What Does It Mean To Be “Charged,” “Convicted,” And “Sentenced” For A Crime

Three verbs that mean similar things: charge, convict, and sentence. They appear in the news constantly, but do you know what each term actually describes?

What does it mean to be charged with a crime?

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.

We typically refer to charges in the context of criminal law, which concerns crimes considered to harm society or the state. Indictments are charges that initiate a criminal case, presented by a grand jury and usually for felonies or other serious crimes. One can be charged with lesser crimes, too, called misdemeanors.

Word fact: Charge has many meanings in English (the word, via French, ultimately goes back to the Latin carrus, meaning “wagon” and source of English … car!) Since the late 1300s, charge had the sense of “to accuse.”

What does it mean to be convicted of a crime?

The judicial process is a complex one, but, in general, once a person is charged, they go on trial. A judge (and in many cases with a jury) hears the evidence presented against them (brought by the prosecution) as well as as their defense.

If convicted, the person has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt or declared guilty of the offense.

Word fact: Convict is related to the word convince. Again coming into English from French, the source of convict is the Latin convincere, “to overcome, to prove wrong.” Its root is vincere, “to conquer,” seen in such a word as victory.

What does it mean to be sentenced for a crime?

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, which often includes time in prison or fines.

The convict can appeal the sentence, but a sentence usually takes effect while appeals occur.

Word fact: Sentence, as a judicial determination, goes back to the 1300s. Its sense (as learn in English class) of a grammatical unit that contains an independent statement, question, etc. is found slightly later in the 1400s. The ultimate origin is the Latin sententia, “opinion, view, judgment,” from the verb sentīre, “to feel, perceive with the senses, think,” also yielding the word sense.

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