What is a Deferred Adjudication?

The term deferred adjudication refers to a ruling which could be compared to probation, but which has several key differences which should be noted. When a defendant is placed on deferred adjudication, they will be on probation for some amount of time. If that period of probation is completed and is satisfactory for the judge, the case will be technically “dismissed,” and the defendant will then enter a plea of guilty. The judge will defer the guilt, and so the criminal charge will not show as a conviction.

This form of ruling has the benefit of not showing up in a criminal background check as being a “conviction,” which is important for certain types of employment. The charges themselves will still be visible, but instead the record will display the deferred adjudication.

The Differences Between Deferred Adjudication and Traditional Probation

  • Deferred adjudication is not a conviction.
  • Violation of deferred adjudication can be much more severe than probation.
  • The terms of violation of probation are often set well in advance, while the violation of deferred adjudication can either be the minimum or maximum sentencing depending on the type and degree of crime.

Consider deferred adjudication as being a “good faith” ruling taken by the court, the premise of which entails that the defendant will not violate the terms of that probation, while an actual traditional probation is less of a good faith gesture and more of an assurance of incarceration or punishment should a defendant violate the terms set by the court.

The lack of status as a conviction also allows the defendant to retain their employment status, or to gain new employment where a conviction would otherwise create a barrier. On the other hand, those who violate the deferred adjudication may incur the full sentence of their charges, particularly in cases where there has been a deferred adjudication for a felony level crime.

Other Benefits of Deferred Adjudication

Every state has different requirements and punishments as they relate to a conviction. For example, there are some states where having a drug conviction can cause a suspension of your drivers license. Deferred Adjudication will keep that from taking place.

A defendant can also file a petition for non-disclosure if they have gone through their period of deferred adjudication. This can seal a criminal record of the named offense, so that potential employers and other entities who perform a background check will not be able to see them.

Requirements Still Worth Considering

what is a deferred adjudicationWhile deferred adjudication will offer a greater degree of freedom and a more optimistic outcome upon completion for the defendant, there are also terms that one would need to satisfy under probation that are still relevant to deferred adjudication. This can include supervision, drug testing, mandated treatment for substance abuse, or community service.

In addition, a deferred adjudication cannot be allowed in cases of driving while under the influence or driving while intoxicated (DWI or DUI), whereas probation may be possible for those situations. Deferred adjudication is also available in more situations than probation, however, which can include cases of aggravated robbery, sexual assault, and more.

Both rulings are generally not considered in cases which carry sentences longer than ten years, although the maximum amount of years served with deferred adjudication differ by state and by court. Additionally, a judge can choose to terminate deferred adjudication at any time with a successful completion or through good behavior.

When is Deferred Adjudication Most Often Used?

The most common use of deferred adjudication occurs with individuals who either have no prior arrest record, or who have committed a small crime. In very rare cases it can be used along with plea deals for more serious crimes, which can include felony arrests. A defendant will have to first enter a plea of guilty to receive this form of ruling, which amounts to admitting to the crime. A plea of no contest can also be entered, which can provide some protection from civil charges that may be filed in relation to the crime.

As mentioned, deferred adjudication cannot be used in DUI or DWI crimes, or those crimes which may be related to a DUI or DWI, including damage to public property or manslaughter, at the discretion of the court. In addition, it is unlikely that deferred adjudication will be handed down in cases where a defendant has demonstrated a willful violence with a history of such acts towards other members of the community.

In brief, if the defendant has demonstrated that the act was largely isolated, and that they are not a threat to the well being of the community at large, it may be possible to get a deferred adjudication. Again, the decision relies entirely on the discretion of the judge who presides over the case.