For most people charged with a crime, a dismissal of the charges would be the optimal outcome. If the case isn't dismissed, most people would hope for a not guilty verdict at trial. However, often, neither result is possible. Sometimes, the best option is to plead guilty in exchange for a deferred or suspended sentence.
While the terms "deferred" and "suspended" have similar meanings--delayed or postponed--and both types of sentences can allow a defendant to serve probation instead of jail or prison time, the two kinds of sentencing have some very significant differences.
A deferred sentence may also be called a deferred judgment, and this second term can help in understanding how a deferred sentence differs from a suspended sentence.
In a deferred sentence, a defendant pleads guilty to the charge, but the judge does not immediately accept the plea and render judgment. Instead, he or she will delay judgment, allowing the defendant to complete probation instead of being convicted and sent to jail or prison. The individual terms of probation may vary, but some of the following requirements are common in probation:
- paying all court costs, fees, and restitution ordered
- receiving drug or alcohol treatment or other types of counseling
- avoiding association with known criminals
- obeying all laws
If a person does not comply with the terms of his or her probation, then the district attorney may file a motion to accelerate judgment. If a judge grants the motion, the defendant is found guilty and will usually be sentenced to jail or prison in accordance with the sentence allowed by law.
However, if the person does successfully complete his or her probation by following all the conditions of probation, then at the end of the deferred sentence, the court records are updated: the plea is changed from guilty to not guilty, and the case is dismissed. It is very important to note that a deferred sentence that is dismissed after probation is not a criminal conviction. The record can be expunged in accordance with 22 O.S. § 991c.
A suspended sentence is functionally similar to a deferred sentence, but unlike a deferred judgment, a suspended sentence is a criminal conviction from the outset. In such a case, a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty of a crime. The judge then suspends all or part of the prison sentence, allowing the convicted person to serve probation for the suspended portion of the sentence. This type of probation is commonly referred to as "paper time"...the defendant is technically serving their prison sentence on paper, unless and until the term is completed or the probation is revoked.
Just as in a deferred sentence, the person must adhere to the terms of his or her probation. Failure to do so can cause a prosecutor to file a motion to revoke the suspended sentence. If the motion is granted, the remainder of the sentence will no longer be suspended, and the person will be ordered to jail or prison to complete the remaining term.
To learn more about deferred sentences, suspended sentences, and other types of alternative sentencing that may keep you out of jail, consult a criminal defense attorney for a risk-free evaluation of your case.