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Conviction & Sentence

31/08/16 The Difference between ‘Conviction’ & ‘Sentence’

e-legal lesson

Difference between conviction and sentence is something to which we rarely pay attention to. This is because we have a tendency, a habit almost, to use terms interchangeably or synonymously without actually paying close attention to their meaning. The terms Conviction and Sentence are a classic example of this. Indeed, identifying the difference between the two is simple. It only requires a clear and proper understanding of their definitions. The key to distinguishing the terms is to think of Conviction as something that precedes a Sentence.

What does Conviction mean?

The term Conviction is traditionally defined as the outcome of a criminal prosecution that culminates in a judgment that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged. Thus, it represents one of two possibilities that typically arise at the end of a criminal proceeding: either the defendant will be found guilty or not guilty of the crime with which he/she is charged. Dictionaries define the term Conviction as the state of being found or proven guilty or the act of proving or declaring a person guilty of a crime. Jog your mind back to one of the episodes of a legal TV series, particularly the scene of a criminal trial wherein the juror stands up at the end and says “we find the defendant, guilty”. This is a Conviction. The defendant has been found guilty of the crime by the jury. Likewise, a judge too may convict a person by finding him/her guilty of a crime. Convictions are associated with criminal proceedings, as opposed to civil proceedings. The ultimate goal of the prosecution is to secure a Conviction by proving beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.

Conviction is declared by the jury

What does Sentence mean?

Traditionally, the term Sentence is defined as the judicial determination and pronouncement of a punishment to be imposed on a person convicted of a crime. When we hear the term Sentence, particularly in a legal context, we automatically think of a prison or jail sentence. This is not incorrect as a Sentence may include punishment in the form of incarceration. Thus, once the defendant has been found guilty of a crime, or rather Convicted, the court or judge will formally declare the appropriate punishment to be imposed upon the person. Keep in mind that every crime has consequences and the legal consequences entail not only being found or proven guilty but also being punished for the commission of such a crime. The court orders a Sentence based on the relevant law applicable to the particular crime. A Sentence may take various forms. Aside from imprisonment, it also includes the payment of fines, community service, restitution, rehabilitation programs, life imprisonment and probation, or in the case of serious crimes, the death penalty. Persons convicted of minor crimes generally serve a short term in prison and/or are ordered to pay fines. Further, in cases where the defendant does not have a history of committing crimes, a term of probation may be ordered by the court. There are different types of Sentences such as Suspended Sentences and Consecutive Sentences. The term Sentence is most often used in relation to criminal trials as opposed to civil trials.

What is the difference between Conviction and Sentence?

  • A Conviction refers to the outcome of a criminal trial. It is the act of proving or declaring a person guilty of a crime.
  • A Sentence, on the other hand, is the formal declaration by a court imposing a punishment on the person convicted of a crime.
  • A Conviction is a result of the verdict of a judge and/or jury. In contrast, a Sentence is typically ordered by a judge.
  • The court cannot order a Sentence unless the person has been found guilty or convicted. Therefore, a Conviction must precede a Sentence.
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