What’s the exact difference between being “charged,” “convicted” and “sentenced” for a crime?

Today, former Oakland, California, transit police officer Johannes Mehserle received the minimum possible sentence in the controversial death of a teenager on January 1, 2009. The incident and subsequent trial have prompted outrage and violent protests.  Today’s decision brings attention to the legal meanings of  three verbs : “charge,” “convict,” and “sentence.” They appear in the news constantly, but do you know what each term actually describes?

Let’s begin with “charge.” When a person is charged with a crime, a formal allegation (a statement not yet proven) of an offense is made.

Once convicted, the person has been proven or declared guilty of the offense. In the United States, a person is convicted after a legal trial.

After a conviction in criminal (as opposed to civil) proceedings, sentencing is next. When sentenced, the convicted criminal is issued a formal judgment that usually pronounces the punishment. The convict can appeal the sentence, but a sentence usually takes effect while appeals occur.

In the case of Mehserle and Oscar Grant, the boy whose death was the focus of the trial, the conviction centered on whether Mehserle was guilty of  manslaughter or murder. What do both terms mean, literally and in the law? What is the difference between first and second degree murder? Get the answers, here.

Are there other common legal terms that you’d like us to clarify? Let us know below.