If you are one of the thousands of employers who conduct criminal background checks on potential employees, you know the results can be open to a good deal of interpretation.
The information contained in the criminal background check usually regards arrests or citations by the police agency and the charges against the person, the severity of the crimes, that is a felony, misdemeanor, or infraction, the disposition, and the punishment, if any.
The first step, the arrest is generally made as a result of an investigation by the police, a crime committed in the presence of the police, or a warrant taken by a private individual. When the person is arrested or cited, he is charged with the offense. Felonies are the most serious, followed by misdemeanors, and then by infractions. The difference between these types is generally defined by the punishment defined by statute for the crime.
A person may be charged originally with one crime and have it dropped or amended later to a different charge, at the discretion of the prosecutor, or even have more charges added.
Felonies, or more serious crimes are generally heard in superior or upper court, and misdemeanors in the state or lower court. Some low level misdemeanor charges or infractions may be heard in municipal or judges’ court. The courts are called different names, depending on the jurisdiction or location of the court.
The disposition of the case is simply the verdict or other action taken by the court in the criminal action brought before it.
The disposition is usually either a conviction, meaning the person was found guilty, or an acquittal, meaning the person was found not guilty and charges were dismissed.
But there are other dispositions as well. Most states have a version of a first offender law, or other means to defer judgment until a later date on a first time offender. Some of these dispositions may be called deferred adjudication, dead docket, adjudication withheld, or other term used by the court. The important thing to remember is that these types of dispositions should not be considered as convictions, even though it may become a conviction later if the person does not complete the terms of the deferment satisfactorily.
A criminal background check will also generally divulge the punishment for the crime, which may be prison or jail time, a fine, probation time, community service, or a combination of any of these.
There is a lot of leeway in the court systems in this country, so many outcomes are possible in what would seem to be under similar circumstances, so interpretation of the results may seem confusing.