The presence of a full criminal conviction on your permanent record is straightforward. It means that you went through a complete judicial process, having been arrested, with files charged, eventually leading to a trial, a guilty verdict and an appropriate sentence and/or fine carried out.
But not every arrest actually leads to this final result. In some cases, criminal charges go all the way to trial where a jury decides on a “not guilty” verdict, and thus a defendant is acquitted. And in some cases, a criminal conviction never even goes to trial at all, the charges may be dropped, or the case may be dismissed well before a trial. But how does this happen? And why? What’s the difference between dropping charges and dismissing a case?
Before a trial can even occur, a person must be arrested—with sufficient cause—and must eventually attend a hearing. During a hearing, charges are officially filed, a plea is entered for the defendant and a trial date is set. If the charges that are filed at this point do so without any kind of intervention or interruption, then the case moves forward to a trial.
However, if charges are not filed, and the case does not even move forward into a trial, or the prosecution decides not to pursue the case further, this would be considered having charges dropped, and can occur for any number of reasons. A person being arrested because of a physical resemblance to a suspect that police are looking for, for example, can quickly lead to charges dropped once the real suspect is caught.
If the police arrest someone on an assault or domestic abuse charge, but the person assaulted does not wish to actually file charges, then the charges are dropped. And finally, if someone is charged, goes to trial and suddenly clear-cut evidence arrives during the investigation, exonerating the defendant—such as a DNA analysis the conclusively proves no wrongdoing—the charges may be dropped before even going to trial since there is now no point.
When charges or a case are dismissed, on the other hand, this is a decision that is handed down by the judge presiding over a court case. Having a case dismissed is very different from having charges dropped because, from a record perspective, those charges still exist in a file somewhere.
A case dismissal means that the judge has elected not to let a case go any further in court. One of the most common reasons for this is that even when an arrest has been made, and charges filed, a prosecutor may not have a reasonable enough amount of evidence to conduct a fair trial, and the judge, realizing this, will dismiss a case for “want of prosecution.”
It’s Still There
The important thing to be aware of in both cases is that even if no conviction exists in a permanent record, evidence of an arrest, fingerprinting and even charges filed may still be present. Depending on your activities, such as travel across the border to the United States, or having a background check conducted for a job interview, these lingering traces of a near conviction can still have an impact. Your fingerprints may be seen on a CPIC or RCMP report.
Pardons Canada, however, can help. A process known as a file destruction can eliminate even these trace vestiges, restoring a completely clean record. Contact us for information on how to do this quickly and successfully.