Background screens can reveal many different dispositions—outcomes or status—for criminal cases. To clarify and organize the differences, we’ve grouped them into three categories: Flop, Turn, and River, common terms for anyone who has ever played Texas hold’em poker. (Please note: We are not trying to liken criminal cases to a card game, or downplay the severity of the litigation. We take any criminality seriously, and use this analogy solely for the purposes of illustrating the different dispositions that you might find in a background report.)
Each disposition has its own set of rules, just like the cards in the deck. When playing Texas hold’em, the Flop refers to the three community cards that are dealt in the beginning of the hand. Fittingly, there are three common dispositions at the conclusion of a criminal case: Convicted, Acquitted, or Dismissed.
- Convicted. The accused has been found guilty by a court of law, whether through bench trial or a trial by jury. Plea deals which also result in criminal convictions fall under this category, even if for lesser charges than what was originally brought.
- Acquitted. Through the course of a criminal trial, the accused has been found not guilty of the charges brought against them.
- Dismissed. Either the court or the prosecutor has decided the charge against an individual should not proceed any further. Often this occurs when new exculpatory evidence or testimony comes to light during the course of the trial; rather than let the trial run its course, the charges are dismissed, effectively terminating the case.
On the Turn, we are given another set of dispositions. These are more closely related to the status of a criminal case in process. They are Pending, No Charges Filed/Charges Dropped, and Expunged.
- Pending. After the dispositions described in the Flop category, Pending is the next most likely to encounter in a background report. “Pending” means that the case is still being investigated, or that the court case is still in the prosecution phases but has not yet reached its conclusion.
- No Charges Filed/Charges Dropped. A close cousin to Dismissed, “No Charges Filed/Charges Dropped” means the prosecutor has declined to pursue the case. The difference here is the timing of when the disposition is filed: With No Charges Filed/Charges Dropped, the case never has a chance to begin. With Dismissed, it is decided not to proceed with a case that has already started.
- Expunged. This disposition applies where there is a non-conviction in a case. In certain instances, after the case has concluded, an individual can petition to have information deleted from the file, such as the arrest data that was the basis for the original charges; if granted, this disposition effectively removes the arrest from the case for the individual.
The River card in Hold’em is the last card in the hand. Similarly, the River dispositions in a background report also come at the conclusion of a case. They are Vacated, Sealed, Diversion/Deferred Prosecution, and Suspended Sentence.
- Vacated. The individual has been convicted or pleaded guilty; however, the court has chosen to withdraw the guilty plea or set aside the guilty verdict—that is, vacated the verdict. For all intents and purposes, after a case has been vacated, the individual may state that he or she has never been convicted of that crime.
- Sealed. When a record is sealed, it means the court has restricted access to all or some of the content of the record. However, the existence of the record will still be made public. Therefore you can see that a record exists for an individual, but you will not be able to see the specifics associated with their file. In juvenile cases, a sealed crime is generally treated as if the crime never occurred in the first place, unless it is subsequently ordered by a court to be unsealed. Some U.S. have laws that seal certain criminal records. Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act, notably, has sealed over 30 million records, including certain arrests that did not result in convictions within 60 days; summary convictions after 10 years; and certain second- and third-degree misdemeanor convictions.
- Diversion/Deferred Prosecution. This is a special set of circumstances whereby a court has delayed prosecution, pending the successful completion of a treatment program, such as for substance abuse treatment after a DUI charge, wherein charges are dismissed after completion of treatment. Until the charges are dismissed, the case is considered pending; if the individual fails to complete the treatment program, the case proceeds toward its conclusion and ends with the appropriate disposition.
- Suspended Sentence. The court has delayed the sentencing for an offense, pending the successful completion of a period of probation and/or successful completion of a treatment program. If the defendant does not break the law during that period and fulfills the particular conditions of the probation, the judge usually reduces the degree of the offense or may dismiss the case entirely. Until the sentence is reduced or dismissed, the case is treated as pending.
As you can see from our Flop, Turn, and River categorization, there are many dispositions for criminal records in a background report. One item to note, in conclusion, “closed” is not a valid disposition: Eventually every case comes to a “close,” regardless of what disposition it receives. To be properly articulated, one of the above dispositions are applied.
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