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What is a Deferred Sentence?

Jessica Ellis
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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A deferred sentence is a court-passed judgment that allows a probationary period before imposing the sentence. This option might be given in cases when repeat offenses are unlikely, when the accused has no criminal record or often at the judge’s discretion. If at the end of the probationary time the defendant has met all imposed conditions, a judge might throw out the sentence and guilty plea, leaving the defendant without a recorded conviction for most purposes.

Guilty Plea

To receive a deferred sentence, a defendant must plead guilty to some or all of the crimes with which he or she is charged. Usually, a defendant is offered a deal to plead guilty under the promise of a deferred sentence, to settle a case quickly. The judge decides what the sentence for the crimes would be if convicted, so the court release will often stipulate a deferred prison sentence of a certain number of years. The years specified constitute the term that the defendant must serve if he or she fails to meet the conditions of the probationary period.

Terms of Probation

A judge can order many types of actions to be completed during the probationary period. In addition to regular meetings with a parole or probation officer, some people might be required to attend drug and alcohol counseling, seek psychiatric help, pay fines or maintain support payments to any spouses or children. The defendant also cannot be convicted of another crime during the probationary period.

After Probation

At the end of the specified probation, which usually is a term of 12-24 months, the judge will review the case. If the defendant has met all of the conditions, the judge will most likely throw out the guilty plea and enter a non-conviction judgment. For most purposes, this action will allow the defendant to legally state that he or she has never been convicted of a crime. In some cases, however, deferred sentences can remain in the criminal record of the accused.

Probation Violations

If a defendant fails to meet the requirements of the deferred sentence, the judge can order the defendant's arrest. In many cases, that person will then have to serve the entirety of the original sentence. The deferred decision gives the court time to observe the accused more closely and gives the defendant a chance to turn around his or her life and provide proof of his or her law-abiding behavior. The court often treats harshly any violation of the terms of probation or other impositions of a deferred sentence.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for MyLawQuestions. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon959930 — On Jul 07, 2014

What is the difference between a sentence of 24 months versus 2 years or is there a difference?

By FrameMaker — On May 30, 2011

@amphibious54- What is the difference between a deferred sentence and a suspended sentence? What is the difference between a deferred sentence and a deferred adjudication? I hear the term suspended sentence on the television all the time, but I do not really understand what it is. Why not just call a deferred sentence a suspended sentence if they are the same?

By Amphibious54 — On May 29, 2011

@Alchemy- I am not sure what states offer deferred sentences, but I know that not all states offer deferred sentences because not all states allow records to be expunged (I assume anyway). I did a little bit of a web search, reading mostly legal forums, and I found that a deferred sentence is not always as cut and dry as it may seem. From what I read, some states offer a deferred sentence, but once the convicted completes his or her sentence, he or she finds it nearly impossible to have his or her record sealed.

I was actually reading that a number of rights groups are advocating for better defined rules for deferred sentencing. It seems like the more progressive states actually expunge all records once a sentence has been deferred while states that are more conservative treat deferred sentences more like suspended sentences. If you are facing charges and trying to seek a deferred sentence, find a good criminal defense lawyer that is trustworthy to guide you through the process.

By Alchemy — On May 28, 2011

Do all states offer deferred sentences? Will the courts offer a deferred sentence as an option for federal offenses? They sound a little like drug court to me. I have never heard of this type of sentence before, so I am curious to know how it all works. I would assume the best criminal defense lawyers would be able to negotiate this type of plea deal.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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