obtain criminal records and how they can do so.

Public vs. Private Criminal Records

There are two kinds of criminal records, public and private. Private records can be obtained only by law enforcement personnel and are not open to the public. Public records, on the other hand, can be obtained by anyone. Most criminal records are open to the public and donít require government permission to access them. There are also private and public FBI records, which detail information about more serious cases. These records arenít given out as easily as the average criminal records and permission from the FBI is needed to gain access to these records. Each state has their own rules and regulations regarding public and private criminal records. In general, most states require a fee to access the records and to obtain these records one usually needs to sign a release form.

Documents Associated with Criminal Records

Criminal records arenít the only records that offer information about a personís past. There are two documents that are similar to the criminal record, the incarceration records, which lists the former time a person spent in a corrections facility, and the sexual offender records, which details whether or not a person is included in the stateís sexual offender registry. These two documents are often mistakenly thought to be criminal records but are actually just similar.

Felonies vs. Misdemeanors

The criminal information in a criminal record is organized in to different sections, felonies and misdemeanors, which are often confused for one another. Felonies are much more severe than misdemeanors and are offenses that result in jail time that ranges from a year to life in prison. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes and often do not result in jail time. Usually misdemeanors arenít taken as serious as felonies and are often ignored by most but they should be looked at in case they are linked to prior felonies.

Better Understanding the Arrest Process

There are three steps in arresting a person. First is the actual arrest, which is the act of a police officer or public safety personnel member taking a person who broke the law in to custody. The second step is the conviction, the declaration of what a person on trial is accused of doing, which is done in a courtroom. The third step is the disposition, which occurs at the end of a trial and tells whether the convicted is guilty or innocent. These dispositions arenít always listed in criminal records and are often forgotten to be entered in to the records of the court.

Unique Criminal Record Phrases

  • Prayer for Judgment - An act of leniency by the court that finds the accused not guilty on their convictions.
  • 1st Offender Act Ė An act of forgiving the accused of all the convictions due to them having completed all the probation properties and ridding the person of the criminal conviction.
  • Diversion Programs - A way to get the guilty defendant into a work or educational atmosphere during their probation period.
  • Deferred Adjudication of Guilt - A delaying of time in the final decision, which waits until the end of the probation to witness the results of the punishment and whether the accused has changed.


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This website is not affiliated with the United States Government or any Federal or State government agency.