Introduction to Criminal Records
At BeenVerified, we get a lot of people asking us how to analyze and understand the information in criminal records. Because criminal records come from hundreds of different counties, each with its own unique system for reporting, there is no standard protocol for how the information in them gets reported.
Below are some definitions of terms you might see in a criminal record, and useful tips for analyzing them. As always, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us. If you can't find the criminal information you need, you also might want to look into a court runner.
Defining basic criminal terms
Court Record ID: Court Record ID provides a reference number for finding the physical report at the county courthouse. You may need to contact the courthouse directly to get more information that is not provided digitally. You can use the Court Record ID to make that process quick and easy.
Source Name: The source name provides the specific county or government department that is responsible for storing the record. You can use the Source Name along with the Court Record ID to get more information directly from the source if necessary.
Offense: The offense will provide a description of the particular offense for which this person has been convicted.
Offense Code: Each jurisdiction has a unique set of codes that translate into a particular offense. For example 27.287.(a) translates into Possession-Marijuana.
WARNING! Unfortunately some court houses only provide an Offense Code, instead of Offense Code and Offense. If that is the case, try searching in Google for the jurisdiction name and the specific offense code to find out more about the actual offense.
Court Name: This is the actual court in which this particular case was heard.
Plea: The plea represents the individual’s official "answer" to a claim (think accusation) made by the government. Some examples include, but are not limited to: Guilty, Not Guilty, and No Contest. A defendant may use what is known as plea bargaining whereby the defendant waives his or her right to trial in return for immediate sentencing.
Disposition: Disposition represents a defined point in the court process. For example, if you are in the sentencing phase, that is the disposition. If a conviction is made, that represents the disposition. Another common example of a disposition is “nolle prosequi” which is Latin for “please do not prosecute.” The represents a decision by the prosecutor not to pursue a particular criminal charge.
Disposition Date: The disposition date represents the date that a verdict was reached. It is the date the case was decided.
Deferred: A deferred prosecution agreement is a voluntary alternative to adjudication in which a prosecutor agrees to grant amnesty in exchange for the defendant agreeing to fulfill certain requirements.
So, if you were charged for stealing some chocolate from your local candy shop, a deferred sentence means you get to skip jail time and perform something like 100 hours community service instead. In essence, you get to avoid the "bad" in exchange for fulfilling some kind of agreement.
Nolle Prosequi: A formal entry upon the record of the court, indicating that the prosecutor declares that he or she will proceed no further in the action. For example, say that owner of the candy store you stole from had a change of heart and actually didn't want to charge you with stealing some M&M's. A Nolle Prosequi means that they wouldn't move any further with the case.
Guilty in Absentia: Oh man, you fell asleep before you made it to your court date! Well, this may mean you'd be Guilty in Absentia, which essentially equates to a trial in which the defendant is not present to answer the charges. So, while you were off dreaming of all the chocolate you got to eat for free, you may have been charged for the offense regardless, even though you weren't physically there
Dismissal Without Leave By DA: A Dismissal Without Leave By DA means that the district attorney (DA) does not have permission to amend or refile the complaint; it is dismissed completely. Maybe the candy shop owner actually went out of business just as things were getting going and decided to refrain from moving forward. Or perhaps the funds for a lawyer just weren't there. Either way, the complaint was retracted and therefore dismissed without leave by the DA, leaving the case null.
Dismissed: When people talk about a case getting dismissed, it essentially means termination of court jurisdiction over a defendant in relation to charges before court or prosecutor. Things are basically thrown under the rug. However, there are two kinds of dismissals:
- Dismissals with prejudice means that there is no reopening of case, even if the prosecutor changes his or her mind in the future.
- Dismissals without prejudice means that the case could be reopened in the future for any reason. Usually, however, a case is reopened if the defendant doesn't fulfill his or her end of the bargain. So, if you didn't pay the candy shop owner back for the stolen sweets, you could go to court again.
Guilty: This one is pretty easy. Being guilty means you've committed the crime, through your own admission or through the finding of a judge or jury.
Sentenced: A sentence forms the final explicit act of a judge-ruled process, and also the symbolic principal act connected to his function. The sentence can generally involve a decree of imprisonment, a fine and/or other punishments against a defendant convicted of a crime. Sentencing is usually the end of the road for the defendant and where the formal penalty is announced.
Convicted: The verdict that results when a court of law finds a defendant guilty of a crime. You can be convicted of anything from petty theft to homicide. So, once you stand trial for stealing that candy, you may be convicted of robbery, which will eventually end up on your public record.
Dealing with courts is not easy. So, while we are constantly working to expand and improve our database, there are a few specific issues that should be considered regarding the availability of particular records:
Some cases are new
Legal proceedings are complicated affairs with a broad range of timelines. Once a particular proceeding is complete, each county must go through a number of steps prior to that information becoming part of the public records. As soon as the courts make official information digitally available, BeenVerified will update its database to include new records.
Some criminal records haven't been digitized
We have access to thousands of sources, and try to give all of our users the best experience. However, sometimes things aren't available and therefore out of our hands. For example, certain court systems do not provide digital records (we know, it's totally frustrating in our digital era).
What should I do if I can't find a criminal record?
With thousands of records yet to be digitized, the only way to find them is to go in person to the county courthouse. Since that is not feasible for most people, BeenVerified offers a premium service called court runners.