The Many Terms and Meanings of Criminal Non-Convictions


When working with criminal records every day it’s easy to forget that what we know, understand, and analyze isn’t always as easy for employers to understand. With so many different terms used in the judicial process we know why. Here at employeescreenIQ we like to make our criminal reports simple to read by following a strict formatting process. We also use side-notes to try and explain abnormal terms or phrases. We hope that this article further assists you in understanding some of the scenarios surrounding a non-conviction. I do have to explain and disclaim that the use of “usually,” “almost always,” and “most of the time” will be frequently used in this writing since most of the time there is almost always an exception to a rule, usually! We’ll now dive a little deeper into the confusion. There are multiple terms that tell us a criminal charge is a non-conviction. The terms used in any given court jurisdiction around the country can vary while essentially meaning the same thing. The following terms are examples of commonly used court rulings that mean a case is a straight non-conviction, or a non-conviction without stipulations:

  • Not Guilty
  • Dismissed
  • Nolle Prosequi (Nolle Prosse)
  • No Bill
  • No True Bill
  • No Action
  • Acquitted

Some similar terms we see less often but specific to certain geographic areas:

  • Stricken Off without Leave to Reinstate (Illinois)
  • Information Filed (Florida)
  • Not Responsible (North Carolina)

Some of those terms mean the same thing, while others mean things very similar. They can offer clues as to when a court decided on the non-conviction. A good example is Nolle Prosequi, which usually occurs very soon after a case is filed and probably even before an indictment. The term Nolle Prosequi loosely means “We do not wish to prosecute”. On the other end of the spectrum an Acquitted ruling could come much later in the chain of events most likely after a trial. Dismissed, the catch-all, occurs in different time periods throughout a case. Whatever the scenario, under each of these terms, the end result was that the subject was not convicted and there is nothing the named defendant owes to the court. Here it gets a little trickier. There are some judgments that are equivalent to a non-conviction but have stipulations. This occurs when a court sentences a defendant but does not consider the judgment a conviction. Even though the defendant served a sentence they wouldn’t have to disclaim conviction. Probation is usually a part of this sentencing along with the possibility of fines and sometimes even short jail terms. A guilty plea or nolo contendre (no contest) plea can be associated with the cases where a court decides to sentence but not convict. Plea bargains can play a role in a judge’s decision too. The following terms are associated with this type of disposition:

  • Adjudication Withheld
  • Deferred Adjudication
  • Deferred Judgment
  • Diversion/Intervention Programs

Here again we see some geographically specific terms:

  • ARD Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (Pennsylvania)
  • Non-Adjudication of Guilt, Agreed Plea (Texas)
  • First Offender’s Program (Georgia)

Of course there’s the matter of the stability of these non-convictions. It is possible if any part of the sentencing is not complied with the case can be turned into a conviction. Probation violations and warrants may flag this scenario, although the court might continue probation after a violation and keep the case in non-conviction status. Believe it or not there are cases with multiple probation violations where the court continues to keep a judgment withheld instead of convicting. Sometimes after the sentencing is complied with a court will then dismiss the case, sometimes there is no further entry at all.

The most common terms and meanings of a non-conviction have been covered. As always, our clients and associates are welcome to inquire with us directly about the many terms and meanings of non-convictions or any other part of the criminal record.

Andrew Cashman is Director of Public Records for Cleveland-based employeescreenIQ, a best practices provider of pre-employment screening services throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Andrew can be reached at (800) 235-3954 ext. 435 or

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