Criminal Allegations

What is a Conviction And What Impact Can it Have on Me?

A conviction is a formal declaration of guilt by a court that is recorded on the criminal history kept about you by the South Australian government, writes Adelaide criminal lawyer Richard Yates.

A conviction is a formal declaration of guilt by a court that is recorded on the criminal history kept about you by the South Australian government, writes Adelaide criminal lawyer Richard Yates.


A conviction will normally be recorded when you plead guilty to or are found guilty of a criminal offence. Depending on the nature and seriousness of the offence, a conviction can have a serious impact on your current employment, future employment, ability to obtain licences (such a security or firearms licence), and your international travel plans. For example, convictions need to be declared when applying to travel to the USA and the chances of that visa being refused increases when you have criminal convictions.

However, there are circumstances when a court will decide not to record a conviction. The court can decide not to record a conviction if the offence is trivial or unusual, or when the defendant has an otherwise good criminal history, is of good character, and is unlikely to commit the offence again. Courts are more likely to record a conviction for common ‘regulatory’ offences such as traffic offence matters than other offences. While it might seem unusual that a court is more likely to consider not recording a conviction for a minor assault than a speeding conviction, the courts have indicated there is a public interest in imposing convictions for traffic offences and other set rules we all should obey as we go about our daily life.

Not all convictions are serious. Some are more of a nuisance than anything else. For example, a conviction for failing to vote at an election might trigger a need to declare a criminal history when applying for a visa to travel overseas, but is unlikely to lead to a restriction in travelling. However, not declaring a conviction can be a sign of dishonesty and treated far more seriously than declaring a conviction for a minor offence.

If a conviction is recorded, it will remain on your criminal history for ten years. After ten years, the conviction becomes ‘spent’ and is removed from your criminal history if you haven’t had a subsequent conviction for another offence. While a ‘spent’ conviction is removed from your criminal history, the records are still kept by the South Australia government and can be brought up when applying for licences and some jobs. Likewise, when a court decides not to impose a conviction, the South Australian government still keeps a record of the outcome. For example, the criminal records of applicants to the emergency services or the Australian Defence Force are examined, including matters dealt without conviction.

When considering whether to apply to a court for a matter to be dealt without conviction, careful advice should be obtained. Some matters are unlikely to be dealt without conviction. When the non-recording of a conviction is within the possibilities, advice should be obtained to determine what evidence or submissions should be put to the court to maximise the chances of success. It is also preferable to seek the agreement of a prosecuting authority not to oppose the court dealing with the matter without conviction. If a conviction is recorded, advice can be sought on whether to appeal the decision.

For advice about your criminal or traffic matter contact your nearest TGB office.