It is easy to check if a site is blacklisted. If it is older than 3 months, you can simply check the PR, and if it is 0, then either site owner is one of the worst webmaster or the site is black listed. Another method is to search if google has indexed any pages from the site doing a site:www.domain.com search.
About penalization it is much harder. A site can be penalized, but it can still have a good PR and it is still indexed. It just don't show good on SERP. And this does not mean it is not on top for an important keyword. It means it is on the bottom of the list even when you do a very particular search.
Blacklisting can happen on cloaking, hidden text, blog spam.
Penalization usually occurs when you are involved in link schemes, link exchange, duplicate content, stuff keywords, affiliate links.