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Conviction vs. Sentence — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Urooj Arif — Updated on February 27, 2024
A conviction is a formal declaration that someone is guilty of a criminal offense, while a sentence is the penalty imposed by a court on someone who has been convicted.
Conviction vs. Sentence — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Conviction and Sentence


Key Differences

Conviction and sentence are two key components of the criminal justice process, each serving distinct roles. A conviction occurs when a judge or jury formally decides that the accused is guilty of the charges against them. This determination is based on evidence presented during the trial, leading to a legal judgment of guilt. The sentence, on the other hand, follows the conviction and is the judicial determination of the punishment for the convicted individual. Sentencing can involve various forms of punishment, including imprisonment, fines, community service, probation, or a combination thereof.
Convictions can result from trial proceedings or through guilty pleas, where the defendant admits to the crime without a trial. The severity and nature of the sentence typically depend on the crime's gravity, the defendant's criminal history, and legal guidelines or statutes.
A conviction confirms guilt, the sentence translates this guilt into a concrete consequence, aiming to serve justice, deter future crimes, and, in some cases, rehabilitate the offender. The process from conviction to sentencing can be immediate or follow a separate sentencing hearing, especially in cases requiring detailed consideration of the appropriate punishment.
Both the conviction and the sentence are crucial for upholding legal accountability and societal norms. However, they highlight different aspects of the legal process: the conviction focuses on the legal determination of guilt, and the sentence deals with the consequences of that guilt. This distinction underscores the multifaceted nature of criminal justice, balancing the need for a fair trial with the imperative of imposing penalties that reflect the crime's severity and impact on society.

Comparison Chart


A formal declaration of guilt in a criminal offense.
The penalty imposed on someone who has been convicted.


To legally establish guilt based on evidence.
To determine and impose the consequences of the conviction.


Guilt of the accused.
Specific punishment(s) for the crime.

Determined by

Judge or jury based on trial or plea.
Judge, following conviction, based on legal guidelines.


Can result from trial verdicts or guilty pleas.
Imprisonment, fines, probation, community service, etc.

Compare with Definitions


Legal basis for subsequent sentencing.
Following his conviction, the court scheduled a sentencing hearing.


Aims at justice, deterrence, and rehabilitation.
The sentence aimed to rehabilitate the offender and deter future crimes.


Marks the end of the trial phase.
The jury's conviction marked the conclusion of the court proceedings.


Can range from fines to imprisonment.
Her sentence included a fine and community service.


Requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecution's case led to his conviction on all counts.


May involve probation or parole conditions.
He received a sentence with the possibility of parole after five years.


The legal finding that someone is guilty of a crime.
His conviction for robbery was based on overwhelming evidence.


Reflects the crime's severity and legal standards.
The severe sentence was commensurate with the crime's seriousness.


Can occur through a trial or a guilty plea.
She entered a guilty plea, resulting in a conviction without a trial.


The punishment assigned for a conviction.
The judge handed down a 10-year sentence for the felony.


In law, a conviction is the verdict that usually results when a court of law finds a defendant guilty of a crime. The opposite of a conviction is an acquittal (that is, "not guilty").


The judicial order for a punishment to be imposed on a person convicted of a crime.
The judge declared a sentence of death by hanging for the infamous child rapist.


The judgment of a jury or judge that a person is guilty of a crime as charged.


A punishment imposed on a person convicted of a crime.


The state of being found or proved guilty
Evidence that led to the suspect's conviction.


(criminal law) a final judgment of guilty in a criminal case and the punishment that is imposed;
The conviction came as no surprise


(countable) A judgement of guilt in a court of law.


The act of convicting; the act of proving, finding, or adjudging, guilty of an offense.
The greater certainty of conviction and the greater certainty of punishment.


The act of convincing of error, or of compelling the admission of a truth; confutation.
For all his tedious talk is but vain boast,Or subtle shifts conviction to evade.


(criminal law) a final judgment of guilty in a criminal case and the punishment that is imposed;
The conviction came as no surprise

Common Curiosities

Can a sentence be appealed?

Yes, both the conviction and the sentence can be appealed in higher courts.

What's the difference between a conviction and an indictment?

An indictment is a formal charge or accusation of a serious crime, while a conviction is a formal declaration of guilt.

What leads to a conviction?

A conviction results from a legal process where evidence proves the accused's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

How does a judge decide on a sentence?

Judges consider the crime's nature, legal guidelines, the defendant's criminal history, and other factors.

Is a fine considered a sentence?

Yes, a fine is a form of sentence imposed as punishment for a crime.

Does a conviction always lead to imprisonment?

No, the sentence can involve various forms of punishment, not just imprisonment.

Can a conviction be overturned?

Yes, convictions can be overturned on appeal if new evidence emerges or if there were legal errors in the trial.

What happens after a sentence is imposed?

After sentencing, the convicted individual begins serving their punishment, whether it's paying a fine, community service, or imprisonment.

What is a suspended sentence?

A suspended sentence is when the imposition of a sentence is delayed and the offender is put on probation.

Can a sentence be modified?

Sentences can sometimes be modified on appeal or through a sentence review by the courts.

How do mandatory sentencing laws affect sentencing?

Mandatory sentencing laws require fixed sentences for certain crimes, limiting judges' discretion.

Do all crimes lead to a conviction and sentence?

Not all charges result in a conviction; some are dismissed, and in cases of conviction, sentencing varies based on the crime.

Can community service replace a prison sentence?

Yes, for certain crimes and under specific conditions, community service may be given instead of or alongside a prison sentence.

How long after a conviction is a sentence given?

The timing can vary, from immediately after the conviction to weeks later, especially if a separate sentencing hearing is needed.

What role does a jury play in sentencing?

In most jurisdictions, the jury determines guilt, while the judge decides the sentence, except in death penalty cases where juries may be involved.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.

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